Interview: The Beat Beneath My Feet (John Williams, Mike Muller, Nicholas Galitzine) Print
Written by Ivan Radford   
Tuesday, 30 December 2014 13:58

As 2014 draws to a close and 2015 begins, The Beat Beneath My Feet continues its tour around the UK - and even further afield.

The film, which stars 90210 heartthrob Luke Perry, Lisa Dillon and newcomer Nicholas Galitzine, tells the charming tale of a troubled young boy (Tom) who learns guitar from the reclusive rock legend downstairs, is a toe-tapping indie gem that premiered at Raindance Film Festival last October (read our review here). Now, it's on the way to the Berlin International Film Festival, but not before it heads to the David Lean cinema today (for a sold out screening) and returns to London's Clapham Picturehouse on Sunday 11th January.

Last time the movie played there, I was delighted to host a post-screening Q&A with the director (John Williams), producer and writer Michael Müller and its young lead, Nicholas Galitzine. Before then, I sat down with all three for an interview…

So, Nick. Are you in a band in a real life?

Nick: I was in a band. It was a good experience. We didn't play so many gigs… I still write my music. I'm going solo. Doing a Robbie Williams!

What about you, John?

John: I made techno. 'Not real music!'

Nick: We could've made a techno film!

And Mike?

Mike: Compared to these two, nothing at all! Music's loss is cinema's game, I hope.

So if you weren't in a band, where did The Beat Beneath My Feet come from?

Mike: My imagination! And your imagination is made up of all your life and experiences and hopes and aspirations. I've always loved music, found it very comforting and stimulating. When I've been down, I've played music. When I've been up, I've played music… I wanted to do a film with music as a central, driving force and construct a story around it.

There is that nice sense of progression in the music, as it drives the film, as Tom's songs get better.

Mike: Yes, it's sort of fragmentary at the beginning, Tom's very confused. The first track you hear, called "Loser", is where his life is and he feels utterly alone in the world. And he expresses it through music. And gradually, the songs get more shape and form and at one point, there's a full anthem, where he seems to be playing to the whole of London.

Did you write any of the songs, Nick?

Nick: It was down to [the composers]. They wrote around my abilities as an artist.

There's a bit where Steve (Luke Perry's character) says "You can only play what you feel". You play Tom very well. How much do you identify with him?

Nick: I identify with him on a few levels. He's a passionate, sensitive young guy. I think Tom writes about different things - he's got very low self-esteem, while there are certain things I've been through in my life, I write about.

It must be quite weird, because you've got to play Tom, then you've got to play the guitar, but you've also got to play the guitar like Tom - all at the some time...

Nick: Yeah, it's a bit crazy! (Laughs) I started playing guitar a couple of months before we started the move, so that was really new to me! I started music a year before that but hadn't done a gig in ages. So the final gig at the end, I was pretty nervous! You have to put all of them together… You can't perform as yourself, you know. I might be a very confident performer, but Tom, he's freaking out. Yeah, it's interesting. Hopefully, we pull it off.

You do! So do you learn the songs first as yourself and then try to reinterpret it in the Tom style?

Nick: I put my own spin on a lot of the tracks. The composers wrote them, then we went over them. You learn it as your individual self, then you think how would the character approach it.

And John, when during this whole process did you get on board?

John: Version eight or seven, I think! And we shot version 15.

Mike: 16.

John: It was great to get involved and have some involvement in refining and finalising the story. It was great working with Mike for the first few months, just bouncing things around, making it hopefully a bit more cinematic, adding a few animation bits. I got involved in June and we were shooting by September.

You've had a lot of experience shooting music videos - including Coldplay and Radiohead. Was that your way into this project? Did you immediately think "Ok, music sequences…"?

John: No, I mean, that's a tool - a secret weapon! But principally, it was the story. Who are the characters? Then, animation, music, these are things I love, that embellish the story. But it's got to be the story first. I wouldn't have got involved with [the film] without that story! You've got the script, then the actors bring something to it, then in the edit, you've got to re-tell the whole story… so it was great to be involved early on.

There are some fantastic music numbers, though, including the one where Tom is on a London roof playing to crowds of animated people. Were any of them how you imagined in your head when writing, Mike?

Mike: What I knew I wanted to achieve was to get inside Tom's world, however we did it. This was an opportunity to get visual and get cinematic but also move the story along - we don't stop for a song and then the story starts again, it's organic, pushing the story along both emotionally and narratively. So, you know, at one point, characters from Tom's life come on inside this imaginative telling of his life in musical form. When John came on, he talked about using animation techniques because you can achieve a lot more with animation on a budget than stopping London and filming with real people. It's an evolution; as a writer, you have an idea and words, then a director comes along and works out how to turn those words into pictures. That's why I really enjoyed working with John because he's got a great imagination and visual flair. I learned a lot as a writer from John.

Making that leap from music videos to feature film. How was that for you, John?

John: It's terrifying! It's terrifying. Just… terrifying! [Laughs] It's a miracle we got through it, really! Being honest, there are so many times I felt out of my depth, I was thinking… like, our first AD (Peter Freeman), he's been around since, like, Four Weddings and a Funeral! And every day I thought "Today, he's going to work out I don't know what I'm doing!" You know, shouting: "John! What are we doing?" But he was really patient. There are a few areas I felt more confident about, but I do also strangely like being thrown into the deep end…

With Nick also on his first film, as well as newcomer Verity Pinter as love interest Felix, was there a camaraderie between the deep endures?

