By Pete Borreggine
Hollywood, CA (The Hollywood Times) 10/9/2018–The Overcoat, adapted from Nikolai Gogol’s short story and directed by Patrick Myles, has an all-star cast including the BAFTA-winning actor Jason Watkins (W1A, The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies), Tim Key (Gap Year, Alpha Papa), Vicki Pepperdine (TheWindsors, Getting On), Dominic Coleman (Trollied, Upstart Crow) and Alex Macqueen (Peaky Blinders, The InBetweeners). Having recently started its festival run, this wonderful film has already won Best Comedy at LA Shorts Film Festival, Best Short Comedy at London Independent Film Festival, Best Director at New Renaissance Film Festival and has just been selected to screen at Aesthetica.
Patrick Myles’ first film Anthropopopometry starred Peter McDonald and Lloyd Hutchinson, his Film London-funded dark comedy Santa’s Blotto starring Brian Blessed followed. He made Telling Laura with Louise Ford and Colin Hoult for Finite Films, and his latest film A Pornographer Woos, adapted from Bernard MacLaverty’s short story, stars Michael Smiley.
Kate Turner and Mark Puddle produced The Overcoat, Tom Turley created the wonderful cinematography, Melanie Jane Brookes did the production design and Alex Baranowski composed the music.
Just some of the festivals the film has been selected for include DC Shorts, Palms Springs Shortfest, Belfast Film Festival, LA Film Festival, Galway Film Fleadh, LA Cinefest, Dinard Film Festival and Cambridge Film Festival.
Christopher Cobbler, a proofreader, was an unnoticeable man, who did the same thing every day. Everything was regular, similar, safe! His overcoat was worn, tattered, old, and unrepairable. He scrimped and cut back on everything. He wanted the best overcoat possible and to be part of the entire process never to be ridiculed again.
The day came for the debut; the new overcoat. Cobbler walks in as the days of the past are gone! He walks down the hallway with his new overcoat. The same hallway that he’s walked so many years before. People notice; they turn their heads and see a new overcoat as it parades like royalty through Buckingham Palace. The new overcoat had done its job. People adored this new overcoat, stroked its soft, cat fur but anyone who came close to it with anything but a hand for, they were shunned and ridiculed.
Then one day, the overcoat was gone, taken, stolen! Cobbler is reduced to who he once was… unnoticed, wearing that old torn, tattered overcoat with a hole in the back below the neck. He worked so hard, saved so much for that new overcoat which was his new chance at life, a break from the norm a way for people to include him.
You see, as the story, goes, old Cobbler, after reporting the stolen overcoat and going up to “His Excellency” for help, he found that getting it back was far more difficult than getting it made. Alas, poor poor Cobbler hath left this earth for grander pastures and on his desk sat piles of unproofread papers. A co-worker entered his office put a black hat upside down on the pile and left. It is said that during the night an apparition made its way through the alleys stealing overcoats. Then one day it was never seen again.
Ha! t wast the ov’rcoat yond madeth the sir, ‘r wast the king seeking a new identity?
You see, this wasn’t about the overcoat but the man, Christopher Cobbler. For years, he remained stuck in his world of reading the same paper, going to bed at the same time, eating the same breakfast, the same dinner and being as regular as an old tick-tock-clock. No one cared about him until he changed his outer skin. He was noticed, invited out to a local pub, and as he sat there, drinking, unnoticed and getting more and more inebriated. Christopher Cobbler lost who he was and his outer shell taken once more.
Patrick Myles’ film is a brilliant example of what happens when you stay in the same place, comfortable and afraid. Be Bold, Be Brilliant and Be Gone! Don’t be a social outcast and do something to get a glimpse of what it means to be popular, be popular by being yourself. Don’t try to be someone who you are not and believe in yourself! You are unique, and each person is special according to their own gifts. Let go of the self you are and change it!
