Naqqash Khalid

Sarah-Jane Potts.jpg

Interview with Sarah-Jane Potts

By Luan Greenwood

What’s your background?

I’m a working class Yorkshire girl who managed to find my way into the Arts through sheer determination.

You’ve had a very diverse career in film and TV, how is this project different to your previous work?

Naqqash is probably the youngest director I’ve worked with who has a huge artistic and social voice that demands to be heard. I respect and am interested in that in equal measure. Not all jobs are like that. Some just pay the bills. Others turn your brain on. Those are the good ones.

Your character is the only one with real agency, what was your approach when playing her?
I learned my lines, turned up on time and let myself be directed!

How would you define your character?

She is the officer who questions the Frenchman. She speaks entirely in Northern idioms, phrases, and dialect which become untranslatable to the Frenchman and his translator. She is responsible for the breakdown of communication and therefore the fear, confusion and judgment that takes place.


Is your character’s function to provoke the others into revealing certain things?
It wasn’t necessary for me to have made these choices or answered these questions to be able to play her. Sometimes it’s as simple as learning your lines, acting with honesty, respecting your director and your script even if it’s not linear. We can get too caught up in having to know all the information and all the answers. Life isn’t like that.

What was working with French actors like?

I loved the experience. I think it added a really different depth to what I’m used to, an authenticity. We had real language barriers and knots in our understanding; thinking with an English brain and a French brain, the play on words, the accountability of words, how phrasing is perfectly clear to me but completely alien to a French person. It really helped build the sense of alienation for our lead character.

Do you have a favourite memory from rehearsals or filming?
I just very much enjoyed being a part of this project and working with Naqqash, his intellect and imagination.

‘Stock’ will premiere on Sky Arts in Spring 2019. For updates, follow @StocktheFilm on twitter.


Interview with Hania Amar

By Luan Greenwood

How did you come to be cast for this short? 

My agent told me Naqqash Khalid wanted to work with me and sent me a script and examples of his work. I loved his vision and found the script really original in the way he wanted to depict a personal experience. I was really grateful that Naqqash was eager to work with me and even more so as I got to know him better. 

How did you find working with Naqqash Khalid? 

I was surprised to discover how young he was. We spoke a lot on the phone before my arrival in the UK and I was struck by his mature vision of the world which comes across in his work. I loved the distance that he creates as a Director and the magistral silence that follows when he says: “Action!” On one hand, he manages to convey precise boundaries yet on the other, he allows you total freedom as an actor to define your character within those limits. 

Was this the first time you worked with Idir Chender?
Yes, and it was a lot of fun, we literally laughed from the very first second we talked to each other. I think I spoke to him in a weird way or with a weird accent and he started laughing then his laugh made me laugh and from then on, it didn't stop. He's a great actor. In work, he's generous, engaged and helpful. He creates joy wherever he goes and is genuinely interested in you as a person which in turn, as an actor, helps you stay creative. 

Describe the character you play? 

I play an interpreter who is supposed to translate the “suspect’s” testimony. She switches from one mindset
to another as she takes stock of the power she holds over both the officer and the suspect. At the same time, we don't really know if she's real, if she is actually present in the interrogation room. Is she a machine, does she represent the suspect’s inner thoughts, his imagination, his conscience...? She is both the mirror of what the officer understands and a reflection of what the suspect is trying to say. 


How was this film different to others you’ve worked on?
It was my first time working with Naqqash and in the UK, so from that perspective, it was very different to any work I have done so far! 

What is the significance of the title Stock? 

For me, the title always sounded like "Stuck," the pronunciation is slightly different but I kept on reading "Stuck" all the way through, so I guess subconsciously, it was linked to a feeling of being stuck in an unsolvable situation. Given that stock relates to products or items that are meant to be sold or used later, I naturally extended it to include people or even pent-up energy to be "used" later but that waiting period creates frustration until it’s released. 

What did you learn about the British way of working?
From an acting perspective, I love the discipline, the sheer humility of British crews and their cool blood compared to my Latin contemporaries! The British have a reputation for being very respectful and focused when working and it really isn’t a cliché, it’s a fact. Compared to Britain, when working with Mediterranean crews, there are no clear guidelines; professional and personal time seems to amalgamate and when on set, absolutely everyone offers their opinion on how you should play a scene! Despite my Mediterranean roots, the Anglo-Saxon way of working definitely suits my personality. I love it! 

