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BFI Flare 2023: MA graduates introduce ‘Every Waking Moment’

By Elise Czyzowska

17 March 2023

A celebration of LGBTQIA+ cinema, this year’s BFI Flare Festival has officially begun, and featured in the ‘Music is the Food of Love‘ strand is Every Waking Moment, a short film directed by Jacob Dufton (MA Directing), with cinematography by Matt Tam (MA Cinematography).

Based on the relationship between 20th century composer Benjamin Britten and tenor Peter Pears, which Jacob discovered during his music BA at Cardiff University, the film follows a similar artist-music relationship, taking the audience back to a time of fear and persecution for gay men in the UK.

Ahead of the film’s screening at BFI Southbank tomorrow, Saturday 18 March, we spoke to Jacob and Matt about Every Waking Moment, Jacob’s original composition for the short film, and what they hope audiences will take from the film…

Jacob Dufton – Director, Writer, Composer

How did the idea for Every Waking Moment come about?

I was really drawn to how Britten poured his heart into his music – which he would almost exclusively have his partner, Pears, perform. It was a way for him to signpost his love, without being able to declare it – and this was the cornerstone idea for Every Waking Moment.

I also had the ambition to shed light upon the often-neglected period of British classical music and homosexual oppression. I wanted to explore the cruel, abhorrent treatment that the UK Government imposed on queer people at the time, and the systemic abuse by the police force and the health service. I wanted to create a haunting snapshot of this cruelty, and how it affected both the direct victims, and those who lived in fear because of it.

How did you approach the script, juggling your historical inspiration with fictional elements?

I spent a long time researching the subject, and that definitely helped me to write the screenplay rather fluidly. I did, however, have up to 12 drafts of the script – for example, my inspiration for the third character, The Beautiful Man, came about after more research into the medical history of the time.

The main characters, Alistair Percy and Edward Talbot (Harry Doolan & William Bennett) are aesthetically similar to Pears and Britten, and they have a similar, playful dynamic. But I also wanted to have the freedom to craft three-dimensional characters who weren’t slaves to their inspiration.

My actors added even more of this ‘individuality’ to their roles. Their unwavering talent and willingness to research and adapt was a true credit to the project. I believe that through this, we struck a nice balance between fact and fiction.

Behind the scenes of ‘Every Waking Moment’

You also composed the music for the film – how did this influence your approach to the film?

I’ve always written music for my own films, and I’ve been fortunate to write for my peers, too. The titular song was written simultaneously with the script, as it had to not only represent the music of that period, but also the emotional core of the film.

In terms of how the music steered the filming of the piece, we made sure to treat it as a priority, using dynamic camera movement and complicated dolly setups to create a sense of flow and freedom.

As a director, that meant I often had to let go of planned shots, and become more efficient in my own performance, in order to achieve the highest quality of takes in a fraction of the time. However, due to the unbelievable work of the cast and crew, I’m certain that we achieved this.

The cast and crew of ‘Every Waking Moment’

Matt Tam – Director of Photography

Knowing this film is a romance, how did you approach the camerawork to tell this story?

We planned our camera movements to go hand-in-hand with the music, and used a lot of extreme close-ups, especially of the eyes (using an 85mm lens). This was to capture the characters’ emotions up close, and to create something beautiful – there are scenes when the shallow depth of field creates ‘bokeh’ (an out-of-focus blur) of the trees in the background, which really helped to highlight this.

There’s a moment near the beginning of the film, when a man catches the eye of our protagonist, and we follow his eyes in a slow-motion close-up. That was done to evoke that same feeling of ‘love at first sight’.

Without giving anything away, is there a scene you’re particularly proud of?

I’m quite proud of the scene where our two protagonists sit by the piano together, which is when they start playing their love song, also called ‘Every Waking Moment’.

We did that whole scene of the song as a one-shot, and I really enjoyed being able to feel the camera on the dolly as we just moved with the music.

Watch the trailer for Every Waking Moment

Jacob & Matt’s response to their BFI Flare Selection

Jacob: “I was shocked. I felt a sense of great achievement for myself, and for the full cast and crew. It’s such a prestigious honour to appear at the BFI, and to be a part of Flare’s legacy. The one thing I want audiences to take away from the film is perhaps that real love always finds a way to survive, no matter the obstacle. I’d also really like for people to get the final song stuck in their heads!”

Matt: “I’m over the moon. I’m just so happy that a wider audience gets to see Jake’s beautifully-crafted story, and listen to his gorgeous original song. I hope our film introduces viewers to this part of British music history, that some may not know about, and helps to continue the conversation that, although the LGBTQIA+ community has come a long way since the 1960s, queer visibility is something we’re still fighting for in today’s society.”