Film Courage: Where did you grow up? What was life like at home?
Alex Barrett: I grew up in Kingston-upon-Thames, on the outskirts of London. Life was fairly mellow, with no big drama.
Film Courage: Did your parents lend support toward being creative / artistic or encourage a career?
Alex: They were very supportive. I think they were happy for me to follow my own path and attempt to achieve my goals of becoming a filmmaker.
Film Courage: What were your plans after high school?
Alex: To graduate from University and work my way towards making a feature – which I did, although it took a little longer than I originally thought it would!
Film Courage: Where did you study and what as your major at University?
Alex: I studied Film and Video Production at The Surrey Institute of Art and Design (now renamed the University for the Creative Arts).
Film Courage: Hardest truth for you leaving college?
Alex: Probably the blind indifference of the film industry to yet another graduate who wanted to make a film. When I graduated, I started networking and meeting people, and I was surprised by how jaded and cynical people seemed to be about the industry… But it didn’t take me long to understand that viewpoint. It’s a tough industry to crack – ten years after graduating, I’m still trying!
Film Courage: Biggest joy leaving college?
Alex: I’m not sure if I’d call it a ‘joy’, but I suppose the best thing about it is the wide field of possibilities that lies before you – for that brief moment between education and work, there’s no structure in life, so the world is wide open.
Film Courage: Should young people graduating college have an idealized sense of the world or a realist’s point of view (albeit negative if true)?
Alex: I’d plump for the realist point of view, especially if they have a difficult goal to achieve. It’s easy for idealism to turn into cynicism and defeat, whereas someone with a more realistic attitude might find it easier to go the distance. â€¨â€¨
Film Courage: Have you ever suffered a Quarter Life Crisis?
Alex: Not to the extent of Pete in ‘Life Just Is’, but I’ve certainly had moments where I’ve felt things haven’t been going my way and I haven’t achieved what I wanted to by the age that I wanted to achieve them by. But I think that’s normal – it’s the twentysomething version of teenage angst.
Film Courage: Favorite life quote?
Alex: Too many to mention, so I’ll go for: “I’d like to quit thinking of the present, like right now, as some minor, insignificant preamble to somethin’ else” – Cynthia in Dazed and Confused
Alex: None of the characters in the film are me, and yet I’m all of them. I guess, taken as a whole, they represent different aspects of my personality. In that sense, it’s a very personal film.
Film Courage: What scene in ‘Life Just Is’ was reminiscent of a day in your own world that was a turning point or extremely challenging?
Alex: I’m not sure that any of them are!
Film Courage: When did you begin writing the script for ‘Life Just Is’? What prompted your beginning this story?
Alex: I started writing a few months after graduating – so I guess graduating prompted the beginning of the story.
Film Courage: What’s the best compliment you’ve received about ‘Life Just Is’?
Alex: Probably the critic Brad Stevens saying: “It is tempting to describe LIFE JUST IS as one of the most promising debuts in contemporary cinema, but this temptation should be resisted. We are not dealing with promise here: we are dealing with achievement.” Or maybe Mark Kermode saying that the film deserved credit for “daring to be more Carl Dreyer than Danny Dyer.”
Film Courage: Explain the title of the film ‘Life Just Is’? What does it mean to you?
Alex: That life is what it is, and that we should take it as it comes. We can’t control it, we can’t change it…it just is. So we have to make the most of it.
Film Courage: What diary entry was your most compelling and emotional in Life Just Is: Director’s Journal?
Alex: Without rereading the whole book, I’m not sure I can answer that…
Film Courage: Before publishing the book on Life Just Is: Director’s Journal, had anyone read your private journal entries?
Alex: No, only those that had helped me assemble the book (I had a couple of people look over the text and suggest edits that could be made).
