Tom Harper on 'The Scouting Book for Boys'

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Thirty-year-old Londoner Tom Harper received widespread acclaim for his short films ‘Cubs’ and ‘Cherries’ and has now completed his debut feature, ‘The Scouting Book for Boys’. He tells us how he found the leap from short- to long-form filming

Was it daunting to get going on your first feature?
‘I was just so over the moon. I felt so fortunate that I was just like, ‘Woo hoo, let’s go!’ I was working with people that I know and trust, and I’ve made shorts and a lot of TV, so although I hadn’t made a feature before I’d taken steps towards it. It wasn’t like I was just put in the deep end. One of the things I like about directing is that you have to make decisions very quickly and instinctively as opposed to over-analysing everything. So it wasn’t daunting when I was doing it. But after I’d done it, and I knew that I had to show people, that was daunting.’

How did you get into filmmaking?
‘I was going to study environmental science, but I got a job as a runner. I ended up making a short film, and realised that was what I wanted to do. I learned by making lots and lots of shorts. A lot of them were bad, but I learned so much. At the time I thought they were really good. I was like: why is this being rejected from every single festival? And then you make the next one and realise that the other one was fucking rubbish. But this one, this one is perfect! And then you get rejected all over again.’

What appealed to you about ‘The Scouting Book for Boys’?
‘I loved Jack [Thorne]’s writing, it’s very poetic. But the thing I liked most was the central character: an anti-hero, a protagonist who doesn’t always do what the audience wants them to do. I just thought it was really interesting, and much more true to life than most films. Because that’s what life is like. People fuck up, they make mistakes and they don’t do what you want them to do. So I was really drawn to that.’

What appeals to you about working with young actors? Is there a trick to getting such fine performances from them?
‘Just treat them like equals and give them respect. It’s like getting on with someone: you have to  gain their trust and then live up to that. Knowing when to nurture them and when to get them riled up, knowing how to sculpt their performance.’

Have you got another feature film in the pipeline?
‘I’m making a film about cheerleaders in a Hackney comprehensive. An American teacher comes to train this cheerleading squad. The teenagers she manages to recruit, as you might expect, are the antithesis of the American dream – they drink and smoke, get pregnant and get into fights.’

If Hollywood called, would you pack your bags?
‘I’d never pack my bags permanently, but I’d love to do a studio movie. I’m sure that would come with all sorts of problems but I’d love to give it a go. But I’d always want to come back and make smaller films.’

What advice would you give someone looking to make films?
‘Just make them. It’s possible now to just pick up a camera and keep doing stuff. I think a lot of people hold out for the perfect script or the right budget, or any budget, and you can wait forever. I made loads of films before I was fortunate enough to get funding for a professional short. It’s hard, but it’s possible. It’s possible.’

Read our review of ‘The Scouting Book for Boys'.

Author: Interview: Tom Huddleston



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