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17th British Shorts, Berlin

"From the get-go this was always going to be a visually-dark film with wide landscapes and emotional closeups, not to mention things like flames, VFX and stunts, so there was a lot to talk about with what was detailed in the script and how it could look on screen for the best effect."

January 23, 2024  

An orphaned girl seeks revenge on the creature that destroyed her home, but discovers more in its lair than she bargained for.


Hi Sparky, thank you for talking to TNC. How does it feel to be at the 17th British Shorts with your latest short film Villain?


Fantastic! For it to be selected and screened at a festival as interesting and well-attended as British Shorts – which is also our German premiere! – is a great honour.


Villain has had a great run so far, what has it meant to you to see your short get such a great reception?


I’m always overjoyed that any people at all are able to see anything I’ve created, so for it to have played at so many festivals around the world (and even win awards at some!) makes me feel I’ve done something that people can connect with and enjoy. It’s a wonderful feeling.


What were some of the lessons you took away from making your debut short and how have these impacted your approach to making Villain?


Since I started making shorts I’ve learned a lot more about planning. I used to rely on many more off-the-cuff ideas and practises, which rarely worked out and often made the shoot worse, but the importance of collaborative storyboarding and departmental meetings and cast rehearsals in pre-production can’t be overstated.


How important are festivals like British Shorts in creating a platform for short films and filmmakers?


A film without an audience is nothing but a scream into a void. Festivals are frequently the most eyes that may ever be on someone’s hard work, and those with large audiences that the filmmaker can attend are truly great experiences.


What more can be done to make short films more visible to audiences outside of the festivals circuit?


I’d love to see more shorts made available on the likes of Netflix and other popular streamers. They have some, but only a limited range, and often just those produced by themselves – it’d be nice if there were more great independent short films available from filmmakers around the world so people could stumble upon them.


You’ve collaborated with cinematographer Andreas Neo on several projects, how important is the relationship between a director and DOP when working on a project like Villain?


Extremely. From the get-go this was always going to be a visually-dark film with wide landscapes and emotional closeups, not to mention things like flames, VFX and stunts, so there was a lot to talk about with what was detailed in the script and how it could look on screen for the best effect. Andreas has a fantastic eye and is always one to offer great suggestions I wouldn’t think of, then back them up with passion.


When writing the screenplay had you had Bella Ramsey in mind to play “Georgia” and how did you go about attaching her to the project?


We genuinely hadn’t thought we’d be able to ever make Villain, so nobody was really in mind during the initial scriptwriting process; then the pandemic lockdown happened, and we found ourselves with a lot of time for development and a lot of incredible filmmaker contacts who were bored and wanted to do something creative. Our casting director put Bella at the top of a list of suggestions for the role and we basically stopped reading after their name, because we knew they’d be perfect.


Can you tell me how Villain came about, what inspired your screenplay?


Like a lot of stories, it was actually a cathartic exercise – there’s a whiteboard in my office that still has the seven-or-eight bullet points I scribbled down after a therapy session that was then turned into the Villain script in the following weeks. There’s a lot of personal metaphors in the film that mean a lot to me, and that was the seed of the film’s creation.

"I grew up continually cycling through several drawers worth of VHS tapes that each had two or three films recorded from our TV, and later would overfill two bookshelves with DVDs, so my passion for films has always been high."

What were the biggest challenges you faced bringing Villain to the big screen?


VFX, definitely. We actually shot the film in late 2020, but one of the main reasons the film wasn’t screened until mid-2023 was the deal we’d made with our VFX team – they basically allowed us to pay them far, far less than their talents deserved in exchange for us allowing them to prioritise bigger, better-paying clients over us. So when they got hired by LucasFilm, our dragon shots had to wait quite a while indeed before they were completed and added into the edit!


There is a stunning realism to the way the dragon is brought to life, this is aided brilliantly by Jake Roberts sound design. How did you go about creating the dragon and how closely did you work with your sound and special effects teams to ensure you captured what you wanted?


Visually, this was a collaboration between basically everyone – we had numerous Zoom calls during lockdown about design and movement and fire-breathing and much more. SFX and VFX worked together to figure out where we could use real fire on set and what would need to be computer-animated, and our Art department collaborated with the VFX and Prosthetics teams to come up with the designs. Jake’s fantastic input on the dragon’s sounds – weighty stomps, breathing, roars and all else – was pretty much entirely his own interpretation of a detailed brief I wrote for him, with a few minimal reviews made during a visit I made to his studio.


Is there anything you would have done different on this film?


Oh, of course – no film is ever perfect, and no film is ever ‘finished’ so much as ‘surrendered’. I specifically might have given a little more emphasis to the characters’ scales, and in an even more ideal world I’d have shot for one more day to really spend time on each of the significant shots and interactions and improve them as only time can.


Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?


From watching movies! I grew up continually cycling through several drawers’ worth of VHS tapes that each had two or three films recorded from our TV, and later would overfill two bookshelves with DVDs, so my passion for films has always been high. It wasn’t until my late teens that I ever got to hold a camcorder, but the second I did I began making little skits and stories and haven’t stopped since.


Looking at your IMDb I saw you’ve got a lot of experience working in a variety of film crew roles as well as within the Second Unit. How vital was this experience for you and would you recommend other emerging filmmakers try their hands at additional departments with the film industry?


I’d absolutely recommend it, as the lessons learned about filmmaking while working in any capacity on a big-budget movie set are immensely valuable, but even working as a runner is a difficult and time-consuming role that’s not easy to get in the first place since competition for work is so high (and nepotism is rampant).


Who are some of the filmmakers that have inspired you?


I cannot overstate the level of my film-nerdery, so I won’t go on and on, but I’ll list a few: Kubrick, Tarkovsky, Ramsey, Cameron, Lumet, Miike, Cuarón, Aronofsky, McQueen, Kurosawa, Spielberg, Varda, Lee, Loach, Carpenter, Sembène, Eggers, Klimov…I’ll never stop if I don’t stop now.


What does Villain say about you as a filmmaker and the stories you want to tell in the future?


It says that I’m a cynical artist full of dark anxiety, though I hope it gives a sense of scale and experience to the kinds of films I’d like to make, and sets a tone for the stories I’d like to tell within them.


Do you have any tips or advice you would offer anyone wanting to get into filmmaking?


Don’t do everything yourself. A jack of all trades is a master of none, so maybe don’t be the director-producer-writer-editor-cinematographer-composer-marketer-distributor for your film if you can get other people to handle the roles you’re not aiming to have written on your tombstone.


And finally, what message would you like audiences to take away from Villain?


Villain is a film about the cycles of familial trauma, and I hope that audiences watch the end credits with subtle, invasive thoughts about any hurt they’ve caused that they could still apologise for.

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