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As featured in Unfolded Magazine Issue 04

We speak to director Lee Sales about his debut feature film, Turnout, a slick and stylish story, set in Hoxton, centering on the lives of George (George Russo) and Sophie (Ophelia Lovibond) as they prepare to go on holiday.  The deposit is paid and with two weeks left to pay the balance, flat broke George uses Sophie's half of the balance to fund an ill judged drug deal with inescapably disastrous results.  Let the fireworks begin...

George Russo and Francis Pope co-wrote the script with Lee Sales and it "started out as a 20 minute short script, which was opened up,expanded, and went through many variations" to what is now, a very accessible feature film that will appeal to a wide audience.  With the storyline being mainly fiction, some of the plot is rooted in real life, with Sales noting that "some of the characters are amalgamations of people we know in Hoxton. We filmed in a lot of locations that they would have hung out in. We just wanted to make a film that was 'real' and one where people could relate to, kept it quite intimate". Asked what the message behind the film is, Sales said it is "ultimately about the relationship and all the love, trust and deceit it encounters".

As a directorial debut, Sales has done a splendid job, with clever camera work, interesting scenes and interspersed moments of humour keeping you entertained. We asked what led him to directing: "I have always been interested in films, but it was not something I originally envisioned I could do. I grew up in the first video generation, with fond memories as a child of a video van, where twice a week we would rent out films to watch." The more in-depth interest infilms, Sales says, formed  "around 18", when he "started to watch serious films and went on to study them in depth, reading many books on film theory and technique". Not just theory we hasten to add, but "listening to interviews and reading articles from major film-makers and those who he was interested in at the time - Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman and so on". Sales was particularly into the "70s American films such as Nashville, Badlands, Meanstreets".

Over the years, doing small music videos and shorts, gave Sales the experience and skills for directing. Sales notes that aside from directing, "writing scripts and writing with people (George and Francis) is now a passion that I have found, bouncing ideas together, obviously helps, as writing alone can be a lonely existence at times". What was the experience of filming a feature like?: "With Turnout, it was all about timing.  It was the right ime, from getting the script read and approved; to funding it with the help of family and friends; to filming it last summer, all taking place within a memorable three months for George, Frani and me".

We asked Sales about how he found directing the two main leads and developing their chemistry? "The chemistry was amazing between them, we had a couple of rehearsals and with George having a major part in the script, he knew the character inside out.  Ophelia came on to the project a month before we started shooting and I guess the project appealed to her, with the 60's styling - very Bridgette Bardo, it all fitted well together.  Overall, with all the cast and crew it was a happy shoot, no real dramas, we all got on very well".

Of the cast, Sales drew in friends and acquaintances as extras which when combined give the all British cast a believable air: the boy on his BMX bicycle in the estate (Jake Walker) who starred in a Sales music video, to photographer friend Jeremy Walker, who both photographed stills for the film and starred in a mini scene on the tube, as a despondent George travels on a journey back to Hoxton, that takes in local sights and landscapes.

Speaking of the music, it reflects the style of the film as the scenes move back and forth, with Sales noting "we involved a number of emerging artists such as Andreya Triana, Twin Sister and Holly Miranda" which "help it deviate from a typical urban soundtrack" a smart choice as ultimately its not a East End gangster film. George, as a drug dealer, is not a character you would feel endangered by, quite the opposite, as you somehow feel sympathetic or sorry for his plight and jobless outlook on life. The Turnaround comes as on reflection, having lost everything, he tries to correct his wrongs and get a job.

The characters are almost in two different worlds, George is in Hoxton, running around with his mates "shot mostly hand held, confined spaces with a lot of lines cutting through them" whereas Ophelia's character hangs out in the city, trendy bars, modern architecture, so was "shot with a lot more space and smooth camera work, utilising tracks and dollies". The film also has a great warmth, with the colour-grading spot on, "Visually, when I met our DP, James Friend and operator, Danny Bishop, we didn't want to make a typical dull, grey, British film.  We wanted it to be colourful and stylised, so looked at Fishtank, Kids, Nil by Mouth and films shot by Christopher Doyle for Wong-Kar Wai as visual references. The thing with Nil by Mouth is that you become immersed in that world, as its shot with long lenses and you feel a part of the scene".

The storyline follows a predictable path, however there is an ambiguous ending with chiaroscuro lighting, as George walks from light to dark: "We didn't want everything tied up and perfect. Life goes on and people have their own interpretations. We left it open, depending on whether you are a romantic I guess".

Sales has delivered a great first film, which we expect will have something of a cult following. Of future plans, Sales expects that "following the release of Turnout, it will get very hectic", but looks forward to the interviews, reviews and talks concerning the film. Other than that, he is "working on several new scripts at the moment, all very different, but will be doing several workshops over the next few months".

Turnout is out now at cinemas and available on DVD, on demand and download from September 26

Interview by Nardip Singh
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