‘Stock’ will premiere on Sky Arts in Spring 2019. For updates, follow @StocktheFilm on twitter.


Interview with Idir Chender

By Luan Greenwood

What was your first impression when you read the script for STOCK?
Stock is a film about non-communication and whereas it can be very destabilising to watch people that aren’t really communicating, for me, the whole appeal of this film lies in its ability to recount a story through feelings. At least, that’s what hit me upon reading the script. I discovered a narrative that was ultra sensitive, based on emotions, on misunderstandings between one character and another. The fact that there are no long dialogues or explanations encourages you to interpret what is happening from an emotional perspective.

How did your first meeting go with Naqqash Khalid?
Firstly, I thought, WOW, he’s really very young! Then, when I started to get to know Naqqash, chat with him, I found out he was a University Lecturer. I had trouble actually believing that someone so young could be in that position so I ended up visiting his University and realised it was all true! I was really surprised, Naqqash is someone who is extremely intelligent, his intellect hit me immediately plus his mastery of nuance and his dynamic personality. I really enjoyed the fact that, as a Director, he doesn’t stay in his own world, he intelligently translates ideas into actions and he has a way of injecting dynamism onto a set and that was really enjoyable.


When he talked about the character, what did he say?
He told me my character was a sensitive person, a bit lost and caught up in the bottleneck of Brexit. He represents a foreigner, in unfamiliar territory who tries desperately hard to communicate, to be understood, who others, in turn, try to understand. Yet it’s precisely those communication difficulties that lead them to be in the situation they find themselves in. What I retained most about my character was Naqqash explaining that he tries as hard as he can to be understood and even when there is a complete communication breakdown, he still keeps trying. As an actor, that reaction in itself was far from the usual clichés and really interesting to play.

What about this project attracted you most?

First of all, the opportunity to act in England, as I’d never been. I’ve played in a lot of foreign countries but never in Britain so that was a main factor of attraction. Then it was down to the script, the subject, Brexit. I was really upset when I found out the Leave vote had won. Obviously, I respect other countries voting decisions but I was concerned it would affect our relationship, our Anglo-French friendship. So when I had an opportunity to work in England, I seized it, seeing it as a way of demonstrating that Brexit wasn’t an end to our special relationship, it’s a situation that creates a lot of miscommunication, as the film shows, but nothing stops us remaining friends. Both the subject matter and the people involved really appealed to me so I had no difficulty whatsoever.

How did the shoot in England go?

It’s a short, so the shoot didn’t take very long which is even more frustrating when you work with such a fantastic, dedicated team. The shoot was really dynamic and peppered with some local euphoria which made it even more pleasant to be a part of. It wasn’t a shoot that benefited from a huge budget, very far from it, but it was so rich in terms of the quality of people working on the film. I found the communication between the French and English actors went very well and it was really tough when the shoot came to an end, particularly from a human perspective.

How did you, Hania and Sarah-Jane communicate behind the scenes to prepare your shoots?
We rehearsed our lines together, over and over again, in different places, at the hotel, in a rehearsal studio or just before a scene. We worked together and helped each other out and took the project on in as healthy a manner as possible. We met up, had a laugh together, ate out certain evenings and worked hard together, trying to speak English at all times. Obviously when I was with Hania, we spoke French to each other but sometimes we made the effort to speak English as we didn’t want to appear unsociable or the production team to think we were extra-terrestrials! However, we quickly realised that it didn’t really matter what language we spoke, everyone accepted us whether we spoke English or French and that helped facilitate our work.

Are you at all like you character?

When you play a character, you always bring a part of yourself to a role. Have I ever experienced what the character goes through in real life? No, I haven’t. In fact, that’s generally the case for most actors. Do I identify with my character’s modesty, awkwardness and sensitive nature? Yes, those characteristics could be true of my life. But I try not to compare myself too much with a specific character, as I want cinema to provide me with the hope of forever unearthing feelings that are deeply embedded within me. I suppose I want to say that no acting ever comes from a sterile place, it’s a prism that reflects you as a person, your life, your feelings, and what truly comes from me or what comes from the character should remain a mystery! At least, that’s how I apprehend my work as an actor.


