Written by JJ Barnes
I have been lucky enough to interview filmmakers Ben Lord and Steve Keeble about their new documentary, After 82 – The Untold Story Of The AIDS Pandemic In The UK. They talk me through their motivation to make the film, what their filming process was like, and the experiences that have stuck with them.
Tell me a bit about yourself.
(Ben Lord) I come from a family of immensely creative people including actors, artists and photographers and my aunt, Rosemary Lord, who is a former actor and chair of BAFTA L.A and is now a best-selling author so it was probably inevitable that I’d continue the family tradition! I ventured into acting myself and have appeared in EastEnders and Holby City for the BBC amongst other similar roles.
I then moved into working as a Casting Director and Location Manager and brought a lot of ‘in front of camera’ experience.
Since then, I have directed and scripted some of the biggest names on screen including Stephen Fry and Dominic West for me and Steve’s AIDS documentary film, ‘After 82’ (82 Film Production.) I co-director and co-produced Faith, Hope and Charity which was recorded live in 2012 for archival purposes at Southwark Playhouse London and included an interview with the translator Christopher Hampton the Oscar, BAFTA and Tony Award winner.
In addition to film work I have acted on stage in various productions and is currently writing a play based on the interviews from After 82. I’ve also done a lot of stage work too in various productions and written a play based on the interviews of After 82 which was workshopped & published at the Immersive Theatre and The Cockpit Theatre London which sold out audiences receiving high praise. I am hoping that Voice will showcase in the future.
(Steve Keeble) I too was an actor appearing in EastEnders and Holby City for the BBC but then moved into directing working with Ben on After 82 which we directed and produced together. It was a powerful piece which meant a lot to us. For me, it brought back a lot of memories from the AIDS pandemic of the early 1980s.
It was a big success for us in the UK and off the back of that, we gave talks about it to audiences all over the country, including in London, at The Reading Rooms in Soho, The Actors Church Covent Garden, The Wellcome Trust and The Houses of Parliament. My own work in entertainment hasn’t stopped there and I am often seen in the studio as a Voice Over artist.
When did you first realise you wanted to make films?
(Steve) To be honest, and I speak for both of us, we can’t remember a time when we didn’t want to make films.
(Ben) I have always been a story teller, but I could never quite grasp what medium to translate it in too. But it wasn’t until I went to University to study film that I realised it was the film platform where I wanted to tell those stories.
What is your favourite thing about films?
(Ben) The best thing about filmmaking is meeting the people we are going to interview. People who are ordinary folk who are changing the world. We are lucky to become part of their lives and get to share in their history, even if it’s just for a short while. It’s an intense process and can be very emotional and draining but it is an extraordinary journey. It is a real privilege. It is not too dissimilar to method acting and we like to call it ‘method film making’. We make it a focus to get to know the people we are interviewing. We want their stories to shine through for them.
(Steve) Ben came up with the idea of After 82. I think we were both keen to tell the stories of the people who were there, living through it at the time the AIDS pandemic hit. Turning any idea into a story for a film is hugely fulfilling. Documentaries are particularly wonderful and very powerful because they give a voice to those people that wouldn’t necessarily be heard.
What classes or research did you take to support you in your filmmaking career?
(Steve) Both Ben and I went to the university as mature students and gained BA (Hons) in Film Studies and Video Production respectively, and that gave us the academic skills we needed so we could make the best films we could, but a lot of it is about transferring skills from other aspects of previous professional experience and personal.
You have to truly believe in what you are doing. That’s the key. If the hunger isn’t there to create and produce something amazing, then it’s not worth doing.
(Ben) It is a great responsibility especially when dealing with just emotive subjects and dealing with people who have lived through such a war, like AIDS. We did a lot of research into our project and spent months getting to know people. The most important thing is trust and we built a lot of trust with the people we interviewed.
What was your first film industry job?
(Ben) Both of us have worked as actors in various shows and Steve would appear in BBC’s Holby City regularly as a featured walk on role. Whilst I did a feature walk in, on EastEnders and a speaking role in FWTV for ITV 2 many years ago. I was never confident with acting, though it was great fun. We are both proud of what we achieved with acting. There was a yearning for something more and that we could relate to professionally and more importantly personally and that is documentary filmmaking.
What was your most recent film industry job?
(Ben) We are now in pre-production of our latest documentary 77 – Curfew (working title)
Tell me a favourite experience in your career. Something that stands out in your memories and makes you want to find more experiences like it.
(Steve) For the both of us, it was interviewing Lord Norman Fowler, Peter Tatchell and Jonathan Blake and everyone from After 82. It was a real honor to meet these people and share in their stories. All of them are fantastic people and great supporters of After 82.
(Ben) We were going to interview former Detective Andrew Laptew (he worked as part of the police force hunting the Yorkshire Ripper) for our next project 77 Curfew (working Title) which is currently in Pre – Production, sadly he died recently. It was a blessing to meet him and spend an afternoon talking with him.
