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Karen Bryson to star in David Kitchen’s Directorial Debut 'Family Reunion'

By Adam Williams on the

David Kitchen makes his directorial debut with 'Family Reunion', a film where family is everything, but where everything is not as it seems

Karen Bryson from Channel 4's 'Shameless', 'Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels' star Clint Dyer and 'Doctor Who' actor Trevor Laird join together to play a family in Kitchen’s short film 'Family Reunion'.

Karen Bryson © Avril Powell
Karen Bryson as Avril Powell

Family Reunion tells the story of a close-knit London family who recently lost their mother and are mourning the loss of their Uncle Bernie. As Dad (Trevor Laird) and his loving children, Karen (Karen Bryson) and Jason (Clint Dyer), return from the funeral, the family home seems to lack the warmth it once had.

The sadness is lifted by the joy of the upcoming family celebrations, Jason’s son's 10th birthday, Dad’s 60th birthday, and a family reunion. As the planning for the festivities gets underway it is tainted by a secret. What is the secret? Will it be revealed or will this family be torn apart forever?

Karen Bryson became a popular face on the small screen as she starred as feisty matriarch Avril Powell, in the critically acclaimed British comedy, 'Shameless'. A supremely talented actress, Bryson has also starred in in the BAFTA-winning Channel 4 show 'Buried' and won a Screen Nation award for Best Actress in 2013. As well as starring in this captivating short film she was also co-producer.

Family Reunion co-star Clint Dyer, has graced screens both big and small with credits including 'Sus', 'Lock Stock', 'Sahara', 'Unknown', 'Hope Springs', 'The Bill' and many more. Trevor Laird, who plays Dad, is best known for roles in 'Quadrophenia', 'Doctor Who', 'Waking the Dead' and 'The Eagle'.

Although this is his first role as writer/director, David Kitchen is the brains behind this captivating film. Kitchen become his film career as an actor. Having trained at LAMDA he went on to star in shows such as 'The Island', 'Peak Practice', 'EastEnders' and 'The Bill' and has been a voice-over artist for more than 15 years.

He has also had a career in fundraising, working with Save the Children, Amnesty International and many more charities. While 'Family Reunion' is his debut film, Kitchen plans to direct more of his own work in the near future and already has a number of scripts ready.

Family Reunion Q&A

What gave you the idea behind the story?

DK (David Kitchen - Writer/Director): Well firstly it’s not autobiographical. It was an idea I thought of quite a while ago…but how the idea actually came about, I can’t quite remember. It was many years ago, and I was out late one evening with Karen and I was telling her about the idea and she told me ‘you’ve got to make it!’. The conversation we had was very much about broken dreams; being in the acting world there is a lot of dreams and ambitions that don’t get fulfilled and sometimes you’ve got to make a living doing other things...fortunately, no one here on stage had to go as far as Karen did in the film, but that’s how the idea really came about.

Karen what attracted you to the script?

KB (Karen Bryson - Co-producer and starred as lead female role): I thought it was concise and multi-layered. Following on from what David was just saying with regards to broken dreams and where that can lead you and also that whole idea of family and sweeping things under the carpet. Everyone in this room has got stuff in their family, where it’s an awkward situation or where something has been said that you can’t take back. I find that interesting, because at the end of the day that’s human life. What do you do with the information and the situation that Karen and Jason were in? Do you not talk to your sibling? Do you not talk about it at all? That’s the thing I found interesting. I also loved how the end was open-ended; it makes you wonder do they not talk about it? Is it under the carpet? Do they have awkward Christmases? We’ve all got these situations in our families, it may not be as extreme a situation as this one but there is always that ‘something’ in family set ups - even in close families that you love - there will always be a time where that type of awkward energy is about. That’s what makes the script so multi-layered; a seemingly happy and functional family that really isn’t so functional and ‘normal’. It makes you think, what is classed as a ‘functional and normal family?’ and that’s what I really loved about the script. So nice one David!

David, how did you edit the film to be a short?

DK: When I first wrote the film, it was about 18 pages and I was very aware that at the time – luckily it’s longer now - a lot of the festivals I wanted to submit my film to, only accepted films up to 10 minutes, and it’s said that 1 page equals 1 minute of the film, and as mentioned at the time mine was 18 minutes. So I decided to focus on filming as much as we can and then editing it down after. Simon Brooks, the editor of the film has done a fantastic job, he took this story that although wasn’t overly long, had some scenes that weren’t necessarily moving the story along and we wanted the film to move rapidly to keep that drama, so luckily Simon was there to help take out the unnecessary bits, and I learnt that the editor doesn’t have any emotional attachments to any of the scenes so can happily take out anything that doesn’t help keep the story punchy and exciting.

CD )Clint Dyer - Starred as lead male role): To cut out my finest work! (Laughs)

The film jumps back and forth from past to present throughout, what made you order the scenes in such a way, instead of just telling the story in order?

DK: Because if it’s told in a linear structure, then quite frankly it really doesn’t make for much of a story. The reveal or the climax of the story, happens so much earlier, so by making the film have a non-linear structure, we are letting the reveal come that much later to help build the tension and make the story that much more exciting.

CD: Also from my perspective watching it, I think it gives us a deeper understanding of the family in the film; firstly it gives us an immediate suspense but it also gives us a deeper level of understanding of the characters and what their lives could be like, immediately. I think that the non-linear structure is a really powerful way of doing that.

