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The Residue of a Relationship

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Boy Meets Girl. Boy loses Girl. Boy Makes Film.

Filmmaker Brett Chapman proposes a film that may not seem the most appealing at first glimpse – I mean documenting a film about a past relationship seems quite gutsy, and borderline insane if you ask me. But Chapman, somehow makes it work, and gets us wildly intrigued about this relationship that sounds at the same time familiar, as it does magical. Then you ask yourself: How do you get all this footage ready years before you know you are going to make a film about break up?

When I was a recent graduate I made a deal with my best friend that in four years time, no matter what, we’d take a trip together through Europe. Four years later, to the exact day, there we were in Amsterdam. Because of the background of the trip I’d decided to film the whole thing and it was due to this I managed to capture my very first meeting with Ebba. We had no right to meet, we lived thousands of miles apart – so it felt very special. For the next two years I filmed everything, constantly, obsessively. I felt like this cinematic romance was unfolding in my real life and I wanted to capture it – I wanted to acknowledge how important it was.

So, when Ebba and I broke up and she left behind seven letters with specific instructions on when to open them, I realised I’d captured a real life romance, from beginning to end in an authentic and unplanned way. I filmed my opening each letter and used the footage I’d captured over the last two years to illustrate a romance that ended but left a lasting and important impression on me.

Brett obviously has a soft side, and unshamefully calls himself a fan of romantic cinema. This attention to detail and observation on a relationship allowed him to gather bits and pieces and use them as a storytelling piece, seeing the entire rise and fall of a couple, all the way up to its residues. Brett tells us about his inspirations and how they reflect on his day to day life:

I grew up on films like Annie Hall, Say Anything, Vanilla Sky, 10 Things I Hate About You, Before Sunrise and my favourite Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I guess in there you have a mix of outright sentimentality and some really interesting observations on how and why we fall in love. My taste in film has unquestionably influenced how I live my real life and as I’ve grown older that’s something that has really interested me – the authenticity of my own experience and the projections and expectations I’ve adopted. So for years I’ve been writing scripts for romantic movies and then I saw one unfolding in my real life and realised there was a truth I wouldn’t be able to recreate in fiction. The fact I’d been shooting since the day Ebba and I met up to the very end was too much of a gift for the filmmaker in me to ignore. Then after that, as I worked on the film I realised I’d really learned something about myself and how my point of view on the world has been influenced, not always positively, by cinema. I took this as an opportunity to re-tune my world view into something that I hope is just as romantic but a little more realistic.

The majority of footage for the film was shot over the course of two years. The connective letter opening sections were then shot over a two month period in his studio in Sheffield. All of these parts were captured using a Sony RX100 IV – which is a tiny but incredibly powerful camera.

Alongside that I used a lot of obsolete analogue cameras to either shoot through or as screens within the film.The thinking there was to acknowledge that even as I try to share this story with absolute honesty there’ll always be a degree of artifice to any experience that’s translated into film.

That’s a healthy realisation to have if your world view if moulded by cinema. So, the addition of extra screens to shoot through to access me or the story was a nod to this.

I was shooting, scripting and editing the film all at the same time from inside my studio which I think helped to keep the movie truthful and immediate throughout. It was just me, working non-stop, occasionally sending a draft to friends to see if I was on the right track.

It was important to me that the film have a tactile and handmade feel because it’s also sort of a love letter to the art of writing letters or gifting trinkets to people. To that end I made a lot of DIY backdrops and props for the film that totally drew on my love of Michel Gondry and Mike Mills.

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