Exclusive Interview with ‘Bitter Sky’ director Joseph Ollman

Joseph Ollman’s short film Bitter Sky focuses on a young girl who has a turbulent relationship with her stepfather. This live-action short which stars Darci Shaw and Richard Harrington screened at the 2020 Prague International Indie Festival, the 2020 BFI London Film Festival, and the 2020 Shortest Nights. This film is screening at the Oscar-qualifying and BAFTA-qualifying Aesthetica Film Festival.

The film ended on a cliffhanger. Do you have plans to extend Bitter Sky into a full-length film?  

Yes. It was my intention to leave it so the audience wanted more. I’m developing a film called Bitter Road, which carries on immediately after the events of the film. Hopefully, I can get it picked up.

How did you manage to pack so much character development in a small time frame?

I’m not sure, ha! When writing, I try to incorporate little clues in the script that can instantly let the audience know a whole load about the characters and their inner lives. As well as this, I make sure I create a really strong backstory for all the characters which I speak through with the actors beforehand. This way their performances can really tell the audience so much in an instant. 

Why have Nia befriend a male rather than a female? Do you believe she would have been more apprehensive to trust a girl?

I think Nia has a lot of abandonment issues regarding her mother, which has made her cautious about women – especially as she’s also regularly bullied by the girls in her school. As well as this, all the men in her life have been abusive and controlling – asserting their dominance on her. Aron, who is a docile and “unmasculine” figure, unlike the others in town, makes for a good alternative. With him, she is able to exercise her female power over the dominant male. Which she eventually does, physically, with Roy. It’s definitely an interesting concept if she befriended another girl instead though…

How did you find the correct balance between angry teen, scared child, and sudden maturity for Nia’s character?

Throughout the film, she’s trying to reclaim her childhood, which has essentially been robbed from her because of her circumstance. She’s had to grow up too fast and therefore, is unlike all the other kids in town. It was crucial therefore that she had this combination of being an adult, a teen, but a desperation to be a child again. We tried to express this in the script, but I also had multiple conversations with the lead actress Darci Shaw, who was both mature and talented enough to display it on screen. She really is a wonderful young actor.

Why give Nia a friend instead of writing her experience as a solo journey?

She needed a companion to share this journey with. I believe we can only find happiness when expressed with each other. I wanted to advocate this. She can still find happiness even in the darkest of situations, when she’s sharing it with someone else. But also, as I mentioned earlier, I wanted to bring in a male character with whom she could exercise her power.

What are your upcoming projects?

Over lockdown, I’ve been writing a semi-biographical feature with a friend Suri Singh. It’s partly based on his story growing up as a first-generation British Indian in London and the issues of identity that come with that. I’m not sure whether I’ll be the one to direct it, but it’s been a great experience writing it. As mentioned, I also want to get Bitter Road off the ground next year, following on from this short. 

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