I recently had the opportunity to speak to Mark Lobatto, a London-based short film director, as he prepares to take his latest work Blue Borsalino out on the festival circuit.
The neo-noir short tells the story of Ernie Child, a retired private investigator. When his first and only client wakes from a coma, Child reveals a secret that has cast shadows over his life for close to 50 years.
Lobatto wrote the script for Blue Borsalino in December last year. In January, he launched a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign and secured the production’s £15,450 budget in just a week and a half. By the middle of February, the project had raised £23,000 from 341 Kickstarter backers.
Having recruited actors David Warner, Margot Leicester, Bart Edwards and Laura Dale, he then shot the film at locations in and around London in four days in April – and the trailer was released in September.
Clearly, this guy doesn’t mess around – but he was kind enough to answer my questions.
What does the title Blue Borsalino mean?
Blue borsalino refers to the type of hat the lead character, Ernie, wears. Much like the fedora, it is a style of hat with a timeless quality to it. The hat in this instance is part of our story, as it is much like an emotional totem to the past.
What was your inspiration for this movie?
I’m not entirely sure how the idea came about, but I was drawn to an older reflective character whose identity had been moulded by one event many years ago. There was also a quote that stuck with me, from John Banville’s The Sea:
“The past beats inside me like a second heart.”
Thematically, the film deals with the passing of time, how we can be haunted by mistakes of the past, as well as the sense that hope and redemption is never out of reach even decades on.
Blue Borsalino got incredible backing on Kickstarter. Why was your campaign so successful?
It was successful thanks to everyone who backed us and made it possible. Without them there would be no film, literally. I spent a good month or so researching and planting the seeds of the project on the great web, as well as making the page and video needed for the campaign.
It is a lot of work and even more so when the campaign is live. It takes a great deal of planning and positivity. I think we got awareness up nice and early, which is key to having a spike in popularity in those key first couple of days.
Beyond that, keep posting interesting updates for your backers so they feel as involved as they should do in the process, they may well go on to share your campaign and bring in further supporters.
How did you go about recruiting such fine actors as David Warner and Margot Leicester?
I had the help of a terrific young casting director Emma Gunnery, but certainly finding everyone, especially David, took a little time. They are both supremely talented and it was a real privilege from my side having the opportunity to work with them. They both brought subtlety and intelligence to the roles which nuanced characters in a sort of fog of time.
Gender equality in movies is a hot topic right now. As a director, how do you approach this issue?
I consider myself a feminist. In this instance, the story centres on a male character but in other scripts I’ve developed there are female leads. I see strength in all stories and all points of view, and try to realise each character as fully as possible to serve the overall narrative.
Tell us about the shoot – what were some of its challenges and successes?
We shot in a few locations across London and one in Maldon, which is on the Essex Estuary. The challenge without doubt was the quantity of locations and specific ones to find, within our budget, and making sure on a practical level it was even possible in the timeframe we had.
Add into the mix the need for a particular period which has implications on art department costume, hair and makeup… it was tricky but worth it.
The success was the existing production value in a turn-of-the-century merchant house, which we used as a pawnbrokers shop and back room, and the estuary itself, which provided a unique backdrop to our small, abandoned coastal children’s funfair.
The biggest success were our cast and crew, who were committed to it completely. They approached it with their all and brought so much talent to the table from all angles.
The trailer is a contrast of bold colours and understated score – how did you create the feel of the movie?
I certainly had a look and feel in mind, a slightly heightened reality with a richness in texture, colour and shadows. Much of the work came from discussions with cinematographer Eben Bolter and production designer Daniel Vincent, amongst other heads of departments.
We explored an aesthetic that carries a timeless quality, that embraced rusty red and velvety blue/greens. Music-wise, David M. Saunders had a tall order as I had quite a clear sense that the film should be heavily scored, which is unusual for a short film. It’s a complex and evolving score that nods to the traditional tones of perhaps classic cinema.
Narratively, it’s more a psychological drama than anything else, though the stylistic elements of noir are faintly felt throughout.
The impact of visual effects on the look of a movie is often ignored – what part did VFX play in Blue Borsalino?
There was a little bit of key VFX done on Blue Borsalino by a talented man, Elliot Goodman, and his team in Australia. Some of this was to help keep certain elements consistent with the period or add a specific dream-like effect. The odd small shot might also be as a technical aid. Visual effects artists do great work, and it’s another part of the overall look and aesthetic.
You previously directed another short film, Silent Treatment. What is it like to be a filmmaker?
I’ve been working in film and TV for seven or eight years now. From tea-making on music promos in school holidays to tea-making at post-production houses after university. Gratefully, as time has gone on I’ve been able to work on some large scale and creatively ambitious projects, from blockbuster tentpole feature films to slightly more modest dramas.
My roles have changed from project to project but I spend more time acting as a personal assistant to feature film directors than anything else, which can be extremely rewarding and a fantastic insight into the industry, the studio system, and filmmaking as a whole. I also write in the background and following my own two short films, I’m developing more substantial scripts.
I’m hoping to try short filmmaking myself. What’s your advice for any budding directors or producers out there?
Interesting question. Honestly, I don’t think there is one way to go about it, but from my experience you have to work very hard, be reliable and prove your worth with humility even in menial positions, and whilst you’re busy doing your job you will learn by osmosis.
That’s how you grow and, in theory, opportunities will come your way to work at the next level and so forth. Beyond that, having a genuine love of filmmaking and cinema certainly doesn’t hurt and staying up-to-date with cinema, both creatively and in terms of industry news, is important.
What’s next for you?
I’m continuing on with PA for director work, whilst I develop scripts and projects of my own.
Blue Borsalino is yet to be released, but you can keep up to date with the latest news about the production on Facebook.
I want your feedback. Any thoughts, reaction, advice… Let me know in the comments below!