Rebecca O'Brien and Kahleen Crawford I, Daniel Blake Interview
Cast: Dave Johns, Hayley Squire
Director: Ken Loach
Running Time: 100 minutes
Synopsis: Daniel Blake (59) has worked as a joiner most of his life in Newcastle. Now, for the first time ever, he needs help from the State. He crosses paths with single mother Katie and her two young children, Daisy and Dylan. Katie's only chance to escape a one-roomed homeless hostel in London has been to accept a flat in a city she doesn't know, some 300 miles away.
Daniel and Katie find themselves in no-man's land, caught on the barbed wire of welfare bureaucracy as played out against the rhetoric of -striver and skiver' in modern-day Britain.
I, Daniel Blake
Release Date: November 17th, 2016
Interview with Rebecca O'Brien, Producer
Question: How did this film come about?
Rebecca O'Brien: I think basically both Paul and Ken were getting itchy feet. Paul had been doing research into this area and encouraging Ken to get involved. As usual, Paul came up with some interesting stories and it became irresistible. Then Ken and Paul went and looked at a few places; they went to a food bank in Glasgow and they went to various places in the Midlands, they went to Stoke, they went to Nuneaton where Ken grew up and places like that too. In part it was to see where might be good to shoot but also to explore the extent of the stories and meet people that Paul had contacted. That was in the winter and then Paul went away and I don't think he started writing until March or April  actually, even May, and then very soon there was a script. I was doing another film but as soon as that finished, we made a decision that it would be worth doing this, and quickly. I think we all just felt that it's so current and so vital to tell these stories that we decided to go for it and just do it while it's completely relevant and hot.
Question: What is the film about?
Rebecca O'Brien: It's about the struggle to survive, a story that returns again and again in different times and circumstances.
Question: Were you concerned that such a story might lack inherent drama?
Rebecca O'Brien: Not at all. Paul Laverty's outrage and his constant flow of research allows him to find the stories that are worth telling. And then his ability to build a framework to hang the stories on is so good that he makes it seem effortless.
Question: How was I, Daniel Blake funded?
Rebecca O'Brien: Well, as ever, our wonderful French partners are on board. Why Not Productions and Wild Bunch sales company cashowed us throughout pre-production and preparation. We decided to go very quickly, in July in the end, so I put my application in to BFI and also the BBC in June, and I sent them a script as soon as I got it. That's a very quick turnaround for them but BBC Films came on board - the first time we've had BBC Films equity - and the BFI did as well. Because it was so quick, I think they'd spent a lot of their money this year so we didn't get maybe as much as we normally might but our French partners were brilliant in helping to fill the gap. They also brought Les Films du Fleuve, our Belgian partners, on board again and we did a co-production with Belgium as well as France. Overall it's a slightly lower budget film than some of our recent ones because it's a much smaller cast - it's more of a chamber piece really.
Question: Why did you choose to shoot in Newcastle?
Rebecca O'Brien: We chose Newcastle because it's a very defined city. We wanted something that said proper urban centre, and also it's very beautiful. I suppose you want to demonstrate that these stories happen to people in great cities and in good parts of the country, and not just in places that are obviously down-at-heel. In Newcastle, there's a real cross section of people and places. It's also got a very dramatic look to it with its hills and the gorge of the river and all the bridges. There's something very strong about it as a place. I've always wanted to film here myself and I think Ken has too.
Question: What was the thinking behind bringing Katie up from London as a parallel to Dan's story?
Rebecca O'Brien: Dan's story might have seemed a bit bleak and thin by itself and I think you want to show that there are people who will support each other - there is kindness out there. Katie's story works very well because it's a counterpoint to what Dan is up against. Katie is struggling but in a different way. It would have been too linear if it was just Dan.
Question: It was suggested that Jimmy's Hall might be Ken's last narrative feature, but here he is back on lighting form. Do you feel like he has been re-energised by the subject matter?
Rebecca O'Brien: Yes. It's fantastic for both him and Paul to be doing something that is so immediately political and so important. It's absolutely current and there's something vital about making it. That vitality feeds into Ken and Paul and it shows itself in the film. It's still tough for anybody to make a film but the subject matter and working with the actors telling the story absolutely inspires Ken. I agree, I think it's fantastic seeing him so energised. On some days I think, -God, if we could keep doing this forever...'
