Over the coming months, we’ll highlight some of the fantastic work of the ever-growing creative community here in Essex and get to know the filmmakers behind them. For our first instalment, we got to see the new short film by writer/director Daniel Keeble, who describes his latest film , Alleviate, as a film about existential crisis; an unbelievable and cathartic journey through profound grief for a man, and his future self, on a desperate attempt to alleviate the pain for his wife. I’m so proud of what we were able to capture on film while Darren was still with us.
Darren Kent gives a layered and heartfelt performance in what sadly turned out to be his final role.
What inspired you to write and direct Alleviate?
For a few years I’ve imagined the idea of someone speaking to themselves in the future, a conversation over two parallel timelines. So when Darren Kent, the main protagonist in this film, came to me to make something together, I introduced this idea. He initially wanted to make a thriller short film with us, ARK Pictures, and act alongside our two producers Samantha Anderson and Alice Ryan, who are also actors. We’d all work before, producing films together with Darren directing, but he wanted to actually act with them. Alleviate only features him, but on set he was indeed acting with both Samantha and Alice; they were feeding him the lines so he had someone to act with.
I wanted to make something unique, so having just one character featured twice in the same film, at the same time, allowed me to play around with alienating the audience, confuse and offer up questions without giving answers. Alleviate is a short film that explores the complexity, delirium and non-linearity of grief. It doesn’t entirely make sense until the last few moments. I think it’s interesting, and once Darren ‘got it’, he threw himself into it.
The unique structure drip-feeds the two sides of the conversation; what challenges did this present when writing and filming?
It is a complex story, at first sight. Once I got my head around the concept, and I figured out this present/future dynamic, the writing was easy. It’s the same character, but a year apart…the dialogue flows and I just imagined how I’d talk to myself from the past if I could. You often hear “What advice would you give to your 15 year old self?”, so it’s running with this idea. Writing a conversation between two characters who are the same person was tricky initially, but it works. So I’m including subtleties in character development for the future version, life’s experiences seeping into his words, how he’s learned to deal with the trauma and attempt at becoming himself again.
For the filming, I knew, for the first half of the film, we’d have gaps where we don’t hear anything. This is where either Samantha or Alice, on set, would act with Darren, then in the edit their voices are covered up in silence.
The challenge was for Darren to play two different versions of the same character. It was a struggle for him during pre-production (learning the lines and rehearsing the character alone), but he got there in the end.
Darren Kent gives a towering performance as Michael, in what turned out to be his final role, can you tell us what it was like working with him?
It was always special. ARK Pictures have made several short films, and he always supported us and wanted to work with us, but we were often overwhelmed with the idea of filming with him. Darren had been in some huge projects (Game of Thrones, Dungeons & Dragons, Eastenders, Blood Drive etc) so the fact he even acknowledged us as filmmakers was amazing. Over the years, we all became friends and socialised outside of the filming work, so we really got to know Darren well, in particular his health issues.
When we came to making Alleviate, we rehearsed and rehearsed. He absolutely loved the story and the character…but I had my reservations. I knew he’d put in a great performance, but I was really worried about his health and whether of not he could even physically do it. I vividly remember one day, as we were going over the script, I suggested we find another actor to play Michael, because of the demands the filming required. He looked me straight in the eyes, as if he’s been told a thousand times in his life he wasn’t able to do something or he wasn’t good enough, and he said “No. I’m doing this. No one else is doing this but me” I’ll never forget that moment. He was so determined to make this film, no one was going to stop him.
We made all efforts to adapt the production around him, spreading out the shooting schedule and making the location as comforting as possible. It was a really hot day (June 2023), his mother was on set to help, we had fans and lots of water to hand, to make his day as easy as possible. Little did I know he’d give the performance of his life. He was so professional. He switched it on; he knew his lines inside out and went beyond what I asked of him. For the final scenes he emotionally went deep, and it shows on camera. I tear up, still, watching back that scene in the film because he’s incredible in it.
The film touches on a difficult subject matter, but it never loses sight of the hope the future can hold, was this a challenging balance to strike?
The story naturally came to that conclusion in the writing. When I’m trying to justify ‘why’ he’s talking to himself (from the future), there must be a reason. What doe he desperately need himself to do? What does he need to change in order to go forward? People handle grief in different ways, and the future version of the character is further down the line in his recovery, and his need is helping his wife with her grief. The story goes that in his anger, he burned everything that reminds him of his child he inadvertently killed in a car crash, everything apart from a small cuddly toy. His intention is to tell himself not to burn this toy, so that it could somehow be used to help bring his wife home, or at least help her heal.
We had actor Lulu Cook come in for that very last shot to play his wife, and she delivered, big time. Those few seconds she’s on screen are perfect; I’m so proud of her and what she managed to capture in that moment. Phenomenal acting. From both of them. Alongside this, an incredible score was written and performed by Ashton More, and we spent months getting it right. The music had to be right for the scene to work, and Ashton knocked it out of the park.
Are you working on anything at the moment?
2023 has been an incredibly creative year for me. I’ve directed 6 short films, and have helped countless other films (either handling the cinematography, or 2nd unit directing, producing etc etc), so all these films will be coming out shortly in some way or another. With ARK Pictures, our next move is making a feature film or two. We have plans, and are in the development stage and figuring out how to find the funds for these projects. We want to progress creatively; we’ve made enough short films now so we’re ready to step it up. I’d love to direct a feature film, so thats my main goal now.
What were the last 3 movies or TV shows you watched?
Recently I’ve seen Napoleon (2023) directed by Ridley Scott, L’Argent (1983) by Robert Bresson and Ikiru (1952) directed by Akira Kurosawa. Most of my evenings are spent figuring out what film to watch…there’s too much choice! Though I’ve been looking forward to Napoleon for a few years, I was slightly disappointed. I look forward to the upcoming Napoleon 7 part mini-series that Spielberg is currently producing!
Where can people see Alleviate?
ARK Pictures held a private screening recently for Darren’s close friends and family at a small indie cinema in Southend-on-Sea. It was a sombre evening, very emotional but I knew it was important to people to watch it together at a private event (rather than just online or at a film festival) as this is what Darren would’ve wanted for sure. He was so proud of the film and I’m pleased he got to see it himself before he passed away.
I’m hoping the film will have its film festival premiere at Southend Film Festival 2024 (though I’m not sure of the dates just yet). It’s currently submitted to various film festivals around the world as well, and will eventually end up on ARK Pictures’ YouTube channel.
We want everyone to see Darren’s performance, this is his ‘swan song’. Alleviate is one of my finest film projects yet, I’m so proud of it but I’ve been in a dark place, personally, since Darren’s passing, due to not only losing a friend but completing this film and the similarities with the storyline, regarding guilt.
A friend of mine, who saw it, said she didn’t just watch the film, she felt it. And that is exactly how I experience it every time.