Ben Mallaby is a filmmaker we’ve had our eye on for a long, long time at Directors Notes. His dark, twisted approach to humour is exactly what we look for in our comedic choices at DN towers and One Tw*t is the perfect example of what the director can achieve with a smart script and talented cast. Eager to learn more about his latest film and his distinct directorial voice, we spoke to the prolific filmmaker to find out more about his work.
Having watched a fair bit of your work now, I’m somewhat accustomed to the dark twisted tone they take, but how would you describe your filmmaking style to someone who hasn’t experienced it before?
I think you’re pretty close when you described my style, they are usually dark absurd comedies, sometimes quite innocent but with something weird or nasty at their core.
Where does your inspiration come from?
A lot of the ideas come from articles online or stories people share with me, the film I’m currently working on for example came about after my uncle was telling me about a florists that used to be a knocking shop, but the new management had no idea and these truckers kept knocking on the door late at night. So then it’s about finding the right people to adapt it and workshopping it with until we have something that we feel works. Some ideas come from the writers or the comedians I’m working with, in those cases I barely touch the scripts. People who contact me seem to know what I’m about.
James is a man trapped in a woman’s body. Literally. This is the tale of conjoined twins, James and Julia. They have two heads, two arms, two legs and one sexual organ, a vagina. Now Julie’s met a lovely man, Charlie, James fears he’ll be left behind, in every sense.
We’re talking about your latest film One Tw*t today, how did that story come about?
One Tw*t was fully formed when Rachel shared it with me. It already had the title and the concept. All we did was inject it with a little heart, we added a boyfriend character and toned everyone down until the situations felt real. We wanted it to come across like a sweet film about two people falling in love, then sit back and enjoy how the ridiculous situation would undermining all that hard work. The name is part of that, we’ve swung back and forth over a more traditional title but we enjoy how it plays against the tone of the film.
I’m assuming that this plot threw up some interesting challenges when it came to shooting, how did you go about filming the scenario of a woman who had her brother’s head residing (is that the best way to describe it?) on her back?
I know two great VFX guys who thankfully came on board to help, one was on set and was great at forcing us to shoot clean plates after each scene. We also knew it would work best if we mixed the approaches, some shots don’t have any visual effects, sometimes we just have to remove his arm, sometimes it’s three plates stuck together. Sadly we had to cut one very funny sequence when we realised we were never going to be able to sell the VFX elements.
Along with throwing up some technical tests for your team, I’m assuming the scenario of the film meant some unusual challenges for your cast – what do you think Mike, Tom and Rachel brought to their roles?
It was a difficult film for the actors, poor Mike had to constantly contort his body so as to hide as much of himself as he could. Rachel too often had to share a jumper with a polystyrene head or a second actor. But they were all brilliant and delivered these great performances despite how uncomfortable they were. Poor Jen (the prostitute) I’m not convinced the producer told her what her role involved, we all felt terrible but bless her she saw it through and gave a really funny performance.
What can we expect from you next?
I’ve got a bunch of projects at various stages but next up I think is the one I mentioned earlier, a florist who opens a brothel with three lonely and horny OAPs. Ticks all the boxes for me. I’m also working on a feature-length version of my Mosquito short with Michael Spicer and I really love how that’s coming together.