‘Boiling Point’ Director on Capturing the ‘Alcoholism, Drug Abuse and Stress’ of High-End Kitchens With His Stephen Graham Film
After some amuse bouche shorts and a pair of features as a starter, Philip Barantini is hungry for the main course.
The actor-turned-director spent over two decades in front of the camera (you may recognize him from heavyweight HBO series “Band of Brothers” and “Chernobyl”), but has now developed a serious taste and talent for directing which makes him one of the hottest chefs in a crowded kitchen.
His short “Boiling Point” scored him a U.K. agent, and the goal of adapting said short into a feature, he says, was to attract U.S. representation. Sure enough, his expert helming of Stephen Graham (a close friend since their “Band of Brothers” days) and a young ensemble has scored him a contract with CAA.
“I’m just riding a wave, I’m on top of the world. It feels right, it feels like this is what I’m meant to do,” he says.
Set in an upmarket London restaurant, “Boiling Point” follows a head chef (Graham) who is veering out of control, fighting to keep his culinary cohort, his drug addiction and his over-cooked personal life in check.
As with the short, Barantini made the bold decision to shoot “Boiling Point” entirely in one take, employing the camera as a horrified observer to a fatal night in the restaurant.
“Boiling Point” is set to having its world premiere at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, and Variety caught up with Barantini ahead of the launch for a conversation which covers his personal connection with the kitchen, his transition into directing, and what the future holds.
The frenzied kitchen world is brought so viscerally to life in your film, you must have had experience in that environment?
I’d been working as an actor for 22 years down in London. I was relatively successful in the beginning, I was going from job to job, and then it got to a point where the jobs weren’t coming as thick and fast as I’d like, I needed to earn some money. I started working in various kitchens and it took over my life. The acting became a secondary thing just because the work wasn’t coming and I was working so much in the kitchen that I didn’t have time to go to auditions. During that time, I’d seen, witnessed and personally experienced a lot of things that are in the movie. I’d seen that world from behind the curtain. I worked in some really nice places, but behind the curtain is a whole different world. It doesn’t matter how glamorous the front of house is, generally the back is pandemonium; there’s a lot of shit that goes down in terms of alcoholism, drug abuse, stress. I had my struggles myself, I’m not ashamed to say that. I’m six years sober now, which I’m incredibly grateful for.
How have you found the transition from acting to directing?
Since I was maybe 18, I’d always had the idea that I’d love to direct something one day. But that was it, it was just a thought in my head. How could I pursue that? I’m just some kid from Huyton in Liverpool. Directors, for me, were these gods and goddesses, these people who you look up to and think: Wow, I can’t do that. And then my mum passed away quite suddenly five years ago. A lot of my friends and family thought I was going to go off the rails, go back to drinking. Actually the opposite has happened, and I just said to myself I’m going to go for this, I’m going to jump off the cliff and see what happens. I’m going to follow my dream.
I was one of those actors where if I had a scene in the morning, I’d always hang around for the rest of the day and ask everyone what they were doing. It definitely helped that I had so much acting experience, and that the short is loosely based on myself.
Speaking of the short, it was shot in a single take, what was it like doing the same for a 90-minute feature?
It was incredibly daunting. Shooting a whole film in one take hasn’t been done much before, but we knew from the short that it was possible on some level. One of the keys was finding the right restaurant space to shoot it. We settled on this restaurant where I worked as a chef, so I knew the layout of the place like the back of my hand. It’s all open plan, it’s very different to the short, but we were able to write the script around that location. There was no dialogue in the script, the way we wrote it was just bullet points which listed what we needed to be said at what point. We workshopped the script with the actors, so getting the right actors who can not only improvise, but be completely open and vulnerable to any eventuality.
You must have rehearsed it over and over?
We ran the whole thing through beat by beat maybe three or four times, and then we gave ourselves four consecutive nights to shoot it over. We were going to do it twice per night, once when we arrived at 6 o’clock, and then we’d have a three-hour break, reset the whole restaurant, and then we’d do it again. That was the plan, we were ready, everyone was pumped. We thought we had eight shots at it, we’re bound to get it once. All the time this was happening, there was this COVID thing looming over us. People were starting to get worried, there were warnings to wash your hands. On the Monday we did two takes, there were a few flaws, I had tons of notes, but we got through them. The producers called me that night and said we’re going to have to shut it down after one more day. The pressure was on. Everybody knew it could be the last one, so everybody brought their A-game, and the first take on the second night was the one we used. A week later we were in lockdown.
Would you do it again?
People often ask me that. A week after we’d shot it, I would have said absolutely not, no fucking chance, it was absolutely insane. But now, I really miss that way of working, I’d love to film something else like that again. By the end of it everyone was exhausted, and the cheer! I’ll never forget the cheer when we finished filming it the first time, the first full take. It was like we’d all won the World Cup, it was just euphoric.
We actually shot tons and tons of footage behind-the-scenes, and we’re actually looking to put together a documentary. I want to make sure everyone understands it is one true take. People try and figure out where we could have made a cut, and I’m not going to lie about it. This is what we set out to do and this is what we’ve done.
What are you working on next?
I signed with CAA recently, and since then it’s gone absolutely crazy. They’ve been sharing the film, and I’ve signed up to a couple things. One I can’t talk about, but another is “The Last Drop,” which is with Sharon Horgan and 21 Laps Entertainment, Shawn Levy’s company. We’re casting that at the moment, and then James (Cummings) and I have three more projects we’re writing. One of them is being written in the same way we wrote “Boiling Point.” It won’t be shot in one take, but we’re planning on having very long set pieces, long takes. It’ll be a similar process for the actors, though. We want to feel that same energy again.