Former first-lovers, musician Anna B Savage and filmmaker Jem Talbot, reunite seven years later to remember their relationship.

Baby Grand begins as an attempt to understand the feelings they once shared. The pair revisit their most significant and intimate moments together, cinematically recreating events for camera. Using actors to play their younger selves, the couple re-enact their landmark memories; from meeting in the backseat of a car, losing their virginities in the small hours of a party, to eventually growing apart. The film is an inventive turn on the self-authored documentary genre, where the filmmakers rediscover both old and new feelings that they thought were deeply buried.

Jem Talbot and Anna B Savage truly open themselves up to turn a rather normal relationship into an incredible and unexpected human experience for the audience. We spoke to Jem who digs a little deeper on the entire process. From how the film came to be to the challenges of shooting a virginity scene.

Can you tell us what inspired you to bring this story to life?

Having not spoken to me in the seven years since we broke up, Anna sent me a text out of the blue saying she’d had a dream about me. Perhaps by chance, or by cosmic fate, I’d been listening to her EP and already dreaming up a film idea the two of us could collaborate on. I was experiencing a kind of creative malaise at the time. And I later found out that Anna was similarly in the midst of a writer’s a block. Our meeting reaffirmed that we both still had a lot to say as Anna was suddenly able to quickly finish writing and recording her album and I was able to pour myself into the film that later was to become ‘Baby Grand’.

The challenge was and always has been ‘great for you, but who cares?’ Our relationship was special to us, but completely unremarkable to the outsider. The challenge was to express ourselves completely and with vulnerability whilst still making it interesting to an audience. Whilst I think our relationship and story is entirely unremarkable, I do think our decision to tell it and share it this way is special.

Georgia Small as Anna B Savage in Baby Grand

How did you go about casting the younger selves?

It was important, but not vital to find performers that looked similar to our younger selves. The moment we met Georgia we could see the similarities, beyond simply physical, were clear. Georgia is a very feeling human and performer and she bought an open vulnerability that I recognised in Anna both as a teenager and adult. Leon is, in my opinion, a more thinking than feeling soul. After we cast him he wanted to be bombarded with photos, emails, and messages from Anna and I’s “relationship archive” and was forever inquisitive. A personality type I immediately recognised in myself, particularly as a younger man.

Both of them bought into the idea very quickly and their generosity and sensitivity as people is. In part, this is what makes their performances feel emotionally real. The two are now friends and still write, perform, and collaborate together which brings me great joy. And I am secretly proud to think that mine and Anna’s creative partnership has been inherited by them.

How did you handle the intimacy in the interviews? Was the other always in the room “directing”? Or was there an intermediator?

Right from the beginning, even from the initial research filming, Anna and I were never in the room when the other was being interviewed. We were lucky to have our mutual friend, Henry, who is a co-director on the film, as a less subjective third eye and interviewer. Luckily, not only is Henry a friend who was witness to our relationship back in the day as we all went to school together, he’s also a talented theatre director and writer in his own right and was more than adept at both handling the sensitivity of the space, and brining a sharp understanding of story-telling and craft.

The first time Anna or I would see the other’s interviews would be in the edit room as the three sat down to mould the story together. There was many an uncanny moment where we would refer to ourselves in the third person or as ‘characters’. A typical documentary has an ‘outside looking in’ perspective, whereas we were inside looking further inside. So, of course, there were moments where things became scattered and we had to take breaks from filming for periods to try to put separation in between life and art, which was sometimes easier said than done. In hindsight, Anna and I both wished we talked more outside the making of the film and not purely save our emotions for each other when on camera. We managed that a later date, which I’m pleased about.

Unfortunately there is no playbook for navigating your emotions when making a cross-genre autobiographical documentary.

Georgia Small & Leon Finnan in Baby Grand

What was the most challenging scene for you to film?

The viriginity scene. If creating a scene comprising of competing memories of how we lost our virginities to each other wasn’t hard enough, we had to work out how to visualise that in a way that felt emotionally true, sensitive, and safeguarded our actors in the process. Films have a terrible history in depictions of sex on screen. We were both determined about avoiding all the unrealistic and somewhat damaging clichés you often see. For that we employed an intimacy co-ordinator, the very talented Adelaide Waldrop.

We wanted to portray the emotional truth of how our virginity losing actually was; sweet, clumsy, and short lived. Adelaide set about making our memories a reality and doing it in a way that protected all involved. I would implore other filmmakers to employ an intimacy co-ordinator for intimate scenes. From a performer’s perspective it can be a very nerve wracking experience. And I know for fact that sometimes directors don’t protect their actors in the way they deserve. Having a co-ordinator not only keeps them safe, but makes your scene better for it.

I’m proud of how as a team we set about capturing it and it is by far and away my favourite scene in the film.

What has this film taught you about filmmaking?

It’s taught me what films I want to make and how. I’m continuing to make films that use fiction in non-fiction and vice versa. The current documentary I’m working on also employs similar techniques like dramatic recreation, verbatim, and contributors that self author. I just know for sure I won’t be featuring myself this time.

Do you have any tips or advice to offer fellow filmmakers looking to self-author?

Strap in! In seriousness though I found the self authoring process to be incredibly therapeutic. ‘Baby Grand’ was filmed and developed over a long period, four years. And there are many parts of ourselves and our histories that didn’t make the cut. Through the continuous recollecting and recording process you are creating a self-document that can’t be ignored and if you’ve been vulnerable and shown the tender parts of your psyche there will be light as well as dark parts that you will be forced to reckon with. I guess what I’m saying is that it requires honesty and real, authentic honesty, can be painful sometimes, but it is also incredibly connecting, to yourself, and to others. Don’t blink, you’ve got this!

What do you hope people will take away from Baby Grand?

I hope people feel connected to some part of our experience. I think that’s all I ever hope for as a filmmaker. Our story is not special, but universal and if it speaks to you in some way then we’ve succeeded. Oh, and also, be vulnerable!

What are your favorite short films?

Kristoffer Borgli – ‘Wherever I Look I See Myself’. I’ve been following his career for a while and he uses reality in an inventive way that I love. Mike Mills’ ‘I Am Easy to Find’. He’s one of my favourite directors and there’s a tenderness to everything he makes that I am continually inspired by. ‘Wasp’ by Andrea Arnold because… Andrea Arnold.

Which films you can say directly inspired this film?

Any film that is a bit genre defying and plays with documentary and non-fiction as a form. Wim Wenders Lightning Over Water about his relationship with his mentor Nicholas Ray was one of the earlier films to play with the genre. I’m forever returning to Clio Barnard’s The Arbor. All These Sleepless Nights by Michal Marczak, Guy Maddin’s work, but particularly My Winnipeg.

A film I saw at IDFA in 2016 called Clear Years by Frédéric Guillaume, I don’t think it ever got a release, but I saw it at a time when I was working out how I was going to tell this story and I am indebted to it. And The Possibilities are Endless by James Hall and Edward Lovelace. It’s a film about Edwyn Collins’ recovering from a stroke and his relationship with his wife. Anna and I would often have it as a touch point and some of the imagery from Edwyn Collins’ world has crept into Anna’s album and her songs about our relationship.