BLOG Mari Ellis Dunning

NWR Issue 104

Surfing the Digital New Wave: Benny and Jolene

Craig Roberts & Charlotte Ritchie in Benny & Jolene
On a recent warm evening, I found myself surrounded by talent at Cardiff’s Chapter Arts Centre, where writer and director Jamie Adams was premiering his debut feature-length film, Benny and Jolene.

Following the mumblecore movement in the US, Digital New Wave as a genre is rapidly unfolding here in the UK, and has planted its roots firmly in Wales. New technology allows artists, directors and screenwriters to develop fast-paced, low budget films which are high on both talent and trend. Recorded in just five days and costing only £12,500 to create, ‘Benny and Jolene is one such film. ‘It’s all a bit surreal really,’ Adams told the audience following the film’s screening. ‘Two years ago, I just got a bit fed up of making short films. I thought ‘£12,500 and five days – yeah, that’s something we should try!’’

With only ten completed pages of script, Adams set out with a crew of talented actors to film his improvised comedy-drama. Charlotte Ritchie, best known for her role as Oregon in Fresh Meat, was cast in the starring role, having been contacted by Adams through Facebook. ‘Once you’ve committed to it, you just do it. There’s no point doing it half-heartedly,’ she said of the improvised filming method, which involved 16 hour shifts and long periods of sleeplessness.

Welsh actors and Welsh locations are aplenty in this production. From Roath Park to the recently closed ITV Studios in Culverhouse Cross, Benny and Jolene was filmed across the Welsh countryside, with green meadows and overcast campsites providing the perfect backdrop to the palpable accent of Craig Roberts (of Submarine fame).

‘I’ve always liked comedy that stems from awkward situations,’ Adams in his discussion, and that’s true: his humour develops mostly from one-liners and characters’ obliviousness to their own quirks. ‘The actor’s are working from the hip,’ he continued. ‘They get so into it, then when I tell them it’s time to move on, they don’t believe we could have actually got any real footage out of whatever just happened.’

Not unlike like Ezra Pound’s brutal stripping of The Waste Land, Benny and Jolene’s extensive editing process allowed for the story to be shaped and brought to life. ‘I cut so much,’ editor Sara Jones told us. ‘We had to be ruthless.’

‘I tend to cut my own stuff and it always ends up too long because there’s a story behind everything we catch on camera,’ Adams explained with a wry grin. ‘It was great having Sara on board to take it down to feature length. She wasn’t on set with us, so she was able to disassociate.’

For someone who has almost-singlehandedly created a masterpiece of Welsh comedy, Adams is surprisingly humble. He seemed genuinely thrilled with every audience member to arrive, and conveyed disbelief that anyone would want to see his debut. Producer Jon Rennie sighted Adams’ enthusiasm and passion as his motivator to become involved in the film. ‘My main reason for getting involved was that Jamie was so passionate about it. It just felt right.’

Benny and Jolene is currently airing in cinemas across the UK, including Glasgow and Dublin. It’s the first in a trilogy of romantic comedies that Adams will be working on with Craig Roberts (most recently seen on general release in Ayoade's The Double. That's certainly a suggestion that they’re on to something good.

Mari Ellis Dunning blogs for New Welsh Review


previous blog: Tea with Mamgu, London Welsh Centre
next blog: Mametz, National Theatre Wales until 5 July


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