SHORT FILM FESTIVAL 2022
Marcus Anthony Thomas
Horror / Thriller / Animation / Mystery / Dark Comedy
Mia is a young woman who is struggling to cope with the aftermath of a traumatic event that has changed her life forever. She can't sleep, she can't eat - She can't live. In her desperation, she seeks out the help of a highly secretive retreat lead by a shadowy female figure named Echo, who claims to have the solution to all of her problems.
Hi Marcus thank you for talking to The New Current, these have been some very strange times, how have you been holding up?
It has been strange times indeed. Professionally life has been perfect, socially less so, but you have to remind yourself how fortunate you are everyday because we are all going through it together.
Was it easy to motivate yourself creatively during the lockdowns?
The first lockdown was mentally very taxing, as it felt like the air was trying to murder me because we had such little information about the virus. Thankfully the film school kept me extremely busy as I was working toward my graduation film. I didn't believe that we were actually going to be able to make it, with us being one of the very first productions in the UK after the first lockdown, but we found a way and then about a couple of weeks from shooting we ramped up and had to go for it. What the first lockdown did do was take me away from any potential distractions that could occur, so I really just focused in on getting my graduation script ready/finishing The Retreat. The subsequent lockdowns have been weirdly much easier... I don't like how use to lockdowns I've become!
You a recent graduate from the NFTS MA Directing Fiction course, what has this experience been like?
I am indeed. I am very thankful for my experience at the film school. It was a dream to be selected as it's so competitive and I made three very strong pieces of work there which show different aspects of me. My shorts have all been very well received by the industry because of the diversity of genre, but consistency of tone and it really has set me up well for the next steps in my career in directing long-form stories.
The Retreat has already had and amazing festival run, what do you think it is about this short that's connected with audiences so much?
I've been thinking about this a lot because my other two films haven't landed quite so well in the festival circuit. I'm not sure if it's because it is unique, but familiar? This is the only one of my films that people have said 'It's a bit like Yorgos Lanthimos, or a bit like Ari Aster' and with it being horror/thriller... It is easier to like and easier to sell. With my other work, it's all very much me, but I'm an unknown and unfamiliar and thus a harder sell. There's also a lot of mystery to the film and it's very tight narratively, as I put a lot of emphasis on the pace of my films. So in summary... I don't have an answer, outside of the familiarity of it and I guess the universal theme of grief helps people to connect with it on a deeper level, stopping it from being a piece of throwaway content.
With everything that is going on due to Covid how essential are festivals like British Shorts Berlin in continuing to provide a platform for Independent British short films?
Every platform is invaluable, for sure. It has been such a turbulent (and scary) time for filmmakers, especially the unknowns because without festivals it is very difficult to progress to the next level, to meet commissioners, to meet agents and to gain that legitimacy as a filmmaker. So yes, 100% invaluable and kudos to the people in charge of making sure the festival still went ahead!
"There are safe ways to make films, but if you learn the rules and then have fun in breaking them, you will make the most interesting work."
Congratulations on having The Retreat selected for British Shorts 2022, how does it feel to be at the festival and part of such an amazing line-up of short films?
It's very cool to be a part of the festival and for audiences to see the film. I primarily make films to please myself, but I want everyone to enjoy them too, so to get the film out there to a new audience and seeing the reaction is amazing. It's good to see some familiar films in competition too... I'm in good company.
How did The Retreat come about, what inspired your screenplay?
Me and the writer Tom Van Overloop spent a lot of time pinging ideas for thrillers backwards and forwards, as I was pretty desperate to try and make a straight up genre piece to practice tension and suspense. Then I'm sure I woke up one morning and had the idea 'A retreat that uses revenge as therapy'... I said that same line to Tom to which he replied 'love it'. Then that was it. It was quite organic from that point and we both had a bunch of ideas off the back of it, and if you have a concept that gives birth to lots of little ideas, then it's probably worth pursuing.
What was the biggest challenge you faced making The Retreat and what has been the most valuable lesson you have taken from making this film?
The film was a challenge to make as it was probably a bit too ambitious for the money we had. Our producer Jordi Morera somehow managed to convince the owners of some wonderful locations to allow a very disruptive film crew to take over their properties for a couple of days each. I don't know how he did it, but big respect to him for that. Other than this, it was just a case of films being bloody difficult to make... Each film is a miracle and from my end as a director, it's the result of a series of decisions that I don't 100% know will work, but all I can do is follow my instinct and thankfully it came off. I would also shout out Sonja Huttunen the DoP on this because we created a specific visual style for this which ended up really heightening the tone we were aiming for. At times it restricted our actors, but other times it allowed their performances to flourish, so that was a tricky balance to strike. As a single piece of advice I would just say to trust your instincts.
Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the films/stories they want to tell?
Of course. You should always stretch a little bit further than is comfortable, else you won't grow. I think ultimately you have to make films that are true to you. There are safe ways to make films, but if you learn the rules and then have fun in breaking them, you will make the most interesting work.
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
I'm just very lucky that I went to university... I was going to do Radio there, but the friends I made in the first week were all doing a filmmaking unit instead, so I decided to follow them. After the first few minutes of my very first class talking about films, I realised I had such a strong knowledge of narrative and I understood visual language straight off the bat. I don't know where it came from, it honestly felt a bit divine. I try to trace it back to when I was around 7 or 8, and I remember that my dad would watch the sci fi channel each evening when we were in bed, and I snuck down one time. For whatever reason he didn't send me back up and I instead watched a film with him. He said 'the first thing you need to do when watching something is to figure out the plot'. And I think looking back now, I unconsciously studied films from that point onwards. So when it came to doing that filmmaking unit at university, my entire life made sense and I've put every aspect of myself into being a visual storyteller ever since. It feels like I have a second chance at life.
Do you have any advice or tips you could offer an emerging filmmaker?
People will talk about your 'voice' a lot, and that they are looking for a 'unique voice'. I hated hearing this because it doesn't actually make sense to a person starting out, as it's a result and has no clues as to how you attain it.
What I believe your 'voice' is, is a compilation of the best part of your failures. So make as much as you can. Take the lessons from what you perceive to be your failures (they are learning opportunities). Watch as much as you can and make mental notes of your favourite observations/moments. Build your taste and lean into it. The culmination of the above will result in your 'unique voice'. Not everyone will like it, but someone will and that will ultimately be enough.
And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from The Retreat?
Hopefully they find it fun. Hopefully they are a bit on edge. Hopefully it's a bit thrilling. Hopefully they think about it once the credits roll and have a conversation about it. Hopefully they recommend it to a friend (you can watch it on Short of the Week). And hopefully they message my agent and offer me a directing job.