I loved this film because, in it, I saw who I once was. A long time ago in a software engineering role, I refused to learn the newest tech and stayed where it was comfortable. I was afraid, fearful that I would fail. I made only $55.00 an hour then my boss reduced my salary to $35.00 an hour and I let him. I devalued my self-worth and he took advantage of it. No one respected me and no one wanted me until… I took off that old, worn out and tattered overcoat with the hole in the back under the neck and changed “ME!” Only then did I realize my full potential and climbed out of that prison without the use of the rope and stood at the top, throwing my arms up and fists clenched! I made it! I became a new me without any overcoat because I believed in myself for the first time in ages. I respected myself and I no longer needed a glimpse at what life “could be”. I had that life because I loved who I am and what I was given.
Thank you, Myles, for such a great dark comedy. You hit this one out of the ballpark! Bravo Zulu!
Peter: Nice to meet you Kate, Patrick and Mark, virtually. What a brilliant, fun film you made, sir. In my review I shared my own experiences where I wore that old overcoat and refused to change who I was, inside. Was this like the old Hans Christian Andersen tail, The Emperor’s New Clothes?
Patrick: That’s a really interesting parallel to draw, again a story about a person for whom a piece of clothing (or lack of it) becomes the be all and end all. But I think that, like a lot of Hans Christian Anderson, it’s more of a parable or a fable, with a single clear message or lesson, whereas I think Gogol’s work, and hopefully what we’ve tried to emulate in the film, is something with a few more layers to it. As with any great writing, each individual takes from it what speaks to them the most, and I The Overcoat is one of those pieces of literature that is about many things, and what you think it’s about says more about you than it does the story. Incidentally, it seems that you successfully avoided the trap that Christopher Cobbler and the Emperor fell into, congratulations!
Peter: I loved the old-style theme of the film, hence why I put a quote in there: Ha! t wast the ov’rcoat yond madeth the sir, ‘r wast t the king seeking a new identity? This wasn’t about the overcoat, in as much as it was about the man wearing it. Can you describe the inner story, in your own words, and what drew you to making this short story into a dark comedy?
Patrick: I’m a huge fan of dark comedy, and I think Gogol’s writing exemplifies the perfect mixture of absurdism and realism, of tragedy and comedy. I saw a stage adaptation of Diary of a Madman which was just wonderful, and it got me reading more of Gogol’s short stories, which of course included The Overcoat. As soon as I had put it down, I knew I wanted to make a film of it – in fact I started work on it pretty much straight away. I suppose it spoke to me because I felt that a lot of the themes that I saw in the story, such as individuality, identity, social status and bureaucratic oppression, were things I could relate to and therefore I felt I could tell this story on screen. I mean, I think these underlying themes are actually pretty universal, I think most of us have struggled to achieve that balance between wanting to be accepted by a social group, fitting in, etc, while still trying to remain true to who we are as unique human beings. Sometimes those two ends of the spectrum are cannot be reconciled, but sometimes there is a balance that can be struck if, unlike Christopher or the Emperor, you don’t allow yourself to be seduced too much by either side.
Peter: Can you tell me who influenced you when you were young and what got you into filmmaking?
Kate: I’ve always just loved film. Especially comedy. Growing up, my brother and I were obsessed with really silly films like Airplane, Top Secret, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. That love of comedy has never really gone away. My way in to filmmaking was a really lucky break. I was actually working as a (very bad) teacher in Spain when I applied for an entry-level job at a film company around ten years ago. They had already filled the position by the time I applied but asked me if I would like to help them out with some research for a shoot a couple of days a week. I said yes and a few weeks later they asked me to move to London and offered me a job!
Patrick: This is a huge question. I grew up watching videos in the 80s when I was a kid, so Spielberg, Zemeckis and Lucas are part of my DNA. Then when I got old enough I binged on other greats like Coppola, Scorsese, Ridley Scott, and then I started getting serious about it all I devoured all of Kubrick, Fincher, PTA. I love all these filmmakers and I think their work has subconsciously influenced a lot of what I do, hopefully for the better. I actually got into filmmaking through the backdoor, I trained as an actor at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School (which is where I met Mark Puddle!) and as I was working as an actor, I was always fascinated with a director’s process and their job, especially on screen. So I wrote my first short film script, about a pair of anthropomorphic, self-aware urinals, one of whom has an existential crisis (as a sort of an homage to Beckett – so yes, very, very ‘first script’) and then shot it, and I completely fell in love with filmmaking and everything associated with it – the prep, the shoot, the edit, it was wonderful. I was hooked.
