One Word to ‘blow them away’: Manchester director Caleb Shaffer wants poetic justice at film festival

Finding a story he wanted to tell was crucial when Manchester director Caleb Shaffer decided he was ready to start making films again.

Caleb, who is nominated for Best Director at the Manchester International Film Festival 2015, spoke to MM about his short film One Word and the ideas behind it.

Starting his own production company, Picture Lock Production out of the Northern Quarter, and entering the world of corporate film making because he ‘needed to start making money’ wasn’t enough for Caleb, and Picture Lock co-founder Steven Wyatt – they knew they had to get back to ‘what they had been trained for’.

“We never got round to [making a film] because I didn’t want to make a film for film’s sake,” Caleb said.

“I put a lot of my time and body on the line to make a film – I don’t mind doing 17-hour days for the right thing.

“I wanted to make a film that might be crap or people might not like but at least I could be judged upon it.”

From a melding of subjects came his short film One Word about an African refugee who finds a voice against isolation and racism through spoken word performance.

He said: “The first was with the Conservative [Coalition]. I’ve got a lot of friends and family who are teachers and I noticed a big shift towards what, I suppose, are classic educational subjects – the English, the maths, the sciences.

“And a quite obvious push away from the arts and creative subjects. I started thinking about how I could make a film that would address that.”

Later Caleb met a man fighting deportation back to a country where he feared assassination. The director was guarded about the details of this.

He met this man’s friends, family and neighbours and saw they had ‘a strong sense of community’, contrasting sharply with the ‘rising UKIP and BNP support and the right wing view of immigration’.

“I was with these supposedly freeloading refugees and they were far from it,” he explained.

“There were 20 people to a house that should really only serve three. It was the real human side of the story people don’t get to see.”

These two ‘polar opposites: educating British kids and, immigration and refugees’ became the basis for Caleb’s story.

In picking an ‘art of expression’ to focus on in the film, Caleb shied away from the obvious, rap, because ‘it would probably be pretty crap’.

He added: “I thought [of] poetry and spoken word because there is a strong link with history, about poetry through struggle.

“I had no pretence in knowing I wouldn’t be able to write it. I could direct the spoken word in terms of what I wanted it to be about but I wanted somebody with a bit of clout.”

The plan was to get spoken word artist Suli Breaks, a ‘new age’ Youtube sensation who counts Will Smith among his fans, on board.

Breaks was set to film with a crew in London but, thanks to a stroke of luck, his video team fell through so Caleb invited him to see what Picture Lock Productions could do.

“He came to Manchester, which I don’t think he’d ever done before, he loved it,” Caleb told MM.

“He was a cockney, first time North, and he was very impressed with our industry and our work ethic.

“Previously, I think he’d made very low budget stuff with a few people, whereas I brought him a whole film crew!

“The intention was always to sneakily see if I could get my idea though. I pitched it to him loosely and he was on board straight away.”

Caleb and Breaks began collaborating on the spoken word to ‘blow people away at the end’ of the film.

The short is also nominated for Best UK Film and Joshua Okusanya, who plays the lead, Sammi, is nominated for Best Actor – a performance for which Caleb said jokingly he takes full credit.

The director’s deep attachment to his film came across when he said: “It would be great to win any of the awards and from a personal point of view it would be great vindication.”

Okusanya quickly impressed at his audition. Caleb said: “Josh was the first guy through the door.

“He blew us away with the amount of research he did into to character and all the questions he was asking.

“Nasser Memarzia (Munich, The Syndicate) taught me the power of working with an actor to build a character.

“Josh would use my dialogue to create substance and mould the character.

“If Josh doesn’t win Best Actor the performance that wins must be amazing.

“Everybody who watched the film, even those who don’t necessarily like it will say how great [Josh] is.”

Keen to stay in his Manchester home, One Word was filmed in Wythenshaw and Stretford, with much of the five-day filming time taking place at Newall Green High School, and its students helped make up the cast.

Caleb praised the school, saying: “They were amazing. Filming in schools is very hard but the amount of work Newall Green did for us, they could almost be classed as production and location specialists. They did everything!

“We were helped by the drama teacher Bethan Evans. She’s the first teacher you see in the film.

“It was always my intention, after she was so helpful, to see if she would do it. I thought it would be quite cool for her.”

Staying in Manchester, Caleb is thrilled he gets the chance to showcase his work at Manchester’s inaugural film festival.

He said: “Manchester is a very cool city and although I am from here, having something I can reference, having a festival and having all the exposure, being able to be associated with my home city is very special.

“I’ve always been proud to be Mancunian.”

The Manchester International Film Festival 2015 runs from Friday July 10 to Sunday July 12.

One Word is being screened during the first UK Dramatic Shorts session on Saturday from 6pm.

To get your tickets click here

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