An interview with Rob Savage
Director Rob Savage, at GFF with his debut feature Strings, already has a series of award-winning shorts to his name, one of which, Sit In Silence, won the BFI Future Film Award after placing second overall in the Sci-Fi London 48 Hour Film Challenge. Inspiringly/depressingly (delete as appropriate), the industrious Savage only celebrated his 18th birthday on the first day of shooting Strings, which itself recently won the Raindance Award at the British Independent Films Awards. I caught up with him ahead of the GFF screening.
1. Can you tell us a bit about how you got started making films?
I suppose I started making films after my dad showed me Apocalypse Now as a kid – I remember becoming instantly obsessed, and started watching anything and everything I could get my hands on. I used to love Dario Argento and Hitchcock and I think the first time that got my hands on a flip-cam I spent all my time simply recreating my favourite scenes from Psycho and Deep Red. As I got older and watched more I started making my own stuff and eventually got to the point where I submitted to some small festivals and won a couple, which essentially made me confident enough to undertake my first feature.
2. Can you tell us about the inspiration for Strings?
It's important to stress that I had decided to make a feature before I actually had an idea – we set a date to begin shooting, completely enticed by the idea of shooting a film that could one day play in cinemas but utterly clueless as to what the film would be. So I dug out an old script of mine – it was a Richard Linklater pastiche about two people making awkward conversation after they had just had sex. There was almost nothing there except hints at the characters' lives outside of the bedroom, but I decided to adapt it into a longer piece because of how immediately relevant the subject matter was. The situations and emotions were the same me and my friends were going through before heading off to university, deciding whether their relationship could stand the strain of the distance, or whether it was time to cut that person loose (I was one of the ones cut loose during filming, which I'm sure only helped).
3. What were the main challenges to making Strings on a £3,000 budget?
I think the main challenge of working on such a limited budget was being aware of how far people's patience could stretch. The production was pretty chaotic and there are only so many nights that you can expect an unpaid cast and crew to stand in the rain until one in the morning because you can't get the lighting how you want it. We were lucky that everyone believed in me and the project, despite nobody but me being allowed to see any of the rushes.
4. Many famous directors started very young but very few, if any, shot their feature debut at 18 years old – do you think it's easier now for people to do it and if so, why aren't more people?
I think there is a common misconception that the hardest part of making a film is sourcing equipment. I think that the hardest part is, and always has been, the organisation of people and the willpower to stay up until three in the morning planning a scene that you will shoot at six. I think that the same people making successful features now are the same people who would have found a way to shoot on film and get their work noticed twenty years ago.
6. Who or what is your biggest creative inspiration?
I always found Kevin Smith's Clerks to be a huge inspiration when I was starting out. Mostly because it looked like shit and sounded like shit and was often badly acted but was undeniably a brilliant film. Clerks made me want to shoot something flawed but fascinating, and without it I would probably still be obsessing over technical perfection and would not have released my first feature until my thirties.
7. What were your expectations for Strings before you made it and have they changed now that it's complete?
I think we often spoke about the possibility of Strings taking off and securing a cinema release when we were on set - I'm not sure any of us really believed it, but through repetition we eventually started thinking of the film as a film that was going to be seen. I think realistically we were all simply hoping that the film would get finished and be coherent, but we managed to build an infectious feeling of momentum behind the film that ultimately meant that everyone was leaping out of bed for their 6am call time wanting to make the best film possible.
8. Are you sick yet of people making a big deal over your relative youth?
Not at all, I think Strings should be watched and discussed as a film about first love and relationships told from the perspective of a filmmaker who was the same age as the characters during production. Everything in the film is direct and unclouded by nostalgia or objectiveness, and perhaps the film suffers because of this, but it will always be a testament to how I saw the world (albeit my own tiny world) at that point in my life, and I hope is a legitimate and honest statement on the awkwardness of first love as a result.
9. What are you working on currently?
I am currently developing my second feature, a dark coming of age story about a shy British boy, on holiday with his bickering family in the south of France, who falls in love with an older – and unattainable – French girl.
Friday 15 February (16.15) & Saturday 16 February (21.15), Cineworld