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An Interview with Chris Fretwell, Director of The Pugilist's Son

by Mike Haberfelner

August 2016

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Your upcoming movie The Pugilist's Son - in a few words, what will it be about?

 

The Pugilistís Son follows the journey of a young man following in his father's footsteps in the hardest sport of them all.

 

The Pugilist's Son is based on a short of yours of the same name - so why choose exactly that story to ultimately turn into your debut feature film? And how close will you remain to the earlier film?

 

Itís been a mad journey trying to find this film, even though I did the short film I wrote about 10 screenplays up to that point and it was a decision about what kind of writer/director I was going to be or simply what film I was going to launch with.

 

Boxing as a genre in this country is very hard to place, most people would be hard-pushed to name a British boxing film, there must be a reason for that and through the writing of the feature film I found out what that reason was. I will come back to this.

 

A few months ago I decided it would make perfect sense to make the feature. The development of the script has been tough because I am developing the characters and deepening the scenarios. It took me quite a while to actually get the story out. I also decided from the short film that drama was the best genre tonally for this film but with certain aspects heightened for commercial appeal.

 

Deepening characters is always a lengthy process, I really love to create the characters using real life case studies, this helps me bring them to life on the page and it tells me, yes, this could actually happen. I like to research the events in the same way so I can say, this actually happened somewhere in the world.

 

During the making of The Pugilistís Son, I became well aware of all the boxing clichťs and I did my best to avoid them or use them to my advantage. I love English culture and my aim with the feature is to expose some of that love across the landscape of the sport.

 

The annoying thing about adapting a short is losing the bits you love cause you donít want to copy them direct. Or maybe I will just copy them or enhance them, but the truth is they are isolated films and those bits you love will develop in the feature too.

 

Ok back to why itís hard to name a boxing feature. With boxing say like the Rocky films there is always a title fight involved or a big fight that the film is leading towards. Will he/she wonít he/she win. With the short film I wanted to change the dynamic to an internal fight between father and son and I think in the feature I have raised the stakes on this one. So what do you do with this genre in the UK, in the US they have smashed it with the best films being biopics.

 

Weíve had some top boxers in this country so a film may come to the fold someday. Although my film is not a bio I firmly believe in authenticity, it is everything, that was the reason for casting Gary Stretch in the co lead role. The film is called The Pugilistís Son so the father and son are both named in the title which means they are both the central characters in this story.

 

With The Pugilist's Son being about boxing, is that a sport you're at all into, and did you do any research on the subject?

 

Research is ongoing, I watch a lot of boxing and before I made the short I got up into the ring. My plan is to get back into the ring again now as I move forward with the feature. It always helps having people from the boxing world to consult with, like Gary and Errol Christie and so on. I have been obsessed with the sport from a very young age but I never imagined writing a UK boxing film.

 

Other sources of inspiration when writing The Pugilist's Son?

 

Writing the The Pugilist's Son feature has been really hard, much harder than anything I have written up to now and itís because of the virtually non-existant UK boxing genre itself and the challenge getting a believable story out of it.

 

I was trying to find what this story was really about for a matter of months, I started off very light and now I have really carved out a strong drama where the stakes are high and the characterization is unique in its drive across the story. I really admire films where each character has their own separate driving agenda across the story landscape then they all clash in some way in the heart of the story.

 

Boxing movies suggest quite a bit of physical action almost by definition - so how do you plan to go about that aspect of your movie?

 

This part is the bit that I love me climbing into the ring, ties in with all of this, I want to live and breath the sport and feel the moments as much as possible. For the short film I hired Errol Christie, the former British champion, to train my lead actor Tom and I will be doing the same for the lead in the feature. I will also be trawling the UK boxing clubs to get an honest modern day depiction of the boxing world from amateur to pro, itís all about inclusion, cultures, sexes and religions.

 

My first training session starts this weekend.

 

What can you tell us about the intended overall look and feel of The Pugilist's Son?

 

I love bold cinema, getting coverage just isnít good enough, The Pugilist's Son will be shot for the big screen despite where it ends up. I coined the term Ďstylized grití when I was shooting the short and this is what I want to stick to. We love grit over here but it doesnít have to be cheap looking or low budget. You can create sheer explosive beauty these days for a fraction of the cost.

 

I firmly believe in classic storytelling and the non-dating of your film, some films date and some do not, the ones that date seem cutting edge and explosive when they come out but a few years later they look old. For this reason I believe in shooting as conventionally as possible according to the genre and tone. The Pugilist's Son is an explosive drama about a young boxer trying to make it in the toughest game of all.