The story of miscommunication is universal, butdoes it say anything about today’s Britain?
I think from a political perspective, the French just couldn’t understand the Brexit vote, it was like having a brother who no longer wanted to talk to us. You can interpret that as being a misinterpretation in itself! However, as we all well know, you don’t have to understand policy to understand people. When I was in England, I didn’t see the England or Brexit that was portrayed on French news, I just saw England itself. I wandered around the streets of Manchester, speaking French, yet everyone I met was always willing to help me out, show me the way, I never felt any racism and I’m sure I must have spoken to some Brexit voters. Miscommunication is ultimately political, it’s scary, you’re afraid of losing a member of your family but when you are actually in the company of British people, it’s a different relationship, a really enjoyable one.

Do you prefer directing or acting?

I really like directing whether on a theatre stage or on a screen. I can’t choose between the two because if I had to disown one or the other, I’d feel I could no longer fully express myself. So, I can’t say I have a preference, I just wouldn’t feel complete if I couldn’t direct but also act. They are both communication mediums that relate to me; as an actor, I integrate a world and as a director, I create a world. So I need both disciplines in my life, even if in reality, things are more complex than that; an actor can easily create a universe and a director can integrate another... It’s about maintaining two perspectives on life and I’d like to continue down this path.

‘Stock’ will premiere at the Barbican Centre in London on February 23rd, 2019. For updates, follow @StocktheFilm on twitter.


Interview with Naqqash Khalid (Director)

By Luan Greenwood

Tell us about where this story evolved from.

I wanted to make a film about language and miscommunication. The original idea was to have three people in a room who can’t communicate – language fails and betrays them. That was my starting-off point.

When do you know a script is ready to shoot, and what is your process of getting it there?
It’s different for every project, I don’t like to over-intellectualise or overthink things. To me, a script is more of an outline to help recruit the people you want to work with. Writing is an unconscious act and then when you’re making the film, it’s a process of figuring out what the script is all about. I don’t want to know everything before shooting. I’m more interested in the questions rather than the answers.

How did you find the cast for the film?

I offered the parts to actors whose work I was excited by and feel privileged that they accepted. The casting process was different for every role, but ultimately when looking to cast an actor, I’m looking for a co-author. It’s important to me that the actors take ownership and bring themselves to a role.

Casting is an extension of writing. A lot of my characters are written without a fixed race or gender. I like opening up the possibilities of what a character’s identity is when looking for actors. For example, the role of The Officer was originally written as a man, but when casting I decided to look for a woman as I got bored thinking about a man occupying the role. We’ve seen
it before, it would have been cliché. Instead, letting a woman have all of this physical agency and command in this part – it brought something that felt fresh and exciting. Sarah-Jane plays it with this bravado, with a masculinity inherent in the script, but bringing a femininity to the role at the same time, and in this new context that femininity feels threatening and is more sinister.

What made you choose French actors rather than another nationality? And what did you feel Idir Chender and Hania Amar brought to the filmmaking process?

I don’t think I made a conscious decision about which nationality to pick, I have a lot of respect and admiration for French cinema, so I guess this was an excuse to work with French actors. Idir and Hania are very different types of actors and my approach to directing them was specific to their characters. Their characters are not in the same film, so the performance style is in conflict with one another. Idir’s character is grounded in reality, and Hania’s character is hyperreal.


I facetimed with Idir to discuss the project and knew very quickly he was the right person and that I wanted to work with him. We immediately developed a shorthand and were tuned into the same frequency. Working with him is like striking gold, he is a very open person – you can ask him for anything and he delivers without hesitation. It was difficult for me when the shoot wrapped because I felt that I had only just begun to scratch the surface with him, he’s just an incredible actor to watch. Most of the film is him acting alone, he has to carry the film without any dialogue, without any action, it’s not an easy task but he brings such a nuance and complexity to the private moments on-screen. You don’t want to call cut on him

Hania brought a lot to the table. We had a great conversation on the phone and discussed the character and her journey. She’s like a surgeon in how she tackles a role with such careful precision, but like all great actors she can let go of any preparation and withdraw into the moment. I gave her a lot of conflicting direction – I wanted to maintain the character’s ambiguity and resist us having a shared understanding of her motives. I was trying to get her to a space where she would surprise me. I almost wanted to prevent her from telling me where the character would end up whilst preparing her for the possibilities. Working in this way requires a lot of mutual trust. The moment she has at the end of the film, the sheer confusion we feel as a result of the decisions her character makes… it’s my favourite moment in the film.

