With two shorts already under her belt (Working for Christmas and Fly), along with several commercials, Candida Scott Knight cast her net wide to find the right script for her next project. “Mercy tells the story of Ben, a young boy who’s bullied at school and neglected at home by his heroin-addict mother. It’s a very clever story and I’m so lucky to have found it. I had read about 150 scripts and hadn’t found anything I felt compelled to make. Phil Parker, a tutor at LCP, suggested I read some of his students’ work. I read one of Tina Walker’s short scripts (ex-LCP) called Kings Ransom, a comedy that I thought was brilliant – so well put together, clever, interesting, and it made me laugh. I approached her and asked if she was interested in letting me option it, only to be told that another director had it. She said she had another couple of scripts, one that was very dark, might I be interested in looking at it?
I wasn’t too sure I wanted to make such a dark film, but I felt it was such a clever story and the little boy was such a sensitive character and something inside me was so chilled by how he was; I felt so sorry for him, even though he’d done a terrible deed, and I thought, “if I can make an audience feel like that, then that could be interesting”.”
With a solid script in place, Knight set out on the arduous road of securing funding. Mercy made it to the shortist stage several times, but it wasn’t until producer Emily Man came onboard (the project’s third producer) that things finally began to move forward.
“We kept on being shortlisted but never got the final funds. I thought this is a clever story, why are we not getting it made, so I let the producers go and found Emily. We looked at the script again with Tina, turned it upside down, and Tina re-wrote it. We then put it into Film London and were awarded £11k from its London Production Fund straight away, we were elated.”
A requirement of the Film London award was that the production sourcematch funding. Producer Man worked tirelessly to find this match funding, coming close when the BBC took an interest for their Ways To Get Even series, but finally managed to pick up £2.5K for writer Walker from Screen South as she lived in their catchment area. The team then made an appeal to Film London exec Maggie Ellis to allow the project to move forward on a total budget of £13.5K, despite her view that Mercy warranted a larger budget.
“We promised it would be and that we’d just beg, borrow and steal to make sure it was done for a bigger budget with money in kind. After all, I had just completed a short for £4K so I knew it was possible, if a little tring. In the end we managed to get completion funding, another £8.5k from the UK Film Council through Maya Vision, which helped us to get the music and pay off our debts.”
The favours to bolster the budget were found thick and fast, with Skaramoosh lending a pre-production office and an Avid suite, Blue Post Production providing the majority of post for free, Catherine Bailey Productions donating six rolls of old film and casting rooms, and Fuji giving free film stock. Others such as Arion, AFM and VFG also gave their support, and Soho House even came forward with food vouchers for the wrap party.
“No one on the crew got paid and everyone gave up their time and expertise for free. It was brilliant and exhausting all at the same time, constantly asking for favours, but I won’t ever take no for an answer: I think everything is possible if you just inspire people to get involved, and with such a good script it’s much easier. Everybody wants to work on a good project,” says Knight.
A change of dates meant the part of the boy’s mother had to be recast due to actress Shirley Henderson’s prior commitments on a feature, which led Knight to Natalie Press. “The casting process relies not only on knowledge but on luck, so when Emily suggested I take a look at Natalie Press, an inclusion that has no doubt bolstered the awareness of the film, I thought how lucky we were. I saw a rough cut of Wasp (2005’s Oscar award-winning short) and thought that Natalie was amazing and would be perfect for Mercy. When she read and liked the script we were delighted, she’s a great actress and has since become a friend.”
DoP Mary Farbrother, who had worked on Knight’s previous short Fly, shot the majority of Mercy with a 300mm lens to achieve the claustrophobic look Knight required. Farbrother also suggested the risky process of bleach bypass the print, to further enhance the atmosphere of the film. “I love how it looks and loved choosing the shot sizes too. I’m really into the psychology of how each shot size makes the audience feel,” enthuses Knight.
Despite a highly organized crew of dedicated professionals, the production still had one or two challenges to overcome, as Knight illustrates: “We had to lose one scene when we were shooting, we found out the night before filming that Steve Sweeney Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Nil by Mouth, who plays the boy’s mother’s associate, couldn’t drive, and there were two driving scenes for his character. We had to hire a low-loader to make it look like he was still driving, but consequently only had time to do one of the driving scenes.”
Knight found the expertise of editor Adam Rudd was crucial to making Mercy work, using such mistakes to the film’s advantage. “In the edit suite, when you look at your rushes, you really have to find the story again and what works best, which is the most dramatic moment, etc. So in the edit suite there are lots of ways of making it work, but it’s finding the right one and persuading your editor or the editor persuading you that that particularly way is the best way. It can get quite heated, but it’s all for the good of the project.”
To date Mercy has been accepted at 24 film festivals, nominated for 14 awards and won the Prix du Jury Paris XII for Best Foreign Film at the Créteil Film Festival with a Jury Special Mention for the Unicef UK Award at Showcomotion. It also won Best Film at the recent Rushes Short Film Festival.
Knight has gone on to sign with agency ICM. She is currently developing various feature projects and is looking for a writer for a project that she and Natalie Press want to make about an angel who comes to London. As well as reading lots of writer’s work, Knight is developing a feature project based on a short story by Angela Carter with writer Christian Spurrier, and is once again hunting for that inspirational short script.
Of the experience of making Mercy Knight says, “I’m really pleased with how Mercy turned out. I think it’s important for you to know how you feel about the project, if other people like it on top then that’s great. Otherwise, you could be constantly elated and disappointed about audience reactions and it’s difficult enough in this industry without that. It was a difficult project to get made, as essentially we were in pre-production twice. Four days before filming, our lead boy dropped out as he refused to rehearse, so we made the decision with his mother to pull him, which meant that the whole project in effect fell apart; we lost our locations, some of our crew, some of our actors and had to start again a month later when we re-cast Bradley Hall, how lucky we were!”
– Originally published in Showreel, Issue 9 (Autumn 2005)