Alex: I started writing the journal around the same time as I started working on ‘Life Just Is’. I think, in part, I was always trying to document the process of the film’s creation. I still keep the journal, but not with the same verve as I did at that time. I think that my enthusiasm for the journal was waning even before the film was finished – you can see it in the late entries. But when I started it, it was incredibly useful as a way to give some coherence to my thoughts. As much as a journal, it was a notebook where I wrote my way through ideas, trying to make sense not only of ‘Life Just Is’, but also of the films and books I was consuming at that time. Nowadays I guess I’m too busy to keep a detailed journal – it’s become more like a simple list of the things I’m working on, reading and watching.
Alex: Editing the journal kept me close to the material and the process I’d been on during the making of it. Whether this ‘helped’, though, I’m not so sure – in some ways perhaps it stopped me getting any real perspective on things.
Film Courage: Can you compare and contrast the making/distribution of a film versus a book?
Alex: The book happened quickly, and was fully independent, so it was a simple process, without much marketing done – we sort of slipped it out as an extra for the film itself. The release of the film, in contrast, was much more involved and time consuming.
.Film Courage: Tell us about the networking group ‘Life’s Just Networking’ When you began this group? Were you filming during this time?
Alex: It was a networking and screening night that we ran in London. We started running the event during the film’s development, so that the door money could help us cover some initial production costs, like hosting the film’s website and starting the casting process, that sort of thing. We then took a break while we shot, and resumed when we were in postproduction. I suppose we were trying to build a kind of community around the film, and have a physical, real life aspect to what we were doing. I made some good friends through doing the event and the money, while very small, helped us out at that time – but in the long run I’m not sure if the event helped the film that much.
Alex: It was really just a space for filmmakers to come together and learn from each other. I’m not sure there was a prevailing theme beyond us all being aspiring filmmakers working on low budgets. â€¨â€¨
Film Courage: Why did you elect for no original score in Life Just Is? How did you incorporate music into the movie?
Alex: I find a lot of scores very manipulative, and I didn’t want to do that – I didn’t want to tell my audience how to feel. I was hoping, instead, that they would feel those emotions organically through their connections to the characters. I guess I was also thinking of Bresson’s maxim: “build your film on white, on silence, and on stillness”, which became one of the guiding principles of the film. But, weirdly, I still see the film as a kind of musical. There’s music in there, but it’s all diegetic.
Film Courage: What was your budget for ‘Life Just Is?
Alex: It was microbudget and we shot the film in 14 days on a Canon 5D. The biggest single expense was probably just covering the food and travel costs for all the cast and crew.
Film Courage: How did you cast your actors?
Alex: We saw a lot of people for the film, as actors responded really well to the script during casting, and lots of people wanted to get seen (we’d advertised via Spotlight). So we ran several days of auditions, shortlisted, and then did call-backs in groups, as we wanted to test out the chemistry of certain people.
Film Courage: Do you think Gen Y has more challenges assimilating into life after college than prior generations, easier than prior generations or each generation has its own challenges formulating life as an adult finished with schooling?
Alex: I think each generation has its own challenges. One of the initial ideas behind the film was to look at the differences between Generation X and Generation Y, and that survives a little bit through the character of Bobby – he’s only a few years older, but he’s light years apart from the others in so many ways. And there are certainly challenges that we’ve had to face that others didn’t. I’ve heard Gen Y referred to as the ‘jilted generation,’ and I think there’s something in that.
Film Courage: How did you come to be an avid reader? What were some of the first books that held meaning for you?
Alex: I got from my Dad. He used to buy me a lot of books when I was younger, and always encouraged me to read. As a teenager I began reading philosophy as well as literature, and novels that combined the two – like Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation, which I read at that time – had a very big impact on me. When I was at University I became very taken with Douglas Coupland’s work, and later with writers like Albert Camus. I think there’s a lot of influence from all three of those writers in ‘Life Just Is’.
Film Courage: On your ‘Life Just Is’ university lecture tour, what have some of the prevailing statements or questions been to you from other students about life, film, etc.?
