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The thought behind (T)hugs

Upcoming director Klaas Diersmann entered a short-film competition last year, ADCAN. He liked the look of our brief asking film-makers to ‘challenge stereotypes of masculinity’. The 30 second film, (T)hugs was the result of his ideas. The film cleaned up and won the Grand-Prix ADCAN award with unanimous votes from the panel, as well as the democratic audience vote. Well deserved I think you’ll agree. We caught up with Klaas to hear the thought behind (T)hugs…

How did you hear about CALM?
Professor Green’s documentary and then through the ADCAN Awards, when I was really drawn to the CALM brief.

Why were you drawn to it?
It’s a seriously important subject. As mens mental health still has a stigma attached, I was drawn to the challenge to approach the film in a different way in order to really reach the target audience. I felt that the brief was to disrupt the modern expectation of masculinity in a funny but not flippant way. There’s a really fine line and I didn’t want to get it wrong when tackling such a serious subject.

How did the idea for the film come about?
With time and budget restrictions we had to come up with a simple idea that could be executed in one location with a small crew on a one day shoot.
I sat down with my friend and producer Mattes Neubauer and we chatted through different ideas and approaches. In the end, we settled on the idea of a Tarantino gangster movie pastiche involving a kidnapping, with a nod to Reservoir Dogs as we felt that this would resonate well with the target audience and feel surprising to come from a charity. So then I went on and wrote the script and began to imagine the characters in order to put out the right casting brief.

Talk us through the creative process
I wanted an unexpected and somewhat refreshing element of humour.
I didn’t want to do a voiceover in order to explain anything and was determined to tell a complete visual story in just 30 seconds with a twist, to finish on a positive note.
Gangster movies in particular perpetuate masculine stereotypes in British cinema. I felt that men under 45 would respond to those ideas. Think of Guy Richie’s movies, you see all the complexities of their masculine gang warfare but you never see any complex character development, you don’t see these men behind closed doors dealing with emotional issues – this is what I wanted to play with.
It was fun to think of the stereotypical situations and emulate iconic gangster scenes such as the Tarantino boot of the car opening, the ‘tooling up’ of the gangsters (which can be seen in the extended 2min version), and the inevitable ‘chat’… you’re building up expectation of violence but then taking the audience somewhere entirely different. You (hopefully) don’t see the charity message coming, which was really important to me.

Where did you find the actors?
My producer Mattes sent the script around to some casting agents that he knew and received great support from Emma Garrett at Garret Casting who helped us to find the right cast. Brian and his boys really helped to bring the vision to life and I’m very grateful for their hard work.

Tell us about the shoot
Thanks to great friends and friends of friends most of our pre-production was pulled together in a week, alongside our day jobs. I think the cast and the location really make the film what it is. We lucked out on the location scouting around where I live in East London – I believe the location has since been knocked down to make room for flats so it was really great timing. The shoot went surprisingly smoothly as we shot everything in one day – we even wrapped on time which is so unusual for a no budget shoot. The crew was amazing and very professional.

What’s the key message?
It’s good to talk. A problem shared is a problem halved.

What’s the meaning behind the guy being tied up with tape over his mouth?
It symbolises how men can often feel trapped by their own dark thoughts and unspoken emotions.

You’ve injected humour into a very serious issue, do you think humour is important in tackling issues like suicide?
It was a risk to bring humour to such an issue, which is why I was drawn to the brief – it was brave. I guess we tried to speak the same language as the men we needed to reach, to deliver a really important message through something entertaining that they wouldn’t switch off from or disregard. I feel that the statistic of suicide being the no.1 cause of death in British men under 45 is the shocking part, it didn’t need a shocking or serious film to communicate that.

What has been the reception to your film so far?
The reception of the film has been positive throughout. People responded really well to the metaphor and the genre. The ‘biscuit tin’ moment always breaks tension and gets a laugh but the reveal at this point that the issue of suicide is so prevalent in our society is always very shocking and sparks a conversation.

Who do you turn to when things get tough?
I don’t always find it easy to speak my mind, which is why the brief also struck a chord with me. I’m very lucky to have supportive and understanding family and friends that I can turn to, but I can definitely keep a lot of anxiety in my head which I think a lot of men can relate to – we have to talk more.

Do you feel ideas about masculinity are changing?
Yes, slowly, I think they are. Charities like CALM really help to make a difference and I feel honoured to have worked with you to communicate such an important message.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article or in the comments below, are not those held by CALM or its Trustees unless stated, and liability cannot be accepted for such comments. We encourage friendly and constructive debate, but please don't share personal contact details when commenting and exercise caution when considering any advice offered by others. We don’t allow abusive, offensive or inappropriate comments or comments that could be interpreted as libellous, defamatory or commercial and we will remove these without warning as and when we find them.

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