|Raindance Interview: Rob Savage (Strings)|
|Written by Ivan Radford|
|Friday, 05 October 2012 22:07|
As the Raindance Film Festival reaches its final weekend, you begin to realise which films are your favourites - and one of the ones that has certainly stuck with me is Strings, an ultra-low-budget tale of teenagers, romance and alienation directed by freakishly talented young person Rob Savage.
An erstwhile colleague from fellow film blog Cine-Vue, I caught up with him after two successful screenings at London's Apollo West End, one of which sold out completely, and tried to steal his evil secrets to success. Here's what I managed to squeeze from his brain.
So. You've now sold out a London West End cinema. If someone told you that would happen 5 years ago, would you believe them?
5 years ago I wanted to be a comic book artist, so if anyone wanted to tell me anything I'd probably be locked away from people/sunlight bent over an easel. I don't think I would have believed it 5 months ago - even when we were shooting Strings we had no idea what it was going to turn out like. I'd never directed anything outside of a college activity and had certainly never used a professional camera before. The strangest moment was seeing the name of my film and the world "sold out" next to it.
A lot of people (myself included) film things with video cameras when they're teenagers. Mine were silly embarrassing efforts that never went anywhere. How do you find that perseverance and inspiration to keep going to make your first feature film?
Strings actually started life as a no-budget short film that I was planning to shoot with friends of mine on a handy cam. It was made up entirely of awkward but revealing post-coital conversations and we even shot the first scene. However, as I was uploading the footage from the first shoot there was a colossal power surge which fried my laptop and destroyed the footage. After an extended period of sulking I caught a screening of a German drama called “Requiem” – a film which seemed to epitomise the kind of film I aspired to make. Requiem is a fictionalised account of the “demonic possession” of Anneliese Michel, with a haunting central performance from Sandra Hüller, who won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival for her role. I emailed Sandra, thanking her for the film and explaining that I had been developing my own short film - we met in Munich and became good friends and she encouraged me to keep working on my film. I must have felt reenergised, because I decided to attempt to re-imagine my short script as a a feature.
That's awesome. Do you have any embarrassing early movies do you have in your back catalogue?
There is one remaining copy of my first film: an existential drama about a boy toiling with the decision to send a picture of his penis to an online girlfriend - made when I was 14!
Where did the idea for Strings first come from? I'm guessing some of it is autobiographical on some level...
I'm very much a pupil of the Robert Rodriguez school of filmmaking, which preaches extreme resourcefulness. I suppose on some level I knew that I would be able to bring an honesty to a film about people my own age, and in relationships that mirrored aspects of my own. It certainly helped me feel confident in directing my first real film - I knew immediately if something felt false, because it would be a situation that I had been in not long ago.
You have some great locations in the film; the scenes outside with the fields stretching into the distance really match that sense of adolescent limbo. Is that actually your home town? And do you think that's a case of a location inspiring you to write such a story in the first place, or did you scout the locations later?
I really liked the idea of using the beautiful scenery of Shropshire, where I grew up, as a prison rather than a haven. I had lived in Shrewsbury most of my life and by the time I had finished college all I wanted was crowds and grey concrete. I also wanted to try and shoot the countryside in an interesting way, with a blue, melancholy hue and as a backdrop to very small, personal gestures. Most of the locations were places where I had spent my own adolescence, or places very near the area where I lived - for instance the abandoned house and truck are both only a minute walk from my childhood home.
I like the scene where Scout and Chris poke about that house. It feels really natural. In fact, all the actors are brilliant, Hannah Wilder and Philine Lembeck in particular were really impressive. Are they friends? Are they professional actors? Or a fortuitous combination of both?
Hannah and Philine only met a day before shooting their first scene, but instantly got on really well - I added a few more scenes fleshing out their friendship to the script after seeing how beautifully they played off each other. They are both professional actors from different backgrounds, but both excel on film. Sandra, the Silver Bear winning actress I mentioned, had been mentoring Philine and had worked with her on some theatre performances. She introduced us in Munich and I immediately thought she would be excellent as Grace, so I started to rewrite the part as a German exchange student, which really gave a much greater weight to her alienation. Hannah had a lot more film experience, but mostly in student films - because we were casting for teenagers/early 20s we contacted universities and saw over 50 people. Hannah came down to Shrewsbury and auditioned with Sid Akbar Ali, who plays her boyfriend, and we knew immediately that she had to play Scout.
It's a wonderfully bold decision to keep the German dialogue in German, which only adds to that air of authenticity and alienation. You also don't shy away from turning down the sound (the party scene at the end is particularly effective). Is that something you always had in mind, or did it come about in the edit?
I wanted to use the sound in a way that would heighten certain scenes - the film is about four teenagers who on some level think that they are the only people in the world, such is the apocalyptic seriousness with which they treat their problems. They are always searching for a way to enhance what they are feeling, trying to reach the experiences that films have promised them, be it through drink, dancing or even spinning around. I thought that by dropping the diegetic sound at certain points and letting the score dominate the scene would be the closest representation of how it felt (to me at least) to have a black cloud of self-indulgent sadness hanging over you or to dance until it feels like everything is fine.
£3,000. Can you remember where the money went? Who stopped you from blowing it all on Pot Noodles?
A lot of the budget did actually go on pot noodles! We managed to secure our kit for very little and used the bulk of the money to fly Philine from Germany, rent a house for the actors to live together in and for catering - hence the pot noodles. In fact almost everything on screen was secured for free or for very little cost: we had Grace's wardrobe designed by a friend, shot in my old school for free and pulled favours for every other aspect of the design.
If someone gave you another £3,000 now, what would you spend it on?
A holiday, most likely. Or a short film - since making Strings and working as a freelance director, I've spent more than the entire budget of Strings on almost every project - including short films, music videos and corporate films.
I hear you turned 18 during the shoot. How old are you now? And how the heck are you so good at directing? Do you have certain filmmakers that have influenced you? TELL ME YOUR EVIL SECRETS.
I've just turned 20 - though I feel like the process of making Strings may have aged me physically a little more. I think that the major reason that I feel confident as a director comes from my love of illustration and comic books. I grew up on Alan Moore, Maus and Love and Rockets and began drawing from a very early age, which gave me an early understanding of how to compose an interesting frame and a sense of how to create drama from choice of angles. I then watched Akira, still one of my favourite films, which bridged the gap between comics and moving images. After that I started gorging on cinema of all varieties and studied my favourite films endlessly to see how they were constructed. I would often watch whole films with no sound, just so focus on the way that the shots were constructed. My first films were recreations of scenes from my favourite films (mostly Hitchcock) starring friends and family.
What's next for you?
I'm currently working on a number of smaller projects while developing my second feature film, provisionally titled "Ruby", which is a coming of age romance set against the backdrop of a violent prison breakout.
That sounds awesome. Does Strings have UK distribution yet?
Not yet, but we're in talks at the moment so hopefully we will have good news very soon!
Strings had its world premiere last week at the Raindance Film Festival 2012. You can read our Strings review here - and hopefully see the film in a cinema again very soon.