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Graham Hughes' Practical Guide to a Spectacular Debut

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A Practical Guide to a Spectacular Suicide makes its UK Premiere this week at EIFF. The film from first-time director Graham Hughes is nominated for the Michael Powell Award. We caught up with the director to hear more.

"We submitted to EIFF cold and we weren’t sure it would be worthwhile..." said Hughes this morning ahead of the film's first screening at the Fest, "but it might be a long time before I make another film, so we threw caution to the wind and submitted. Luckily, we got in!"

A Practical Guide to a Spectacular Suicide is probably one of the most memorable titles in this year's programme. The film follows twenty-something Tom, who is intent on killing himself...but he's not very good at it.

Hughes joked that the film began with the title and that he and his fellow writers, Keith Grantham and Graeme McGeagh, worked backwards from there. But there’s more to the story...

“One of our writers, Keith, likes to listen to music and write. He was listening to a song by the British Expeditionary Force called All Those Demons and writing – at this point we were between projects – and we had a script that only came to 20 useless pages.

“We really struggled a lot, so he was trying to get inspired and while listening to the song he thought of a man walking into the sea. It spiralled from there, and we thought about a guy who thought his life purpose was to kill himself. We refined and worked on that for about 9 months to get our final script.” The song is now part of the soundtrack.

It’s a funny film with a serious subject – one that Hughes and his co-filmmakers are very aware about. “It’s a sensitive subject, there's always a risk that someone in the audience will be upset by it,” said Hughes. “There was one person who came to me after a screening who had had a family experience with suicide. She spoke to me about it and – we’re still friends, don’t worry – but it was a good insight. It’s all well and good to be like, “it’s a funny film about suicide!” but a lot of people have suffered a lot of heartache because of it. We’re very mindful of that.”

So are there surprises in store for those who aren’t sure that they want to see a film about such a difficult subject?

“It’s a lot warmer than people might think,” said Hughes. “It’s a lot warmer than I thought it was. I thought it was quite a cold film but people think it’s got a big heart, that it’s whimsical.”

Some of the film’s whimsy comes from the scenes in which Tom, the main character, describes and illustrates his titular guide.

“I hate realism in cinema, and more than that I hate social realism. So to do a suicide film, for me it had to be… well, fun! If you’re trying to get your point across and you just make people miserable, they’re not going to take it in and they won’t think all that differently about it.

“Also, from practical point of view, with our budget and shooting schedule we had to have a lot of dialogue scenes. I wanted to counter that and to do it in the most creative ways possible. One of the best scenes in the film – that has had the best reactions – is all in stop-motion, which came from our DOP. We wanted to do some more cinematic stuff, so that was why we had those elements.”

Hughes is also a participant in this year’s EIFF Talent Lab, an industry incentive which gives up-and-coming filmmakers a fantastic opportunity to learn from the world’s key film industry players.

“It’s fun, if absolutely knackering!” said Hughes. “I’m meeting loads of talented people. Because of the way we [my crew and I] have been making my films, I feel very much on the outside, and the Talent Lab is making me feel more on the inside of the industry.

“The other side of it meeting other writer-directors. We can’t necessarily help each other to make films, but it can be quite an isolated endeavour, so it’s nice to meet other people who are at the same point in their careers and to see the various paths that people have taken to get to that goal of making a funded film.”

A Practical Guide to a Spectacular Suicide screens on Tuesday 24 June at 8.30pm and Thursday 26 June at 8.30pm with audience Q&As.

The film has also been selected for Best of the Fest! Catch the final screening on Sunday 29 June, 5.55pm at Cineworld 11. Click here for the full Best of the Fest line-up.

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