The team behind Busking Turf Wars (UK), a feature filmed entirely in Leeds managed to find some time to let us in on the idea behind the film’s story, their experience with the casting process and filming on the streets of Leeds and whether Steven the busker is real.. or not? Enjoy!
A brief introduction to yourself and the role you play within the production of the film.
Mark: I’m Mark – the elder of the two Trifunovic brothers – and I was the Producer on Busking Turf Wars. Pete and Christy had already started playing around with the character of Steven Lockmoore for a while before I joined the project, but not in any really cohesive way and without any real specific end goal. At the time, I’d had a little more experience in the film industry than they had, and so when they decided that they wanted to actually try make a film, Pete asked me to come on board to help produce. I facilitated a lot of the organisational elements including castings for the other main characters, sourcing the locations for the non-street scenes, crewing up and scheduling. On the back end, I took a lead role (alongside Peter) in bringing the film through post production and marketing, including the process of applying to film festivals.
Peter: I (Peter) am the director of the film. I wrote the six page script that we used when making the film. I was also the editor of the film – this was the most time consuming part of the process. There were hours of footage to look through, and countless paths we could have taken while telling Steven’s story. After the film was completed I worked closely with my brother, Mark, on marketing the film and sending it away to festivals around the world – we sat at two desks in the top room of the house we grew up in, proof reading each others correspondences and taking it in turns to make pots of Yorkshire tea.
Christy:My name is Christy and I was the co writer and leading actor in Busking Turf Wars. Since wrapping on BTW I have been pursuing a career in stand up comedy and comedy writing with the end goal of one day becoming a comedy writer and performer. I have recently moved to London where I am on the Writing and Producing Comedy course at the National Film and Television school.
Busking is a pretty niche subject. What was the inspiration behind it and why did you choose to film in Leeds?
Mark: As the home of the three filmmakers behind the project, and with a bustling street scene, Leeds was always the obvious choice for where we should stage the film.
Peter: A number of factors contributed to the decision to make a film about busking. Christy and I used to film videos on Briggate to put on youtube. I was living in halls of residence, and Briggate a nearby place we could go and film. Once Mark came on board and we decided to make Busking Turf Wars (with a budget of precisely zero!) the street setting became ideal for us – requiring no costly lighting or production design, while still looking great on camera, and with only minimal permissions necessary. Without wanting to sound too much like Alan Partridge, the pedestrianisation of Leeds City centre has made it a place where buskers and street-sellers can flourish; there is always something different going on, which makes it a great setting for a film. I was inspired by two kinds of films and tv shows: those that shine a light on a hitherto unexplored subculture, like “Style Wars” or “Dogtown and Z-Boys”, and those that find humour and warmth in the mannerisms, foibles, and delusions of everyday characters, such as “The Office” and “Vernon, Florida”.
Christy:Well It all started when me and Peter would go around shooting small videos and sketches with the intention of posting them on YouTube which was fun but we both knew we wanted to make films. Then the idea came of doing something a little more substantial but we wanted to keep it homegrown and collaborative. We choose Buskers because we thought that it was a subject that hadn’t really been approached for film before and there was a lot of room to play around, especially when using the mockumentary style. We later asked Mark to help us produce the film and from that point on it was all systems go.
There are a lot of street scenes in Busking Turf Wars, most of which are of course very familiar to Leeds residents. What was it like filming on the streets, any memorable / frightening / strange moments you can share with us?
Mark: I remember one particular moment that had me a little anxious at the time. One of our biggest days of filming was when we shot the ‘Busk Off’ scene: we had three cast members in (which was a lot for us!) and a few extra crew to cover the scenes in fewer takes, so there was a lot riding on keeping things moving. And Steven was doing his thing, improvising some new material to bring to the challenge to his rival Paul Adrian.
At one point, Steven started singing, “Owwwwwww, you give me – Owwwwwww, you give me, All kinds of diseases, All kinds of diseases, All kinds of diseases, But it’s OK.” I remember one member of the public had taken particular offence to these lines, and had pulled me up on it, saying, “Actually, no, it’s not OK. It’s not OK to be spreading this kind of message. He shouldn’t be saying things like that on the high street in the middle of the afternoon. He needs to stop singing – NOW.”
At the time, I was trying my best to deploy diplomacy whilst keeping one eye on the shoot, which was still in full swing!
Peter: Filming on the streets of Leeds gave us a new challenge every day, but it was ultimately rewarding. Leeds high street is frequented by some truly unique characters; indeed some of the funniest moments of the film are those we had no control over, like when Steven interacts with locals who had nothing to do with our film. Many people watching the film will recognise the busker, Chris, who walks the streets of leeds on a Saturday night with his guitar and a pair of aviators! He took ten minutes out of his busy schedule to perform a duet with Steven, and discuss the territorial nature of busking. There were also some serendipitous moments where the ever changing nature of the high street played into the story; I remember when we were filming a scene where Steven has a breakdown of sorts, a nearby shop’s burglar alarm began to go off – this could have spelled disaster for the scene but it kind of mirrored the panic that was going on in Steven’s head, and so made it into the final film!