Mark: I have always loved a good story, be that on the page, stage or film. As a child I was addicted to Hitchcock films and would watch them again and again. When Patrick approached me with The Overcoat, I thought film would be the perfect platform to retell this fantastic story. I was delighted to be on board!
Peter: Where was this film made and can you tell me what it was like working with Jason Watkins, Tim Key, Vicki Pepperdine, Dominic Coleman and Alex Macqueen? Why did you choose these actors, specifically?
Kate: We are really delighted with the cast we put together for this. I think the strength of Patrick’s adaptation and the fact that there is a real love for Gogol out there helped us enormously. It was shot in London in five different locations.
Patrick: It was made in London, over five different locations in five days. We were so lucky to have such a brilliant cast for this; I think it was more a case of them choosing us rather than the other way around! Basically, we made a dream-casting list, and then just went for it. Jason came on board first, and I think that might have convinced the others to come on board too. It made the shoot so much easier to have actors with that much ability and experience, and Jason as the protagonist gives a beautiful performance, so human, vulnerable and truthful, he really does carry the film.
Mark: The Overcoat was filmed in the dead of London’s winter in an old disused hospital, making it rather chilly! It was wonderful to see our cast of talented actors huddled around the small electric fire together in between takes, rubbing their hands and stamping their feet. I’m a great believer that the ethos of the production comes from the top. With Jason Watkins leading the cast, we couldn’t have had a better example of a team player.
Peter: Can you tell me why you selected Alex to compose the music? What are your feelings on how music can make or break a film and why choosing specific composers helps making a film that much more exciting?
Kate: I’m so happy you like the music! Alex did an incredible job. Music and sound design are so incredibly important when it comes to putting together a film and it is one of my favourite parts of the process. For me, it is when the film really comes alive. I’ve actually wanted to work with Alex for a while. We were in the same music technology class in school and have always been completely blown away by his talent. By pure coincidence Patrick knew him too… it was fate!
Patrick: I think music and sound are absolutely vital to filmmaking, and I agree I think Alex did an incredible job. I had worked with Alex at Shakespeare’s Globe, where he had composed the music for the Henry VI trilogy that I was acting in, so I already knew he was an incredibly talented composer and a great guy, so I pitched him the film and luckily, he had a small gap in his schedule and he agreed to do it. We sat down and went through all the scenes and talked about the feel that we wanted and how best to achieve this with music, and he was very gracious when I said that I already had ideas about existing music that I wanted to use for some scenes (such as the reveal of the new overcoat and the pub scene for example), and he set about scoring the rest of the film. I think the tone and feel he achieved for the music is perfect for what we wanted, and it slips effortlessly into the overall palette of the film. I’m in awe of how composers have that skill for translating a feeling into music, and Alex has it in spades.
Mark: Music is integral in telling a story, engaging the viewer and creating the desired atmosphere in each scene. We all knew from the outset that music would play a very important role in this film, which is why we were delighted to have Alex, an experienced composer, writing the music. Having listened to his previous work, we knew he was the perfect fit for this film.
Peter: Finally, for each of you. Please tell our readers who is the most important role model for you in the industry and why?
Kate: Such a difficult question! Jane Campion is a huge role model for me. She is an enormous talent who doesn’t put herself in a box. Her work is so mysterious, intriguing, smart and beautiful. I also love the work of Taika Waititi. I really admire his ability to move you with heart and humour.
Patrick: Wow, that’s a tricky question, to choose just one person. I suppose I’d have to go for Stanley Kubrick because of his dedication to a film’s preparation in the knowledge that his hours of prep gives him the freedom to spontaneous and free during the shoot, and also his ability to create an incredibly specific world that the film can live in which, no matter how unrealistic it may be, feels totally real to the audience as they watch it. That I think is a unique skill and one I aspire to.
Mark: Greta Gerwig is a very important role model for me, particularly in the direction of her most recent film, Ladybird. I admire her for finding a story that she needed to tell and even though it would be a difficult task, she knew the film must be created and she made it happen.
You can see The Overcoat trailer here: https://vimeo.com/284213126