Sam Jones, director of one NOTTIFF2016's most distinctive short films Lifeline took time out from his busy schedule to chat to us about the making of the film and his future plans.
What inspired the film?
It came about after quite an odd conversation I had with my mum. I asked what she would be willing to do to save my sister’s life or mine, and she had said anything. This got me thinking about what a situation might look like if people had to do the most extreme action to save their loved ones: kill each other. This really interests me as the act is so inhuman but the intention behind it is powered by love, something which really characterises human behaviour. This really raises the stakes, as if everyone has intent to kill then the situation is much more tense and relatable. Beth’s (lead character) selflessness is really pushed to the limit at the end of the film, leading to her hugely admirable act of kindness which brings a warmth of emotion at the end of the film. I like the challenge of trying to create moments of heartwarming, real human connection into even the harshest of situations. I think it was also important to keep the film feeling very ‘human’ rather than too dystopian, as audiences have to feel a connection to Beth (lead character). Therefore, we follow a family set into a very poor community, unfortunately not too far off the situation for some today.
How did the partnership with BFI come about? What was it like working with them?
I was lucky enough to win an award called the RAW award. This was a new annual award for 2015 which was presented at the BFI Future Film Festival (BFI’s film festival for 15-25 year olds). I had made a film called O2 with friends which won Best Fiction Award at the festival. From all the winners of the festival, the BFI selected a filmmaker to win £5000 to make a short film. This was a huge turning point for me, having only made no-budget films with friends before. Working with the BFI was fantastic. They really let me make what I wanted which I thought was important. They also allowed me to find my own crew which meant that I could have full creative freedom with it. Looking back, I hadn’t realised how fantastic the opportunity was; to be given the trust to make what I wanted was something I’m not sure I’ll be able to experience quite in the same way again. It’s worth saying though that budget is certainly not everything for a film.
Victoria Baths must have been a special place to film. Was it always set there?
Victoria Baths is immense. If we captured just a fraction of the atmosphere in there I’d be very happy. The film always had to be set there in my mind, I think that it straddles such a close line between being haunting and beautiful that it really fits the emotion of the film.
If anyone is ever in Manchester and gets the chance to visit, make sure you take a look. Quick plug for them: they are a charity trying to raise funds to restore the baths in order to open them for public use as they once were. Please do take a look! http://www.victoriabaths.org.uk
What’s next? For both Lifeline and yourself?
Lifeline has played at a few festivals. It won first prize at BAFTA/Oscar Qualifying Rhode Island Film Festival for the Kidseye Student Award. It will play at the BAFTA qualifying London Short Film Festival in January. I think I’ll release it online soon.
I’ve shot my next short film which is in post-production at the moment. It’s a film called BIG NIGHT set in the grungy back toilets of a nightclub in Manchester. It focuses on David, someone who really wants to escape reality – the drugs, the lights, the music in the club – they all make escaping so easily. He’s an everyman of the teenage world. But throughout the film, David begins to realise that he needs to embrace reality before the consequences of his actions spiral out of control. It’s a film which I really hope will buzz with energy and excitement. It feels quite different to Lifeline. My aim was to try and get the same production value as with Lifeline but to do it for a fraction of the cost.
I’m also making trailers for plays at the moment and am looking to make some music videos. I think the creative freedom for those kinds of films can be completely liberating.