Larry Ketang and Liam White direct ‘Doughnut’.
At an amateur improv class, an ice-breaker goes horribly wrong…
Words from Larry and Liam below.
Please could you tell us two truths and a lie about ‘Doughnut’?
1. One of the lead actors started to fall ill just before lunch, and got visibly worse as the day went on. Their bits were scheduled last, and we spent much of the day worried whether they’d make it or not. Towards the end of the day’s filming, I had to stand in for their character as they were in the back violently vomiting (still mic’d up – you should have seen our sound man’s face).
2. The bit where the character Sasha talks about Brian Blessed was initially about Sir Ian McKellen. As a courtesy we sent the script to his agent who replied with ‘Sir Ian has spent a lifetime cultivating a reputation for high-quality drama and thought-provoking writing. As such, he wants nothing to do with your film, even in name only, and insists all mention of him is removed. He wishes you every success with your short.’
3. The whole thing was shot for under £500.
Answers at the end.
How do you get comfortable writing dialogue? Are there particular methods or processes that work for you?
LW: I get asked about my dialogue quite a lot. I actually find writing dialogue – particularly the cadence – easy: it’s having an idea good enough to talk about that’s the tricky bit.
When writing, I find it helps if I picture people that I know or actors I like; I picture them in the scene and the conversation flows. I usually start with a theme or idea, then think ‘what situation would best suit this theme?’ then think ‘what types of characters would best personify different angles here?’. I think if characters have differing opinions on something, that allows them to rub up against each other. I try to make each one sound as convincing in their POV as possible. Well, I try to make each character look, feel and sound like a real person.
When writing, I find it helps if I picture people that I know or actors I like; I picture them in the scene and the conversation flows.
With this film, in particular, we were really after a sense of naturalism, so that the audience feels they are part of the group and get sucked in with how realistic it feels, which would then make the tonal shift feel even more ‘wrong’.
Could you speak on finding the film during rehearsals and shoot, do you allow much flexibility?
LW: To be honest, not really no. I don’t really allow much room for interpretation at script stage or how it’s played. I have quite a strong vision of what I want the final film to be. I am open to ideas and will include them if they’re better. This is something I think about a lot – the balance between true collaboration and realising a vision: I worry sometimes I’m a control freak! But any ideas that I think feed into the themes of the film that don’t detract from what’s already on the page are fair game, and I actually feel a sense of relief when it happens, because I want people to bring surprises to the table.
This is something I think about a lot – the balance between true collaboration and realising a vision: I worry sometimes I’m a control freak!
We usually have a rehearsal around a week before, but that’s more to find if the actors are pitching their performance right. I find that casting is more than half the battle and we rarely need to tweak things. Normally it’s about answering questions as to a character’s backstory or motivation, and being transparent in what I’m aiming for and why – whatever helps the cast and crew with their process.
We put a lot of time and effort into storyboarding the script so that we can pack as much emotion and subtext into the frame, and so that on the day we know what we need as a minimum for a decent film. I find that if you have a good plan in place it allows a greater degree of freedom to experiment on the day.
What are you reading at the moment?
LW: Normally Sight & Sound or Little White Lies, but books-wise ‘Borstal Boy’ by Brendan Behan, ‘The Elephant Vanishes’ by Haruki Murakami, and ‘A Prayer For Owen Meany’ by John Irving (on audiobook, but that counts as reading to me!).
LK: ‘The Bluest Eye’ by Toni Morrison.
1. True: Can you tell which actor it is?
2. False: It was always Brian Blessed, I just made that story up now. Around the time I was writing ‘Doughnut’ at HOME Manchester, I noticed a lot of passers by had been looking my way but didn’t think too much of it. When I got up to leave, I saw I had been sat next to Sir Ian McKellen.
3. True: This film wouldn’t have been possible without people very generously giving up their time and expertise, and I can’t thank them enough. The downside is I received four texts mentioning ‘family emergency’ on the morning of the shoot meaning the improv group was the absolute minimum we needed. Making films is hard!
- Writer & Director
- Director of Photography
- Martyn Ellis