Filmed in Real Time

Philip Barantini, the British director of the much-admired crime drama Villain (2020), is back behind the camera with the exhilarating Boiling Point. Expanding his 2019 short of the same name, the story is set in real-time, as chef Andy Jones (Stephen Graham) endures a torrid night in his restaurant. With the film all shot in one unbroken take, Barantini explains to ASFF just how he and his cast and crew managed to achieve such a remarkable filmmaking feat.

ASFF: Was the Boiling Point short the real starting point for the feature?
I guess it was proof of concept. To see whether we could do it. But it was never an idea to do the feature in one take initially. The idea was to do something set in that world with a chef at the centre of it. And then, after we’d done the short, it got a bit of traction in some of the festivals and nominated for a BIFA, which was amazing. And I started thinking, ‘How can we expand this now?’ [Eventually] I sat up in bed one night, when I was shooting Villain, my first feature. And I was just like, ‘What if we were to do it all in one take, the whole thing?’

ASFF: What sort of training did Stephen undertake for the role?
Stephen, whenever he gets a role, he just embodies that, and he’ll do everything he can to research. We didn’t have a lot of time. I think we had Stephen for just over a week for the workshop and rehearsal period. And during that time, we had a couple of proper chefs who were on hand… look, there’s no way we’ll be able to show them how to cook the dishes, but we wanted to make sure that we could make it look like they could plate it up at least.

ASFF: How did you set about casting the restaurant staff around Stephen?
PB: The casting process was quite meticulous. I wanted people who could improvise, obviously, a little bit. I mean, it was loosely improvised. We did workshop a lot to get the dialogue, and things like that. Most of the cast that we got hadn’t necessarily worked in restaurants. You’d think a lot of actors would work in restaurants! That’s their second home! Same for me – when I was acting, that’s what I did. I worked in kitchens. So that’s where I’ve got the knowledge really. So we managed to pick actors who’d never worked in the industry before. But they just engrossed themselves in it. We were able to get them to go to the actual restaurant, Jones & Sons, on Saturdays and Sundays… they could go into a shift for free. And they could just be there.

ASFF: How many complete takes did you shoot?
Well, originally, we set out and gave ourselves eight takes in total. It was over four nights in March 2020. And we were going to come in at six o’clock. Everyone gets in makeup, costume, get set, then we do the take. However long it took, it didn’t matter. And then we’d stop. And then we would have a break for three hours. Everybody would eat and we’d reset everything. I would give actors and the camera and sound teams notes, and then we’ll do it again. So when we were coming into it, we were like, ‘We’ve got eight shots, we’re going to get the one that we’re happy with.’

ASFF: You had to cut the production short due to COVID-19 and only did four takes in the end. But how did the cast cope with this high-wire style of acting?
PB: These actors were just on it. It was very nerve-wracking for them. But it’s an amazing way of working. When you’re on a conventional set, there’s a lot of waiting around for your bit, or you do your moments, and then you turn around the camera, but they have to be on it for an hour-and-a-half. So everybody knew what they were doing. And I actually said to them at the very beginning in rehearsals, ‘Look, first of all, you’ve got to be on your top of your game with Stephen around because you just got to be ready for any eventuality. He could say something a bit different and you’ve got to be on it.’ So I wanted them to be completely open and vulnerable. And I just said, ‘If you mess up, even if you just drop a glass or you smash something or trip over, just go with it.’

Boiling Point opens in cinemas from 7 January. For more details click here.

Words: James Mottram