December 6, 2017 avander

An interview with Joe Harvey, producer/writer of Scales

Scales is a tense, claustrophobic drama that spends one evening with four characters, who are trapped in a combustable boiling pot of an apartment. American boxer, Darnell, his PR manager and girlfriend, Maria, Forbes-fallout Adam and drug dealer Keith are forced to question their relationships and loyalties, as sinister secrets come to the fore, threatening dangerous consequences.

Who is Joe Harvey?

I am a 26 year old screenwriter and cinephile. I graduated from the University of Southampton in 2012, having studied Film Studies and English, and shortly after, my debut screenplay, ‘Sweetboy’, was produced by Distortion Entertainment. I am incredibly grateful to Distortion for giving me the opportunity as a fresh-faced graduate to start life in the ‘real world’ by accomplishing a dream.

Who or what influences your writing?

I think you have to open yourself up to the idea that everything and everyone can shape your writing in some way, be it learning from mistakes or taking what worked and tailoring it to your style. My screenplays are often laced with dark comedy, so I take great inspiration from the films of David Lynch, where these incredibly sinister narratives are underpinned by a surreal humour. The Robert Loggia road-rage scene in ‘Lost Highway’ and the bungling hitman in ‘Mulholland Drive’ are prime examples of comedy being used to accentuate danger. Likewise, with the Coen brothers. Who else could make kidnapping a baby so funny?!

Tell me about Scales?

Anthony approached me in early 2016, saying he wanted to produce a single location film with four characters: a boxer, his girlfriend and PR manager, an entrepreneur and a drug dealer. In terms of narrative, I had free rein. I really liked the idea of being boxed in with these characters and the balance of narrative possibilities and logistical limitations. I thought through possible locations and settled on an apartment, as I wanted the meeting of the characters to be no coincidence, creating the question, ‘why are they all together?’ This question drove the narrative but I wanted the audience to be asking the same thing. I looked to make the screenplay as cryptic and claustrophobic as possible, while still retaining elements of the slow-burner thriller. I am also co-producing the film, which is a great experience.

Do you feel pressure to top your first feature film, ‘Sweetboy’?

As Anthony said, ‘Sweetboy’ was a massive lesson for us, as we kind of felt our way through the process. In terms of the script, I feel like a lot of my dialogue was exposition-heavy and not enough was left unsaid. That is one of the main lessons I took away from that film. With ‘Scales’, I dialled down the dialogue and looked to make it more natural. That being said, what we achieved with ‘Sweetboy’ far exceeded expectations, so the goal is always to better the last project. So far, we are confident that we have a more polished product on our hands – more time has gone into it, and of course, everything we have learnt in the four years since ‘Sweetboy’ was made.

Would you say trust, or lack thereof, is a recurring theme in your scripts? If so, why?

With film, you literally share the perspective of the protagonist for the most part. You see what they see, but you don’t necessarily know what they are thinking. So there is an immediate secrecy to the characters. You may see the same thing, but do your thoughts about it differ. I love to play with that idea and force the audience to try to work out which character, if any, they trust the most, based on how much they empathise with them. For example, in ‘Sweetboy’, the protagonist is a cheating husband, but what is his wife thinking while he is making excuses for stumbling home in the early hours? Does she have her own secrets? I just don’t think audiences should always trust the literal or surface point of view.

Who is your favourite scriptwriter?

I’ve already mentioned Lynch and the Coens, but I would add Robert Altman and Paul Thomas Anderson for the complexity and scope of their characters, Richard Linklater for the humanity and introspection of his screenplays, Spike Lee for his confrontational approach and Charlie Kaufman for the emotional weight he draws from incredibly zany narratives.

We understand you are writing season two of the web series ‘Casting Directors’. What can we expect?

As Anthony mentioned, its a confrontational season, using the comedy to highlight the kind of ignorance and manipulation of power that is now being exposed in the industry. There will still be lots of laughs, hopefully some of them quite uncomfortable ones.

Finally, what are your 2018 goals?

My main goal is to take ‘Scales’ to as many international festivals as possible, ideally in competition. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the American Black Film Festival with ‘Sweetboy’ in 2014, so I am desperate to make sure I have that experience in 2018. I am currently working on some short screenplays, which I will also be looking to develop. I already have an exciting direction to take season three of ‘Casting Directors’ in, so getting that made is also in the year’s plans!