One of the biggest surprises of the year is the short “Wall Tall”. A short film about improving one’s posture seems like it would be a judging lecture instead of a silly exploration of a fascinating man. George Weedon was an Olympic gymnast in 1948 and today he teaches others about how to stay physically fit. Director Kate Sullivan tells his story with warmth and creativity. When she talked with us, Kate explained how she found George and what it took to make the really fun final scene. But before that, Kate wanted to say a few words to you!
Hello – Kate here.
I’ve been asked by the good people at The Heartland Film Festival to answer a few questions – but before I do I just wanted to say a quick thank you to the festival organizers for selecting my (first) film. This has made me very proud. Thank you.
George is very proud to have the film screened at your festival in Indianapolis is the amateur sports capital of the world! Here is a photo which I thought may be of interest:
Very best wishes, thanks again and I hope you enjoy the film!
Heartland Film Festival: There are people in the world that once you meet them, you think they would make an amazing documentary subject. George Weedon is definitely one of those people. How did you find him?
Kate: I first met George a couple of years ago. He was about 89 and spinning on his back on a concrete floor in the middle of an entrance hall. I thought that this was going to be the highlight of my day. Until…He stood up and displayed the most amazing posture. He radiated this incredible almost angelic, sublime elegance!
I stood transfixed, in awe – and envious.
You see I have TERRIBLE posture – but luckily that day something helped me overcome a bit of self consciousness and ask George (who unbeknown to me was an ex-Olympic gymnast and coach) for some advice.
To cut a long story short this kind, generous man offered to pass on a few tips…
Heartland Film Festival: The short film isn’t exactly all about George on the surface, but his message about posture. Were you ever tempted to switch the focus by having it more about him?
Kate: No, never – and even if I wanted to George wouldn’t allow it!
He’s a very selfless man. He wanted to use the film to help people. He quite often avoids talk of “the good old days” at events – preferring instead to get the audience up on their feet and exercising!
Also, George is genuinely passionate about posture. Of course posture is intrinsically linked to how we are feeling. It’s a form of non-verbal communication. George’s posture says so much about him.
Heartland Film Festival: How difficult was it to craft the final shot in the film with George giving advice to a lot of people on their posture? It’s so much fun to watch.
Kate: Thank you!
It involved a lot of work yes, but as is the way with making things, it’s often actually the less showy shots that are the most difficult to get right, (like for example the door in the gym-hall. That’s actually my living-room door. We had great difficultly removing it, transporting it and then ensuring that it was safe to be around on set!)
Anyway, back to the tracking shot – I wanted to choose actors who could give a really naturalistic performance and find props which I felt were right (I care a great deal about production design).
Once I’d located these and the gym I had two more main challenges: Rehearsing George and rehearsing the cast. I wont waffle on now about what I said to the actors – but with George it was a case of being aware that too much direction would cause him to be too self conscious.
I walked the shot through with him a few times – taking care not to overload him with dialogue prompts – but instead clearly demonstrate the amount of time he should spend with each actor. There’s a musicality to George – he has great timing – we almost danced through the shot, (which is fitting as the tack I used is titled “Let’s Dance”!) I also tried to keep an atmosphere of fun in the room so he didn’t feel to self conscious so that he was genuinely enjoying himself.
On the best take I found myself – shouting “on your marks get set GO!” instead of action. He launched into it. I had a feeling it was going to work. Then it was a case of willing him on – as you might a gymnast doing a routine. I died a little inside when the washing machine didn’t work (!) – but apart from that I think the Gods of Olympus were on our side that day!
Heartland Film Festival: Has George inspired you to be more conscious about your posture?
Kate: Very much so yes. He’s also inspired me to challenge my self in general and I’ve already put his teachings into practice. For example, I rallied the troops and we went to battle with the powers-that-be over whether or not George would be Olympic torch (more details on the film’s website).
Heartland Film Festival: Are you working on a new project?
Kate: I have a few ideas for things yes. One idea which seems more ready to go is a short doc about another old man! (It was not my intention to do this!) It’s about someone who made the first ever British computer generated character animation.
I’m actually looking for someone to fund it…Please get in touch if it sounds like your bag!
Heartland Film Festival: What have been some moving films that have inspired you as a filmmaker?
Kate: Hmmm. Well I am a massive fan of moving films so it’s hard to list favourites. I especially enjoy films which play the happy and the sad off of each other – something like Life is Sweet.
I admire directors that are able to tell a moving story very simply. A film like Gus Van Sant’s Elephant is a (slightly depressing!) example of this.
I also love everything with a great “glimmer of hope” moment towards the end – something like Precious would be an example of a film I love which really makes you think stuff will be okay. (which of course it isn’t – and it’s all the more sad for this fleeting glimpse of redemption)
Oh dear, I now feel like I have to mention something jolly so I don’t end this on a sad note!
I really love Disney family films of the 60’s and 70’s. Stuff like Freaky Friday and That Darn Cat. Not really moving I suppose–more just plain funn–but at least this interview has a happy ending!
You can buy tickets for “Walk Tall”, which plays with the film “The Big Picture” on the following days…
- Wednesday, October 24 at 12:30p.m. at AMC Castleton Square 14
- Thursday, October 25 at 11:30a.m. at AMC Showplace Traders Point 12
- Saturday, October 27 at 2:00p.m. at AMC Castleton Square 14
Interview conducted by Austin Lugar.