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Interview Special: Misan Harriman / Nicky Bentham | THE AFTER – OSCAR CONTENDER

Misan Harriman and Nicky Bentham are the respective director and producer of the new Oscar contender for 2023-24, THE AFTER, which was co-produced by lead actor and star David Oyelowo. 

Film And TV Now spoke with both about the experience of making this film.

Director – MISAN HARRIMAN:

The film deals with the effect of trauma and the impact on mental health. What was the start off point for the short?

I think from my point of view all of us have been through a mental health crisis in the time of Covid. 

It’s unique to have something that affects all Homosapiens, and I wanted to make my first moving image art piece recognise that we all have wounds, and are all on a journey of healing, and of course there is a tapestry of some of my personal experiences and narrative that I’ve conjured up from within my mind that started off this short.

You worked with a stunt co-ordinator. Tell us about your working relationship with them.

It was amazing for me, to really learn from really such a specialised part of the film industry, stunt work is something I’ve read about – and obviously seen the result on the screen – but to meet the professionals and see them do it was like going to school for me, so I was a bit of a sponge and fanboying, but really working out the technical details to make sure the narrative, the story, the emotion was there, whilst everything was done safely. 

You are a renowned and reputed photographer who has shot the likes of Tom Cruise and Olivia Colman amongst others. Tell us a bit about your journey from the beginning to working with these people.

Well, I mean it’s well documented that I picked up a camera about five years ago now, self-taught on YouTube and films.

Particularly films have really prepared me for the moment I picked up the camera. My eye was training itself from the first film I ever watched, so my use of light and composition has helped how I take pictures, and now I’m going into the medium of film.

I feel really comfortable in using light and words and sound to add even more fidelity to the stories I am trying to tell.

You worked with cinematographer Si Bell BSC, somebody who has worked on the likes of PEAKY BLINDERS amongst other acclaimed works. What does a name like this bring to the table when doing a short? 

Si is extraordinary and he was very kind to me, we were essentially finishing each other’s sentences completely understood the lenses that we wanted to use for each shot, and we pushed ourselves in the limitations we had in making a short like this to make sure it visually felt, it felt like a feature, I would say.

And his experience from working on Peaky [Blinders] and so many other extraordinary TV and Film projects really added to me going on my first journey with a DoP. I thoroughly enjoyed working with him and believe he is one of the best in the business.

Who and what are your key cinematic influences?

Goodness gracious, well, favourite film (if you twist my arm) I would say is CINEMA PARADISO, probably changed my life – I watched it at the right moment. I love Kubrick, specifically BARRY LYNDON, of course as a photographer, that film is a living painting, but also I’m an 80s and 90s kid, so ALMOST FAMOUS, STAND BY ME

I love Michael Mann, my favourite of his if I had to choose would be LAST OF THE MOHICANS, I particularly love how he filmed COLLATERAL, and of course, who doesn’t love HEAT. But I would also say SPIKE LEE is a huge influence, especially some of his early work – everyone loves DO THE RIGHT THING, I particularly love JUNGLE FEVER, and of course MALCOLM X – another life changing experience for me. 

Would you like to expand on the issues and themes explored in THE AFTER into a feature project? 

No. I think what we have done is so special, and what David gave I wouldn’t dare ask him to try put that on a screen again. He left pieces of himself in this film that is more than we even deserve.

What issues and themes would you like to explore in future work?

Well, I want to explore the full tapestry of the human condition step by step, so you know, I’m reading scripts I’m writing a few little things as well and I can’t wait to share with you my first feature. But certainly, I’m not genre specific, but obviously there will always be a sense of intentionality with the stories that I tell.

Finally, what are you most proud of about this film?

I’m most proud of the team that I worked with, that gave me the grace and patience to take this new journey with them, I am in awe of David, as one of the great acting performances of our time, and that we were lucky enough to capture, and…and I feel I’m home, I feel I am home.

Producer – NICKY BENTHAM:

How long did it take to shoot?

We shot the film in 5 days. It was boiling hot and we were right in the middle of bustling London, so it was a very busy 5 days!

David Oyelowo is the heart of the film. How did he get involved with the film? 

Misan had met David in London and had wanted to work with him from the get go. Misan and I spent a long time getting the story right and then working with the scriptwriter John Julius Schwabach. Then I put together our shoot plan and secured the funding. Once we felt we were ready to go, Misan sent the script directly to David and we crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. It didn’t take him long to jump on board and my goodness are we thrilled that he did!

Tell us about your cast.

We worked with amazing casting director Aisha Bywaters, who I’ve known for many years. We wanted a really authentic diverse mix of Londoners in the film and we were able to bring together some incredible talents including Jessica Plummer (The Girl Before, How To Talk To Girls at Parties), Sule Rimi (Andor, Ear for Eye), Ruth Sheen (Another Year, Cyrano), Alan Williams (Chernobyl, The Crown), Izuka Hoyle (Persuasion, The Wheel of Time), Dominique Tipper (The Expanse, One Ranger), Nikesh Patel (The Devil’s Hour, Four Weddings and a Funeral), and Ellen Francis (Chemistry of Death).

Perhaps most challenging, and ultimately satisfying was finding the two young girls to star in the film who had done little to no professional acting previously. Amelie Dokubo opens the film so powerfully alongside David, and Tara-Binta Collins appears breathtakingly at the end. They both brought really different qualities and energy to their roles but did a beautiful job. They were so professional and hard working for such young and raw talents! We were hugely impressed by them.

How did Netflix become involved in the project? 

We pitched the project to a number of financiers and had a great response. We spoke to Netflix about it but honestly, we didn’t think it would go anywhere as they’d not done any shorts in the UK and it isn’t something they’re known for. But I think they found Misan and his vision irresistible so they said yes and off we went!

Tell us about your production team.

The production team was a combination of regular collaborators and some people new to me. Being Misan’s first film, and because he’s such a visionary storyteller, I knew we had to get the right team of people around him to support his move into narrative film but also to turn his vision into reality. We had a brilliant DOP, Si Bell, who really embraced all the challenges and ideas thrown at him. His whole team was brilliant.

THE AFTER is getting its premiere at the London Film Festival. How vital is exposure in a prestige festival like this in helping shorts like this go forward?

The film premiered at HollyShorts and now has its UK premiere at LFF. I think festivals are massively important because they showcase and celebrate exciting new filmmakers like Misan, but also because they offer an opportunity for filmmakers to connect with their audiences – which is so powerful and so important. Especially for a film like THE AFTER, that resonates with people in deep and unexpected ways. It’s all the more meaningful as a shared experience. 

Finally, what are you most proud of about this film?

I’m hugely proud of the cast and crew that we managed to assemble for this film. Everyone showed up each day to do their best work, so that’s always really satisfying. I was really determined to make sure the set was a nurturing and collaborative space so that Misan’s first filming experience was a positive one. 

Without giving anything away, I also feel proud of the stunts we pulled off slap bang in the middle of London. That was quite a feat of planning and negotiation.