Question: Does political filmmaking even exist in Britain at the moment or are you ploughing a lone furrow?
Rebecca O'Brien: I'm sure there are some people who are concerned, but people shy away from politics so much. They think it's the kiss of death but I think with the younger generation becoming increasingly politicised, as the Corbyn vote indicated, there is a new interest. There are some political statements made by directors and even more so by artists, but I don't see a lot of political stories out there. You would think there would be more and yet Ken remains the spokesperson for all ages and has a lot of young fans. If you look at our social media, we're well followed: I think that's partly because there are very few people who will put their heads above the parapet and are not afraid of being overtly political. Being older helps you: you've got nothing to lose so you can say what you think.
Question: Cathy Come Home came out 50 years ago in November. Do you see this film as a bookend?
Rebecca O'Brien: There are very powerful parallels. I do see this film very much as a bookend to what happened fty years ago but it's a different story. I think this film demonstrates that there is no safety net for vulnerable people now, just as there was no safety net then. Now they have created jargon to neutralise the plight of desperate people. People are described as -bene t units,' you have to prove -conditionality.' It's absurd. But there are many parallels with the past and I think it makes a big point that Ken is making a film about these issues fifty years on from that powerful moment. I think it just says that we need to keep making them.
Interview with Kahleen Crawford, Casting Director
Question: Describe the casting process for I, Daniel Blake.
Kahleen Crawford: We get the script and we always start with geography on Ken's films. Almost the first question I ever ask Ken is to draw a map to show what area I can get people from and we agreed it had to be Newcastle or Sunderland or even places like Hartlepool. But we fairly quickly narrowed it down quite a lot - we wanted it to be Geordie. Then I went to actors' agents and looked at actors. There weren't lots in the right age group, but there were some that were fantastic - yet maybe too well known. Ken just wanted it to be really simple, something the audience would just watch and not be cluttered with preconceptions of a well-known local actor. Once we'd done a lot of the actors, we also looked at the comedy clubs and at singers and musicians.
Question: You quite often look to comedians. Why?
Kahleen Crawford: I just think Ken over the years has had so much success doing that, even sometimes just in smaller parts. They're people who know how to present themselves and to perform to an audience and they're just really rooted. Dave Johns actually heard about it through a friend and so he wrote us an email.
Question: What were you looking for in your Dan?
Kahleen Crawford: It's partly intuitive but Ken was saying that the things that were important to him were just a real, good, working man; the type of person that the story is about. He wanted it to be someone really grounded and local and just to have the voice. I mean, there are so many different versions of a Geordie accent. It's like in Glasgow there are so many different Glaswegians. Dave falls somewhere in the middle but he's very recognisably Geordie. He also feels like someone who could build things, things like furniture. Also, it's not maybe something that we made too explicit but I think that Dave just kind of gets the politics of it all. He comes from a certain background, he understands why this is unfair and he understands why the system shouldn't be like this. He remembers what the system used to be like and the values that there used to be that we've lost.
Question: Do you ever know it's the right person the instant they walk in the room?
Kahleen Crawford: You do sometimes - but then sometimes you're proven wrong. We like to have a chat, you come back, you try some stuff out, then you re-jig the chemistry and you try them out opposite different people. What is really exciting is seeing the process unfolding and seeing those people unfolding. Give them another scenario and something entirely different would come out of them. Here, a huge part of it for me was the chemistry between Dave and Hayley. There was something quite special there. They brought the best out in each other.
Question: What were you looking for in their characters' relationship?
Kahleen Crawford: I think it was really important to us that it wasn't a romance. I think that there are energies that you pick up from people when you know that they're a bit -flirty Gerty from number 30' as we say in the office. There was nothing like that here - it was just a really nice, natural energy between them.
Question: Why is Hayley Squires right for Katie?
Kahleen Crawford: Hayley is really interesting, a really special talent. We took to her quite quickly and she's just mega smart. She's got the right voice that Ken wanted to hear - something really recognisably London. We need to know that she's very far away from home. Hayley's also got a lovely warmth but she's got a real fighting spirit and I think that you need that for Katie. You need to stick with Katie - she's not a victim because she's -a victim' - she's genuinely a victim of circumstances. Hayley was a real well of ideas in the improvisation auditions and she gets rhythm and all that stuff because she's a writer. Hopefully she does justice to Paul's dialogue.
I, Daniel Blake
Release Date: November 17th, 2016