(Steve) Of course, working with Dominic West and Stephen Fry was a life affirming experience. They narrated the trailer and film respectively and their belief in After 82, gave everyone involved a much-needed boost and for that, we are both eternally grateful.
What was your toughest experience in your filmmaking career?
(Ben) The hardest thing is juggling work and raising finances for your projects. It is exhausting and especially when you are carrying the responsibility of such a heavy subject matter such as HIV/AIDS on your shoulders. Because you want the people you are interviewing for their stories to be remembered as well as the stories of a generation that are no longer here.
What is the title of your current project?
(Steve) Our film is called, After 82, and it’s title is the response from the LGBT community to the HIV/AIDS crisis in the UK following the death of Terence Higgins on 4th July, 1982.
What inspired you to make After 82?
(Steve) I was a young man during the early years of the AIDS pandemic in the UK. I worked at the former London Lighthouse, a residential unit for those living with AIDS. Many would come to spend their final days there, some for respite. Some of the sights I witnessed have and will stay with me forever.
The feeling of helplessness is something I have lived with since those days. So, when we decided to make this documentary, and now see it released around the world, for me, I felt that although you can never bring those many young men back, we can ensure that their memories will never be forgotten. In fact, we, along with our publicist Michelle Hatcher, are now raising funds to build a memorial and education centre at the former London Lighthouse. As Project Lighthouse, Along with many other fund-raising ideas, we are hoping to have a major rock concert at the Wembley Stadium, with many major musicians from the world of rock.
The money raised will ensure that the memorial and education centre will be realized, along with a legacy to ensure those AIDS charities who would not normally be recognized, will be able to apply for funding to ensure those that need it most are not forgotten.
What is the main conflict of After 82?
(Ben) The main conflict of the making of, After 82, was getting a crew who are respectful to the subject matter. Initially we interviewed a couple of people who were uncomfortable once they knew the subject matter and that really made us sad. Then we interviewed some real diamonds and we hired them for the project, such as Neil, our Editor and Amy, the colorist and composer, David who gave real dedication to the project and the subject matter.
How long did you spend in production?
(Ben) We spent 7 long years making the film and it was a tough slog. Never once did we want to give up despite the sleepless nights. We believe in the film and when you interview people who have faced death and bigotry, plus you have cried with them, seen the photographs of their lovers and friends who are no longer here. You don’t give up on them. You fight no matter what to tell their stories, not yours, but theirs!
How long did you spend in post – production?
(Steve) The post- production took over a year. This was largely due to obtaining the rights to the archive footage which was supplied by Getty Archives. We want to mention at this point, a huge thank you to the music legend Marc Almond, who graciously donated his iconic song “Say hello, wave goodbye” to be used for the end credits of AFTER 82.
Did you work with a writer, or write the film yourself? Would you do the same again?
(Ben) No, we didn’t work with a writer, as such. Although we had an adviser to assist us with the narration, which was done by the BAFTA award winning actor Dominic West.
How did you find your cast and what made you choose them?
(Ben) When we first started out, we interviewed one person. It was Del Campbell, who put us in touch with loads of people whom we interviewed for the film. So, a big thank you to Del, who is an unsung hero of the film. We also did research and met many people, and we did countless hours of interviews. Some used and some not. It was tough to choose who would go in the film and those that did not go in the film. Every single person we interviewed is relevant. We chose people who make a difference and who have stories to tell of their fight. Every single person is a fighter, and we tell you something they all still have fire in their bellies and still full of fight.
How big was your crew? Would you choose the same size again?
(Steve) We had a small crew of 6 people and yes, we would do it all over again. It’s not about the size but the dedication and trust with your crew. Who says size matters!
How did you find your locations?
(Ben) We were fortunate as my father, Ted, allowed us to film some interviews in his flat and Guy Pope allowed us to film in his church and vicarage. Some of the interviewees allowed us to film in their homes.
Tell me some career goals. What would you like to achieve?
(Steve) We just want to continue making documentaries that make a difference, telling real stories about real people, who would not normally be given a voice. A few awards as recognition for our work would be nice too!
Tell me something you were surprised by, something you had never realised about being a filmmaker.
(Ben) Giving a platform to those who are otherwise not listened to. Sharing in history and meeting people who have changed the way of the world so you can walk down the streets and be yourself. Plus, these people are inspiring generations and that inspires you as a filmmaker. It’s not about glamour or fame, it is about real people, and you think back to when you were a kid tucked up in bed. Little did one realize that when one was a kid, people were fighting for the rights of those living with HIV/AIDS that we would both be meeting these heroes.
What are words of advice you have for other aspiring filmmakers?
(Ben) Get out there and do it. It’s tough but it is so rewarding. Listen to your heart.