Regular readers of this here blog, will recall that earlier in the week I posted a review for new British film short, Hunting Bears. The ten-minute film – written and directed by Jason Ruddy – stars Nathaniel Parker and Joel Beckett, and tells the story of two brothers, Andy and Kenny, and the strain that Kenny’s long-term health condition (Alzheimer’s) has on Andy, as Kenny’s sole carer.
In the film, Andy and Kenny go on a walk to a secluded spot in the woods, where they can be completely alone, so Andy can express his true feelings over Kenny’s Alzheimer’s. However, as it soon becomes apparent, Andy is no longer coping as his brother’s carer, leading to a dark day out in the woods.
Now, if you’ve not yet read the review I posted for Hunting Bears, make sure you take a look, so you can get a better insight into the film itself. But if you have read the review (thank you), then you should continue reading this post, because I’m about to talk a little bit more about the film.
You see, I was impressed with Hunting Bears, so I asked Jason Ruddy if he wouldn’t mind taking part in an interview. Hunting Bears is his debut piece, so I was keen to know his overall thoughts on making the film, and I had a couple of story-related questions too.
As Jason is a Grade-A trooper, he said “yes” to the interview, and now you get to read all about it. What follows is said interview, with Jason providing further details about his film.
Interview with Jason Ruddy – Writer and director on Hunting Bears
Hi Jason, first and foremost, before I bombard you with questions, let me take this opportunity to thank you for sharing your short film with me. I thoroughly enjoyed Hunting Bears from start to finish, and believe it to be a great piece of filmmaking.
As mentioned in my review, I found parts of Hunting Bears very moving and it remained with me after I finished watching it – which in the age of streaming and disposable content, is something I don’t say very often. So, great job indeed!
And now that I’ve got that out of the way, here is where I hit you up with a whole bunch of questions, which hopefully you won’t mind answering. A number of questions popped into my mind during the film (as well as post-screening), and I’d love your thoughts.
So, first let me ask you, what inspired you to write Hunting Bears? It feels like a very personal piece.
“It is a very personal piece for me, and the inspiration for it comes from a number of places. I lost my mum in 2016 to terminal cancer. During that time, myself and my wife became her carers.
“My mother moved into our home and immediately caring became a part of our lives. It was a challenging and difficult situation – especially as we’d just become parents ourselves and juggling caring duties was stressful at the best of times.
“I remember feeling trapped and so alone for the entirety of it. We couldn’t leave the house together as a family due to my mother needing 24/7 care, so we often felt imprisoned in our own home. It got me thinking about how carers are often forgotten about and left to fend for themselves.
“There are also elements of my relationship with my brother during that time and how the responsibility often fell on my shoulders. I don’t think anyone is ever fully prepared for the death of a parent, and because of the carer duties I never really got to mourn as a son.
“On top of this we had the pandemic and the lockdowns. That experience really shaped the story – the idea of having that break away from caring taken away from you (even if it’s just a walk around the park).
“That time was so difficult for so many people, being trapped in their own homes, day in day out, and all of this having an effect on your mental health. Again, I thought about the carer who would have no choice in the situation and how every day would be a struggle – potentially pushing them to a dark place.”
This film was shot during the COVID-19 lockdowns, which would have no doubt added additional challenges to the shoot. Did this impact any choices you had to make during filming or were you able to still deliver everything you set out to do?
“There were good and bad points about shooting during this time. The positive was that we could assemble a cast and crew easily as a lot of film shoots had been pushed back because of the uncertainty of the pandemic. It meant we didn’t have clashes with schedules and the kit was discounted due to the low demand.
“It also meant our filming location was quiet. We did have a few interruptions from dog walkers, but the odd stray dog coming on set would lift everyone’s spirits on what was a bitterly cold day.
“The downside was the extra costs that COVID contributed. Key cast and crew met the night before and we were all tested. We also had a COVID officer with us for the duration of the shoot. Luckily no one had COVID, which didn’t lead to any delays to the shoot.
“I wouldn’t say the lockdown affected the film at all, in some ways it helped us plan ahead and expect the unexpected – but we were ready!”
I can’t ask you questions about Hunting Bears without also talking about the location, and in particular how bloomin’ chilly it looked. The film was shot in Buckinghamshire in the UK, on what looks like a very, very frosty day. What was that like? And did you choose to shoot during the winter months, to add a sense of coldness (or possible calm/stillness) to Andy’s actions/mental state?
“It was bloody freezing! I really felt for Nat and Joel as they didn’t have the comfort of extra warm clothing and hand warmers that most of us had behind camera. Funnily enough, when I wrote Hunting Bears, I imagined it being late summer to tie in with the characters’ childhoods.
“The location was a local woods for me and the cinematographer. We originally wanted to shoot in Bourne Woods in Surrey, but due to other productions booking it for the same time, we had to find an alternative which happened to be pretty much on my doorstep.
“The fact we shot in February was down to scheduling and getting a good deal on the kit hire. But we were extremely lucky with the weather. The day before there was heavy snow and for a moment it looked like we wouldn’t have Joel on the day, due to him travelling down from Norfolk. Thankfully Joel was determined to be there and made it through the adverse weather conditions.
“I love the fact we get this bitterly cold, lonely backdrop; it really adds to the mood and tone of the piece which I’m thankful for as it looks like we planned for it to be that way!”
Something that struck me, when I first watched Hunting Bears (I’ve watched it twice), is that it plays with different genres. There are elements of horror in the story (certainly within the opening sequence), there’s family drama, and there are also aspects of a thriller; did you have a particular genre in mind when you first started writing the story, or did the mix of genres just evolve naturally?