Christy:Filming on the streets of Leeds was, for me, one of the most rewarding parts of shooting the film. You are at the mercy of the public and anything can happen which can make filming quite challenging yet super fun. I remember one time in particular we were filming in Dortmund Square and it was a scene of Steven Busking in his earlier days. The plan was to go to the location and film something on the fly with Steven doing the more outlandish parts of his set. Before we knew it there was a crowd of over a hundred people just watching Steven, doing his improvised bongo solo’s and crazy interpretive dance. We hadn’t planned for this kind of crowd so it made the scene much more challenging to film covertly but also much more satisfying to watch. Obviously this was a time when we really got so much more than we wished for, it gave it such a rich natural feel that we probably couldn’t have faked if we decided to do a typical set piece. There are also characters and moments on the streets that we could not have written or reproduced, which gave us a realism that would have been hard to fake if we had decided to film in a more traditional location.
Steven is quite a character. What would Steven do if… he wasn’t busking?
Mark: If Steven wasn’t busking, I think he’d be an ambassador for the homeless. He’s always had a very special bond with the ordinary folks of the streets, with lots of compassion and no airs or graces. Plus, he kind of looks like he’s homeless, so he blends right in.
Peter: I’d like the think that if Steven wasn’t busking he would relocate to South America, form a cult, and break new ground on the spiritual frontier, exploring the vast and exciting realm of human consciousness with his devoted followers. But more than likely he would continue working at the International Supermarket in Hyde Park.
Christy: Steven is an entertainer at heart and loves to make people happy and that’s why he busks, so that he can bring some joy to the world. If Steven wasn’t busking I could probably see him getting into motivational speaking and maybe using the internet as a bigger platform for his rants. That’s granted that he can figure out how to use it. He would give his views on life, love and even politics despite a lack of knowledge on all three subjects. Either way he would find someway to perform in everything he does. Whatever Steven would do, he would never have a ‘normal’ job, I think it’s pretty safe to say he wouldn’t be behind the counter of a bank or driving a bus.
Last question: Steven is not real is he? :) On a serious note, what is your advice to new filmmakers with regards to casting, as in, the casting planning and process and successfully getting the right people to fit the story? And for Christy, what was it like going through that process for Busking Turf Wars?
Mark: A filmmaking podcast I subscribe to regularly stresses the importance of casting in this age of micro budget filmmaking and self-distribution. Not only does your casting have to be appropriate for character, it needs to harness the power of the people. If you are able to cast someone who has a strong online following, or is a prolific blogger, or frequently active on social media, you are going to be able to pull more traffic to your movie. Your film’s first audience will always be the friends, family and followers of those attached to the project, so bare that in mind when casting: cast people with traction!
And regarding Steven, I would ask you this: what is real? Since we completed the film, Steven has appeared at Film Festivals around the world, played charity gigs and been involved in KickStarter campaigns. He is as real as you or I.
And even though things in his life have changed slightly since we completed the film, if you keep your eyes peeled you’ll see him around Leeds every now and again.
Peter: I think the most important thing with regards to casting was to have as strong an idea as possible in your mind of what your what you finished film to feel like as you watch it. When we were casting Busking Turf Wars, one of our highest priorities was naturalism. We wanted the film to seem as much like a real documentary as possible. All of the people who auditioned for roles in Busking Turf Wars gave incredible performances, but only the ones we selected were perfect for the film we were trying to make. It’s hard to give a comedic performance. It’s exponentially harder to give a comedic performance and still retain naturalism – but it’s something that our leading actors Christy and Will seem to be able to do magnificently, and with apparent ease!
Christy: Well I think one of the ways we got around the pitfalls of casting was that we looked for collaborators instead of actors. Most of the film was improvised so we had to choose people we found funny and had a similar sense of humour. For example Peter found the actor who played Paul Adrian (Will Tristram) on a podcast he listened to and thought he would be right for the role and he came in and absolutely killed in the audition. So I guess one piece of advice is to search for people you would like to work with or collaborate with.
I terms of the audition process for me there really wasn’t one. As me and pete had written the script it was always going to be me playing the lead role and Pete behind the camera. In terms of auditioning other people we tried to make the process as fun as possible by having the actors come in and just improvise a few scenes with me playing Steven. I think one of the best things to do when auditioning actors is to create a relaxed environment where they feel safe to let go, that way you tend to get the best out of them.
That was great, thanks guys!