Rosie May Bird Smith • Director of Herd Immunity
“Strangely, people have been asking if Brett Gelman has a twin”
- We sat down with the winner of the Papaya Young Creators competition, who delivered a compelling two-minute short about a man who falls victim to fake news
The ninth edition of Papaya Young Creators came to a close on Wednesday 22 June (see the news). The competition, which unspooled in Warsaw, celebrated emerging filmmaking talents aged from 20-35 and willing to explore content creation in new formats, such as branded stories and TikTok stories, along with more traditional formats like music videos and audio series. We seized the opportunity to meet up with the winner of the Award for Best Film in the Branded Stories category, as well as the Best Director gong, Rosie May Bird Smith. Bird Smith directed Herd Immunity, a brilliant, timely short made for Onet. We asked her a few questions about the themes of her film, the casting of the leading actor and her overall experience of taking part in the initiative.
You can watch Herd Immunity here.
Cineuropa: What are the main themes of Herd Immunity? How did the idea come about?
Rosie May Bird Smith: There are a few themes at play here, a totally ambiguous and unimaginable, unnamed virus being the first. Fake news and just how convincing it can be would be the second. And the whole new world of conspiracy theorists that were born of the combination of those two things – that’s the third. I wanted to write something entirely bizarre but something that was still rooted in reality; something so utterly ridiculous but something that you could still imagine a slightly nutty neighbour doing. Yes, it’s hyperbolised – but the way fake news spreads nowadays, it’s not impossible. I’d also planned the whole “man-reads-bonkers-article-about-sheep-wool-then-buys-a-whole-herd-to-protect-himself-from-COVID” thing way before I realised that Herd Immunity might be a pretty good title…
How did you cast the main actor? Curiously, his character loosely echoes Stranger Things’ Murray Bauman…
I had a brilliant casting agent called Emma Garrett, and I put her through her paces... Obviously, this entire film is pretty much solely reliant on one man’s facial expressions – and the cooperation of a few sheep – so every eyebrow twitch and nose crinkle needed to be pretty on point. So when we held our auditions, all I asked our actors for was to play out one thought in their head, and from his first bit of eyebrow action, Jonny Freeman had won my heart. You could tell exactly what he was thinking just from the way he crunched a cornflake, and he played the gullible but slightly cocky conspiracy theorist pretty damn perfectly, to be honest. Strangely, though, people have been asking if Brett Gelman [the actor who plays Murray Bauman in Stranger Things] has a twin.
What were the main challenges of shooting your story?
Whoever said, “Don’t work with children or animals” is a wise but boring man. Sheep are an absolute hoot to be on set with, although they don’t take too well to too much direction and defecate more than I ever thought possible. Most of the time they didn’t do a thing we wanted them to, but that always made for funnier moments. As you can probably tell, the sheep wasn’t supposed to jump into the bath with Jonny and nearly castrate him in the process, but where would we be without that bit of quality improv? Again, the sheep wasn’t supposed to trample across the grave, but now I wouldn’t be able to write a better ending. Moral of the story – when you’re employing sheep that have been in Star Wars, trust in their talent.
How would you weigh up your experience of taking part in the Papaya Young Creators contest? What benefits do you believe it will bring to your career?
This has honestly been one of the best things I’ve ever done. It was exhausting, but utterly brilliant. I’ve learnt how to pull together a film from start to finish, gather a team of people that I love and trust, make decisions for myself without having a client involved, attempt to do things on a budget, form a relationship with actors – and animals – and beg for favours from literally everywhere without pissing too many people off in the process. I feel like this film helped me realise what I like to make and why, and it’s given me the confidence to direct more in the future. I’m incredibly grateful.
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