RETCH' is about how a frantic woman desperately tries to help her friend, Sonia, who is having an unusual seizure. She drags Sonia to the basement, who begins ripping off her own skin, as she undergoes a horrific transformation.
Hi Keir, thanks for talking to TNC, how is your 2020 going?
Good. January is always a little bit weird but looking forward to some really cool stuff this year. RETCH is actually premiering online on Alter (watchalter.com) in March, so can’t wait to share it with people. 2020 is looking positive so far.
Congratulations on having RETCH selected to British Shorts, what does it mean to you to be part of such a great showcase for British Films?
Very pleased because I think often when people think of British films, they think of period dramas and cute romantic movies. But there’s a great, long tradition of British horror, from the Hammer films through films like The Devils, Shaun of the Dead, The Descent, right up to more recent films like Saint Maud. I think horror is something the Brits do well and I’m really proud to be part of that tradition.
RETCH has had a great festival run, have you been surprised by the reaction the films been getting?
Honestly, a little bit. It was a script that people just didn’t get when we initially pitched it. People kept wanting me to explain: What is it? What does it mean? And I explained that the whole point is that it’s about building tension. We couldn’t get anyone to fund it, so finally I just cobbled money together myself.
I always described the movie like a ghost train, it takes you on a ride for 4 minutes and doesn’t let go. The point is the experience. And I think when we’ve been sitting with audiences at festivals, that final moment always pays off so well. And that’s so wonderful because it feels like people then do get it. It’s been such a pleasure to see the film get discovered over and over again.
What are the biggest challenges that face an independent filmmaker?
Mostly, money and time. I subscribe to the old idea that in triangle of fast, cheap and good, you can only do two. I think if you work in horror, so often the problem is your ambitions overreach your budget. So, RETCH was definitely a case of cheap and good but not fast.
It’s the only project I’ve made so far where we had enough time in the location to shoot, giving us space to get the make-up effects done right. It felt like a luxury to be able to shoot a three page script in two days but it was really worth the investment of time it took us to get there. That was also the real benefit of making something so short.
Can you tell me a little bit about RETCH, how did this film come about?
I’m a big horror fan (John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of the all time top 5 films), but I’d actually never made a horror short before. RETCH was born from a real desire to jump into the genre myself. I’m also very interested in visceral cinema that strives to get a big reaction out of the viewer. So I decided to roll all of that into a project and just make it a real blast for the audience.
What was the inspiration behind the screenplay?
Actually, funnily enough it was reading about lobsters. Lobsters have to routinely shed their shells, which is incredibly tough on their central nervous system. They are then also left with a soft shell that takes time to harden, leaving them very vulnerable to predators.
I just think nature is so fascinating in how violent and punishing it can be. Plus, the human body is so crazy in and of itself. Menstruation cycles were also a big influence behind the idea. I love body horror, so taking all these elements and mixing them together just made a lot of sense to me.
What would you say have been the biggest lessons you've taken from making RETCH?
Never underestimate the power of good prep.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
I love cinema. The technique, the language, truly everything. It‘s why I try to approach all my films with great attention to the language of visuals and finding a way of shooting that is both kinetic and experimental. I like to work outside traditional coverage as much as possible and discover unique forms of visual storytelling, while respecting the long history of cinema. My passion stems from that history.
The split screen comes from my affection for DePalma, I learned the importance of reaction shots from watching Spielberg and the hyperactive handheld work is inspired Greengrass. That to me is the beauty of cinema, artists building on influences to make their own, new work decade after decade.
"Don’t overthink it and make it as cheap as possible, so you give yourself room to fail."
How much has your approach to your films changed since your debut?
I’m more collaborative. In the beginning I had to do everything because I didn’t trust anyone else to do it right. As I’ve met more people, I’ve been able to find collaborators who are far better at their respective jobs and I realized I could trust them to do a great job without me constantly meddling.
This is especially true with the producer of RETCH, Alix Austin, who is essentially the co-creator of the whole thing and is an artist in her own right. So much of the film's success is down to her.
What has been the best piece of advice you've been given?
A friend of mine always gives me time constraints. He gets me to try editing it so it’s under a time limit he sets me. In the case of RETCH it was 4 minutes.
It’s a useful exercise, because it makes me think about what’s truly necessary and what the leanest version of the film is that I can cut while still having it make sense. I almost never use the leanest cut, but it does work in that you realize what doesn’t turn out to be as important as you thought you thought it was, because you don’t end up missing it.
Is there any advice you would offer an aspiring filmmaker?
Go for it and make some stuff. Just throw yourself into your first project. Don’t overthink it and make it as cheap as possible, so you give yourself room to fail. Accept that it’s probably going to bad at first and keep learning to get better with each film.
You don’t even need to make your first couple projects public. It’s not a bad idea to send them to trusted friends who will give you constructive criticism and feedback. You should feel free to be inventive and sometimes that’s easier to develop without instant feedback.
What are you currently working on?
We’ve just started submitting our newest film to festivals. It’s called ‘Portrait’, starring Sorcha Groundsell (BBC3’s Clique & star of Netflix’s The Innocents). It’s a DocuFiction short based on research I did about the inappropriate behaviour of photographers in the modelling world, but is about the abuse of power as a whole.
We’re also working on a feature length version of RETCH which takes the concept of the illness into some strange and crazy places, so I’m very excited about that.
And finally, what message do you want your audience to take away from RETCH?
Sometimes films are just about the ride. Sit back, enjoy and let the experience thrill you as it comes.