BAFTA nominee John Donnelly on writing groundbreaking ‘The Pass’

Unlike the Oscars, the BAFTAs give out a prize for best debut by a home-grown writer, director or producer. Among the past winners are the helmers Joe Wright (“Pride and Prejudice,” 2005) and Andrea Arnold (“Red Road,” 2006). Among this year’s nominees is John Donnelly, who adapted his landmark play “The Pass.” The indie film follows the lives of two gay professional soccer players (Russell Tovey, Arinze Kene) after they share a kiss one night.

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Donnelly shares this nomination with the film’s director, Ben Williams, and he vividly recalls how he got the news. “I was making my son’s packed lunch for school. My was mind completely on that when I got a phone call from Ben at 8 a.m. BAFTA hadn’t been on the radar, so it hadn’t occurred to me, or any of us I don’t think, that we might not be nominated. It was a complete surprise.” Indeed, so much that he admits, “My initial reaction was to burst out laughing. It was a strange thing to find out in the morning.”

He explains, “The good thing about BAFTA is that, although family and friends are incredibly supportive of me writing, they don’t know what ‘doing well’ in theatre is, as it’s such a cottaged industry. Whereas everyone knows what a BAFTA is, so I got this rush of warmth which was lovely.” And this newcomer to film has a keen understanding of the importance of the BAFTAs. “Any industry needs a mean to draws attention to a thing that does well. It’s worth celebrating the artistic value of good films. We punched above our weight so culturally, it’s a really amazing thing for us and our industry. You have to acknowledge it’s someone’s opinions, to take it with a pinch of salt. As long as you remember that, you’re fine and so are the awards groups.”

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Donnelly is delighted to share this nomination with Williams, praising the helmer for, “how calm he was, despite the pressures of it being his first feature film, plus the small budget and small time scale he had to work with. Watching Ben and how he handled that was great.” The writer says Williams “reminded me of Stephen Frears and Mike Newell, both directors who place the camera in ways which lack ego and only to catch the appropriate action. The direction of ‘The Pass’ is a really, really strong aspect of the film.”

He reflects, “I’m incredibly proud of this film and play, but the hope for any writer is to have their last project be a bit better than the ones preceding it.” He is working on sci-fi film for “My Brother the Devil” director Sally El Hosaini. “The theme of it is ‘how much we can expect to be happy’ tied in with the notion of depression and the treatment of depression. Is being unhappy an entirely rationale reaction to the state of the modern world?”

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Donnelly’s advice to other film newcomers is pragmatic. “Watch and read as much as you possible can. The best way to learn is by doing it, rather than from a book. I didn’t go to film school, I went to the cinema.’ And, he continues, “You won’t learn anything without putting yourself in the process of failing. Its the persistence in the face of failure which will help you learn.”

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