Mental health has come more to the forefront in recent years, with people becoming more comfortable opening up about their mental health journeys, but there is still work to be done in this arena. Director Saul Abraham is shining a spotlight on this issue, particularly in terms of the manifestation of its effects in men, in his latest short film Enjoy, which screened at this year’s Tribeca Festival. Starring Himesh Patel, Sara Stewart, Maddy Hill, Tom Sweet, and Jonathan Aris, Enjoy tells the story of Michael who is seeking novel ways to halt his spiraling depression when an unexpected source offers him a moment of hope.
I recently sat down with Abraham to tackle mental health issues on screen and work with Himesh Patel and Maddy Hill. If you get a chance, I highly recommend you taking a few minutes to check out his wonderful short.
LV Taylor (We Live Entertainment): So Saul, thank you for taking the time to chat with me today. Tell me a little bit about your journey — how’d you get into director, and what type of projects do you gravitate towards?
Saul Abraham: I’ve been making films since I was a teenager, and I just made them through university. When I finished school, I did a lot of charity videos here in London, which led to commercials. All the while, in the background, I was doing my own creative projects, which has been kind of a slow burn in many ways. Some kind of come-off, and then some don’t. But this recent project actually came about through Callum, a friend of mine I’ve known for years through university. We haven’t previously worked together — he’s been writing in the theater, and I’ve been doing other bits myself — he sent me a script he wrote, and I loved it. We developed it together over a couple of years and then got to a point early last year where we decided to kind of just take the plunge and go into pre-production and shoot it — it was a great experience.
LV: So you’ve already answered my second question, which was how did you come across this project. It’s nice to work with friends and people that we know. In terms of the look and feel of Enjoy, where did you draw inspiration — were there any other films that you had previously seen that you drew from?
Saul: Good question. I mean, in terms of the root of the story inspiration, that came from Callum — he was a home tutor for kids who weren’t at school, so it’s actually kind of directly lifted from his experiences. Then when I read it, there was a lot of myself in there — my childhood self in the boy and my adult self in Michael. Visually, my mum’s from Finland, so I grew up with many films from Finland. Obviously, there were other European, especially Scandinavian and Nordic directors, and films, which have always influenced mine. I like to tell stories simply and let the characters take center stage — the simpler told visually, the better. But then I guess one last kind of reference point — when Callum and I were writing, we looked at Scandinavian director Ruben Östlund who made Force Majeure, just the way he blends comedy and drama. But then we were also inspired by the more surreal elements of more modern shows like Atlanta, which we kind of get more in the lighter scenes with the swimman.
LV: You can definitely see those influences with the simplicity and the blurring of the dramatic with the comedic. In Enjoy, you take a serious subject matter — depression, mental health, and masculinity — to show how things come across from the male perspective. But you approach it in somewhat of an offbeat manner. How was it toeing that line to make it touching and engaging yet still enjoyable to watch without beating people over the head with the seriousness of the subject matter.
Saul: Exactly, that kind of describes it perfectly. It’s a challenge, and it’s something we really wanted to do in this. As conversations about mental health and depression have become more frequent over the last few years, they’re in stories more, and that’s a positive thing, but then it’s quite easy to go down the quite serious look of it which ends up in the character staring at themselves in the mirror. We wanted to have a slightly different take on it and see the comedic-type aspects to the story, but at the same time, hopefully never at the expense of the seriousness of the subject matter and not take that for granted.
LV: I can see that. I just distinctly remember that one scene where I’m watching, and then all of a sudden I hear something, and I’m like, wait, this sounds familiar, is that Loki’s speech from Avengers? At that point, I was like, this is dealing with a real issue, but I like where they’re going with this.
Saul: I think that’s the thing — having been through some of the things that the characters have been through, I know that that doesn’t mean there wasn’t also humor in that. Quite often, it’s in the absurd moments when we’re feeling our lowest that there are also just fun things we might not be able to see at the moment, but we do when we look back on them later. Without being too pretentious and deep, that’s kind of what life is — one moment we feel like shit, and it’s all coming down, but then you turn around, something mental and hilarious happens.