“The horror aspect was purely accidental (the trailer is especially good at heightening it to be horror). Early drafts of the script were much more weighted within black comedy, but when we started to do table reads it wasn’t working, so I stripped it back to what was finally shot on the day.
“I always wanted a thriller aspect as I love a twist in a film. The drama side was natural due to the nature of the material. I wanted to show that deep down these characters had a close relationship, and it was a relationship Andy did not want to lose.
“What comes out of that is a dramatic film of close moments between two brothers who have a lifetime of memories together.”
One of the things that is evident in Hunting Bears is how informative it is. Information is given, often through actions or very simple, yet expressive lines, without the need to rely on endless exposition. Was this something largely shaped by time constraints, or is this efficiency your general approach to storytelling?
“The early drafts had a lot more backstory, which would have led to a longer film duration. We didn’t have the luxury of time, and due to shooting in daylight hours during the winter, we had to shoot the film within seven/eight hours.
“As mentioned before, I stripped the script right back so it was less ambitious and more realistic in terms of actually getting it shot within the short amount of time we had. So no, this approach isn’t a reflection of my other work.
“I’m planning to do something longer, with more character development for the next one, as I always aim to progress and refine my process.”
There is a moment in Hunting Bears, in which Andy reveals that he and Kenny have been to the same spot in the woods before. I took this line as the film saying that Andy wanted to take Kenny somewhere he is familiar with (due to his medical condition), while at the same time being in a location where he won’t be disturbed. Is the movie suggesting Andy had been building up to this day for quite some time?
“I’m glad you spotted that. The original idea was to make the audience realise that Andy had brought Kenny to this spot countless times but never went this far. As Andy isn’t in a good place mentally, he’s been planning this for weeks, but has never ever fully committed to it.
“Of course, with Kenny suffering from Alzheimer’s, he doesn’t have any recollection of coming here every day, but deep down he still feels that something isn’t right – hence his unease.”
Although we don’t get to see any events beyond those shown in the film, do you have in mind what would have happened next. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but did you allow your mind to think beyond the events of the film?
“What happens after is very one sided, and predictable, so it wouldn’t really need to be told – so my mind didn’t go there. My thoughts were definitely more on what happened to them before these events. The idea of a relationship that falls away, little by little, as each day passes really interests me and would definitely work as another piece of film.”
The casting in Hunting Bears works very well, with both Nathaniel Parker and Joel Beckett delivering superb performances. Both actors will be familiar to British audiences due to the sheer number of recognisable projects they’ve been involved with – was this intentional? Did you want actors that audiences would know, and therefore feel instantly comfortable with?
“From the start, I did want actors that audiences would recognise, the reason being, was that it would help the film stand out against other short form films. It’s a very competitive industry, and I wanted seasoned actors from the start to deliver the performances I felt the piece required.
“On top of that, Joel and Nat were just a joy to work with. They understood the constraints of the production and did everything they physically could to get behind it. The end result is that we made a film in a very tight amount of time which I don’t think we could have with actors with less experience.”
The musical score in Hunting Bears was composed by Dave Rowntree. Tell me a little bit about how you came to work with him and what you believe his music brings to the film?
Music and sound is so important in a film, with my favourite film composers being Carter Burwell, Ennio Morricone and John Barry. My aim was to have an original soundtrack made by someone I knew who would deliver.
“I’ve known Dave for about 18 years. He gave me my first job in the industry as a storyboard artist on his animated tv series, Empire Square. We have always kept in touch, and over the years I would mention, now and again, that if I ever got to make a short, would he be interested in composing for it? Luckily, he agreed and kept to his word and worked his magic on Hunting Bears.
“I gave Dave very loose direction, as I really wanted to see his take on the material. What he produced was beyond my expectations and I will always be truly grateful to him.”
I’m going to wrap up these questions momentarily, but on a personal level, what did you take away from making this film? And what did it mean to you to get this project from script to screen?
“The biggest accomplishment was what we achieved during the pandemic and the amount of time we had to shoot. It made me realise what you can produce with a small budget and pulling in favours from great, generous people.
“I had a great producer, in Conor Duffy, and without him this wouldn’t have happened at all. As a creative you are never 100% happy with the end result, if anyone says they are, then they’re lying.
“Hunting Bears wasn’t supposed to be my debut, but it ended up being a good learning curve of what to expect from the industry if I’m to pursue this career further. I’ve learnt a lot during the process and the end result is a huge achievement for me.”
And finally, what’s up next for Jason Ruddy?
“Hopefully another short and then making the leap to a feature. The plan is to make something very low budget and fund and produce myself. I think a lot of directors end up going this route as getting support for their work via the likes of the BFI is virtually impossible – especially when producers are so hard to come by.
“The film industry is a very cold, harsh place when you don’t know the right people, so the path to making a feature is probably unlikely if I don’t find financial support. But all you can do is stay positive, as who knows what the future will bring?”
Thank you, Jason, for taking the time to speak with me on It’s A Stampede!, it is very much appreciated. I wish you all the success with Hunting Bears, and I look forward to seeing your next project.
If anyone wants to check out Hunting Bears, how do they get to see it? Is it readily available or do film fans need to pester someone at a film festival?
Hunting Bears will be released online after its final festival appearance. Expect to find it on our website and the usual video hosting sites in the new year.”
For more information about Jason or Hunting Bears, be sure to check out Jason’s website, or give him a follow on Twitter.
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