Last month at the renowned café 1001 in Shoreditch I came across a short film event by Shorts on Tap where I was captivated by Tristan Shepherd’s independent short film, The Outside In centred on domestic abuse between a father and his daughter. Recently, I had the pleasure to chat closely with the promising director himself about his film that is breaking boundaries in cinema and the magic of shorts.
Your film The Outside In deals with the serious topic of domestic abuse, is it something that is personal to you, how did you come to making a film about that issue and what kind of research did you have to undertake before filming?
Thankfully, I have never had a personal experience with domestic abuse and I can never claim to know what victims go through because I made a film about it. This lack of personal experience meant it was essential for me to look very carefully at the subject so I could bring some truth to it.
Of course, it’s impossible to encompass all the details and complexities of a situation like this in a 20-minute film so what Benjamin Noble (screenwriter) and I zeroed in on was the topic of Stockholm syndrome. We were really interested in why a domestic abuse victim doesn’t just leave when the opportunity for escape consistently presents itself? What kind of coping behaviours and relationships develop in order to survive and ultimately what eventually breaks this spell and allows someone to say enough is enough.
The case of Natascha Kampusch was a big influence on the piece.
The film is visually stunning, some can see the broken down walls as a metaphor for the transparent perception of domestic abuse and the fact that it is happening but it is not physically seen. What was your intention of this experimental visual technique?
I really love your interpretation and yes it is certainly one of the ideas I played with, especially during the scene with the policeman. It is also a metaphor for the girl’s mind state; mentally she is imprisoned but psychically she could leave whenever he is not around. The film charts her slowly breaking down the walls in her mind until she realises they don’t exist. However, I must give credit where credit is due. I did not come up with idea of the set, Ben had written into the first draft.
Your style of filmmaking is experimental, what inspires you to create a film in this way?
I love ‘magic realism’. To call this film magic realism slightly misrepresents it but there you go! I like films that are naturalistic in their performances but also step outside the realms of possibility. There are films like Pan’s Labyrinth, Delicatessen or even ones that just have one or two moments that remind you of the infinite possibilities of cinema like the frog rain in Magnolia. I think as soon as you break a rule and do something that in real life would be impossible, you open up a whole new world for yourself as a filmmaker, where you can create your own rules. I think that’s an exciting arena to work in.
It is a short film running for 20 minutes, was that intentional in telling the story effectively and what are your thoughts on short films?
I think it’s really hard to tell a story with a clear beginning, middle and end in short form format. The first cut I had was 25 minutes so I removed a lot of stuff to try and keep the storytelling as efficient as possible. I also wanted to drop the running time to improve its festival chances. It’s difficult for festivals to programme 20-minute shorts, they don’t just slip in neatly; they have no room for them. Eventually, though you get to a point when the story is more important than the length.
The film is heavily symbolic of virginity, childhood, loss, entrapment, there is a specific scene where the father plays with the emotion of his daughter and in a horrific attack shoots her pet guinea pig which was about the only essence in her life that brought her a small sense of happiness. The scene is really hard to watch as it is dealing with strong powerful imagery, I remember even shying away from the direct blow of the bullet; did you want to create a film that made audiences uncomfortable?
Yes I think so. The subject matter is inherently uncomfortable anyway but I wanted the audience to share in our protagonist’s discomfort and helplessness. The film has elements of the thriller genre and I wanted to slowly build the tension throughout and bring it to its peak during the guinea pig murder scene. I figured if I can get a vocal reaction like a gasp from the audience at this moment then I am doing my job.
It’s a key moment in the film because it’s also where the tension breaks and her psychological imprisonment is broken. It’s only when she sees his cruelty directed at something else other than herself she realises how monstrous he really is.
The actors in the film are brilliant and compelling to watch, can you tell me more about how you came to casting them and their backgrounds particularly the young girl?
I got really lucky with Alana. You hear stories of people auditioning 300 kids just to get the right one. Alana was the second person I saw for the role. She’s fantastic young actress who was only 16 at the time of filming. The fact she was home-schooled also gave us more flexibility with our shooting schedule as she has incredibly supportive parents who back her career 100%.
Originally, when casting the man, who may or may not be her father, we were thinking of casting someone a lot older. In the end, we thought if we cast someone who walked the line between being older enough to father but also younger enough be a very inappropriate lover it would leave a fouler taste. Also, because Michael (Stevenson) is so attractive I think people have a harder time tearing down their preconceptions. It’s easy to hate a dirty old man.
As an independent filmmaker what was the process in making this film a reality in terms of budget, money, and support?
The money was raised as part of three-film project on Indie GoGo. I work with a collective of filmmakers called Take Cover Films, where we rotate the role of director, producer and actor. Everyone wanted a go at directing so we put a big campaign together and raised the money for all three films at once by reaching out to friends, family and people interested in supporting up and coming film talent. Our first film, A Thousand Empty Glasses, had a good run of success at film festivals so I think it gave people the confidence to back us on such an ambitious project.
Finally, I cannot praise this film enough and I am eager to watch your next film, what projects have you got lined up in the near future?
I shot another short film last year called Among Sweet Flowers and Shades, which I have been re-cutting and re-cutting. It should be realised some time this year. It’s a very different to, The Outside In. It explores lose of innocence, entitlement and fame obsession amongst generation Y.
I have a few other new ideas for shorts I’m toying with but ultimately I’m really keen to make a feature film as soon as possible.
What films are you excited to see, any independent films or art house cinemas you think our readers would enjoy?
Werner Herzog has a new film coming out called Queen of the Desert. I’m always interested to see what he’s up to. Malick and Tarantino also have new films this year, they usually cause some controversy and give us something to talk about.
If you’re looking for a straight up recommendation of something I have already seen then I would say the debut film of the Wolfe Brothers, Catch Me Daddy. It’s an excellent piece of refined storytelling, which pretty much side steps any expositional writing altogether. Great performances too.
Thank you very much.