UK actor and writer Tom Stuart’s directorial debut Good Boy, starring Ben Whishaw and Marion Bailey, is shortlisted in the live action short category for this year’s Academy Awards.
Shot over four days in April 2023 on Worthy Farm in Somerset, the globally famous site of the Glastonbury Festival, Stuart’s highly personal film explores grief, love and the unexpected ways in which they manifest themselves with a healthy dose of quintessential English humour.
Good Boy is a love letter to Stuart’s relationship and friendship with his mum who died at the very beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. “We didn’t get to have much of a funeral for her,” the filmmaker explains. “We only had six people there, which never sat right with me. I’ve dedicated the film to her, to see her name up on the screen. It’s coming from a deep, deep need to express myself. If I can make some audiences feel something about their own lives or reflect on their own experiences then that’s what I’m here to do as a filmmaker, writer.”
The film opens to find a mother and son in a camper van, preparing to mount a bank raid in a rural English town. Stuart and Whishaw have known each other for years. After Stuart’s mother’s death, the two actors took long walks together. “I told him about my writing projects, and he said about all the stuff he was up to, and then out of the blue he said I should try directing. When someone like Ben Whishaw says that to you can’t ignore it.
“That was the kick up the bum that I needed. I went home and wrote Good Boy.” A few months later Stuart sent it to Whishaw and he agreed to star. “Then Ben and I made two separate lists of who we both felt would be amazing to play his mum. And at the top of both of our lists was Bailey.”
Stuart has been a fan of Bailey his whole life, citing her work in Mike Leigh’s films.
As an actor Stuart has worked on films including John Boorman’s Queen And Country, Tomas Alfredson’s 2011 film version of John Le Carre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Sara Pascoe’s TV comedy show Out Of Her Mind.
“There was quite a lot of what John [Boorman] did that I borrowed in terms of how he operated the room, and how he directed,” Stuart says. “He had a very clear vision about what shots you need and was editing as he was going along. He knew what he wanted from each shot.”
To finance Good Boy, Stuart contacted every person he had ever worked with “and every person they’ve ever worked with,” he adds with a smile.
“Within 24 hours, I had over half the money from a tapestry of private investors and then Goldcrest came in and provided the rest,” he explains.
The producers are Kay Loxley, Max Marlow, Elettra Pizzi and Stuart for 130 Elektra Films, with Alex Gonzalez, Gia Coppola, Caroline Steinbeis, Thackeray Gallery and Goldcrest Films CEO Chris Quested executive producing alongside Emma Thompson, the only person in history to win Oscars for both acting and writing.
Filming on the 900-acre Worthy Farm took place in a very tight window just days before Glastonbury prep and soundstage building for that year began.
“We got very, very rare permission to shoot on Worthy Farm. They never allow anyone to film on there, it was such a privilege,” Stuart says, explaining regional agency Screen Somerset helped to oil the wheels.
He believes shooting on Worthy Farm imbued the film with the scope, vistas and atmosphere of an epic production 10 times the size. “The land did something to the crew and the cast,” he says. “It was a very calm set.”
Having made Good Boy, Stuart says he is now going to prioritise directing. “There’s no going back to being an actor or a writer. I loved every single second of directing. Even the tricky bits.”