Filmmaker Interview #3 – Rob Savage

Rob Savage (right)

Rob Savage is a 19 year-old film director (and everything else) originally from Shrewsbury whom I met at the Bootleg Film Festival in London this year.

Rob was at Bootleg presenting preview footage from his recently shot feature film Strings and I, along with everyone else in the cinema, was pretty much blown away. The scenes we were shown looked luscious with really strong performances from the actors. I suffered a mixture of awe and jealousy watching the footage knowing that this guy was just 17 when he started the process of making the film.

I knew I had to meet this guy so down in the bar I said hello. Rob came across as a really down to earth guy; someone who loves cinema and is obsessive about it. I interviewed the actors from Strings (an interview I’ll put on this site at a later date) and all spoke really highly of Rob, there seemed to be a lot of love for the production. It was clear that this guy was (and is) one to watch.

Let’s hear what Rob has to say:

Please tell us a bit about yourself and what you are currently working on?

I am an award-winning midlands-based filmmaker who works in short and feature films as well as music videos. I am currently finalising the edit of my first feature film, a dark relationship drama called Strings, which will be released theatrically later this year. I shot the film with a talented team from my hometown of Shrewsbury on a budget of £5,000 last summer and it has since afforded me a wealth of opportunities within the industry.

Below is a promo for the film:

During the edit of Strings, I directed a film for the Sci-Fi-London 48 Hour Film Competition (which previously introduced the world to Gareth Edwards of the Monsters fame) called Sit in Silence. Out of ingenuity and blink luck, we created a film that I’m hugely proud of that went on to be placed second in the main competition (out of over 200 submitted films) and won the BFI Future Film award. Edgar Wright, who was head of the judging panel, described the cinematography as ‘brilliant’ as well as complimenting the film’s dark sense of humour.

The film can be seen here in HD:

I acted as cinematographer and editor on both films and I don’t think that, working on the budgetary and time constraints, the films would have worked without the dual roles. It allowed me to shoot only what I knew I needed for the edit, perhaps eschewing coverage knowing that, while my future self will be hugely pissed off, I could sort these issues in the editing process. For future projects, particularly as my work is gaining greater outside funding, I plan to focus more singularly on directing.

I am currently prepping a second feature film, provisionally titled ‘Ruby’, which is a coming of age story that deals with themes of first love, loss and memory’s role in both. But hopefully not as morose as that sounds.

Who/what inspired you to embark on a career in Filmmaking?

When I was about 10, my dad sat me down in front of a VHS of Akira (Katsuhiro Otomo, 1988) so that I’d be distracted for long enough for him to sneak across the road for a cheeky pint. I’ve seen the film over 50 times now and it never ceases to completely astonish me – it bridged a gap between my usual cartoon intake and a whole new world of vivid colour and movement, and from there I bought my first digital camera and started shooting anything and everything. Until this point I’d wanted to be a comic book illustrator, but after Akira nothing less than film was going to cut it.

Have you had to make any sacrifices and how have you coped with that?

I’ve sunk every penny I have into my films, but as a uni student one expects to be broke anyway, so the only sacrifice was only being able to be drunk four days of a working week. I think the main thing I have sacrificed is sleep – I live off at least four cups of coffee a day and get roughly 4-5 hours sleep per night, with an indulgent lie-in on Sundays. This paid off for Sit in Silence which, although being made in 48 hours, demanded 70 hours of painful conciseness from start to finish.

My sanity has also intermittently been a cost, with the stress of Strings (3 hours a night if I was lucky) leading to nighttime hallucinations. I would wake up at 4 in the morning thinking that I had dozed off on set and that I needed to direct a scene. Sometimes I’d have my trousers on before I realised what I was doing.

What is your ultimate goal/what drives you?

I think for any filmmaker it’s just to be able to keep doing what you love and, if you’re lucky, to be making a living from your craft. I’m under no illusions that film is an easy industry to ‘make it’ in and I certainly don’t expect to be the next Christopher Nolan but I hope that, whatever scale or capacity I continue to work in, what I do is appreciated by the audience it reaches.

