”I think, whatever you do, if you can bring a real joy and a sort of passion to what you do, you’re going to be good at what you do because you’re going to be so engaged in it.”
Renowned British filmmaker Simon Aboud’s This Beautiful Fantastic is a contemporary fairy tale revolving around the most unlikely of friendships between a reclusive, agoraphobic young woman with dreams of being a children’s book author and a curmudgeonly old widower, set against the backdrop of a beautiful garden in the heart of London.
At its heart this is a story of a man making his way to death and a young woman struggling to make sense of life who find each other and form an unlikely but magical friendship as Alfie teaches Bella about life and love through the metaphor of gardening and Bella reminds Alfie of what it feels like to be alive.
This Beautiful Fantastic is one of those rare scripts – a unique story with a beautiful voice that will blossom into a true cinematic gem. It is a deceptively layered piece – an adult fairy tale, a romantic story of blossoming love and a coming-of-age comedy.
My focus as a filmmaker is always on the emotional truth of the story and the characters and their journeys. In the same breath, I want This Beautiful Fantastic to be a truly cinematic entity, balancing emotional heartache and warmth with carefully choreographed cinematographic beauty.
It’s important to note that the garden itself is a major character in the film and as the garden takes on more importance in Bell’s life, so it starts to intrude more on our framing and consciousness. The garden will start to become part of the texture of the cinematography, finding its way into foreground and background.
We will be carefully building a world and a period – I like to think of it as ‘somewhere between now and then’ – that is quintessentially English, but not specific to a particular year or place. It is not present day, with all the associated contemporary technological gadgetry, but rather a nostalgic slice of fabricated Art Nouveau Englishness, reflected both in the designed architecture and sourced locations.
Music is also be an ever-present character in This Beautiful Fantastic. In addition to a pared back score led by piano and strings that follows the story and the seasons, I want to create a couple of moments where the music is more contemporary and led by a powerful female vocal so that it almost amplifies Bell’s emotions, shouts them out. In this regard, I am greatly influenced by the work of The Cocteau Twins and, more recently, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. When describing the tone of This Beautiful Fantastic, it is hard to avoid comparisons with Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie (2001). All the comedy is played for real, not broad cartoon.
This Beautiful Fantastic will be quirky and warm, but never goofy or whimsical. In broad terms, it will embrace the sentiment of our story, without ever veering towards sentimentality.
As a director, you have the ability to take the writer’s story and make it visual. This includes editing scenery and music to ensure what your writer, and you are both, that the vision is fully told. Is there any part of that process that is exhilarating or even difficult?
The whole thing is difficult. It’s an odd path to achieve to be the writer and director. For instance the work I’ve done recently, when I did the TV series last summer in L.A., I didn’t write the story and I found that more difficult. Because, I think what happens is, if you’re the writer and the director, very clearly, when you’re writing you bring the director’s perspective. It should feel visual, it should leap off the page and you should hopefully elevate it to something that is visual not just one dimensional, obviously in just word. But, then also there comes a point where you take that hat off and you put a director’s hat on and hopefully, because you’ve been with it since the birth of the script, you’re so readily invested in it, so it becomes easier. However, you’ve got to be really hard with yourself to make sure you find real objectivity. Because, obviously, I am the writer and director with two minds on that. One is the writer and one is director – the same person as in one.
Making a small independent film is hard work. It’s absolutely difficult to get it even from the starting line; difficult to cast; difficult to raise the finance; it’s difficult to achieve the schedule. Because, if you’re doing a studio movie you’re given a few months and in a small production you’re given just a few weeks. You don’t have the finance or the luxury of doing this, that and the other. But, in a small production, you have far better creative freedom. Every thing balances out at the end of the day. Really, seriously, I am so lucky to have this job. I know that. I’m incredibly grateful to do what I do.
It is a gift when you’re able to finally do what you enjoy, or to find the thing that you enjoy…
I think, whatever you do, if you can bring a real joy and a sort of passion to what you do, you’re going to be good at what you do because you’re going to be so engaged in it. But I think, in the creative business if you can get a chance to make a movie, it’s just such a privilege. It really is.
