We were once again faced with the difficult task of picking a winner from a superb bunch of six finalists. In the end, The English Teacher came on top, and took away the big prize for June 2020. Director and screenwriter Blake Ridder was born in Shanghai, but has lived most of his life over here in the UK. We were happy to exchange a few words with him.
JL: Blake, congratulations on winning our biggest prize of the month! How is The English Teacher performing so far at festivals and competitions?
Blake: Thank you so much for the special award. So far, it has done pretty well in the festivals with multiple awards, we are still waiting for about a dozen more to announce their decisions.
JL: How did you come up with the story behind the film?
Blake: I always find it hard to come up with stories in my films, sometimes I feel that is the hardest part in the process of making a film. But for this one, I wanted to try drama for the first time, and I thought it would be best to maybe relate it back to me. As English isn’t my first language, I wanted to use that real element into a story. Then my imagination went wild and thought it would be a nice twist to building the characters bond and suddenly reveal something the audience did not see it coming.
JL: We really enjoyed the open-ended nature of The English Teacher – with Jin’s fate unknown following his ‘exam’. Were you considering alternate finales, or was theis the one from the very start?
Blake: This was the initial idea of the ending yes. But after further discussions with Louis, we also came up another twist on top of the existing one. We may leave that for a feature perhaps.
JL: You wrote, directed and starred in the film. Which of these three responsibilities do you enjoy the most, and which one do you think you’re best at?
Blake: I really enjoy directing and putting my visions across onto the screen. Writing is also fun as well as acting. But people always tell me my strength lies with filmmaking rather than acting.
JL: Your film is a very vivid exploration of two mens’ lives, both of which are dealing with immense struggles. What is the secret behind managing to put together such a complex and layered portrayal within a very limited timeframe?
Blake: Actually, I never thought about it to be so complex. I just always start off by thinking where do I want the characters to get to at the end of the film, and go backwards.
JL: Louis James also won our Best Actor award – congratulations for a fantastic job! How did you find your working dynamic with him, as well as your on-screen chemistry?
Blake: We’ve worked on quite a lot of various other projects before, so we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. But this was the first short film we’ve ever been in together. I enjoyed the chemistry it produced on screen, it felt very organic at the time and I think the audience could see that too.
JL: You’ve worked on a bunch of films during the last few years. What’s your biggest learning point as a result of being involved in so many projects?
Blake: I love making films, it keeps my mind busy and creative, it’s what I eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’ve learned that time is very precious on film sets, and that two things are more important in a film than anything else. That’s sound and a solid story, without those, nothing else matters.
JL: Have you managed to get some work done during the coronavirus lockdown – some editing work on another project, or perhaps writing a new script?
Blake: I’ve actually made 5 short films during lockdown, 3 of those (Coronavirus, The Matrix fan film, The Devil Made Me Do It) were all shot with one single character (myself), and no crew, which wasn’t easy but I enjoyed the challenge.
JL: Thanks for your time, Blake! Best of luck in all your future endeavours, we hope to see more of your projects here at TMFF in the near future!