Sheffield-born film director Joe Stephenson has been back in his home city this week to talk about his debut feature film Chicken at the Showroom Cinema.
Chicken’s not a word that could be used to describe the young film-maker, whose career has been characterised by fighting to get into a tough industry.
Joe was born in Sheffield and went to Meersbrook Primary School and his family later moved to Kimberworth in Rotherham, where he went to the local comprehensive before moving back to Sheffield.
He said: “I’d wanted to be a film-maker since I was seven, but I thought how am I going to go about this?”
He worked at The Star in sales which taught him sales and marketing skills.
Later, he moved to London and did an internship at Ealing Studios, learning how the industry works.
“I realised that I was doing these jobs for the sake of being in the industry. I knew about the workings of films, I was going to have to try and make one.”
His break came when he began filming actors doing famous monologues from Shakespeare, which the TV station Sky Arts turned into a series.
Then, while he was looking at scripts, the idea of turning Chicken into a film arose.
The bittersweet story follows Richard, a young man with learning difficulties, who lives with his volatile older brother in a caravan, spending his days tending to his chickens and garden.
When their life is disrupted, everything Richard knows is changed.
Joe said: “It was to do with my friend, Scott Chambers, who got a role in a play and it was Chicken.
“It was only going to be on for five days, so he crashed on my sofa. I was helping him with lines and got very attached to the character so I’d already got a connection and when I saw it I thought I could do something for it and it was ripe for cinematic adaptation.”
He added: “There were things about the play, they have their own restrictions.”
For a start, they couldn’t have a chicken on stage but of course it was much more than that, including the ability to film in different locations and, most importantly, to show the characters’ emotions close up.
Scott, who created the role of Richard on stage, also stars in the film.
Joe said: “It’s something that everyone involved in it is so proud of. It was a passion project and we didn’t have any money.
“We all cared about these characters and wanted to tell their story no matter what.”
Joe said it’s difficult to get financing for films because when Chicken was released, it was one of 13 films that came out at the same time.
Hollywood blockbusters with big stars and marketing budgets will take up half the screens available, so everyone else is fighting over the others.
He said that the Brexit decision has also made it harder to attract investors.
Chicken impressed people in the industry so much that he could attract actors like Sir Ian McKellen and Vanessa Redgrave to work on his next film about the early years of actor, songwriter, playwright and flamboyant wit Noel Coward.
He said: “I had the script for that before I shot Chicken. I’ve always been fascinated by his early years.
“He became the poster boy for high society in the 1920s with the smoking jacket and cigarette holder and he seemed someone born to that world.
“He mum had a boarding house and he was lower middle class. He forced his way into that scene.”
No wonder his story appealed to the determined young film director.