DK: Absolutely. We have that expedition and introduction to the characters very early on as you say. But what we did have a problem with when reading the script and what I was questioned a lot about, was that these aren’t just flashbacks there are also many flash forwards. But after discussing it with Toby, the assistant director he said that it was a tragedy, so the audience are aware of something that the characters aren’t. And we know that in most tragedies the audience knows that something is about to happen, whereas the characters don’t, so that also was what allowed us to tell the story in such sequences.

Although it is a short story, do you plan on making a sequel? Or even into a feature? I’m sure all of us here would like to know what happened with that relationship, and the dynamics. How did the wife react? And so on.

CD: She never found out…no, I’m joking.

KB: That’s the thing that is really lovely about this piece, that you are left to make your conclusion based on whatever is personal to you. So that whole thing about does Karen not talk about it? Does she open her mouth because he’s just rejected me and absolutely debunk that gorgeous relationship between Jason, his wife and their 2 sons? Do I shut my mouth? Do I disrespect him? That’s the nice bit; because each individual is going to have a completely different view of what does happen next, what they would like to happen next, or what they might not want to happen next. That’s the beauty of having the open-ended cliffhanger. Also just going back to the editing, I was speaking with the editor about the last scene; we filmed it so that there was a close up of me, a close up of Clint and then that open shot at the end. I really loved that open shot at the end, with Jason’s wife Kirsten at the back and Jason and Karen just getting on with things. Although the close-ups show what Karen was feeling and what Jason was feeling, it’s not necessarily important to see what they are individually feeling but rather the whole outcome, with them just dealing with it and getting on with the decorations for their dad’s birthday.

CD: No, I would have preferred it on my face. A big close up of me at the end would have been great! (Laughs)

KB: But I really liked the choice of shot at the end, I don’t know if you as the viewers felt the same, where you just go ‘Oh dear…’ because you can see them awkwardly trying to get on with things.

CD: Well it’s living the lie isn’t it? So it was such a great way to end.

DK: But also with a feature, I don’t think you would have been able to get away with that sort of cliffhanger at the end. Because nowadays, with features we want everything wrapped up with a conclusion, whereas with a short film you can just say ‘well it’s up to you how it ended’.

As a dramatist are you not tempted to explore all the different scenarios that could play out with the characters? There must be a part of you that wants to do that?

DK: There is a part of me that does want to, but I think it may be best to leave it with that ending and let the audience decide for themselves. I think I will just move on to the next film.

KB: I’ll make the sequel (laughs) I’m joking.

CD: What I do like about the ending is that it’s even handed. A lot of the times when you are watching a film the open-end is the lead character going off and they have to deal with the issue. What’s interesting about what was written with Family Reunion is that both Karen and Jason can’t admit it for their own reasons and that’s really what attracted me to the script…even though I wasn’t asked that question. (Laughs)

Clint, what was your biggest challenge when filming as Jason?

CD: Hmm, what was my biggest challenge?

DK: Getting to the set on time!

CD: (Laughs) He didn’t mean that! My biggest challenge was the car, having to drive the car. A lot of the car scene may look static but we were actually driving the car, with David, the cameraman and the sound guy all squashed around me in the smallest car ever. And I was driving round Ladbroke Grove area – which I don’t know at all – and there are loads of speed bumps. So I had to drive a car I’ve never driven before, try to be emotional and THEN David wants me to pour water on my face, because I’ve got the stuff in my eyes, whilst driving and not crashing into anybody! And on top of all that, you can’t see because on the bonnet, there is a camera looking at you right in the face! That was probably the most difficult shot of them all.

Is there anyway other people can see it, will you be releasing it to cinema, or doing other screenings?

DK: No that’s it. I look forward to submitting it to festivals and just getting it out there, but for now it’s just getting it into festivals. I submitted it for Cannes, I actually got an email the other week and I got so excited, but when I opened it, it just said ‘We have received your DVD’ nothing about being accepted…yet. (Laughs)

Will you be putting up anywhere online? For example YouTube?

DK: Well the thing is with the bigger festivals, you aren’t allowed to have it on YouTube and things like that. But to be honest there has never been a better time to make short films, because of the internet. You aren’t depending on let’s say Channel 4 screening it or something, with the internet it’s easy to just put out there and you’ve also got things like Netflix and other film platforms can help too. People now have their tablets on the tube, and an average tube journey takes 15-20 minutes, so they can watch short films they’re on the train, as opposed to watching snippets of a feature film.

CD: I’m sure there are sights specifically for short films, where the viewer can download it and watch the film. Audience Member: London Underground should have a site that’s called ‘Short Films for Short Journeys’

DK: Yeah I like that idea!

How long did it take you put it all together, including the writing?

DK: Well Karen and I spoke about this 12 years ago.

KB: When I was 6!

DK: (Laughs) Yeah, and then we met up 5 years ago and she told me to get on with it, so that night I went home and decided to sit down and write it. The original draft took 3 hours to write. But then pre-production only started to take place in November and then we started filming in December. It was only a 3-day shoot; it was easy as there were only 3 locations. But then Christmas got in the way, so Simon and I started editing straight after New Years. Considering I’d never had any sort of involvement in anything post-production prior to this, a lot of people have said that it’s quite an impressive time to get it all completed in, rather than allowing it to get stuck on the shelf for ages. But I had such a great team to work with and they helped me to get it done.

KB: I just wanted to say really quickly that I think you saw a little snippet of all of our hearts, especially yours David so thank you for that, really!