LONDON — Martin Stitt is used to making films with budgets as low as £4,000 ($6,070), so when a series of higher-profile projects collapsed on him, the British director went back to doing what he knew best — making a little go a long way. The result is “Love Me Do,” a dark, intense two-hander about the unhealthy relationship that blossoms between an outgoing, out-of-work actor (Jack Gordon) and a frosty, repressed finance worker (Rebecca Callard). The film screens in competition at London’s Raindance Film Festival. “To be honest for the first screening I was nervous,” says Stitt. “It’s a bit of a Marmite film [something you either love or hate], because it’s quite nasty at the end, and you never know how people are going to react. But the audiences have been fantastic, and I’ve been really surprised by the attendances. Our first screening was when England and Wales were playing rugby, so I thought we’d be on a hiding to nothing. But both screenings were practically full.”
What was the starting point for “Love Me Do”?
I’d been attached to a whole series of other projects. I was at the AFI, and while I was there I got offered a franchise sequel with a big, hefty budget, but the script was terrible, so I ended up walking away. It wasn’t what I joined the film world for. Then I came back to the U.K., tried the Film London Microwave scheme with my producer Ian Prior — close but no cigar — then I was offered a project where the producer slowly evaporated away. It was really frustrating, especially as all thee projects had budget levels beyond my grasp. So I began to think of something that was very self-contained, that I could literally do with my friends.
What inspired the story?
I became interested in types who survive in different industries. I’d previously been in the Gurkhas [a British regiment] and the finance world, now I’m in the film world, and it was really interesting to look at the characters that succeed in those worlds. I guess mainly because I’ve always felt like a fish out of water, never really knowing where I fit in. The more research I did, especially in the finance world, I could see that having pretty nasty character traits served you very well. But a lot of these people are really lovely to be with, for quite a lot of the time. And then you find out their intentions aren’t quite as true and straight as you thought. So I started to wonder what these kinds of individuals would be like in their private lives.
How did you finance it?
When I started writing it, I suddenly realized that I would have to do it with no money, so I put a whole load of constraints in the script, like the characters not leaving the house. I thought I was going to finance it myself, and then one day I showed it to a contact in the finance world to get a fresh perspective on the female character. He surprised me at the end of the meeting by saying: “How are you putting this together?” I told him that, at that point, I didn’t have much of an idea, and he said, “Well, when you do, I’ll help you raise the money.” I showed Ian the script and he saw the potential too. It’s ironic, but after all the headaches of those previous film, I wrote something low-budget that I could do myself and the money came together really quickly.
How did you find your cast?
A brilliant casting director named Manny Puro at Puro Casting. It was hard work, actually. A lot of people told us we’d need Brad and Angelina to have any chance of getting an audience. We did have some interest from higher-profile individuals than we expected. But I wanted to work with people who really wanted to do it, people who were hungry.
Is this your first feature?
Technically, yes, for fiction. I’ve done a couple of documentaries, but they’ve all been zero budget. This is the only budgeted longer film I’ve made.
How was the shoot?
I tend to like the chaos of filmmaking, and I mean that in the best sense of the word. Every time you add an asset to the film, something changes. I guess I was mentally rewriting it quite a lot. I thought I was going to do a lot more improvising, but, literally, it was the script in the very end. We did lose a location, and… It sounds crazy to say it, but when we started looking at other locations, they just didn’t fit the characters. It almost made me recast, or postpone, but then we found a better one. But the biggest challenge was finding the right team.
Why was that?
It was slightly intoxicating at times, because we could have people with great CVs, which would have added value to the film when it came to selling and marketing. But I wasn’t convinced that they would have added value to the production. They were a bit longer in the tooth and might not have had the energy to do a low-budget running shoot. So it was always about trying to find the right balance — people you could trust and who had just enough experience to cope. The challenge was to get everybody motivated and focused on what they had to do. My job is a lot easier when you trust people. I don’t believe in micromanaging.
How would you describe your experience with Raindance?
Fantastic. One of the reasons why we applied to Raindance was, [in 2006] I made a short film called “What Does Your Daddy Do,” which premiered in Venice and then screened at Raindance, who put it forward for the BIFAs [British Independent Film Awards]. That film, because of the nomination, got me a scholarship to the AFI, so I owe Raindance a great debt of gratitude. I think they’re one of the few independent film festivals that really look at independent films, films without, say, BFI, Creative England or Film London backing. So it is kind of an eclectic range of films, and I think that fits with how we put this film together, without any backing from any industry venture.