TEA FOR TWO is the first co-production between Pork Chop Pictures and Mini Productions. The film stars John Challis (ONLY FOOLS & HORSES, DOCTOR WHO) and Amanda Barrie (CORONATION STREET, BAD GIRLS) as a quirky old couple serving behind the counter of an idyllic but quiet British village tea shop. When some customers do finally arrive, they soon discover it’s more than a pot of tea and a slice of cake being dished up by their peculiar hosts.
AEISD Contributor Mark Searby spoke to writer/director Mark Brennan about how TEA FOR TWO came to be, what reaction it has been receiving and how two legendary British actors came to be involved.
MARK SEARBY: Where did the initial idea of Tea For Two come from?
MARK BRENNAN: The idea for TEA FOR TWO came at Christmas a couple of years ago. At that time of year when families are thrust upon each other more than usual, I always found it funny how older relatives could get away with murder when it came to odd behaviour, being blunt or just plain rude. I’d see so much forgiven immediately with a smirk and an eye roll, like it couldn’t be taken seriously, simply because they’re old. That got me thinking about a couple of characters having some real intent behind what would normally be dismissed as harmless kookiness.
MS: You had a successful crowd-funding campaign for the film. Was it always the plan to partially crowd fund it?
MB: It was always the plan to crowd-fund the film, which was something I had not done before. Thankfully I’d known a few people who had run successful campaigns in the past so I was able to take a steer from them on how to go about it. I had a good idea on what was needed but not prepared for the all-consuming vortex of campaigning. Constantly on your phone, heart skipping every time there’s a notification. You’re so grateful for every single penny that comes in, it’s a real rollercoaster. I salute anyone who gets through their campaign having given it their all, successful or not. It’s said all the time but without crowdfunding there are countless short films out there today that just would not exist otherwise. If I could by every backer a beer I would… but might need to crowdfund the beer tab!
MS: Fiona Cairns, who make luxury cakes, also invested in the project. Are the cakes the ones on display in the film? And did you get to sample any of them?
MB: The cakes ARE on display in the film and we did get to enjoy them all after shooting, resisting as much as we could while cameras are still rolling! “Can we eat this one yet?” “No, we need it for the next scene.” “Dammit.” All joking aside we were so lucky and privileged to have the support of Fiona Cairns, which allowed us to make the film to the level that we did. With their backing, along with our crowdfunders and some other private investment, we were able to secure a great location, brilliant crew and fabulous cast. It was wonderful to see their reaction to the film at the private screening we had, and in some way feel we had repaid their faith in us. I will be forever grateful.
MS: You have two stalwarts of British TV – John Challis and Amanda Barrie – in the lead roles. How did you convince them to star in TEA FOR TWO?
MB: I was prepared for bribery and kidnap but in the end they both liked the script and, unbeknownst to us at the time, were great friends of old so working on a project together was a great opportunity for them. We cast John first and when we heard back from Amanda her only questions were, “Is John really doing it and will there be a hotel?”. Gladly, we could say yes to both! I can’t praise either of them enough: I see them as stars, I really do. The chemistry they had between them, in addition to their talent, experience and work ethic, make the film everything that it is.
MS: Do you remember what it was like during filming? Were you stressed out? Or able to have a bit of fun?
MB: Filming was a blurry tornado of joy, adrenaline and exhaustion. We had three very packed days filming in a tiny tea shop in Hertfordshire where we were up at 5.30am each day, shoot until 7pm, go back to the hotel and stay up going through the footage shot that day and deciding how to approach the next day, going to bed at 1am then up at 5.30am again. I loved every second. It was hard work but I wouldn’t say I ever felt stressed, and I give all the thanks in the world for that to the crew and my producers April Kelley and Sara Huxley at Mini Productions.
The film I directed before this cost about £40 and shot in a day with a two-man crew in a friends office, so there was zero comparison between the scale of the productions. The DoP [Director of Photography] Lorenzo Levrini and 1st AD [Assistant Director] Josh Nolan, in particular, were incredible in guiding me through where needed. I didn’t even know how to ‘wrap’ a film, Josh had to tell me… as we wrapped! The whole experience was a dream come true.
MS: The film has been shown at several festivals and had a screening a BAFTA’s London headquarters. What has been the reaction to it?
MB: The reaction has been great wherever it’s been shown, we’ve been very lucky. A highlight on the festival circuit has been Aesthetica in York, which is a BAFTA-qualifying festival, as well as festivals in the US and Europe, too. The screening at BAFTA was something very special, and was the perfect follow up the experience of making the film. We’re looking forward to making the film available online this year.
MS: Recently you’ve been showing it at comic-cons. What has been the reaction to it at those events compared to the film festivals?
MB: We were so very lucky at the MCM London Comic Con screening in October. With one film to go before ours the audience really started filling up and we soon realised why – the next film was an X-MEN fan film about Cable! So of course, being at London Comic Con, there was a flood of people which benefited us greatly because a lot of those people stuck around afterwards to see the next film. It was very interesting to see the reaction to an audience different to the kind normally attending a film festival. People seemed to really get into it, lots of laughs and vocal reactions too, some gasps. It was a lot of fun!
MS: What advice would you give to anyone who is thinking of creating their own short film?
MB: Just do it. Not to sound like a Nike advert and Shia Lebouf rolled into one, but that would be it. In this day and age, with the technology available to shoot and edit films, be it on iPhones or DSLR stills cameras, there is no reason not to make a short film. It all comes from the drive, the passion and the creativity of the filmmaker. There’s nothing stopping you.
All images (except Mark Brennan profile image): Mini Productions website.