John: Yeah, yeah. I've shot quite a bit of stuff before and I've worked a lot with young actors - not Nick and Verity, that young, but I've worked with children and young people. There's a lot of nurturing and encouragement, they're eager to learn. I enjoy that dynamic. It's when you've got more established actors, that's more out of my comfort zone.

So how did you approach 90210's Luke Perry?

John: Probably more gently than I should've done - he's used to being manhandled a bit! You know, go there. Go here. But I had a lot of respect for him. Anyone who gets involved, it's a collaboration, it's that sort of project, but there was a time when I was trying to get him to move politely to one side and I was being British about it. He was like: "You got to just grab me and move me!" So maybe that's how he's used to it. That was a new experience for me.

Mike: All actors work in different ways. A business like this, it's all about learning how to deal with different people; different people need different approaches. As a producer, that's what I found the hardest. As John was saying, the first film I ever did, when I was on set, I was afraid people were going to say: "You don't know what you're doing!" "No, I don't, but hey, I'm the producer, let's just get on with it." That was the thing. Everyone has their own working style. Some people need nurturing and gentle. Some people just need picking up and moving. But if you pick up and move someone who doesn't like to be picked up and moved…

How did you find working with Luke, Nick?

Nick: We started off with a cycling scene, to ease us in. I was so nervous coming on set but I was really glad he was there in the end. He taught me so much, like not knowing what an eye line is or a mark. Lots of technical stuff. You know, the kind of things you hadn't considered. Tom is really like, you know, introverted. So you can do a lot through your eyes and your body and let your audience connect with you on that level. He made me think a lot more about stuff. I definitely think the end result would have been different were it not for him.

There's that lovely scene between Steve and Tom's mum on a park bench. Lisa Dillon's really good and that relationship works really nicely. How difficult was it to get that part of the story sorted?

Mike: We found it quite difficult!

John: That was the hardest part.

Mike: We had a lot of discussions about that - it's really important the audience connects with that character and understand where she's coming with. If they just dismiss her, then what's Tom's problem at the beginning? She's a really good actor is what it comes down to. She understood the part. She wasn't worried about… she didn't seem concerned about how she was being perceived. She just went for it very truthfully.

John: I think there was, because it's a difficult role to play. She could have played it as a single mom, living in a council flat, hard done by… it could've been very heavy, but what Lisa brought was lightness, a little bit of humour, and she makes it very real and relatable.

Mike: The heaviness would've been artificial, but she bought that truthfulness to it and vulnerability. There's that scene where she comes to the door when Luke and Nick are inside and Luke's trying to fob her off and she kind of feels a bit hurt and "Gosh, ok!" and there's this little spark. And I think in that scene, the audience really gets that relationship, and also there's a lovely feeling of potential in these two people who have had a pretty hard time and they're both in a very difficult place and they've both put the shutters up. There's something about those people when they come together, there's this recognition they're in a difficult place.

In other filmmakers' hands, even that whole relationship subplot could've seemed forced, but it doesn't, because it's so underplayed…

John: We had a lot of discussions about that and how their relationship could go. There's a whole other scene that we lost in the edit and I'm glad we lost it in the end. I had a long chat with Lisa about it and she was quite disappointed, I think. But in conclusion, she did a fantastic job!

How hard was it to cast that role, then?

John: We had a few people in for casting and I remember thinking, we don't want it to be like EastEnders!

Nick: It was a perfect fit. She really helped me too, actually.

You've got that similar, understated quality too, Nick. There's none of that polish you get from acting school - in a good way!

Nick: Thanks! [Laughs]

Is acting something you're planning to continue doing as a career?

Nick: I've always said I think I want to do it in later life, when I really want to refine my skills. It's a big commitment and if you're working as well, they don't like you to do work as well. I don't want to lose that momentum. I feel like you learn so much on the job, but there are experiences in life, too, you can use.

And what about music? You could start a techno band?

Nick: I dunno! Yeah, there's a good vibe about being a band, it's always nice to share music with other people. I'm still writing, to be honest, and doing some gigs too. (To John and Mike:) You guys aren't invited!

And what's next for you, John?

John: Open to all offers! [Laughs] I've got loads of things in development. Lots of irons in the fire. That's how it goes in the industry, isn't it? When this film came up, I had various things shut down… it came out of nowhere.

Mike: Not out of nowhere!

John: Well, from my point of view, I thought nothing was happening this year! I've got two projects in mind - one is a lo-fi sci-fi and the other is an animated thing… set in space.

And Mike?

Mike: Scoop Films, which is Raj Sharma, Fiona Gillies and me, we're developing the next one, which we hope to shoot in April. It's a road movie called "Running". That's what we're looking to do.

And how's that going?

Yeah, that's at script stage and they keep putting me back into my script-writing hole!

Well, good luck to all three of you. And I hope The Beat Beneath My Feet continues to find such positive audiences!

The Beat Beneath My Feet continues to tour the UK and will screen at the Berlin International Film Festival. Find out more - or support the film on Crowdshed - here.