 

So the film will have a rich classic palette with an undertone of menace the possibility of tension and violence at every turn. Bold and cinematic with the characters baring their raw souls on screen for all to see.

 

Anything you can tell us about your key cast and crew yet, and why exactly these people?

 

Iím speaking closely with Gary Stretch about the co-lead at the moment and I would really like to work with my DOP Maja again as she was perfect for the short film. Thatís about all I can say at the moment.

 

With the film still in pre-production, what's the schedule? And when might the movie be released onto the general public then (however tentatively)?

 

I would like to be shooting early next year, Iím a strong believer in setting deadlines and getting things done, there are a load of clichťs floating around about how long it takes to do this and that, but I think itís in everyoneís interests to push and structure for the fastest possible results and who knows what might happen.

 

Any future projects beyond The Pugilist's Son?

 

Before I directed The Pugilistís Son I wrote 5 screenplays and since I have written it I have written another 5. For me writing is vocational, I have to write. I wrote a script on my life story many years ago. What I plan to do is write a book first then perhaps make a film, but the book is more important to me at the moment in terms of the life story subject matter. Iím currently working with Cass Pennant developing a couple of projects. There is one crazy dark film which will become my passion very soon, itís on the list of already written films and this one is screaming out to be fully realized next.

 

I read somewhere that you consider yourself a writer first and foremost - so how did you get into the filmworld first?

 

Yes writing has always come first for me cause I wanted to control the film from the ground up. I got into film simply by spending my own money and just doing it, starting out in short film. Made a shitload of bad films and lost loads of money, but what I gained was confidence to just go out and do it and not to wait for anyone. That is a valuable lesson I think as filmmaking is so tough.

 

I did study film and art and design and history of art and so on. I said I wanted to write years ago but you have to spend years being shit and thinking you are good with no one paying any attention and one day you just find your voice and boomÖpeople still ignore you and pay you no attention but you are armed with a voice. 

 

What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to The Pugilist's Son (in whatever position)?

 

I have worked in so many different capacities itís dizzying but each aspect has helped, in terms of film office side Iíve worked at Working Title, Sarah Radclyffe, BFI, NFT and other production companies in the UK. I did a bunch of short films before The Pugilist's Son, I wrote produced and directed them but frankly they were just not good enough to see light of day. You have to be hard on yourself and know how good you are. If you make a rubbish film just shelf it and make another one. So long as your work is improving it doesnít matter how bad your film is cause you are simply going to get better and better. You hear people slagging off other people's shorts and I think in 5 years time that kid could be the next Spielberg. You donít know what people are doing behind the scenes to empower themselves for their next project.

 

How would you describe yourself as a writer and as a director, and how do the two influence one another?

 

Iím a solitary people person, that is me personified and I love that cause it allows me to enjoy both disciplines. Filmaking is all about processing and itís about loving the majority of them to drive your passion. There are aspects of the writing process I donít like that much such as writing the script for the first draft, I love researching and rewriting but I hate starting the script, but the good outweighs the bad here. With directing parts of it are like factory work, I worked for a production company and shot over 80 showreels for clients and I got to realize the repetitive processes of filmmaking but I still love it.

 

Filmmakers, writers, whoever else who inspire you?

 

Iceberg Slim is my all time favourite at the moment, Iíve read all his novels and thatís a good sign. Knut Hanson. Iíve read quite a lot of Bukowski but the lack of plot means I never finish them. Iíve just opened The Tin Drum which is good, so books mainly. Woody Allen needs a mention, heís cheesy at times but those Annie Hall oneliners are unsurpassed.

 

Your favourite movies?

 

Anything from David Lynch, love Alain Delon, The Beguiled, The Wicker Man, Two Men in Manhattan, The Night of the Hunter, All About Eve, Marnie. All oldies... thousands more...

 

... and of course, films you really deplore?

 

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Itís funny I think if you get one thing from a shit film then itís been worth it. I try and watch very bad films cause you can learn from them, so thereís nothing I hate just films that I love as above.

 

Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?

 

Current info can be found at:

www.cinedome.co.uk

@chrismfretwell

 

Anything else you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?

 

Iíve started boxing, training amongst the dead in graveyards in preparation for this film, itís so peaceful and calm.

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

Special thanks to Richard S Barnett, founder of IIWYK!!!

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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Thanks for watching !!!



 

 

On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide
WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
starring
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD

 

 

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