It’s generally accepted that there’s no single way to make it in the film industry, especially as a director of the big shiny pictures in the fancy movie screens! Some will argue that it’s best to work your way up from the bottom, picking the right film school course and just meeting the right people. Others will favour a ‘trial by fire’ approach, calling in every favour under the sun and digging themselves into perpetual debt in the hope that the right person will see their films. And some people just go for the jugular; a combination of gigantic testicles, a thick spoonful of charm and the ability to manufacture perfect timing by not letting any moment slip through the cracks. Somehow, Chris Foggin appears to be a combination of all of these and maybe more…
Hailing from Country Durham, Chris graduated from Northumbria University with a degree in Media Production and wasted no time getting his foot on the proverbial ladder. In just three short years, Chris has worked his way up from being an unpaid runner on BBC’s Cranford to 3rd Assistant Director on such high profile films as Madonna’s W.E. and The Iron Lady, the upcoming Margaret Thatcher biopic starring Meryl Streep. So there’s Number 1: the ‘working your way up from the bottom’ thing.
In pulling off Number 2 though, Chris had to first jump ahead to Number 3. Having worked with Dame Judi Dench on Cranford, Jane Eyre and My Week with Marilyn, Chris seized the opportunity and asked her if perhaps, one day, she’d like to star in one of his films. Turns out, she did and just like that Chris jumped straight into pre-production on his first short film.
As everyone in the film industry knows, no film should ever go into production without a script. While driving home from a hard day’s work, Chris’ fellow AD Chris Croucher mentioned that he happened to have one in his back pocket. It was a slight, yet charming tale of OAP love over Social Networking platforms and seemed poised to be the perfect project. By the end of the journey, Chris Croucher was on board as Writer/Producer and the call was being made to Dame Judi.
Having worked hard to build relationships on set, Chris Foggin managed to secure the services of a professional crew to work on Friend Request Pending. As pre-production was furiously going ahead during the production of The Iron Lady, Chris convinced Simon Tindall to act as DoP, Lisa McDiarmid as Production Designer and Danny Hambrook as Sound Recordist to name but a few. The biggest coup though was Simon Curtis, director of My Week With Marilyn coming onboard as Executive Producer opening many doors for the production that would otherwise remain closed, as they are to so many short filmmakers.
Finally, with Penny Ryder, Tom Hiddleston, Philip Jackson and John MacMillan rounding out the cast, Friend Request Pending was shot over two days in Ealing at the beginning of May 2011 with the Arriflex D-21 Camera. Post-Production was completed by the end of Summer 2011, ready for it’s premiere at the London Film Festival on October 14th of the same year.
So without taking ANY of that into consideration… is the film actually any good?
Well yes actually, quite.
Putting aside the occasional misstep inherent in early short films, it’s a genuinely warm and optimistic film. Mary (Judi Dench) is at home with her friend Linda (Penny Ryder) as she attempts on-line flirtations with Trevor (Philip Jackson), a man she met at a local Church function. The two ladies navigate these foreign waters with varying degrees of success until Mary discovers that sometimes, doing things the old-fashioned way is best.
It’s refreshing to see a young film-maker making a short for this market. While 99% (Scientifically Proven) of short films are designed to show off what the director is capable of, many take a route which renders them unsuitable for mass consumption. This isn’t to say they’re not good films, more that what they have in terms of showmanship they lack in commercial value. Friend Request Pending aims squarely for the mass audience, a feelgood film with a light touch that wouldn’t feel out of place being shown alongside the latest Stephen Frears or Richard Curtis attempt at UK Comedy.
Of course a great deal of this can be attributed to the cast, a mini who’s who of British film and television, who deliver Croucher’s lines with an ease and rapport that adds weight to these relationships we only see in a glimpse. While Dame Judi is as wonderful as ever, it’s the lesser known Ryder who excels. Unlike Mary, Linda is a free spirit, and it’s not hard to assume that in her younger years her spirit was even free-er. She sells every line with a joie de vivre and with a mischievous excitement at the dating game her friend is embarking on. Jackson, Hiddleston and MacMillan have merely a scene each but they help expand the world outside of Mary’s living room and offer a tantalising glimpse at what further stories with these characters could hold.
And that’s where Friend Request Pending succeeds the most. Like many of the best short films it offers us a snapshot, in media res, where it’s clear that this story began and ended way outside the constraints of the film and renders these characters believable and the audience wanting more. This isn’t to say it’s perfect, but in the spirit of constructive criticism these things can’t be ignored out of politeness. The majority of short films can always be shorter, and this is no exception. There’s the odd beat that hangs longer than it should, and the occasional line is perhaps too on the nose but these are minor moments, very minor indeed.
It’s clear that Chris Foggin has every intention of being around for the long haul. It’s all well and good to know the right people and call in favours to get to the top, but for most it takes a great deal of hard work and dedication to be able to do that. In three short years, Chris has worked through all the shit to get the moment that was right for him to take the leap, and at that time he’s found himself in a position to direct top draw talent. With that ability and the competence he’s shown in the completed short there’s no doubt that he should be able to capitalise on this for the next one.
Chris already has the ‘next one’ in the can, albeit one shot 2 years ago and awaiting completion in post. Entitled Queen of Hearts, it’s a very short piece starring Jason Flemyng and Kate Mara where a game of poker becomes a battle of life and death. After Friend Request Pending’s high profile premiere in The Soho Hotel last week can attest to, Chris has his fingers in all the right pies and like most the goal is to direct a feature. And if he had his own way, it would be feature dinosaurs and be set in his home town of Durham. At Christmas.
Of course, it’s easier to come out of the gates swinging than it is to follow it up… not that there’s any pressure or anything, hey Foggy?
Follow Chris Foggin on Twitter here: @chrisfoggin
and check out his imdb page here: Chris Foggin -IMDB
And don’t forget, if you want to be featured (or know someone you think should) in the next Premature Evaluation article, just drop me a tweet: @mrbonturcode