Described as being a modern-day fairy tale, which have elements of magic and of the improbable. what would you say then were the elements in This Beautiful Fantastic that were magical or improbable?
What I tried to do with the film, right, which is… I’m very glad people call it a modern-day fairy tale. That’s what I set out to achieve. But, I was very careful to make the film seem timeless and at the same time to ground in a reality. Which it’s meant to be London today, but I didn’t put any computers or mobile phones in there….I deliberately took away the things like cars, buses; I took away a lot of that. If you go through it very carefully you’ll realize the bus she gets on is modern-day where she goes is modern-day. I think, one part of fairy tale telling is the ability to suspend belief, right. So, there’s a point I present them to you that these things are possible. But over the course of 100 minutes they hopefully, fingers crossed, take on the air of being slightly magical. So very clearly, the story that she’s telling about Luna, the bird, the whole thing has an element of magic to it. What you do is take elements of real life and you weave those into that story. Also, all the characters were slightly on the edge of reality. Yeah, that’s kind of the way I did it, but hopefully, the take out is I do believe it is magical…Well, that’s the best thing you can say to me. It’s great to believe that I achieved that.
Your story works when those working with you catch your vision. How much of your vision was realized through the actors you chose?
I think any character on the screen has got to be a collaboration between the actor and the director. They’re the two people that are going to make that character kind of live and breath. I was very, very lucky that I had four actors; all with strong will, all with creative vision, all very passionate. They all worked really hard on developing their characters. They all worked me really hard with making me justify every word I’d written for the script every day. I think then, when you do that something special is going to happen. They were all very, very talented and I was super lucky to cast them.
Could it be that there’s a little bit of you in each of these characters?
Yes, yes, you’re very perceptive. This is not the first time being said, I think. Because it’s my first screenplay, I think it’s more autobiographical than anything else I’ve written. I’m very happy that it is but, I think what’s very interesting is that people ask me, in that I suffered from OCD, and people are saying to me, “well, so, are you Bella?” And I’ve always responded saying, “I think that I’m a bit of all of them. I really do…” What’s interesting is the most common questions I get, “well, what’s the film about?”…And I now think, wholeheartedly, that the film is about how important it is for someone to find a family…I don’t just mean a biological family…But, I think that it’s really important that people find an emotional family; where they are nurtured and where everybody helps bring about the best in everybody else. I suspect that it also may be a kind of reaction to what I said to you before. Which, is me remembering, you know, I said to my Dad, “I really want to be a film director.” And my Dad, well, God bless him, I loved him dearly… it’s that he just didn’t know how to praise us. He wouldn’t know how to make you a film director. But obviously now, if my son said to me “I want to be a film director”, I would say, “Yeah, bring it, I’m not going to laugh at you!” I think the whole thing is about you have to take people seriously about their dreams. You have to try to help them get somewhere towards them.
You have a passion for gardening as well…is there somebody that instilled that in you?
Yes, I do! I have a great passion for gardening. It started with this movie. Because it got to a point where I needed to know what a Delphinium looked like. I needed to know just how big a Delphinium is and what colors they came in. So, I eventually just started gardening and now I’m kind of obsessed with it. I love it. I’m very passionate about it. Even to the point where the worst thing about me going to LA. to shoot this TV show was that I couldn’t see my garden in the best time of the year, in summer. When I came back it was kind of overgrown. And I found it quite depressing. My wife would ask me, “What was wrong?” and I’d say “Just look at it.” So yeah, I love gardening.
Do you think you may consider making this story into a book?
Oh yes, I have to say, I think it will be turned into a book. The book actually took on a bigger and bigger significance. What was funny was when I first started the detail of it was not super important. What was important was that it was coming out. But then, as I got further and further in to the draft, I suddenly realized I was thinking “Hang on, what happens to Luna now?” So actually there’s probably more, there’s more I ended up writing; more stories than there are in the film. So the answer is…Yes…The answer is I would love to do a children’s book.