Nobody Loves You and You Don't Deserve to Exist March 2021
Heart beaten, mind broken, a grieving English teacher embarks on an existential journey through the cathedrals, canals and crevices of Gothic Manchester, haunted and hounded by terrifying psychotic episodes as he struggles to come to terms with the dark secrets of a forgotten past.
‘Everybody needs someone special in their lives so they feel better about themselves, don’t ye think?’
Jack (aged 13)
Filmed between 2017 and 2021, ‘Nobody Loves You and You Don’t Deserve to Exist’ is an urgent and challenging story about the tragedy, trauma and truth of grief, and the psychological, emotional and spiritual consequences this can have on the male psyche.
Featuring bold and memorable performances from 17 independent actors from across the North West of England, we accompany our protagonist, Jack, as a 13 year old, a 21 year old and a 50 year old Mancunian as he battles through the abuse and brutality of his working class upbringing at the end of the 20th century, and then on to his descent into a middle class maze of amoral machinations at the beginning of the 21st.
Or do we?
The women in his life – his counsellor, his sister, his grandmother, his former teacher, his boss, his neighbour, his lover, his lover’s mother – each tell a different story, leaving us to question how we perceive and represent each other, the validity of our memories and the fortitude of our moral judgements.
With a unique and compelling Gothic soundtrack by Andrew McCrorie-Shand, it is impossible to watch this film without considering how we ourselves would deal with the inevitable loss of a loved one and, in turn, reflect upon the strengths and weaknesses of the bonds we have between ourselves and our families, our friends, our pasts and our futures.
That is to say, are we really loved by others? Do we really love ourselves? If so, then how much?
This micro-budget feature draws heavily on the Brett Gregory’s (writer/director) own personal experience of losing a very close friend very suddenly in 2013 and, in a number of ways, its drafting and development throughout 2016/2018 can be regarded as the beginning of a raw yet cathartic attempt to confront, rationalise and learn from the trauma of isolation, alienation, depression and fatalism which surrounds such a shocking and tragic event.
In the film this survivalist approach to the creative act also serves as an intimate and detailed exploration of masculinity in contemporary English society and culture, a nation painfully reserved and reticent when confronted by the unconventional, the awkward, the emotional, the embarrassing and the taboo, i.e. male mental health, self-defeat, self-destruction, intellectualism, the Absurd etc.
A further catalyst behind the film’s conception was Hieronymus Bosch’s 15th century painting, ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’: a surreal and meticulous medieval triptych which can be seen to present itself as a morality play writ large, its crude and exotic panels working as a wonderful three-act narrative structure delineating ‘Innocence’, ‘Temptation’ and the ‘Fall from Grace’.
Following selective readings of the King James’ Bible and Camus’ ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’, it thus became apparent to Brett that the film’s narrative, set in Manchester, would work most effectively as an example of ‘confessional cinema’ in generic terms and, in keeping with this cornerstone of the Judeo-Christian tradition, as a chorus of monologues in structural terms.
‘The first six months at university were a steep learning curve, man.’
Jack (aged 21)
As well as writing and re-writing the screenplay over and over again, Brett spent two years digitally storyboarding and animating every single frame, sequence and scene in order to clearly determine the pace and precision of the narrative’s direction, its composition and its tone. Such a commitment to detail is absolutely necessary if one is to create something cinematically resonant on a shoestring budget.
By 2017 Gwyn Hemmings (cinematographer) and Rob Edwards (camera/lighting assistant) were on board with the project. Passionate, talented and loyal, Brett had worked with the pair of them on various video promos over the years and they each knew each other’s practical approaches and methods. As a result, over the summer, they designed, propped, prepared and shot the content of the protagonist’s various dream sequences.
The filming and editing equipment used at this time (a Canon 5D, a 2013 version of Adobe Premiere etc.) was what remained of Brett’s previous large-scale projects which he had researched, written, produced and funded while he was employed as a Lecturer in Film and Cultural Studies, i.e. the non-profit music documentaries ‘Iceland: Beyond Sigur Ros’ (2010), ‘Manchester: Beyond Oasis’ (2012) and ‘Liverpool: Beyond the Beatles’ (2015).
In 2018 financial reality beckoned once again however and Brett had to suspend filming in order to take up agency work teaching Film and Media Production at a University Centre in Greater Manchester to help pay off the debts the film had accrued to date via loans, credit cards and overdrafts.
Fortunately, it was at this institution where he met Jack Clarke, a budding film producer, and James Ward, a budding screen actor. Both were 20 year old university students who had the enthusiasm, energy and ego to demand to be involved in the film and, after a few weeks of consideration, Brett agreed with them.
‘All this nonsense about following hearts and chasing dreams was painfully irresponsible.’
Independently sourcing actors online because there is no budget is a bit like tossing a bucket down into a deep, dark well in the middle of nowhere: it’s not certain that there’s actually any water at the bottom of it and, if there is, one can’t be sure that it will be clean or dirty or poisoned.
In 2019 Brett and Jack began the casting process by writing detailed character breakdowns, preparing open and honest casting calls, and requesting self-tapes via social media from interested female actors across Greater Manchester.
Quite quickly responses then began to arrive from ... London, Glasgow, Greece, Los Angeles and Australia.
One female applicant complained that her character’s monologue was too long and so she would only ‘do the beginning bit’; another sent through a self-tape where she was lying in her bed under the covers, at a distance, with her mouth hidden; and a third decided to deliver her character’s monologue – a well-spoken, middle-class manager from Cheshire – in a broad Scouse accent.
It soon became clear that in order to secure actors who took their craft seriously then a less hopeful and more practical strategy was required, i.e. to offer to produce high-quality scenes with accredited documentation so actors could add to their showreels and secure a Spotlight account and/or improve their STARmeter on IMDb.
