We catch up with Mark A. C. Brown, writer/director of the award-winning feature film, Guardians

This is your first feature film – and congratulations; it’s bagged numerous awards. Was the making experience for this different from making shorts and, if so, in what way?

Thanks. My experience in making shorts, in particular my last one, Corinthian, is what led me to believing I could do Guardians. I, quite naively, decided that, as I’d shot Corinthian in a day and had some success, then it should follow that I just do that for 10 days and, voilà, I’ve got a feature. The odd thing is that is sort of how it worked out. I used most of the same crew and went in with the same attitude to timekeeping and budget and by the end we had a feature film. What I did find out along the way is that you get a lot less shooting time per minute on screen when doing a feature compared with a short. So the pace was a lot faster and we couldn’t be as flamboyant as we had been on Corinthian. But ultimately I think my naivety is what got Guardians over the line. If I’d known the differences and difficulties jumping from shorts to features then I might have not have jumped into doing it in the first place.

Tell us what inspired the story.

The story was inspired by my moving to the East End from North London. I live down by the river in Limehouse and it’s a very interesting place with a very different feel from Crouch End. The East End’s chequered past is written all over the place from the Georgian townhouses next to council blocks, old boozers dwarfed by the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf, the riverside warehouses and mills turned into executive apartments, the canals meeting at the Thames. I found it quite inspiring and I’d had several ideas for films that I could set around there. But Guardians, through necessity, got over the line first. I had access to one of the aforementioned townhouses and a great old boozer. So I wrote a story centred around what I had to hand. And the Guardianship scheme, which essentially employs actors and normal humans as low-level security for large properties, was a good way into putting disparate characters together in an unusual situation.

Have you had any experience of being a property guardian yourself?

No but I know a few who have. So I filtered a few of the stories I’d heard into the plot of my film. But I had to downsize the house as our house is relatively small in comparison to a lot of these places that people get to look after. Mansions and all sorts. And I liked the metaphor of an empty house. I thought it was something that worked for both the lead characters. For one it represents them as a person, empty. For the other, it is a fairly salubrious vessel waiting to be filled with their fantasies of a life they could never have in reality.

The film is billed as a dark comedy thriller and it’s certainly that. From a viewer perspective, do you have a favourite scene?

I like the shower scene. I won’t go into what it entails but it makes me laugh a lot.

What was the most difficult scene to film?

The shower scene was logistically difficult due to a fair bit of action happening in a very small space. But there is a party scene that wasn’t easy to do. We only had a limited amount of people and again a small space, so to put across the kind of party I had in my mind wasn’t easy. And there is a reveal in the scene that I cocked up so we had to edit around it. It still sort of works but it could have been better.

Was there a significance to basing it in East London and how did you choose the location?

The location is my house. So I chose it because I knew it very well and could have total control of the location. I know every little weird corner, cranny and creak in the place and so I tried my best to use that knowledge to milk the house’s cinematic potential. And I think the house is a good representation of the eclecticism of East London. It’s 200 years old and has seen all sorts and, like the East End itself, a lot of that history is etched in the walls. Each room is its own character, which makes up the personality of the house.

Aside from financial investment, what’s the biggest challenge of making a feature film?

Scheduling. We had no money so people were often working around other jobs. Our First Assistant Director, Joe, had a hell of a job trying to put together a workable shooting schedule around people who could only work on certain days. Then getting it seen. It cost the same as the shoot to do screenings, festivals, markets. And with a film this small its not easy getting the right people to take notice. It took a lot of time, patience, faith and again naivety.

And the richest reward?

As I made it with my best friends, whom I have been working with for 15 years, the fact that we have something to represent that is fantastic I think. We’ve all had our ups and downs over the years, so to have this one thing that we all did and to have it as well received as it has been is hugely rewarding.

Any advice for budding filmmakers?

Work with good people. People that can do the things you can’t and people that you connect with, that you enjoy working with and who make you better. Guardians, along with most of the things I have done over the years, would not have been possible without the people that I have collaborated with. From the inception of the idea to the production, post-production, screenings, festivals and now its VOD premiere on Sky Store and Virgin Media (from 2 December) there hasn’t been a moment where I haven’t had someone there to improve, edit, push, criticise, advise and support me.

What’s next for you?

I have two scripts in development. My script Limpet is what I hope will be my next directorial venture. It’s a horror/comedy and we have just got a really cool executive producer on board with excellent horror pedigree, so that is pushing ahead and very exciting. And then there is Harmony. A horror script that I wrote for my partner in my company Braine Hownd Films, Phil Haine, who is directing. That is going into production in April.


T:     @GuardiansBHF
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T:     @MarkACBrown

Images courtesy of Braine Hownd Films