Your movie Savage
Witches - in a few words, what is it about?
is a film about creativity, it is about two girls who use their
imagination and the magic of cinema to break free from the prison they see
around them - and it's about two filmmakers breaking down the walls of their
own idea of what cinema is. It is a spell to stir up the creative spirit
and unleash it onto the cinema screen.
were your initial inspirations for dreaming up Savage
Witches? And to what extent do you identify with the
DANIEL :The film
started with a conversation between Clara and I when we first met about
the kind of films we wanted to make. We both believe cinema is an art form
that has the power to have a transformative effect on us both as makers
and as viewers and we wanted to create a film to find out what this really
meant. Our films are about the exploration of ideas and experiences rather
than statements from a fixed perspective.
intention was to make a film to celebrate all that we loved in movies –
the artifice, the playfulness, the theatricality and magical quality of
cinema. We wanted Savage
Witches to be a truly cinematic
experience, where creative freedom and formal experimentation were in an
equal marriage with content and narrative. We wanted the film to be a work
of poetry rather than a product.
discussions about all this evolved into a story, and within two weeks we
had written the script for Savage
Witches. From the beginning the
project's whole purpose was to make a film in which we submitted to the
creative spirit, the imagination led and we followed, we didn't want to be
tied to script or shooting conventions, we wanted only to dance through
our story exploring every nook and cranny to see what we would find.
And of course we do identify with the witches, we are the witches too,
this film is a ritual that we initiated.
As far as I know, you did
have an actual script for Savage
Witches, but abandoned it early on for a more organic approach -
care to elaborate?
CLARA: The early
versions of the script were more conventional and soon we found them
restrictive. We always knew the script was just a starting point but we
didn't know at the beginning how much we'd change it, especially the form
of the script itself. Also we were getting such interesting things from
working with Christina and Victoria, especially when we tried things that
were unexpected for them, that we just had to go with that. We took from
the script all that was relevant and let everything else go, in the end we
had a few pages of poetic dialogue and a list of key scenarios, locations
and technical experiments we wanted to try. Savage
Witches is a
film that found its form in the edit rather than through writing.
DANIEL: It was such
a liberating way to work, it has changed our relationship to writing ever
since. We do still write some scripts that look like scripts but we feel
less restricted by the form now. We also have scripts for feature films
that fit on a single sheet of A4 paper and others that use images as much
as words. What we have found is that the form of your script directly
affects the form of your film, so it is necessary to find the right form
and process for writing the movie you are making. I am sure that if more
filmmakers experimented with the form of their scripts it would lead to
much more variety in the kind of films that are being made, there is
something very conservative and restrictive about the page per minute,
courier font, three act script. There is nothing wrong with it if it is
the right form for the story within you but there are many other ways of
writing no matter what the so called scriptwriting gurus tell you!
What was the collaboration between
the two of you like while shooting Savage
Witches? And how did you first meet, actually?
DANIEL: We met when
Clara wrote an article about Stan Brakhage for a film journal I used to
run. We started on Savage
Witches pretty soon after meeting. We
work together in a very easy way, it's very equal and collaborative. We
both throw everything we have into the pot and cook up a good ol' stew.
There is a lot of good stuff that comes from working like this, you let go
of feeling that you own your ideas, it has helped me to understand that we
don't have to try to have power and control over our art but that it is a
force that speaks through us, we are the condition through which
We're both intuitive so the way we work is we feel the film is somehow a
thing that exists between us which we have to uncover and give shape to,
like we're mining materials and then sculpting them. I think this helped
us take things always one step further, ideas didn't belong to either of
us, first and foremost we served the film and we just knew when something
was right. If we disagreed on something it was never a matter of one
person being right and the other being wrong, it meant there was still a
better solution that we had not yet seen, it is a sign that we have more
work to do, this approach always pushes you to be more creative and leads
to exciting and unexpected places.
can you tell us about your lead actresses Christina Wood and Victoria
Smith, and what made them perfect for their roles? And what was working
with them like?
