Inspiring Narratives

As part of the York Youth Programme at the Aesthetica Short Film Festival 2016, students were asked to vote for their favourite film out of a selection from our Family Friendly strand. As a result, the charming comedy Litterbugs was chosen. We speak to Peter Stanley-Ward and Nicole Carmen-Davis about the narrative and production which went into the award-winning film.

A: What is the story behind your film?
Litterbugs began as a story about Alice, a young eco-warrior, determined to rid her neighbourhood of rubbish. She was a keen inventor who created inspiring inventions with the litter she collected. In the first draft of the script, Alice had a small dog, Stanley, as her only companion but we soon realised we were making things very difficult for ourselves, as we didn’t have any dialogue. When we decided to make Stanley a young boy we really saw what the movie was all about. We were able to explore themes such as friendship and honesty and, perhaps most importantly, self-belief. Alice is quiet and lacking confidence whilst Stanley is a total chatterbox. He oozes confidence but this is put to the test when he is picked on by three bullies. Alice and Stanley need each other in different ways and their relationship is the heart of the story.

With a completed screenplay we successfully applied to Creative England/BFI’s Emerging Talent Fund and we shot the movie in and around Pinewood Studios. We had an incredible cast and crew for the five-day shoot and after a few months of post-production, Litterbugs was completed in early 2016.

A: Why do you think your work resounded with young people?
We set out to make a movie that was inspired by the films we grew up with but with a consideration for what it’s like to be a kid today. We wanted to think what it would be like if an Amblin film took place now, in a world with mobile phones, the Internet and idolised super heroes. I hope this consideration was what connected with young people but also, the timeless themes of friendship and courage resonate with every generation. We wanted the movie to be entertaining but full of heart.

A: Do you think bullying has become confounded by the obsession and abuse of social media?
: I think bullies have always found conniving ways to embarrass and hurt people, even before the Internet was invented. It’s the way bullies always work. The concern I have with online abuse is the lack of empathy. I think no matter how heartless a bully is they must be able to see that they’re hurting someone when they look them in the eye. The internet takes that empathy away which is a concern. I can only imagine how much harder it is now to be a kid and dealing with being present online. If someone called me fat at school it was between me and a few guys for a fleeting few seconds. Now it’s in print for the world to see.

A: How do you think film as a communicative tool can address issues of bullying?
I think it’s important to tell stories that show this victimisation. It starts a conversation, which allows kids to see and understand that they are not alone, and not the only victims in this new form of bullying. Hopefully it can give them the confidence to talk about their experiences and feelings and not to suffer in silence.

A: How does working with VFX change your directional practice?
We really tried to do as many “in camera” effects as we possibly could. This gives the actors something to actually react to and we had something physical to photograph. But certain shots need to be completely VFX/CGI due to camera angles and what the action on screen should be. This is where planning and storyboards are really needed; it helps us decide what shots are going to be in camera and what shots are going to be completed in post. It would have been impossible to make those decisions on the day due to limited timing and shot efficiency. For the rest of the movie, where there were no VFX, I decided not to board. I wanted the location and the actors to inspire the blocking and camera positions and not to be tied down to storyboards.

Find out about the full list of award-winning films from ASFF 2016: 

1. Still from Litterbugs. Courtesy of Peter Stanley-Ward and Nicole Carmen-Davis.