There doesn’t seem to be a single moment where director Oscar Hudson isn’t behind his camera. A regular favourite of ours for music videos, Oscar has also produced can’t-look-away-until-the-end short films too. His latest, Joy in People, is a mix of documentary and fiction, starring a “naive and lonely person who sets out trying to find a sense of belonging in massive crowds,” Oscar tells It’s Nice That.
The crowd – which welcomes the character, named Ben, wholeheartedly – ends up to be football fans filmed at the Euros 2016, explaining the game for him and wrapping their arms around him during a big win. “The lead character is fictional, but the world he moves through and almost all the people he interacts with are entirely real — most of whom are unaware they are being filmed,” the director continues. “We watch our lead character as he happily gets swept up into the throbbing, nationalistic crowds of the 2016 European Football Championships in France.”
We spoke to Oscar around the film’s release just at the end of a World Cup full of twists and turns, which has brought numerous people together this year too. Below, the director tells us a little more about the film’s narrative, its unique docu-fiction outlook and the power of footy.
It’s Nice That: Can you tells us about where the idea for Joy in People stemmed from?
Oscar Hudson: The initial idea for Joy In People came from wondering how it might be possible to embed a fictional story within a recognisable and ‘real’ backdrop of newsworthy current affairs. I wanted to try to make a narrative that felt directly connected to a recognisable non-fiction reality. I thought the Euros were the perfect event to explore as they are such a strange circus of nationalism and tribalism in the first instance, but the 2016 edition was to be played out right at the peak of both European refugee crises and the Brexit vote. It felt like such a strange coming together of both symbolic and concrete expressions of nationalism and I really wanted to try and unpick some of that mess.
INT: Who is Ben and how did you develop his character?
OH: Ben Is a character played by actor Meredith Colchester. We wanted Ben to be vulnerable, malleable and harmless, a kind of uncertain blank canvas, desperate to absorb whatever identities are around him. I wanted his naivety and skewed understanding to be the lens through which you might be able to re-see the familiar dynamics of things like football crowds and nationalism. But also Ben needed to be that way in order to waltz into big partizan groups and ask stupid questions and be accepted.
Before we started filming properly we did four or five character and camera tests, going out to West Ham and Tottenham football matches and setting Merry loose amid the crowds outside the stadiums. He would try things out and adopt various levels of naivety, learn boundaries and generally experiment with the character of Ben. It was also a process figuring out how to practically film everything and how we could all communicate as a team without blowing Merry’s cover.
INT: When Ben does interact with crowds how much of it is set up?
OH: Most of the scenes with crowds are real and unplanned, but there are a few moments staged for camera. Generally, we would film for hours and hours, gathering vast amounts of material and often letting the unplanned interactions and conversations lead our story into unexpected places, which always made shooting feel super exciting. Other times we would need a conversation with a stranger to go a certain way in order for us to get an important beat for the overall storyline. We’d send poor Merry out over and over to start the same conversations in the hope we’d get the happy accident that we needed.
INT: Why did you decide on football to show Ben interacting with crowds?
OH: I was interested in football crowds for a number of reasons. Firstly, despite being an England supporting football fan myself I’m generally quite critical and sceptical of nationalism… and I always find it strange that I can be both those things at once. I’m interested in how and why international footy tournaments become these safe-spaces for soft-nationalism, where people start waving flags and singing God Save The Queen, who’d otherwise never dream of doing so. Secondly, they are great examples of the power of the crowd as a phenomenological entity. All throbbing and heaving and chanting — crowds can be powerfully seductive places of collective experience and anyone who’s sung with 10,000 other people on a football terrace knows this.
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