‘Brian and Charles’ invents a humorous take on the father-and-son relationship through a robot and its creator | ParkRecord.com

‘Brian and Charles’ invents a humorous take on the father-and-son relationship through a robot and its creator

Film builds upon Jim Archer’s South by Southwest short

"Brian and Charles,“ by Jim Archer, is an official selection of the World Cinema: Dramatic Competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. The story follows a misfit inventor named Brian, right, portrayed by David Earl, and his robot Charles, played by Chris Hayward.
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

The script for the comedic feature “Brian and Charles” addresses issues of loneliness and isolation, but was written before COVID-19.

The film, part of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival’s World Cinema Dramatic Competition, follows a lonely Welsh inventor, Brian, who creates a robot named Charles, said filmmaker Jim Archer.

“Although the film was written pre-pandemic, I think we can all relate to Brian in a way,” Archer said. “We all have the desire to share your life and feelings with others.”

The actors David Earl and Chris Hayward, who respectively portray Brian and Charles, also wrote the script, which debuted as a short film at South by Southwest in 2017, according to Archer.

“We never intended it to be a feature when we were preparing for it, but when we shot the short, there was a process where we were like we could be here in the Welsh countryside for another three or four weeks and we’d have another film,” he said. “And while the short film did well, we felt it might have legs as a feature.”

Archer filmed “Brian and Charles” in a mockumentary style, much in the same vein as Rob Reiner’s 1984 comedy “This Is Spinal Tap.”

“We did a bit of improv, and we thought that brought a little extra to the characters,” Archer said.

Preproduction for the feature started in January 2020, and Archer’s plan was to shoot throughout March and April.

“Those dates are famous now for the pandemic, so that didn’t happen,” he said. “We went through the first day, and it was quite clear that we were all going to go home. At that time, we didn’t know if the film was actually going to happen.”

Filming restarted in December 2021, and Archer shot the film in four weeks.

One of the big logistical challenges was working with Hayward, due to his cumbersome robot costume.

“When we shot the short, Chris was in a cardboard box that was a bit collapsible and janky,” Archer said. “For the feature, we upgraded him into a solid shape, and we used a washing machine sort of thing. So it wasn’t always easy for him to maneuver through the halls and doorways.”

Hayward’s costume also prevented him from seeing what was around him, Archer said.

“Chris could look down and see his feet, and if the angle was right when he sat down, he could maybe see through his shirt,” he said. “But he really needed some guidance and reassurance that the terrain was fine while walking around. He would sort of trust us, and then David would be there to catch him if something happened.”

Another challenge was to make sure Hayward was able to show emotions through the costume, without facial expressions, Archer said.

Even Charles’ voice is a monotone computer voice, he said.

“Charles is like a blank slate, and his face doesn’t really move,” Archer said. “He is just a box with one moving arm, but you are able to feel for him, just by watching Chris’ movements and mannerisms.”

Archer says the film works because of Earl and Hayward’s script.

“I also think through the writing you feel for the characters because of the situations David and Chris wrote,” he said.

The cast also includes Louise Brealey and Jamie Michie. Brealey portray’s Hazel, Brian’s love interest, and Michie plays Eddie, Brian’s nemesis.

These characters weren’t in the short film, according to Archer.

“When we moved on from the short, we realized we needed something more to push Brian out of his comfort zone,” he said. “Although Charles is already testing him, we needed Eddie there to drive a wedge into his life and to push him to take a step he hasn’t done before.”

Brealey’s character Hazel also does this, but in a more nurturing way, Archer said.

“We wanted to bring in a new dynamic to Brian and Charles’ relationship,” he said. “Hazel really isn’t there to fix Brian, or be the dreamgirl character. She has her own issues that are, in some ways, similar to Brian, and she comes along to complete the story.”

Archer is grateful that “Brian and Charles” will screen at Sundance, albeit virtually.

“We’re completely chuffed and blown away that we were able to get in,” he said, “but at the same time we are also very sad we couldn’t be there.”

“Brian and Charles,” part of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, will be available for virtual on-demand screening from 11 a.m.-2 p.m . on Jan. 23. The film will be available to stream for 24 hours starting at 8 a.m. on Jan. 25.

Web: festival.sundance.org

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