A young teacher takes a job at an unusual private school where the boys have a sinister power over the girls.
Interview with Director Nathan Hughes-Berry
Congratulations! Why did you decide to make this film?
Thank you. Madeleine and I made this film because we wanted to demonstrate an extreme example of the way that woman are still not treated equally in society today. The story evolved from Madeleine’s experience at boarding school in England.
With this as the starting point we worked out an extreme scenario, with the idea being to present a situation that showed an extreme example of misogyny that would allow people to think about more subtle examples from their own lives. We wanted this film to raise questions about gender equality, whilst not being too preachy about how things should be.
Why is it called The Substitute?
It is called The Substitute because the story follows a substitute teacher, Miss Byrd, who is hired to teach at an unusual school.
Madeleine Sims-Fewer is the writer. actress and co-producer. How did all these roles drive the project to production?
I think it created a strong force for the entire production because Madeleine was so passionate about the project, which created passion among other people. Madeleine wrote the script with herself as the lead character in mind and this helped to give a kick start when taking the project into production.
Usually there is a bit of a lull whilst you wait for other people to come on board. But between myself and Madeleine we were able to get things rolling very quickly as a team and then started to pull in collaborators as we went.
It's also difficult though because some people start to question someone who takes on multiple roles, mistaking it as a weakness in not being able to find other collaborators as opposed to someone wanting to take on those roles. There were difficulties at times with Madeleine needing to separate herself from parts of production because she had to focus on other aspects, such as being focused on her acting when on set and switching out of both writer/producer mode.
Is The Substitute part of the ‘smart horror’ genre?
It’s difficult to say. We certainly set out with the intention of making it a psychologically disturbing film, and that seemed to evolve into including a horror atmosphere. It may be considered part of the ‘smart horror’ genre as nothing is ever explicitly revealed and it is left to the audience to imagine and work out what is happening.
Ultimately we were interested in building an atmosphere and sense of dread as opposed to scaring people with shock and gore. We were both inspired by filmmakers such as Hitchcock and Kubrick who really create a strong sense of tension without always showing much. We were keen to make a film that presents a series of scenarios and lets the audience figure it out.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
The feedback has been generally positive with people engaging in the social message of the film and discussing whether women are treated equally in their own lives. One person who runs an online blog criticized the film for being man hating, which was interesting. I think he didn’t really understand what the film was really saying.
It has been very successful in film festivals, particularly horror specific festivals and most people are left feeling perturbed, which is fantastic. A lot of people are interested in what is behind the door too!
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
Most of the feedback has confirmed our whole rationale for making the film. Sometimes it is difficult as some audience members are unsure whether the film itself is promoting misogyny but on the whole people understand the film and its message.
I think some people are outwardly uninterested in ‘issue based’ films, particularly shorts and this has surprised me actually. In particular a lot of people are not interested in women’s rights and don’t want to watch a film that questions the way women are treated.
It is surprising as it is a prevalent and urgent issue, as much as anything else. I think our point of view as filmmakers was pretty well thought out before hand so we were ready for potential criticisms and were aware we were going to cause some controversy with this film.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on this platform?
I just want as many people to see the film as possible and to get it out there to a wide audience. It is interesting to see how the film is received in different countries and I want to get people involved in questioning the film’s themes and issues.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify the message of this film?
At the moment we are coming towards the end of a long festival run so what would be most helpful for us would be for journalists to come on board and to get people talking about the film – particularly online.
We have a distribution company attached and they are actively selling the film. In addition it would be good to get the attention of festival directors, even if just to make them aware of our work and to prepare the way for our next film, which is even more controversial.
What type of impact would you like this film to have?
I would like people to see this film, think about it and be affected by it as they go about their lives afterwards. It would be amazing if it made people just question the difference between the way men and women are treated in everyday life. I think a lot of people don’t question that enough.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate about this film?
Do you think feminism still needs to exist?
What are the writer and director working on now?
We have both just finished shooting a short film about a young boy who tries to re-connect with his military father by allowing him to shave his head. Our next main project is a short film entitled ‘Rape Card’ which is set in a world where every young man is given a card that entitles him to one legal rape in his lifetime. We are currently in pre-production and will be shooting in early June in Toronto. We are also working on a low budget feature script about reincarnation, which we plan to shoot early next year.
We are moving stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series and music video. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us? More info: Carmela
Length: 22 mins
Writer: Madeleine Sims-Fewer
Director: Nathan Hughes-Berry
Producer: Eva Sigurdardottir/Madeleine Sims-Fewer
About the writer, director and producer: Madeleine is a writer of dark and twisted films that probe into the imbalance between the sexes and expose our collective fear of each other. Nathan is a visually focused director who is interested in bold performances and dark stories that expose the worst aspects of humanity. Eva is a director and producer based in London and Reykjavik. She is the owner of Askja Films which focuses on female driven stories set in the modern world.
Looking for: Media attention, journalist attention
Where can I watch it at WOW? In the Scream Queens category. Saturday 30th April, 2-4pm @ Cinema PARIS