And I want to be filthy rich.

How do you define success?

Right now, at the age I am, my focus is to create a body of work that I can be proud of and that reflect me and my worldview. However, more and more I’m becoming aware of the necessity to establish myself as a commercial choice for future employment. I’m earning for much of the work I do, but I think the coming year will give me perspective on success both financially and artistically, how they can be balanced and how far an understanding of them can take you in this industry.

How do you feel about collaboration?

Without collaboration you’d have a head full of great ideas but no film. The first few days on any shoot are always infuriating as you’re always measuring the difference between the image in your head and the image you see through the lens. But eventually (and you repeat the process on every film you do, no matter who you are) you come to realise that working with a great crew is exactly what gives your film life.

I do, however, think that it’s important to have one distinct directorial voice that oversees the whole film. Filmmaking by committee never works.

Do you have a niche or genre that you specialise in?

I suppose I specialise in drama, but then Sit in Silence was Horror/Sci-Fi and yet I still feel there’s a lot of me in that film as well as an angsty teen drama like Strings. Most of all I like to think I have a consistent approach to character detail and body language -90% of Strings is shot mid-to-close up and focusses on telling details within the scene, rather than the standard master shot, shot-reverse-shot, inserts etc. that most films tend to follow.

What was the title of your first film (Your first first film, not the one you are happy to call your first film) and can you tell us a bit about it?

My first film was a 20 minute short I made when I was 14 about a boy descending into existential turmoil when his internet girlfriend asks him to send a picture of his penis via email. Watching it now, it’s completely baffling – the whole thing is filtered in oranges and greens, and  a good 15 minutes of its running time are shots of the lead (a school friend) staring blankly at walls. Saying that, I still think there’s a seed of my later films that comes through, and one scene in which the main character tries to photoshop a porn-star’s penis onto his body still entertains.

Favourite Filmmaker?

Always in a state of flux – right now it’s Krzysztof Kieslowski, whose films are complete gifts.  Watching Three Colours Blue (1993) for the first time was a completely revelatory experience – it may not have been the film that lulled me into making films, but it was certainly the one that confirmed the possibilities of the medium, and subsequently ensured that I’d never be without camera in hand.

All-time top 5 movies (as of this date, we all know it changes daily)?

Always a tough call, particularly the difference between ‘best’ and ‘favourite’ – the best film ever made is, indisputably, Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), but my favourite films, as of this morning, are:

1. Requiem (Hans Christian Schmid, 2006)
2. Akira (Katsuhiro Otomo, 1988)
3. Three Colours Blue (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1993)
4. The Limey (Steven Soderbergh, 1999)
5. Evil Dead 2 (Sam Raimi, 1987)

What is the best short film you’ve seen?

Not strictly a short film but a music video by Philipp Kaessbohrer – beautifully shot and wonderfully constructed, it’s the one short film I’ve kept coming back to:

Favourite film related website?

Here I have to make a shameless plug and say www.Cine-Vue.com, as I am a regular contributor. I do, however, feel humbled to be part of such a great team and sincerely believe you’ll be hearing a lot more about the site, which is only a year old and already has a shining reputation.

What advice would you give to first time writers/filmmakers?

While building up a level of technical competence is important, the only advice I would ever be confident in extending to new filmmakers is: try something hugely ambitious that you will later consider insane, just because you don’t know yet that it is utterly impossible (not enough money, crew etc.) – chances are you’ll manage to do it anyway based solely on blissful ignorance.

Fantastic interview, thanks Rob. Isn’t amazing when you hear from someone so knowledgable and passionate. Let me and Rob know what you think of the interview and clips by commenting below.

I hope to write a little feature on Strings when it is released and if you’d like to find out more about Rob you can follow him on Twitter, watch his stuff on Vimeo and visit his production company website: Idle Films.

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2 Responses to Filmmaker Interview #3 – Rob Savage

  1. Pingback: Filmmaker Follow-Up – Rob Savage «

  2. Pingback: No Excuses, Just Shoot – Advice for First-Time Filmmakers «

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