You live in Manchester, how important was it for you for this film to have a Northern actress like Sarah-Jane Potts and be filmed locally?
The role plays with the clichés of a Northerner – friendliness, politeness, warmth – perverting the stereotypes, making those familiar traits unfamiliar, it’s the essence of those things that makes the character dark. Being Northern, having that strong regional British identity, is important to the character. She is desperately trying to hold on to it, and fears she’s losing herself. I’m curious how a British audience will react to her because as a British person, I feel we are more likely to want to identify with her, she represents something we know in a film that feels foreign to us, but then we’re faced with the baggage of what that brings. We have to separate ourselves from her or justify her gaze.

I love Manchester, I want to make films here, but it’s difficult. There are very few opportunities in the North of England for the type of work that I want to make, but I’m glad I was able to make this one here.

Interpretation, or misinterpretation, figures heavily in this story. What inspired you to make a film that centres on a character’s ability or incapacity to express himself?
Filmmaking, acting, these mediums are all about communication. You are communicating something about people, about yourself, about the world. When telling a story, in every decision you make, there is something that you are trying to say – conscious or not. Right now, in the world, I feel there is a lack of real communication, and our shared understanding of the most basic things is deteriorating. We are arguing if the dress is blue or gold, if something is truth or fake news, is it Laurel or is it Yanny? We are a culture consumed by distraction. I was curious to see what would happen if I made a film where language is empty, full of distraction, making communication impossible. This is also a film that asks for an active audience, everything is open to interpretation, it’s comfortable in its ambiguity. I hope everyone comes away with something different.

Language is powerful, your ability to speak and be heard, it’s all wrapped up in power. I wanted to play with those dynamics.

What makes a short film great for you? Are there certain qualities that make a film better for you?

I’m a process-oriented person, it’s all about the experience for me and the people involved. I’ve collaborated with an incredible cast and crew on this, it’s not lost on me.

Is there something you try to subvert or avoid or rebel against in your work?
I never went to film school and haven’t had any training or been on anyone else’s set. So, if I’m honest, I don’t know what the rules are. I only know how to make films in the way I want to make them. I’m grateful for my inexperience on that front, because films should be about tapping into your specificity and not following any set rules. This is my first film where I’ve had a proper crew and post-production process. I’m learning on the job, figuring out what conventions of filmmaking I like and dislike.

Film is a medium that is overwhelmingly male and white. There’s a lot of talk about diversity and representation, but little action. My crew is 50/50 gender split as a starting off point. I make sure my collaborators are balanced, and that women occupy key positions. It is not a box ticking exercise, it is something that makes the work better and takes very little effort on part of the producer. I want to be challenged in my work. I want to surround myself with collaborators who are different from me, have different experiences, have different viewpoints. That shouldn’t be rebellious or subversive, it should be the norm. I don’t understand people who want to make movies that reflect the world but then their sets are narrow reflections of themselves. That’s not the real world. For me, these changes we want to see in the industry need to start at the bottom with no-low budget sets.

Can you tell us more about your upcoming project(s)?
I’m in the process of getting my first feature off the ground. The way in which I want to make it is quite experimental, so I’m working through some challenges at the moment as I don’t think it’s a film that will be traditionally financed. I’m trying to keep it as easy to shoot as possible, so I can finance it cheaply and make it exactly how I want to make it. I don’t want to say too much about it, but it’s sort of a thriller about domestic life, and about how we construct different versions of ourselves in public and in private.

The post-production process of Stock has inspired new ideas. At the same time that I’ve been editing this film, I’ve been writing another short, which I didn’t plan or expect to be writing. I’m really excited about it.

‘Stock’ will premiere on Sky Arts in Spring 2019. For updates, follow @StocktheFilm on twitter.