Co-Directors' Kerry Skinner and Stewart Alexander have lived next to Tooting Common in south London for over ten years: "We walk there every day, it's an essential oasis in the city; somewhere to de-stress, and recharge. One day we saw this poster on a tree for a missing African Grey Parrot, which is intriguing in itself. Then a few weeks later, another poster appeared announcing that the parrot had been found, and thanking all the local people who'd reported sightings, and contributed to her rescue. And it seemed amazing to us. You see these lost pet posters all the time but no one usually takes the time to report back on any kind of resolution. So we're presented with a little story. It has a beginning and ending, and it's about how people come together to help each other in a community. That was our "eureka” moment. We came up with the title COMMON PEOPLE on that walk across the common, and the concept of a missing parrot that would somehow link five or six stories. It sums up the whole ethos of the film in a way. The stories and characters are inspired by life in London right now, but the parrot lends the whole thing a magical, almost poetic quality."
Times are hard for everyone, and for the last few years we, personally have been surviving at the sharp end of the recession. When the stress feels too heavy, our most cherished ways of coping are: a walk in the park, or a trip to the cinema. So combining the two in our first feature seemed like the perfect marriage of our passions. Some parks in England are called Commons. They were originally set-aside as common grounds where people could come together to graze their livestock, and exchange information. These days there isn’t much livestock, but if you listen in on the conversations - around the café, in the playground, or by the pond - you’ll get a pretty good idea of what’s on people’s minds, and how individuals are being personally affected by the problems we hear about on the news every night. This is something we wanted the film to reflect; slices of life as they are in Britain in 2012. But we also wanted some of the magic, and escapism that we go to the cinema for. The parrot’s journey - the way it interacts with the characters, and brings all six stories together - seemed to offer us that; a hint of magic realism. Times are tough. As filmmakers we take inspiration from the masters of tough times past; people like Chaplin and Capra – those storytellers who reflected their times with honesty, yet offered succour and hope to their audiences through their humorous and poignant celebration of the human spirit. It’s what we go to parks and cinemas for.
The first person to join co-directors Stewart Alexander and Kerry Skinner was Producer, Darin McLeod. “He loved the script, had a lot of experience as a Production and Location Manager, and really wanted COMMON PEOPLE to be his first feature film as a Producer. We made a great team because while we knew the story we wanted to tell inside out, Darin brought a creative and technical know-how to the production. He enabled us to take those ideas and figure out the best way to achieve them, both technically and economically within our means. He not only insisted we shoot on an Arri Alexa (which contributes so much to the visual richness of the film), he also made it possible through his excellent relationship with the good people at Filmscape. Thankfully, the script also attracted a really talented team, so we had excellent support from every department. Our first priority was to plan the look of the film with (Costume Designer) Bonnie Radcliffe and (Cinematographer) Andrew Johnson. We had all these beautiful and varied settings around the Common and we wanted it to feel like an extra character in the film. So we asked Andrew (and Arri) to make it really vivid, and vibrant. The only problem is it’s also very green. Which meant that costumes were going to be absolutely vital, not just as an extension of the characters but also in terms of creating the colour palette within the frame. It was Bonnie’s job to balance the two. So you get the bruised colours for Ian and Veronica, the autumnal colours for Pam and Derrick, watery turquoise and flowers for Jenny and spring yellows for the young Intrepids. We spent a lot of time talking with Andrew and Bonnie about how to give the film this really energetic, saturated quality that would make both common and characters burst from the screen in a truly cinematic fashion.
With both Directors coming from an acting background, it was always part of the plan to rehearse with the actors during pre-production: “It’s a complicated script, the characters talk a lot, an eighteen day schedule is very tight and most of our youngest cast members would be acting in front of a camera for the first time. We knew it was going to be tough. So, three weeks before shooting started, Darin took on the weight of all production responsibilities, so that we could go to a room above the Bedford Pub in Balham, and start preparing with our actors. We had spent the previous weeks getting our young cast together through a series of workshops at local branches of Stagecoach, and it had been amazing to see how much they progressed from one week to the next. Thanks to the determination of our wonderful Casting Director, Briony Barnett, we were also able to audition, and hire an extremely talented group of experienced professionals for the adult roles. In the end, we believe that the rehearsal period with the actors was one of the most important factors in making the production as successful as it was. It allowed the cast time to develop deeper relationships with each other that felt real, and meant that when we got onto the set, and the sleet hit the fan, everyone was already prepared to make the most of our limited time.
COMMON PEOPLE was shot on Tooting Common in south London from April 2 to April 22nd, 2012. It stands as a glowing example of how a group of uncommonly dedicated and talented people can unite and ultimately triumph over perhaps the greatest adversary known to UK Filmmakers: the infamously unpredictable British weather.
Having received generous co-operation from Wandsworth Council, and a green light to shoot on Tooting Common, Stewart Alexander, Kerry Skinner and Darin McLeod spent the months of February and March bringing a team together, and planning every aspect of the production. When they walked the production team around the locations on a swelteringly hot and sunny day in the last week of March, everything seemed to be falling into place for the smoothest of shoots. The actors had been rehearsed, the schedule finalized, and the entire crew had a shared sense of the story they all wanted to take from script to screen. What they could not have predicted or planned for however, was later described by the met office as, “the wettest April since records began.”
With only one interior location, scheduled for one half day of the eighteen day shoot, this left cast and crew at the mercy of the elements. Days were spent shivering in the mud under umbrellas, staring up at the skies as rain, sleet and hail pelted down around us. Our hardy camera crew huddled around “Sexy Lexy” (the beloved Alexa camera we were fortunate enough to shoot on) to keep her dry, while our costume designer Bonnie became “the bringer of warmth” by keeping the cast under wraps with sleeping bags and hot water bottles. And then the moment the rain stopped, and the sun put in one of its brief appearances, the whole unit sprung into action.
That the finished film looks so bright and feels so warm is a credit to the entire cast and crew who endured such awful weather day after day, and faced it with such sunny dispositions.