Two couples, who have been close friends for years, face several traumas out of their control. The one
couple, Mike and Meryl, are recovering from their son’s death and their inability to communicate. The
second couple, Joanna and Tim, are trying to conceive their first child, after several failed attempts.
Through the span of several weeks, the couples contrast one another, quickly developing an intimate
study of human nature.
Girls On Film were asked by independent filmmaker Ben Rider to review his first feature, To Love Somebody: a romantic drama focusing on two couples having a turbulent time. Rider handled the writing, directing, producing, editing and cinematography. A courageous young Filmmaker Fledgling he is, but an all-rounder he is not – yet.
We are of the opinion that if you spread yourself so thinly without substantial foundations, you are sort of doomed from the get-go (although this is just our opinion, and not necessarily everyones). Although Rider’s intentions were good – he was clearly going for the realist, ‘cinema verité‘ vibe with the documentary-inspired photography – his execution lacked quality. His eagerness to simulate different filmic styles was very clear, but films needs more than style: they need substance.
It has to be said that no one emerges from school, fully developed into the professional they want to be, without a bit of tweaking here and there – and that includes GOF, fresh out of University ourselves! We must keep in mind that this is Rider’s first feature, made when he was a student, and the lack of experience and finance is very apparent. Many shots were filmed into the light of windows, which, although can work in a dreamy, surreal way, makes the viewer unable to see what is actually going on in normal, conversational scenes. So as a rule, we’d say try to avoid that.
The film was obviously purposely working to conjure up a surreal feel at other times, however. There were dreamy montages throughout, often in slow motion and with original music, which worked to create the desired, contemplative mood. Particularly, the shot of Mike (Lee Peck) running past the ‘Love Lane’ road sign captured the right tone. But the problem was that these sequences weren’t narratively progressive. The vision of a director was there, yes. A refined story was not.
Many questions arose whilst watching To Love Somebody: What was Rider’s purpose in making this film? If it was to explore what it means to love somebody, we can only say we are none the wiser. If it was to try and capture the essence of a dreamy, forlorn mood, however, he definitely showcased his ability to do that. None of the characters were particularly relatable, discrediting the (meant to be) heart-wrenching scenes, but this was mainly due to the uncultivated script. Where’s Mike’s other half Meryl (Tanya Winsor), who disappears without explanation? Could the hour-and-a-half film have been compressed into a half-hour short, cutting out all the more mundane shots of people making tea, starring in the mirror, packing suitcases and essentially doing nothing worth watching? Could a tripod have been worked into the budget? Of course, hand held camera work can give a personal, intense feel – but this was not the case with To Love Somebody, in which the camerawork can only be described as iPhone-chic.
But there is nothing wrong with low budget filmmaking per se. In fact there’s often a lot right with it. The absence of glossy and abundant add-ons leaves room for other things to be showcased, which is something British cinema has historically been very good at. Directorial talent, compelling dialogue and an actor’s nuances have space to shine when the focus is shifted from a polished finish to the rawer elements of a film. That is why it is absolutely essential to get the script perfect. With a solid concept and meaningful intent, other aspects usually naturally fall into place. Films can often still work when shot on a cheap camera – but there is never any room for cheap ideas.
Rider mentioned in his press release that it was a melange of genres he was going for, perhaps due to his recent studying of film history, and the aesthetic was indeed consistent. However the sporadic inclusion of different genre sequences (ie. horror) was mostly unsuccessful. There was no explanation as to why Mike hallucinated a hand under the bed, or why candles were being blown out and relit (was this meant to be surreal? Or will the sequel feature the real problem in Mike and Meryl’s marriage: the creature under the bed?).
At GOF we love a filmmaker willing to take risks, experiment with shot types and push the boundaries of storytelling which, it is clear, Rider is trying to achieve. You can see the thought process behind certain shots or scenes, but the weak script and unpractised skill (e.g. framing) let him down, which is a real shame.
Commendable is Rider’s attempt to turn his hand to many aspects of his film’s production, showing his aptitude for hard work and willingness to be ambitious. He clearly has a lot of potential, but Rider needs to mature as a filmmaker. It felt like he’d just studied a range of film styles at University and tried to pay homage to them all. What he needed to begin with, instead of a rough idea of different styles of filmmaking, was a solid, interesting script and greater technical quality. His next film needs to be based on serious pre-production in order to influence the post-production, and Rider should focus on getting together a strong creative team, instead of trying to do everything himself. As can often happen with filmmakers, they can become too close to their project and lose direction.
Ben wrote about how the film was unable to be submitted into film festivals; perhaps, at this early stage, this was a good thing. He is working on a new film called ‘Seven Devils’, and as he matures as a filmmaker he will hopefully hone his skills to produce something more concise and gripping. He obviously loves filmmaking, but what he needs to realise is that you can produce an indie film without utilising every indie film quality. The best low budget films are based on strong concepts rather than overuse of style. Don’t simply try and copy ‘hip’ styles of cinema. Be fresh and be refined. Rider has shown understanding of some of the skills it takes to make a good film, however they weren’t executed well enough yet. A clear consolidation of ideas is necessary to go from being an average and forgettable filmmaker to a great one, which he very well could be.
We look forward to seeing how Ben gets on with his next movie.