Filmmaker Q+A with Director & Producer, John Davies
Q: Tell us a bit about the production
Stories of You & I was filmed over one and a half months all over the UK, living out of the back of a van with a camera, swimming with basking sharks in the freezing waters off the Scottish Hebrides, spending evenings in forest hides, washing in lochs, climbing mountains in Wales and getting eaten alive by midges day in, day out. It was an experience I’ll never forget, living, filming and being immersed in na- ture so closely. The joy and freedom that gave me was a true saviour having spent the previous few months in lockdown. I hope this love of being amongst nature and living the experience while filming comes across to audiences and helps to bring a unique authenticity to the viewing experience.
Q: What inspired the story?
I first started developing this film sat in a field during the first UK lockdown back in March 2020 from a place of confused emotions. From love to grief, helplessness and hope, they seemed to mirror many feelings towards the current state of the world that were being felt by millions of others. At this time I was reading a lot and one of the books I was constantly dipping in and out of was ‘Letters to the Earth’ - a collection letters addressing the Earth, which had a big inspiration for the film conceptually. After reaching out to the co-creator of the book and campaign to firstly thank her for providing a source of inspiration during a tough time, I also ended up quoting parts of 3 letters featured in the book in the final film alongside my own ‘letters’. My hope and intention in making this film was to bring a sense of personal and emotional connection to environmental programming that would make under- standing the climate crisis more attainable for everyone and not just something that is distant, foreign and separate from our day to day lives.
It was a different experience for me in the development process compared to my past projects. Rather than something purely observational, the pandemic pushed me to put a lot of myself, my own feelings and memories into the film. I wrote much of the voice-over based on my experiences growing up amongst nature collaboratively with one of my oldest friends, Dave Wood, who I’ve been an idiot with since we were 13 and shared many of these memories with. It was one of the first times we’ve had to be serious together but in the heart of the first U.K. lockdown it was a way to chat and be creative with a friend who lived over seas. We sent lines back and forth for months between London and Copenhagen (where he now lives), to end up with the final pieces that lead the voice-over... a proper covid collaboration.
Q: Any fun facts about the film/program, the subject matter or the production crew that might surprise the audience?
Many people have asked how we managed to get someone of the calibre of Jonathan Pryce onboard a tiny budget student film, and assume it may have been a personal connection. The reality was that in the early stages of filming while I was still refining the script I had been watching Youtube videos of people reading Dylan Thomas’ poetry for references and inspiration. I found a beautiful reading that Jonathan had recorded of ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ and it deeply moved me. His voice resonated with me as I continued refining the script and would often picture his voice reading certain parts. I did some research into his background and realised in the previous year he had signed an open letter of celebrity backers, supporting a big environmental group, so knew he had a personal connection to the subject matter. While I knew it was a long shot, I thought ‘Why not?’ and sent him a personal letter explaining why I thought he’d be perfect for it along with the initial treatment and script, but honestly assumed I wouldn’t hear back or he would be too busy. To my amazement I got a response from his agent about 2 weeks into filming saying he loved the script and would like to be involved. That re- ally put on the pressure to get every shot to perfection and put in the extra hours in the field!
In the take of his monologue to-camera that we ended up using in the final film, you could have heard a pin drop in the studio. I forgot entirely about the monitor and was just watching him and every word he spoke with a lump in the back of my throat...before we cut I looked across and a couple of the other production crew on set had tears running down their cheeks in silence and I knew we had the one. It was a real honour and privilege getting to work with him on this and an experience as a young Director that I will certainly never forget.
Q: What impact do you hope this film/program will have?
As we finish it, it seems important to highlight the context and why I felt it was important for me to move from making observational documentaries to something far more personal with this film. At the end of this year, in Nov 2021, the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) is being held in Glasgow, and it’s arguably the most important meeting in the history of mankind. World leaders will meet to discuss how we can accelerate action to tackle this monumental crisis that won’t just be affecting polar bears and penguins, it will be us, our children and our grandchildren. This year and the run up to this event is of vital significance to the future of our planet and frankly, to humanity itself. We must spread hope, truth and challenge our leaders to make a change for a sustainable, liveable future. I hope this film will allow people to reconnect with their own memories and love for nature to instil and drive positive change.