Frisbee, even in its ultimate competitive form, doesn’t require the most astute knowledge of play but what would happen if you came across someone who hadn’t the faintest clue how it worked? In Tell Me Where I’m Going Wrong by writer/director Kyle Jon Shephard, the comedic notion of someone not being able to grasp how to play the game is stretched to the most absurd lengths resulting in a hilarious short where a socially awkward guy fails miserably at a simple after work session bewildering everyone with his ineptitude. Shephard keeps us teetering on a tightrope of brilliantly executed deadpan comedy right through to the very end where our hapless frisbee player suddenly comprehends what is required of him and his motor skills but at the very worst of times. Tell Me Where I’m Going Wrong is a short, sharp blast of laughs and we spoke to Shepard about bookending the film with a soundtrack to match his spatially unaware character’s amusing internal dialogue, choosing a 4:5 aspect ratio for the added claustrophobic awkwardness it brought to the short and how an unusual perspective on King Kong climbing the Empire State Building became a formative path in honing his deadpan humour.

Where did the idea for this painfully funny mix of insecurity and frisbee farce spring from and how did that then develop into your fully formed script?

The idea came about when my mate Hannah and I were walking through a park in North London back in 2018/19. I think we had gone out the night before, so we were both feeling a bit hungover. I remember there were some people playing frisbee, and in our slightly hungover state, we both – for whatever reason – found the concept of someone passing the frisbee in person funny. A few years later, when I was looking for more shorts to make, I remembered that moment with Hannah and thought that there might be at least a short sketch in the idea.

Writing the plot for the film came pretty quickly, and adding the second scene with the girlfriend seemed like a funny and slightly shocking escalation. The jump cut between the field and Katie having her hand on his shoulder in the kitchen was present right from the first draft, which is a key comedy moment for me. Once I’d gone from A to B, it was during the rewriting, and rewriting, and rewriting, etc., that the story and theme of being inferior, and/or being an out-of-sync outsider, really came through – mainly from the dialogue of what the three mates were saying at the start. So, it started off as something pretty simple and super daft, but that in turn then slowly evolved into a more relatable character-led story with slightly deeper undertones. But that all came from the rewriting process in an attempt to make the story as watertight as possible. It just became more concentrated as a script.

It started off as something pretty simple and super daft, but that in turn then slowly evolved into a more relatable character-led story with slightly deeper undertones.

So when it came to shooting, was the tight, witty dialogue rehearsed or was there room for improvisation?

I think the cast did an amazing job of making the dialogue sound pacy yet natural. No one overplayed it. We didn’t have any rehearsal days, but at the top of each shooting day we’d do a few very quick passes of the script to warm up. I usually find it’s quite useful to do a few runs in quick succession to help make the words sound as least contrived and genuine as possible. I’m always very open to improv, Jim Harkness added some brilliant lines in the kitchen scene when his character Mark was talking about how amazing the lads were at chucking the frisbee, “with such grace” etc., but other than that the dialogue actually remained pretty much the same from script to screen on this occasion.

You do a great job if combining a grounded realism with an absurd scenario, I think the music and internal monologue really make this. What were your inspirations behind that aspect of the film?

Growing up I was a big fan of American comedies like Scrubs and Malcolm in the Middle, and then later on the films of Charlie Kaufman where I found internal monologues used in really funny and interesting ways. I only planned on using this device at the beginning and end of the film for those slow zoom in moments, but in the edit I felt there was too much distance between Mark and the audience and we were losing some laughs because of it, so we recorded some more for the middle section and that definitely helped.

I knew I wanted to use the same musical theme to bookend the film, to show the audience Mark is in this closed behavioural loop that would also work as a funny callback, so I asked my mate Adam Janota Bzowski (Saint Maud, Black Mirror, Femme)if he had anything I could use. I think the brief I gave him was: if the character of Mark had his own personal radio station playing in his head, what would he hear? Adam came back to me with a few options, but one of them was this slow, sad, disco’y-funk track which we went on to use. It felt like the tempo of the track juxtaposed the genre itself in a weird way, which I thought was pretty funny and worked perfectly to say who Mark was as a character.

How did you find balancing the deep undertones of Mark’s feelings of inferiority and being an outsider with the incredibly daft concept of passing a frisbee by hand?

I don’t really ever go into the storytelling process knowing what the thematics of a story will be. You can start off with something proper silly and daft like this, then it’s only in the rewriting, and the rewriting, and the rewriting where the themes start to present themselves to you. I’ve written ‘this’, but really now it’s saying ‘that’. And then I find these little bits of subtext that kind of glue the story and character dynamics together in a quiet way.

When we came to shooting, we didn’t need to discuss theme and all that stuff too much. All the cast seemed to be able to jump straight into it. They understood the foundations of what the story was, which was one less job for me to have to do. That then gave us the security of knowing we had somewhere safe to fall back on, a kind of baseline, when we wanted to play around and make it more abstract and/or ridiculous.

You can start off with something proper silly and daft like this, then it’s only in the rewriting, and the rewriting, and the rewriting where the themes start to present themselves to you.

How long was the shoot and what was your kit and crew set up?

