17th British Shorts, Berlin
"I also deliberately wanted to create a situation where we could spend longer on one setup, really trying to get it just right - there were a lot of setups in New Atlantis in a pretty tight schedule so it was good to explore a single scene in more depth."
January 22, 2024
While exploring an abandoned building, two friends discover a recording of a woman who claims to be the last citizen of a lost Utopia.
Hi Matt, thank you for talking to TNC. How does it feel to be at the 17th British Shorts with your latest short film New Atlantis?
It's a real privilege - I've been following the festival for years and to be including with New Atlantis alongside such an amazing lineup is amazing.
Your previous short, Bugbear, won Best Music and Best Cinematography at the 2022 Cornwall Film Festival, what did it mean to you and your team to get such a response to your film?
We were all so proud of that win and it was such a surprise really. The film was made on a a tiny budget during lockdown here in the UK, really on the good will and hard work of everyone involved. So winning those awards was a real validation of that work.
How important are festivals like British Shorts in creating a platform for short films and filmmakers?
They are absolutely crucial, there is no doubt about that. For me, especially as we are trying to make films that don't necessarily fit into a box, that might be seen as more unusual than the norm, exposure in festivals and getting our films in front of a live audience is so important. It’s vital for filmmaker to see how your work may speak to an audience or individual - something that you don't really get with an online screening.
What more can be done to make short films more visible to audiences outside of the festivals circuit?
In comparison to even a few years ago, I think a lot is now being done to make short films more visible to audiences outside festivals. With Bugbear we were lucky enough to be included on Minute Shorts, Alter and Film Shortage which has made the film way more visible than if I'd have released it myself.
Can you tell me how New Atlantis came about, what inspired your screenplay?
I was co-directing a series of artist films with OBRA Theatre in abandoned places in Southern France, specifically a very old mansion/town house that had been empty for many years. In that building we found a cassette tape which had a recording of the man who had lived in the building, giving a speech to UNESCO. It was introduced in English so the sudden feeling of direct conversation with the deceased owner of the crumbling building, was bizarre and frankly unsettling. It definitely sparked something, some sort of starting point for a film. I put it to the back of my head until stumbling on a 17th century text called New Atlantis by Sir Francis Bacon about this mysterious hidden Utopia, ‘Bensalem’, which sparked ideas about finding something like this in an abandoned space, recorded onto a tape.
This automatically merged with memories of abandoned buildings I had from the early 2000’s where illegal raves were put on near where I lived. I loved the idea of two friends exploring this crumbling, derelict building after a rave only to be confronted with an unexpected fear, finding a tape with the recording of someone that is strange and unsettling. Which in turn makes the film itself move into the unknown.
When working on a short like this how important was the creative collaboration between you and your team?
I'm really lucky to be able to work so closely with Rhian our producer in getting a team together that understands what we're trying to achieve. She is also my wife so that helps a lot too! I'm also really lucky to work with a few long term collaborators. Alex Hyland has worked with me on every film I have made - we both started collaborating making weird noise music before I made films so that process of collaboration in making the sound / musical worlds of the films stuck and has been developed throughout my work and is very much ongoing - which I love. I'm also lucky to have another long-term collaborator who worked as AD on the film Simon Clode. It was also great expanding our team a bit and working with new people such as Keir Vine on the score and great talent with Katie Smale and Benjamin Aluwihare. To be honest the whole team collaborated so well and our approach, which can often be interdisciplinary, was the perfect way for everyone to really get involved in the work.
"But actually shooting underwater was so much harder than I'd thought - it takes a long time to setup and was tiring to perform in, which I didn't realise at first so hats off to Katie and Benjy."
How much did you background as a Cinematographer on your short films help guide how you direct your shorts?
Well, I originally made films in a really organic way, shooting them myself and directing at the same time; making the music and cutting them, so I've always thought about the cinematography as completely integral to the way I shoot. On Bugbear I shot with cinematographer Samuel Perry-Falvey who was amazing - but with New Atlantis, I wanted to move back to shooting and directing at the same time as I find it hard to separate the two. I had a very specific idea for how New Atlantis would look and how that would inform the direction of the piece which I think was more or less achieved. I'm a very visual person so I'm really pleased with that and I hope it only guided the direction in a positive way.
What was the biggest challenges you faced bringing New Atlantis to the big screen?
Without doubt the underwater sequences. I sort of kicked myself for including it in the script but Rhian managed to get a great deal with a water tank so we decided to keep with it. But actually shooting underwater was so much harder than I'd thought - it takes a long time to setup and was tiring to perform in, which I didn't realise at first so hats off to Katie and Benjy. But I think it came out well and considering our budget I love that we did it.
Where did you passion for filmmaking come from?
I'd always loved film growing up but it was at college when I was doing a contemporary art degree that I first shot and cut some sequences. I immediately fell in love with the process - coming from a place of contemporary art, specifically visual art and writing, I realised the power to be able to sculpt in time as Tarkovsky would say… it's such a magical medium that I can't imagine not wanting to work in it. It is also really challenging which, I think, gives it a reward if you finish something that is like no other… that said I have a lot of unfinished films!
How different was your approach to writing New Atlantis compared to how you wrote and directed The Parish, which is currently in post-production?
New Atlantis was written over a much longer period and in many ways incorporates much more ambiguous and complex ideas in a visual way with little dialogue. After we'd finished it I really wanted to make something that was set in one location and more conversational - and The Parish does that. The direction of The Parish was more intimate because of this I think. I also deliberately wanted to create a situation where we could spend longer on one setup, really trying to get it just right - there were a lot of setups in New Atlantis in a pretty tight schedule so it was good to explore a single scene in more depth.
What where some of the lessons you took away from making New Atlantis, and what do you think you discovered about yourself during the making of this short?
There were so many lessons I couldn't count! I think the really important ones were that I wish I'd spent a bit more time in the main location we had before we started shooting - just to really explore all of the possibilities of how we could shoot certain sequences. I also learnt that as a filmmaker I am kind of obsessed with shooting things in a certain way and I may have unnecessarily wasted some time on getting coverage that just wasn't needed. That was great to learn about how I myself like to work.
Who are some of the filmmakers that have/do inspire you?
Oh god, so many. I always have to say Lynch, Glazer and Tarkovsky as a rule. I love Lynne Ramsay, Powell & Pressbuger, and Peter Greenaway. Recently I think the likes of Yorgos Lanthimos and Robert Eggers are amazing. Also, first time feature directors like Charlotte Wells have blown me away. I have to mention Katsuhiro Otomo for giving us Akira - watching that changed my life.
There are just so many I could go on and on haha.
Do you have any tips or advice you would offer anyone wanting to get into filmmaking?
I know it's easy to say, but just start making. Make all of it - shoot it, cut it, sound design it, make the music… everything. Really, you just need a phone and an ok computer to do it all. I know this may be out of reach to some people but find people and ask - it's amazing what you get your hands on if you ask and have a compelling idea. You will learn more than you ever could reading about making a film… basically - make a film.
And finally, what message would you like audiences to take away from New Atlantis?
I would really like the audience to take what they want from it - the film is made to have questions asked about it. There are clues in there as to what the film is all about, but it really is up to interpretation. I know that frustrates some people but I love films that don't tie everything up in a neat bow.