LV: Exactly, we’re all just trying to figure out how to cope and ride the waves. Now let’s talk about your cast — how did you land Himesh Patel, and what was it like working with him?
Saul: I’ve known him for a couple of years now. We met through my girlfriend Maddy [Hill], who’s also in the film. They were on a TV show here in the UK, and they met through that. We’ve just been friends for a while but never actually worked together. Callum and I were writing this kind of writing this separately at one point, and we were just talking about who we want to play the lead, and we both said, ‘I wonder if Himesh would do it, that’d be great.’ We had both been thinking about it, then we got to a point where we were ready to share it, and we just sent it to him. Luckily, he wanted to be involved and had some time in his hectic schedule. But he’s great, he’s such a talented actor and so good. As you’re talking about the kind of dramatic and comedic aspects of the film, he’s so good at balancing that, and it’s such a typical thing to do in such a short space of time with not a lot of lines. His character is getting it from everywhere, but he’s not actually saying that much. Himesh is just so good at that — making you laugh but then twisting it on its head as well — so it was a joy to work with him.
LV: You mentioned Maddy [Hill] — What was it like directing a significant other? How was that process?
Saul: It was good. I mean, it got a bit meta because obviously, some of those scenes are stuff that we’ve actually been through as well. But on the other side of that, what was amazing is just having someone you could show early drafts to. She was so part of that process — Callum and I would send her things, and then we’d have little rehearsals with just her and with her and Himesh. What’s incredible is that because they’ve been on this show together and they’re such good friends, their relationship feels very believable. Quite often in short films, you’ve got like one or two scenes, and you need to believe that they’ve been together for like 10 years and sometimes you can tell that the actors have just met that morning and they’re just trying to create that thing and it’s not really working for them, they just don’t know how to do it. Really, that was invaluable to the story because it meant that we could tell so much and show so much in such a short space of time.
LV: That definitely comes through. After this last past year or so, many people have been dealing with depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. What is it that you hope that people really take away from your film?
Saul: I hope it has a hopeful ending — without spoiling anything — but at the same time, we really didn’t want to make a film where someone’s down, and suddenly something happens, and they’re fine again. I think we’re seeing too many of these kinds of stories about depression where there seems to be this trend — you make it through, and it’s done, it’s something you can talk about that you went through in the past. In my experience of it, you kind of turn corners here and there — maybe you have a few years where you feel like you’re doing all right, and then something happens, whether it’s a life thing or something that just comes out of nowhere, and it changes. So one thing I hope people take from it is the seriousness of the subject matter, but also, it’s up and down. There are more ways that the conversation should be had, how we manage those things and do things in our life to manage those lows when we have them, rather than look for things that will completely heal us because they just don’t exist, life just isn’t like that.
LV: So true. Enjoy has been making the festival rounds. How does it feel having your screening at Tribeca’s 20th anniversary?
Saul: It’s really nice. It’s nice that people outside of your immediate bubble are going to see it like. Normally it’s just your mates and your mum, and they tell you it is good, and then you’re just like cool, and no one else sees it. I’ve definitely been on the other side where you put everything into something, and it hasn’t quite got the traction you wanted it to, and you just have to kind of move on. So to have it selected at a festival like Tribeca and obviously going to Palm Springs, I just feel fortunate. And it’s really nice that the audience gets to grow. Already since the first screening, I’ve had a couple of emails from people around the world who saw it, and that’s just like the biggest compliment you can get — when you make something, and someone so different from your city or town, your upbringing or whatever engages with it gets something out with it — it’s just such a huge compliment.
LV: So my final question, what’s up next for you — do you have anything else in your pipeline?
Saul: Callum and I are working on something else. We’re working on a feature project and another short project that we’d like to do relatively soon. But at the moment, I’m just trying to enjoy this little moment — as much as it’s a shame that we can’t be there because of travel restrictions. Just kind of vicariously through online, we can do it now, so we’re just enjoying the moment and watching the other shorts in the program and talking to young filmmakers and people going to the festival. This is a nice part of the process — you don’t get to experience it often, so it’s nice.
LV: Nice. Well, good luck with everything going forward. Thank you again for taking the time to chat with me today. Really appreciate it.
Saul: Thank you very much, have a good one!