Witches would not be the film it is without them, I can't even say they are
perfect for the roles because it goes beyond that, they were not just
actors playing roles, the film came out of them just as much as it did
from us. The film is a document and portrait of us all in that moment
exploring what cinema is, what performance is, what creativity is and what
we needed from it. We had a tough shoot, a bit of conflict here and there
but also a great shoot because what they were giving us was magic and we
were making a movie, which for us is one of the most exciting things in
Do talk about the shoot as such for a
bit, and the on-set atmosphere!
DANIEL: Most of the
shoot was just the four of us so it was intimate, creative and explorative
but it wasn't really like being on a conventional film set, we were just
moving through it, trying to remain open but also with a goal in mind
hoping that it would come together in the end and be something we felt was
CLARA: A lot of it
was more like playing than being on a film shoot. We believe play to be
very important and like to create space within the shoot for us to explore
through play without the pressure of knowing if or how it will be used in
the final edit. A lot of the time we'd be improvising and experimenting in
response to scenes from the script but there were also sequences that were
more planned, a few of the scenes were shot several times in different
ways and in different locations. We shot most of the film in Sussex during
the summer, so we spent a lot of time outside in the parks and woods,
camping and exploring and creating scenes in response to the locations.
You shot Savage
Witches in a vast variety of different formats, and using all
kinds of techniques. So please go into a little detail about this, and
what was the purpose behind it?
right, we used Super 8, VHS, digital and analogue stills, mini DV and HD
plus some hand drawn animation. Each format has a very different look and
feel and in turn each can be processed in many ways resulting in an
endless variety of images. We played around a lot with projecting footage
shot on one format and re-filming it on another. All this experimentation
was part of the reason post-production took 7 months.
We are still working on ways we can use this in new projects, it's an
under-explored tool of cinema, filmmakers talk a lot about how different
formats have distinct feels, how film supposedly feels better than digital
or vice-versa but very rarely do they consider that they can use a
combination of these formats in a single project. The same goes for sound
design, there is not just one way a film should sound, different qualities
of sound create different sensations and experiences but if you listen to
the sound design of a lot of films you'll find they all sound the same. We
have so many options of technology and processes available to us now, all
this should be a part of the filmmakers pallet.
You also have to talk
about the film's music and sound design for a bit, and what was your
collaboration with Fiona Bevan (composer) and Simon Keep (sound designer)
CLARA: I am so
happy we worked with both Fiona and Simon, they were really excited about
the experiments we had been doing with the image and were keen to do
similar things in the creation of both the music and sound design. Once we
had a first rough cut of the film we got together with Fiona and talked
through the whole film, the process we'd gone through, the experience we
had, the ideas behind each scene and then we left her to it while she
created a first draft of the music. After that it was a back and forth
process until we had music that we all felt was right for the film. Fiona
is a very creative and talented musician, she understood on a deep level
what the film was about, she could empathise with our witches and give her
voice to their journey in a sensitive way, sometimes bold and lively,
sometimes contemplative and haunting. I was excited to see how she
experimented with ways of recording and processing the music that mirrored
what we had done with the image, using different mics and recording
devices, I think quite a lot of it was recorded on her phone.
was the very last collaborator to work on the film and it was an utter joy
for us, we felt like little children in Simon's studio as he started
creating the layers of sound and bring Savage
Witches fully to
life. The film had been shot mostly silent, we had recorded voice-overs
and some dubbing while we were editing, but the rest of the sound was
created by Simon.
The $64-question of course, where is the movie
DANIEL: We have a
few limited edition DVD sets available through our website but we are
planning on releasing a standard edition later this year.
CLARA: ... but we are
always looking for opportunities to screen the film, as the best way to see
it is to experience it in a dark cinema space with a big screen so you can
just sit back, let yourself go and enjoy the journey!
