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Teabag – one of 8 original films being produced by LUFP this year, will be showcased next term. I caught up with Writer-Director Will Johnson (who also wrote Counting Candles and A World Without), Co-director Diana Judelson and lead actress Shannon Lenton to find out more about the project.
Tell me a bit about the film:
Will: It’s about the character of Rachel who breaks up with her boyfriend; I guess he’s a bit of a loser and he doesn’t really pay attention to her. She goes and buys some tea and then the next day one of those teabags has come to life (which sounds a bit silly when you say it like that.) They bond and just go out and have a really nice day together and kind of explore what it is to be alive.
Where did that idea come from?
Will: To be honest I don’t really know! I’m kind of interested in human interaction with inanimate objects that become animate.
Any inspirations from films or filmmakers?
Will: A film called ‘Her’ that came out was quite an influence actually, I thought it was one of the best that’s come out in recent years. What I found striking was its concern with posthumanism, lamenting how a postmodern world is pitted against human emotions, which Theo finds in his Operating System. He’s drawn further from other humans towards technology. But instead of focusing on technology like in A World Without, I wanted to ignore it completely to strip the film back into an experiential transcendence where humanity and nature are in harmony. Rather than the virtual, ‘Teabag’ needed to be organic with that Malickian desire of reclaiming an authentic human experience.
So take me through the characters:
Shannon: So I play the character Rachel which is nice because she develops as she goes on. You see in one of the beginning scenes with her loser boyfriend and on the surface it seems ‘who is this person?’ But as she actually gets this relationship with the tea bag, it seems silly, but she develops as it goes along. It’s not just a tea bag anymore, it’s the relationship that’s important, so it’s nice that as we’ve been filming that I’ve got to grips with this character.
Bit of an unconventional role, a girl in love with a teabag… how did it differ to your previous theatre approaches?
Shannon: I’ve never done film acting before, I’ve done a lot of stuff with theatre groups. It’s a nice change to learn how it all works. I guess learning the process of film performance has allowed me to throw myself into the role. I haven’t really thought about it as, ‘this is a teabag’, it’s more of the words that’s being said. I had to alter a bit from stage to film and that’s probably what I found more difficult than the actual role because the role is sort of the same as any other; it doesn’t matter if it’s with a tea bag or a person!
What do you consider the major themes of the film?
Diana: I’m a new person in the industry, so I think this started with the cast. Even though the idea of a relationship between a girl and a teabag seems kind of creepy, it actually makes a really good comedy. Shannon as an actress did great, and when we were trying Jamie as Miles people were laughing to death, which is one of the highlights of this process for me. When we started shooting we began with the break up between Rachel and her boyfriend. Even though it was freezing, it was also very funny. There was a scene where Jamie had to bite into chocolate and look really upset; it took us ten takes to make the shot right because we couldn’t do it without laughing! So a major theme is definitely comedy.
Will: I guess for me it was about a balance between what’s funny and what’s serious and throughout the film blurring which is which. I expect people to laugh at some parts and others to think ‘oh that’s quite serious.’ Something that’s quite integral to it is this idea of ‘more human than a human’; the teabag becomes more human than Miles’ (Rachel’s boyfriend’s) character.
After writing Counting Candles and A World Without, Teabag is your first time directing Will, how was this new role?
Will: I guess in the past I’ve still been there in the process to give advice, but I didn’t really have much creative input. Though in this case it was more focused on organisation, and to direct the project you’ve got to be control. It’s more of that, than just being there to advise.
Your earlier works seemed quite focused on realism. Now, a girl who falls in love with a teabag… why the change of direction?
Will: I feel the stuff I wrote last year was quite pessimistic. I was kind of going for a lighter tone and embracing how things in life can be quite surreal; they don’t have to be so depressing. It’s kind of about learning to laugh at these things.
Diana, what was your experience of co-directing it with Will? Pretty Amicable?
Diana: We have different responsibilities I’d say. Will is responsible for actors and framing, I prefer the acting stuff. I *try* to tell them how to say something better, or be more dramatic; how to make the shot look better. I’ve really enjoyed it so far!
So a fun experience on the whole?
Diana: Yes, it very much is!
What separates Teabag from other films?
Shannon: I don’t think anything like this has been done before, so it’ll be a new experience for everyone!
Will: The society has a comedy film coming out, but I feel that film is a pure comedy. I think it’s a sketch film that they’re doing. Teabag has more of that blend of comedy and drama. There a few films that deal with things philosophically, and I guess this one kind of does as well.
Shannon: I think people will come into it expecting full-blown comedy and actually be pleasantly surprised that there are actual messages in there.
If you were to fall in love with a teabag, what type of tea would it be?
Shannon: Mine’s bad, because I don’t actually drink tea, or like it. So I don’t know! Hot water? A regular tea bag? I’d have to be forced to drink it!
Will: Being from Yorkshire I’d have to say Yorkshire tea. I’ve got to represent there. Yeah…it’s just good.
Diana: Definitely Twining’s English Breakfast… and milk!