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The Darkest Universe: An Interview with Tom Kingsley and Will Sharpe

22 June 2016 | Tom Faber

These two young British directors made a surprise hit with 2011’s BAFTA-nominated ‘Black Pond’. Lightning strikes twice as they introduce ‘The Darkest Universe’, a new film about a man looking for his disappeared sister along the lengths of the UK’s canal networks. We chatted to them about waterways, improvisation and collaboration.

London Calling: The Darkest Universe follows a disappearance. Did you research missing person cases?

Will Sharpe: We spoke to the police, we watched a documentary, and did a lot of Googling. We found it interesting how from an outsider’s point of view it felt like there was no way this person was going to be found. But there were people who would leave a note out every day before they went to work, just in case that person came back. The illusion of hope was very interesting.

Tom Kingsley: One statistic that’s true is mentioned in our film. Of the missing people who are found, 40% of them don’t want to get back in touch with people at home. Generally people go missing because they don’t want to make contact. We thought that was a very sad thing.
 

LC: The canals are a key location in the film. What interested you about them?

WS: The canal became a bigger character in the film because we were struck by how atmospheric it was. That informed the tone of the film quite heavily. It became a murkier, more mysterious piece than we had initially imagined. We saw lots of canals while filming. They’re generally deliberately hidden away in strange parts of towns. It somehow felt fitting for a story about a boat that disappears.
 

 

LC: The blurb for the film describes it as a romantic comedy from outer space. When you watch the film, that’s not how you immediately perceive it.

 

TK: That was a very early blurb. Maybe it’s an indication of how we started out, but it doesn’t reflect the totality of the film. We set out to do something more light-hearted and as it went on we became more engrossed in the characters. We made Alice and Toby [the disappeared couple] more mysterious. We like the idea of these unearthly beings. We had a scene where they go to get chips and have an argument. It was a good scene but it was too much of this world.
 

LC: It’s great that a film can evolve while you’re making it.

TK: We spoke about this process with a theatre director at a Q&A and he didn’t realize that it’s an unusual process in cinema. In theatre you put on the play and make notes, you do a preview. It’s always changing. In film, the filming is relatively early in the process. We like to go against that a bit.


LC: What’s it like to have two directors on board?

TK: It’s great because there’s always someone to talk to before and after the filming. You can come up with ideas you wouldn’t have thought of. The films we make are very low budget, we have a small crew, and it’s great there’s someone who knows the film as well as you to help on the practical side. It also keeps you going. When you don’t have that many people with you it’s nice to have someone who cares about it.

WS: That’s a big factor at this level of budget. When it gets difficult it’s tempting to just stop because it feels like it’s just a mad, stupid endeavor. But if you’re doing it in a pair, you know at least one other person is mad.

 

London Calling are proud partners of East End Film Festival. The Darkest Universe is playing at the festival on 1st July at 6.30pm.

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