Photo by Toffee Hammer Films
Benjamin Verrall, writer and director of the film Incidental Characters says “playfulness is really important to me. When I started writing the script, I wanted to make a film about people. I thought about the game Consequences. The film was going to be called Consequences, in fact!”
I can see why: that game captures something of the film’s nature. How the people we incidentally meet can both “define us, and hold us back”. And that, as well as challenging, this can also provide a source of exploration and creativity. We push against each other – and learn about ourselves.
Incidental Characters is also set entirely in Lewes. Three of the four central characters (perhaps, two mismatched pairs) work in a fictional book publishers (McGinley’s) based in Lewes House (where I sit, writing this). There are scenes in Tizz’s, and various familiar local hostelries. One character does my regular ‘loop’ over the near Downs in reverse; towards the end, another walks right past my door. It’s FUN to watch all this. But the film is much more.
The (arguable) hero of the piece is Alf, “a proper nerd, who miscommunicates all the time”, played by Howard Perret. “It was important, however, that Alf communicated with the audience. We knew Howard was perfect for the role from the first audition”, says Ben. “We spent a lot of time finding the right ensemble cast and it was great to watch the actors bring the characters to life.”
And why Lewes? “The practical answer is we were making the film without much money. I’d been learning film-making – writing and directing – all my adult life, and eight years ago left the London agency where I was working, frustrated, and moved to Lewes. I put my money where my mouth was and started Toffee Hammer. Most of my time is spent making promotional films for clients. But I also knew it was now or never to make my first feature film.
“So I dug out my old scripts, but found you don’t want to be brushing dust off before starting your dream project. So I chose the best characters from those, and transplanted them all to Lewes, disregarded all received wisdom and made a film I find I’m really proud of.
“It helped (financially) to have all the filming take place within one mile of our studio (in Star Brewery). Lewes is exactly the right setting for the story: a magical place where you bump into people, until you start nodding, and then become friends. And finally, it’s an unbelievably beautiful location – at the same time as having something universal (the small castle town, and so on).”
Ben’s film is about loneliness. AND it’s funny – as well as surreal at times (hence cardboard robot, drinking in the Lewes Arms!) – “and it was also really, really important it would be fun to make”, he says. “That was our ethos. And it was!”
Incidental Characters goes on independent release in February – look out for screenings at Depot – and will become available on DVD and to stream in April.