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Still from WONDERKID  | Courtesy of the director
Still from WONDERKID | Courtesy of the director
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Meet Rhys Chapman, The Director Confronting Homophobia In Football

Picture of Harriet Shepherd
Updated: 10 October 2016
WONDERKID is the dynamic short film aiming to tackle the issue of homophobia in football. Following the story of a young homosexual ‘wonderkid,’ director Rhys Chapman seeks to address the lack of openly gay players in the world’s most popular game. It has been three years in the making and ahead of its forthcoming release we talk to the 27-year-old director making waves with his cinematic debut.

How did you first become aware of the issue of homophobia in football?

I was familiar with Justin Fashanu’s story from when I was younger, although back then I was too young to understand. Once I had the initial idea, I researched key issues within football and homophobia was the one that stood out the most to me. It was the statistic I found the most shocking: that out of the 5,000 male professionals in this country, not one is openly gay. I found very few articles on the story and I knew this was an issue that desperately needed attention.

Wonderkid still | Courtesy of the director
Still from WONDERKID | Courtesy of the director

How did you first get into film?

When I was younger I used to shoot and edit videos of my friends skateboarding. I was quite good at it back then, but I never thought it was possible to become a film director. This was before DSLR cameras and I was from a background where it was expected that once you left school you got a trade and worked for a living.

I moved to London in 2009 during the recession, after I was made redundant from a plumbing firm. I wanted to go to film school but I soon realised I could never afford it and I didn’t stand a chance of getting a scholarship as I had no experience.

I found a degree called Arts Management, which is a business course tailored to the creative industries. It required students to do internships along with the course and I used it as an opportunity to do as much volunteering as possible. After I graduated I went to work for a small production company for a year before starting to get WONDERKID off of the ground.

Was WONDERKID born out of the idea to make a film on homosexuality in football? Or was it your desire to make a film that led to its concept?

A bit of both really, I wanted to make a film about a professional footballer but I also wanted to create something with a strong message. My philosophy with film is that it should be used to shine a light on subjects that people might not ordinarily be exposed to, as you have the ability to create such realism on-screen for an audience.

I thought a film on this subject could generate compassion and get people thinking about why there are no openly gay male professionals in the sport.

Still from WONDERKID | Courtesy of the director
Still from WONDERKID | Courtesy of the director

After the original Kickstarter pledge, the idea began to gain traction quite quickly. Did you approach a lot of different sponsors or did they come to you?

It was difficult at first to get anyone to even talk to me about the film. The first major breakthrough came from receiving backing the Kevin Spacey Foundation, this then lead to us being able to film at Wembley and Sir Ian McKellen agreeing to narrate our Kickstarter video.

The Kickstarter campaign generated a lot of attention from the press and then, once we were successful, it just snowballed. We have since gone on to receive support from the Telegraph, Adidas, Tottenham Hotspur, Watford FC, Sky Sports and many more. The support has been phenomenal really – it is quite mad when I stop to think about it. It all just reinforces the importance of what I am doing.

Its clear from both the original Kickstarter video and the more recent trailer that cinematography is a chief concern of the project, distinguishing it from most other football films. Which directors and filmmakers inspire you in terms of style, and why was this specific aesthetic important for WONDERKID?

In terms of the football side of things, Guy Ritchie’s Nike commercial from a few years back inspired me. If I watch a film about a footballer, I want to know what it is like to play on that pitch in front of all those people and that advert was the first time I really got a taste for that. We shot all of the football sequences handheld and close to the action to give an insight into what a footballer goes through in that hostile environment.

We shot the film in a cinematic way but utilised natural light as much as possible to ensure realism and believability for the audience. Similarly the grade is in the style of an old film grading technique called bleach bypass. This gives the film a high contrast and cold aesthetic, that makes you feel like you’re actually there with the character.

In terms of my directing style my two biggest influences would be Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock. I think these two are even more important in modern day filmmaking. Their films were artistic, intelligent and thought-provoking, whilst still appealing to a wider audience. WONDERKID does all of this and can be easily followed by a mass audience. It seems like most films these days are either doing one or the other.

Wonderkid still | © Courtesy of the director
Still from WONDERKID | Courtesy of the director

It’s an incredible achievement for your first film. Did you always have faith in your ability and the idea? Did you imagine it would be this successful?

Absolutely, I wouldn’t have done this if I didn’t think it was all possible. I’ve always been incredibly observational and had a natural ability for storytelling. My ability has not really been something I have ever questioned, although plenty of people have tried to stop me from doing it.

It has always been about the cause. I see WONDERKID as an entity in itself and I knew that it was an important project. The more this has gone on, the more I have realised how much of a difference it could make in football.

Wonderkid still | Courtesy of the director
Still from WONDERKID | Courtesy of the director

As WONDERKID is your first short film, was it hard to get a production team together considering your lack of experience?

If you have a good idea and you’re passionate about that idea, people pick up on it. It wasn’t hard to get people to buy into the project and the more momentum the project got, the easier it became and the bigger the talent we have been able to attract.

What’s the biggest issue you faced in terms of production?

Time and money. I guess all film-makers need to disguise the fact that there is never enough of either. We shot the whole film in 5 days, with another day for pick-up shots, so it’s an amazing achievement to have the film that we have. Because of the subject matter, we have been able to get a lot of favours and support that others might not be able to get. I honestly believe if you throw yourself into a good cause, magic happens. You’ll meet the right person at the right time, get lucky, and achieve things you didn’t realise were possible; you’ve just got to keep believing in what you’re doing.

The film is receiving a premiere in Leicester Square before being eventually released online. Was it always important to you that the film would become accessible to the masses?

Yeah, definitely – we have created an inspiring role model that football is missing. Hopefully anyone watching the film will sympathise with the character and want him to succeed, reconditioning them to want to see gay footballers come out. If as many people as possible see this film it will go a long way in making football make this transition and create a welcoming environment for gay players.

You can sign up to be notified for the film’s release here. Watch the trailer below: