Jon Olav Stokke had a simply ambitious project for his graduation film. Even though there are just a few characters and not too much dialog, “The Station Master” is a very well handled short film about two strangers naturally forming a friendship when they have to wait for the next train. We were able to talk to Jon about the delicacy of forming such a movie and what it was like to film with an actual train.
Heartland Film Festival: When you have a film without a lot of dialog, every little action is really noticed by the audience. What was most important to you when you were crafting the Station Master’s typical day?
Jon: First of all for me it was very important to talk every detail over with the writer,
Benjamin Noble, as he was doing changes to the script. We had numerous meetings where we would talk over the characters, and especially the ‘Station Master’. Most important for me was that Shane Attwooll, who plays the ‘Station Master’, and I would be on the same page. At my first meeting with Shane we quickly found a good tone, and he knew exactly what he wanted to do with the character, and I couldn’t agree more. We talked especially about the Station Master’s typical day. For example he would constantly listen to the radio weather forecast, and if it would make a train late or not. We spent a whole day just shooting the Station Master’s routine and being by himself in his own little house, and it was important for us to really focus on this and get it right.
Heartland Film Festival: The short film never falls into the typical romance tropes by sticking very genuinely with these character’s personalities. What was it like working with the actors to achieve this?
Jon: Both Shane and Nadia Cameron-Blakey are brilliant actors. We had talks about what a woman and a man would do in this era, as the short film is set around 1940-50s, it was very important we kept true to what would happen between a man and woman in this situation. We also must not forget that the Station Master is not your ordinary man from that time either. My mentor, Jim O’Brien, would talk to me in length about making a film that is set in a time like this, and how careful one must be with the characters and how they are portrayed, and especially for me being 22 years old and directing a short film from that time. The bedroom scene is an example of this, without saying too much, me and Nadia would have had a chat beforehand about how her character would be dressed in this situation, and why she would have her coat on. It was important to show the Station Master’s innocence in that scene, and to show that he hasn’t encountered these feelings before, the love for another person, or at least not for a very long time.
Heartland Film Festival: You don’t often see a lot of trains in short films because I imagine they can’t be the easiest to work with. What was it like managing a train for the Station Master to master?
Jon: I was extremely lucky to have had such a brilliant mentor, Jim O’Brien. He knew so much, and had worked with very old steam trains before on a shoot in India. I believe it was for the BBC TV Series “The Jewel in the Crown”. He told me what to expect, and what to do when all these different things would happen, and a lot of them did. Steam trains are so slow to work with, and if you’re not calm and have patience, you might freak out because for every set-up it would take so much time. Just for the steam train to come around the corner and stop at our exact point took a very long time to block and shoot, but the drivers and personnel from West Somerset Railways were all brilliant, and worked so hard for us. We had the steam train for 7 hours, so less than a full shooting day. We originally scheduled it for 10 hours, you can imagine what went through my head when my producer, Claudio Mascolo, came over and said: “Sooo… We have 7 hours with the train.” I could only smile, and get on with the shoot. I’d think about what Jim had told me and I could only keep going. My director of photography, Stephen Murphy, was amazing and his team worked so quickly to be able to shoot everything that day. It was tough on the actors as well. There was so much going on all the time, and shooting one day with the steam train meant that we couldn’t shoot chronologically, and that was a challenge for everyone.
Heartland Film Festival: Without spoiling anything for the audience, do you have a theory about what happens next for these two characters?
Jon: I’m always quite careful in answering that question. I’ve been given it before, and I’ve given the really annoying answer “that it’s up to the audience”. I know where we wanted to go, and where I want the characters to go. Secretly there is more to that ending, which we decided to cut in the edit, but it was important for Benjamin and me that we shot it. I wish I could tell you more, but one really just have to watch the short film and then come find me and tell me where you think the characters would go next.
Heartland Film Festival: Are you working on a next project?
Jon: The short film was my graduation film, so I’ve just started the long journey as a filmmaker. I’m currently not scheduled to direct anything in the near future. I’ve been given the possibility to do some music videos, which has been great. I’m also developing a TV Pilot with the writer of ‘The Station Master’, Benjamin Noble, but that is in a very early development stage. I’m glad he wanted to work with me again, because he is one amazing writer and actor. (he also plays the ‘Train Driver’)
Heartland Film Festival: What have been some moving films that have inspired you as a filmmaker?
Jon: I basically grew up with ‘Back to the Future’ on VHS, and I would watch the trilogy over and over again after school. It’s not really in the same genre as ‘The Station Master’. I easily fall in love and get inspired by great characters, and especially characters that have something amazing to tell.
You can purchase tickets for “The Station Master” which will play with the shorts program “Hope in the Face of Darkness” for the following days…
– Saturday, October 20 at 10:30 a.m. at AMC Castleton Square 14
– Sunday, October 21 at 2:30 p.m. at AMC Showplace Traders Point 12
– Friday, October 26 at 1:30 p.m. at AMC Castleton Square 14
– Saturday, October 27 at 11:30 a.m. at AMC Castleton Square 14
Interview conducted by Austin Lugar