Consequently, Brett and Jack approached the Performing Arts Departments of the various universities throughout Greater Manchester with the specific aim of casting ‘Suzy’, a 20-something daughter of a deranged Christian mother.
As a result, due to her enthusiasm, work ethic and ability to follow direction, Emma Bradburn was ultimately cast. A costume was bought for her, props were sourced and, around a month later, her character’s 6 minute monologue was lit, recorded and filmed in 4K on Gwyn’s brand new Sony A7R III at a run-down residential location in the city centre.
Following this the edited and graded scene was then presented beside Emma’s original iPhone self-tape on the Serious Feather website to demonstrate the transformative process on offer, and this was then posted on social media platforms as a part of Brett and Jack’s revamped approach to online casting.
Since the crew’s high-level technical and creative expertise was now patently clear to interested parties, enthusiastic and thoughtful enquiries and self-tapes began to arrive from semi-professional actors throughout Greater Manchester whose CVs already included noted performances in theatre, popular UK television series and even US feature films.
‘He said the most honest thing he could think of was for us to share the dreams we had.’ Suzy
Since Brett had structured the film’s narrative with real-world limitations in mind, the female characters’ scenes could be filmed weeks apart throughout 2019 while still maintaining on-screen continuity.
Unfortunately, as there was no budget to hire rehearsal space, rehearsals had to be carried out ‘in-camera’, thus extending the shooting duration to around 5 hours for every scene in order to achieve the strongest possible performance. Each female actor was extremely patient, supportive and focused throughout however and, after 10 months or so, around 45 minutes of high-quality footage had been shot, edited and graded.
At the beginning of 2020 positive news about the production had begun to circulate online and a lead actor from the region was cast as a result. However, while preparations were being made to film his scenes at a residential property in Hulme, reports started to appear about a flu-like virus which had spread from China to Spain and Italy.
As COVID rapidly gained a foothold in the UK tragedy then struck Brett once again at the end of March when his good friend, Rob Phillips, who had built a number of props for the film, contracted the virus and subsequently died of pneumonia five days later in a Kent hospital. Inexplicably, Karen, Rob’s wife of 35 years, then died of a heart attack the very next day.
Shocked and distraught, especially in relation to the subject matter of the film, Brett was unable to attend the funerals due to the lockdown that was in place and, inevitably, he had to step away from the production for three months in order to reflect upon these circumstances and to comprehend their motives.
Over this period, while Gwyn and Jack filmed establishing shots throughout Greater Manchester in time-lapse in the early hours to keep the production above water, the lead actor suddenly dropped out of the project without explanation to move to London, delivering yet another bitter blow to the production.
‘Tarkovsky was dying from lung cancer,’ Jack said to Brett, ‘but he still finished his film ‘The Sacrifice’.’
When Brett finally returned to the fray he called upon some of the contacts he had established while producing ‘Manchester: Beyond Oasis’ in order to source a composer who had the sensitivity and talent to emotionally interpret and validate the film’s themes and, in turn, elevate the production as a spectacle.
As Andy McCrorie-Shand went about composing a haunting opening soundtrack based on sheet music illustrated in the third panel of Bosch’s ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’, Jack then posted another casting call online for a lead actor with not only the skills and experience to bring the protagonist to life on screen with energy and compassion, but with the strength of character to commit to an art-house movie about death and grief for no pay, for an unspecified number of months, shot in a non-naturalistic fashion.
It was great to work with the SF team on this shoot. Brett has a real eye for detail and this really helped me to get in the zone, as I'm mostly a stage actor! The location and set up was all ready to go when I arrived and despite a few 'natural lighting' issues (and some hasty curtain set ups!) the shoot was totally professional from start to finish and loads of fun to be involved in. I'm so pleased with how the final edit came out. Thank you!
Brett (the director) was meticulous in setting the scene, paying great attention to detail to ensure everything was perfectly in place. The crew were lovely to work with and I think the finished scene looks great.
I recently had the privilege of filming with Serious Feather on their next great indie film. The passion from all of the dedicated, professional and very friendly crew was second to none! I immediately felt at ease and enjoyed my entire time filming with these talented and very experienced people. I was so impressed by the wonderful attention to detail they input into every single element whilst filming.
Thank you, Serious Feather, for allowing me to be a part of this great film.
Serious Feather are a pleasure to work with; their excellent balance of professionalism and good humour makes for a fun and focused shoot. They generously offer time at the start of the shoot for actors to acclimatise and warm into the work, which was hardly necessary as they had me feeling welcome and ready to roll straight away. Throughout the shoot I felt at ease and supported by the crew, who would check in with me and offer artistic and technical direction and regular tea refills - this was a prop, in fairness, but they certainly knew how to get the best out of me! All in all, I had a great time filming with Serious Feather, and would gladly work with them again.
I saw the casting call on Facebook and upon looking at their website and other work I knew they would be great to work with.
Communication with all the Serious Feather team was constant and immediate, asking dietary requirements and providing the relevant costumes etc.
I could not have been happier with the footage. The editing and the quality were fantastic, and I will be able to pick and choose which bits I would like to use on my showreel.
Being able to film a scene with a lengthy monologue was a great learning experience. I’m looking forward to seeing the next scenes develop, so if you get the opportunity to be involved do not hesitate.
Working with Serious Feather was a brand new experience for me as I'd never acted for camera before, but after having read the scene emailed to me I knew it was going to be a clever, gritty and challenging piece of work.
I found the process interesting and loved working with all the crew.
They were happy to answer all the questions I had about the different equipment being used and their lighting and sound methods.
The shoot itself was fun, and it felt very rewarding when I finally watched my scene. I can't wait to watch the whole film!