We shot over the course of a weekend, starting with the kitchen scene first (which really helped Jim warm up into the character) and then the park scene on the second day. We majorly lucked out with the weather. I wrote in the treatment that ideally it would be shot on an overcast summer’s day for both aesthetic and to also limit changing light throughout the day. I’ve always liked the unnerving look of green trees against dark grey clouds on camera, and we sort of got that in a few key shots, namely the first slow zoom shot.

Kit-wise, we were on a tight budget, so we shot on the FX9 with a mixture of Sigma FF primes and an Angenieux EZ-1 45-135 + Doubler. Crew size was also kept minimal for budget reasons, but for films like this, that can sometimes help make the day feel a little less intense/formal for the actors and allow them to feel a bit more loose and playful.

The frisbee skit could easily stand as its own hilarious encounter, why did you want to end the film with the scene with his girlfriend?

There are a few reasons why I chose to end the film there, but I guess the most prominent is because I wanted to readdress what was said at the beginning of the film, at the end, with a climactic moment that pushes the comedy that extra bit. In the opening scene, Dave’s character talks about effort versus results; the further you move into adulthood, the less your intentions are taken into consideration. Mark isn’t sinister, he’s just learnt a new skill too late and is now applying that skill to the wrong moment. I think the film needed that scene – and in particular that moment – to truly hit home what the story was all about. It does have a slight shock value to it, but I’ve always enjoyed leaning into that type of fast escalatory, worst-case-scenario humour, especially if there’s some dramatic irony in play.

You ended up using a lot of the same actors and people you knew. How did this comfortability impact the development of the characters and production efficiency?

It certainly sped the day up having worked with some of them before. I knew how capable those guys were for those particular roles. There was much less to discuss with them, if anything at all really. They got the tone, knew their levels and I guess more importantly, understood the subtext within the script which brought the drama to the comedy.

I think the film needed that scene – and in particular that moment – to truly hit home what the story was all about.

I think I cast Dave Christie-Miller as Jack first after seeing some of his character-based comedies online which really made me laugh. I was going to cast myself as Mark, but I’d met Jim Harkness at a mate’s birthday party a few years back and had also seen him in Early Days which was directed by my mate Harry Sherriff. As soon as he sprang to mind, I knew he would bring so much more to the role than I could. He’d just be stood in front of the camera and I’d be smirking away. Naturally funny bloke. I had worked with Sam Picone, Sally Collett and Dane Foxx previously on different short films and/or commercials and they all stood out as strong, captivating performers in their own right. Really wanted to work with them again on stuff that had a bit more dialogue and narrative to it, so I’m glad we found this opportunity.

What made you choose the 4:5 aspect ratio for this?

The last thing I ever want to do, is do something purely for the sake of making it look cool. Aspect ratios can sometimes be that thing. Bit of a gimmick. But Jim Embrey our DP was pretty keen to use it, to give Jim Harkness’ character some visual boundaries and make him feel more confined, which I think in the end worked really well in that it added a slight claustrophobic feel to the film. I also think it worked well in making Mark as a character feel more awkward and cumbersome. That being said, the film was just funnier in that aspect ratio – simple really. And I guess that’s the best reason of why we used it. All the other stuff is secondary.

I remember seeing the power of reducing something so grand and spectacular, to a position of such ridiculousness by simply viewing it from a smaller and more humble perspective. That was pretty formative for me.

The deadpan humour in Tell Me Where I’m Going Wrong stands out as a driving theme, what most appeals to you about working within this comedic style?

I think my first proper introduction to any kind of deadpan surrealism was from when I was a kid and I saw a skit by Bob Newhart on this VHS my Dad had of him. It was a sketch about a Night Guard at the Empire State Building who was on their first ever shift, which happened to be on the night that King Kong climbed the building. I remember seeing the power of reducing something so grand and spectacular, to a position of such ridiculousness by simply viewing it from a smaller and more humble perspective. That was pretty formative for me. If you’re not familiar with it and you’ve get a second, YouTube: Bob Newhart King Kong. It’s just brilliant.

Also being brought up in Merseyside, a lot of the older generation that were in mine and my friends’ families would have a very dry and downplayed sense of humour, which as a teenager I found hilarious. Dockers humour I guess. That still continues to influence how I write characters and direct performances.

And finally, do you have any exciting new projects in the works that we can look forward to?

It’s been a pretty busy four years on the personal project side of things. I’ve got another four short films in post, they’re all crossing the finish line at roughly the same time, which isn’t ideal to be honest but hey, there you go. I’ve got three shorts that are quite VFX heavy. They’re all very varied in story and style, so won’t go into too much detail on what they’re all about. I will however, happily brag about some of the actors I got to work with on them; Henry Perryment, Elena Saurel, Simon Balch, Jessica Flood and Gary Hanks. I also have a short that was written by Kit Loyd, that he also performed in with Marina Bye and Luke Rollason which was so much fun to shoot. Very much looking forward to releasing them once they’re all done and dusted.

On top of all that (you did ask), I’ve got two longer formatted, taster-pilots that I directed which are soon to be screened/premiered. One of which is created and performed by Dave Christie-Miller who played Jack in this film. It’s called Britain’s Best Nosh and it’s about an Australian-Greek celebrity Chef trying to make it in the niche world of in-flight culinary entertainment. And then the other one was written by Timon Woodward and that’s called Clout, which has been funded and produced by Stefan Demetriou and Amy James at Aldgate Pictures. Excited for people to see them too.

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