What can you tell us about audience and
critical reception of your movie?
been very pleased, we made the film for ourselves and hoped that if we
made something that we loved then there might be others out there who'd
enjoy it as well. We have now screened the film at about twenty festivals
and film clubs, and the audience response has been amazing. We have had so
many lovely emails and conversations with people who said they have been
inspired by the film and some that it has inspired them to make a film so
we really couldn't be happier!
Any future projects
you'd like to share?
currently in the final stages of a new film called Splendor Solis,
which is a 60 min twin screen film compiled from footage that I have shot
over the last 17 years. It's a real work of self-exploration, a sort of
self portrait of my first 17 years as a filmmaker. We are hopefully
starting on the music in the next month or two and aim to have the world
premiere in September.
also have several other feature films in the pipeline, a film inspired by
dreams, alchemy and fairy tales called All My Heart's Desires and
another film inspired by a dream I had in which Richard Wagner came to
me and told me to write a film inspired by his opera Tannhauser. But the
film we are probably doing next is called Us & the Darkness,
which is a meditation on darkness, creation, eternity and all the things
that happen between sunset and sunrise.
What got you into filmmaking in the
first place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?
back now it seems that it was inevitable that I became a filmmaker but I
didn't know it until it happened. When I was a teenager I wanted to be a
painter and I started making films alongside this on a lovely little Hi8
camera. At first I started filming my paintings and studio - some of this
footage can be seen in my new film Splendor Solis. I never had any
training, I just read a lot of art books and applied what I learnt to the
films. I was filming for a few years before I started thinking of what I
was doing in terms of cinema, before that it was more just an extension of
Cinema has caused such an impression on me since such an early age that it
seemed there was no other option but to just give myself to cinema for
life. Luckily as a teenager I went to an art school where besides making
films we also did drawing, photography, weaving, metal and wood work,
ceramics, graphic and web design and writing. It was there I first learned
about the different parts and aspects of making films, and because it was
an artistic context we were really encouraged to think of all these
aspects like any other art project. So I think it was there that I started
to see that the really interesting thing about filmmaking is that it can
be a tool to explore things, life and myself, not just to create products
but to discover and develop.
Come on Thunder
can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Savage
DANIEL: My first
feature film was Come On Thunder, which was shot in Essex where I
grew up, it's a portrait of two characters and a place, it's set over a
single day. It's a film about isolation, a quiet film that wants to
scream, a film in which the landscape is as much a character as the
actors. It's never been seen but I am now preparing it for a release later
this year, only 9 years after it was made! My second feature was called DIRT,
a film about three friends stealing boats, playing pirates and having
adventures in the English countryside. Alongside the feature films I have
been filming constantly for 17 years, I have amassed a large amount of
footage on various formats from Super8, Hi8, DV, HD etc. I never really
knew what all this footage was for, but it has now all come together in the
form of Splendor Solis.
Witches is my first feature film, before that I had made a
few short films and student works and then had a period of working on some
independent films in London while I was doing uni, trying my hand on
different aspects of filmmaking so I did camera, editing, lighting, sound
recording and even 1st AD and production managing. But while doing all of
this I felt increasingly dissatisfied with filmmaking, I felt that the
focus in all these productions was in all the wrong things and the films
that came out of them were not very exciting, I aspired to make films like
those of Maya Deren or Rainer Werner Fassbinder or Vera Chytilova. In a
way these frustrating experiences fuelled the starting of Savage
Witches for me and were one of the reasons behind the radical process
we had on that film. Now I see that clearly I just had to get on with
making my own work and learn on my own terms.
A few words about your production
The Underground Film Studio,
and the philosophy behind it?
The Underground Film Studio is a
banner we use to cover a variety of film
related projects. Alongside our own films and the films of our
collaborators we also run a film festival called CINE-REBIS, which first
took place 2013 in London and Porto, it is currently on hold as we
are focusing on a couple of films that are needing all our time but there
are plans to relaunch it again in the next year or two. We also write
about cinema and publish a magazine called FILM PANIC, the first issue was
released in 2013 and we are planning to release issue 2 later this year
and then after that it will become a bit more of a regular release.
would you describe yourselves as directors?
