Having completed my previous short film, 'Nobody's Perfect' at the end of 2006, I was screening the final graded master to my DoP Tim Sidell, when we started talking about what the next project would be?
I wanted to make a drama, something dark and disturbing. I had proved that I could make people laugh, but could I unsettle them?
I had thought about making a film about a child criminal for some time, based on a friend's short story. But I could never get the screenplay to work.
I then came up with the idea of putting a feral child, a boy with no morals, who is capable of robbing an elderly woman, in a situation where he discovers something that is so extreme that even he feels a line has been crossed. The idea of Stolen Youth then started to fall into place.
I decided that setting the story in a small community in the countryside, would make for a more interesting story. So it was decided that we would shoot the film in the area where I live. Tim and I had decided that it would also add to the story to shoot it during winter. The idea of an overcast day, with all the leaves off the trees, would help heighten the dark nature of the film. I also wanted to shoot on film, as all my previous films were shot on video. As it happened Tim had access to a complete Super 16mm camera kit, so it started to look possible. With Christmas approaching, we set a shoot date of early March, hoping that spring would not be too early!
I wanted to tell this story from the boy's point of view, so the audience joined him on his destructive tour of the village and the house. Tim came through again, not only by finding a Steadicam system for nothing, but by convincing a Steadicam operator to join us.
Tim and I spent the Christmas break shooting tests, to see what was possible. I had already decided that I wanted the story to be told as much as possible through pictures and that any dialogue would be incidental. Having planned the previous film so heavily, it left little space for inspiration on the day of the shoot. With Stolen Youth we took a different approach. I knew what the action of each scene was going to be, but that was about all. On the shoot days I worked with the actors establishing the action and finding any dialogue we needed, as we rehearsed. Then Tim and I discussed the best way to cover it. A lot of scenes were covered with just one long Steadicam shot.
The process was very enjoyable and resulted in shots I wouldn't have considered had we planned the shots. Editing was in some ways quite straight forward, as a lot of decisions were made on the shoot and it was a matter of cutting the shots together. On the flip side, I did find this restrictive, as I wanted to speed up some scenes and on others I wanted to use more than one take. Without other shots to cut away to, jump cuts were the only option. Once I had accepted this and proved it worked, I embraced the style.