Directors have been working with seriously limited resources for the past few months, but the good ones have repeatedly shown us that great storytelling shines through no matter what situation you find yourself in. And that’s exactly the lesson that Rogue director Mark Jenkinson teaches us with his lockdown short, ‘No Place Like Home’.
Mark wrote, directed and starred in the film alongside his girlfriend, reigniting his passion for acting that had laid dormant for 20 years. With a crew of just eight, this tale with a twist follows, as Mark puts it, “a day in the ‘life’ of a young couple who’s normal existence of spending their days with their feet up in the empty homes of unsuspecting others, is suddenly compromised by everyone being at home. Amid a haunting realisation that the ‘new normal’ is testing their relationship, their resolve to stay undetected - and seriously affecting their ability to keep up with the Kardashians; they feel increasingly invisible in a world where everyone has their feet up on their own sofas and it’s clear that there’s no room for two uninvited guests who are all dressed up with nowhere to go.”
LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with Mark to find out what he took from the experience of making No Place Like Home.
Warning: Spoilers ahead! We recommend you watch the film before reading the interview below.
LBB> I expect that for a director the idea of making a short film from lockdown struck you pretty early on in the pandemic. How did that initial idea morph into 'No Place Like Home'?
Mark> I didn’t want to look back on this time and regret not making the most of it creatively in some way. I had started writing a film with a friend but I knew it wasn’t a project we could make right now. Sensing my frustration, Liliana (my girlfriend) said we should make a film at home and that I could film it and she would act in it.
We chatted about some ideas but nothing seemed to stick at first. Then she happened to mention ghosts in relation to a different story and I thought, what would lockdown be like for ghosts? If ghosts spent their time exploring and hanging out in our homes, while we were all at work, then what do they do when we’re forced to stay in them? I loved the idea of a parallel perspective to our current experience. In an afternoon, the two of us fleshed out a story that I felt we could achieve with us acting.
LBB> What were the themes that you found interesting that guided the idea?
Mark> I wanted to tell an entertaining yet poignant story that tried to capture this unique experience. I’m sure every relationship can appreciate that the both fun times and the hard times have been thrown into sharp relief while you’re stuck with your partner 24/7 amidst a pandemic. But there are those less fortunate out there. Our couple of ghosts are stuck with one another for the everlasting pandemic of solitude in death.
LBB> How did the restrictions you had affect the way the story was formed?
Mark> The restrictions really helped streamline the writing process because there was so much we couldn’t do and almost by default we arrived at the two of us playing a couple. As for locations, we had our house as well as access to an empty house that was about to be renovated. These limitations quickly helped Liliana and I flesh out a story in an afternoon.
LBB> And were there any things you realised were possible that opened up what you could achieve?
Mark> Once Mark Patten (DOP) agreed to come on board (and relieve me of shooting responsibilities) it changed everything really. Having his eye and input meant I could really focus on my acting, whilst also doing my usual job of directing. He also helped Tom Farley (producer) and I put a great crew together, which enabled it to run like a normal job albeit massively slimmed to the bare essentials. I really wanted the film to have a twist at the end that would leave the audience replaying the film back in their minds now that the identity of our cast was revealed. The Mill kindly offered to help give this crucial moment the impact it needed with some subtle yet seamless post. Finally, the sound design was beautifully brought to life by James Hayday from String & Tins. He added an unexpected sonic layer for the ‘spirit’ that really elevated the story, tension and emotion.
LBB> Broadly speaking, how did you make it?
Mark> We shot over two fairly short days in East London with six crew members plus Liliana and me. Luckily two of my good friends live locally and were able to play the small, yet important supporting roles brilliantly. I knew that having to act and direct would require a certain split focus and to make this a bit easier I wanted to shoot in story order to help keep track of the character journey and the tone more easily. Luckily, the bright sunny days and only having two locations meant this was possible.
On the shoot, we would first block the scene with and rough out the coverage we wanted. Once the camera was rolling it was a very instinctive process because I could immediately feel if my performance was off and switching hats from actor to director was instant and seamless. It was very liberating actually. Because I was in the performances I rarely needed to watch playback and so we flew through the eight page script.
LBB> What was the experience of starring in the film with your girlfriend like? That can't have been easy in some ways, but I suppose in other ways it might have been nice?
Mark> I spent most of my youth acting in amateur theatre and drama groups so it was a very nostalgic experience for me. I realised how much I love acting and how much I’ve missed in the 20 years since I last tried it. For Liliana it was a completely new experience and she bravely dove into it head first. I tried to help her find her character through lots of rehearsals in the week leading up to the shoot and this proved invaluable because we knew each scene and each beat perfectly. There was a lot of trust between us and I think it brought us even closer as a couple too.
LBB> What will be your enduring memories of making this film?
Mark> One of the most memorable moments for me was the scene where I’m sat, upset at the top of the stairs. I was nervous because I wanted the emotion to come across but also feel genuine and that's quite a hard thing to do. I worked myself up into an emotional headspace and for about 10 minutes I was on the edge of genuine tears. Between takes I spoke in a whisper and avoided eye contact with crew to help keep me in the zone. I really enjoyed that challenge and the experience will stay with me for sure.
LBB> Anything else you'd like to add?
Mark> What really stood out to me (and to the entire crew) was just how much we were able to accomplish despite how tiny our setup and unit was. On top of this, the atmosphere was so chilled and happy, It just goes to show what's possible with a hands-on approach. As the film world gears back up I’m looking forward to the opportunity to work this way on a commercial shoot some time soon.