DANIEL: I want the
film to take me in its arms and lead me beyond what I currently know or
understand about myself or the world around me. When I make a film I try
to create an arena where the unconscious can break through. For me the
director is not a god who has power over the film, he is more like a
shaman and must submit to his visions, he is the guardian of the film, he
doesn't own it, he is there to make sure that it reaches the screen on its
I love making films and being on a shoot, it doesn't matter how difficult
it is sometimes, trying to keep everything and everyone going, underneath
that there is a fire burning in my belly that keeps me going and tells me
what a wonderful and magical thing it is to be making a film. When we were
Witches, both Daniel and I let go of our rented rooms
so we'd have enough money to make the film, we stayed at a friend's house,
Daniel slept in a makeshift bed on the landing and I slept in a cupboard
under the stairs. That sounds crazy I suppose but what I felt at that
moment was that this film needed to be made and we had to do whatever was
needed to make it happen.
who inspire you?
We share pretty much the same cinema influences and
passions, there are hundreds of films and filmmakers we love but here's a
list of a few guardian angels and guiding lights, ones whose work we
return to again and again:
Jarman, Jeff Keen, Vera Chytilova, Nic Roeg, Ken Russell, Alejandro
Jodorowsky, Douglas Sirk, the Kuchar brothers, Andrei Tarkovsky, Jean
Cocteau, Sergei Parajanov, Agnes Varda, Powell and Pressburger, Pier Paolo
Your favourite movies?
Here's a list of the films we come back to and watch
over and over:
City Of Pirates (1983)
Celine And Julie Go Boating (1974)
The Garden (1990)
Fellini's Satyricon (1969)
Fruits of Paradise (1970)
Altered States (1980)
The Book Of Days (1989)
El Topo (1970)
Hold Me While I'm Naked (1966)
Shadows Of Forgotten Ancestors (1965)
Belle et la Bête (1946)
Cléo From 5 To 7 (1962)
Le Bonheur (1965)
Far From the Madding Crowd (1967)
All That Heaven Allows (1955)
Gone to Earth (1950)
A Canterbury Tale (1944)
Die Nibelungen (1924)
Bad Timing (1980)
Key Largo (1948)
Mad Love (1978)
White Dust (1972)
Here’s To The Health And The Barley Mow (1955)
Suddenly Last Summer (1959)
list really could go on and on but that will do!
and of course, films you really deplore?
film that's faking it, that gives us lazy thoughts and insincerity, but I
won't call any names because the thing about films or any art and music is
we just don't see the whole story. Some film I detest and really don't get
may fall before the eyes of someone else and change their lives, for them
it is just what they need in that moment and it resonates with them on a
deep level, we need to not interfere with this. This is why I am against
all forms of censorship, who are we to judge what other people need to
see, all creativity is valid.
movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?
I'm on Twitter here:
you are dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
DANIEL: I would
like very briefly to mention a couple of filmmakers who are working now
that I think are making some interesting and exciting films that readers
might want to check out.
In India Pankaj Purohit has made a really great
documentary called Belly Of The Tantra about the Aghori, a sect of
Hinduism who eat human flesh.
In the USA Kelly Hughes [Kelly
Hughes interview - click here] has recently released a
documentary called Heart Attack! The Early Pulse Pounding Cinema Of
Kelly Hughes which is a personal look back at the making of his
trash soap opera Heart Attack Theatre and
his other equally exciting films.
In Ireland Rouzbeh Rashidi and his friends at the
Experimental Film Society are carrying the flag of experimental cinema and
are doing great things. The guys are hugely prolific and are fearlessly
following their own path, there always seems to be something new coming
from them. Rashidi has just released a new film called Ten Years In The
Sun which I am very much looking forward to seeing.
Also coming out very soon a new film from another
Irish director, Sean Garland, called Banshee Blacktop, looks
like it's going to be fantastic, a rural folk horror ghost story. I
haven't seen it yet but I know Sean well and I'm sure it's going to be
OK that's it.
for the interview!