Alex: I think people are just interested in the process of low-budget filmmaking and, of course, those two eternal questions which are so hard to crack: how do you get your film funded, and how do you get it distributed.
Film Courage: Favorite existential crisis scenes from films you admire?
Alex: Wow, what a question… Probably something from Bergman. Winter Light, maybe?
Film Courage: What is next for you creatively, Alex?
Alex: I’m working on a silent film – a city symphony – about the culture and diversity of London. I’m trying to, somehow, capture the essence of London in 70 minutes. My team and I have made a list of over 350 locations around the city that we want to film… we’re halfway through. It’s a huge project, but I’m very excited about how it’s going, and the response that we’ve been getting so far. It probably seems like quite a departure from ‘Life Just Is’, but actually ‘Life Just Is’ was also very influenced by silent cinema, in its own way. You can find out more about my new film here.
“Life Just Is” will be available online in the U.S. and Canada starting Thursday, March 26th, courtesy of its distribution partner, Yekra. For more information, visit the film’s official site at LifeJustIsFilm.com.
Alex Barrett is an independent filmmaker whose films collectively have been screened at over 60 international festivals, including such prestigious events as the Edinburgh International Film Festival, Hamburg International Short Film Festival, and the Tribeca Film Festival. In addition, his short films have enjoyed a number of non-festival screenings, including showings at the BFI Southbank, Brixham Theatre and the Victoria & Albert Museum. His debut feature, LIFE JUST IS, was released theatrically in the UK in December 2012, screening at a number of cinemas including the ICA, Riverside Studios, Genesis Cinema and the BFI Southbank where it had a two-week run.
To date, Alex’s films have garnered ten awards, including ‘Best Lo-Budget Film’ at the London Short Film Festival (for PAINTBRUSH: THE EPITAPH), ‘Stoli Emerging Filmmaker Award’ at the Babelgum Online Film Festival (for HUNGERFORD: SYMPHONY OF A LONDON BRIDGE) and ‘Jury Award’ at the Mexico International Film Festival (for LIFE JUST IS). His short film GREAT & SMALL was described by the writer and broadcaster Sarfraz Manzoor as “witty and profound”, while Sight & Sound contributor Brad Stevens called LIFE JUST IS “one of the most promising debuts in contemporary cinema” before placing it in his top five films of 2012. The home video release of LIFE JUST IS was acclaimed as Mark Kermode’s ‘DVD of the Week’ in both The Observer and on BBC News 24, and the feature was nominated for the Michael Powell Award for Best British Film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in June 2012, where it was also selected for the ‘Best of the Fest’ screenings. He is currently working on a silent film – a city symphony – about the culture and diversity of London. Check him out at Alexbarrett.net.
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Check out Alex Barrett’s Book about the Film:
Graduating from a university film course in 2005 at the age of 21, Alex Barrett had an idea: he wanted to make a feature film. Flash forward seven years, and the idea has been realised as his debut feature LIFE JUST IS, nominated for the Michael Powell Award for Best British Film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2012. But how did a young graduate with no industry connections manage to get a film made, sold and distributed? And why did the process take so long? And what was the toll it took?
LIFE JUST IS: DIRECTOR’S JOURNAL offers all these answers and more. Giving an unparalleled exploration of what it takes to get a debut microbudget film made, the journal presents a fascinating glimpse into the conception, development, production and postproduction of a film.
Will De Meo, Jack Gordon, Nathaniel Martello-White, Fiona Ryan, Jayne Wisener, Paul Nicholls
Yekra is a revolutionary new distribution network for feature films.
Life Just Is
Pete, Tom, Claire and Jay are university graduates having trouble making the move into adult life. Beneath the hanging out and the daily routines simmers Pete’s desire to find a spiritual answer to life’s meaning, Jay’s desperate need not to get hurt again, and Tom and Claire’s ever increasing mutual attraction. A thoughtful character drama, LIFE JUST IS is a film about love, death, and, most importantly of all, life itself.