A loving family set off in their car on what seems like a carefree family outing. As Mandy drives, they sing along to a favourite song, stop for ice- creams and play eye-spy. However, it gradually becomes clear that this isn’t a family outing after all, and that their destination isn’t a happy one.
Interview with Writer/Director Richard Prendergast and Producer Rachel Prendergast
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
RICHARD: Thank you! I had been wanting to make a short film for some time. One afternoon, I was supposed to be working on a treatment for an ad that we were producing at SubMotion Productions, so like all creatives, I was procrastinating and clicking around on Facebook. Kevin and Sabrina's story had gone viral and one of my friends had shared it. The story was heartbreaking, yet somehow hopeful. Being a father of two daughters, it really struck a chord with me. As soon as I read it, the script really just fell into my head. It seemed the perfect story to finally get a short film together.
RACHEL: Thank you very much! With our day to day bread and butter work, we are often restricted creatively by client briefs and red tape. Making our own short film allowed us the chance to have full creative freedom and really show what we can achieve as a crew and also set ourselves a new and exciting challenge!
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
RICHARD: This film really is an audience film, we want people to go on the journey with Mandy, enjoy the moments with the young children and relate to the familiar family roles, like that of the Grandma. I wanted to create an element of unease throughout the film, keeping the audience unsure of what is to come, people often cannot wait to tell us afterwards their predictions whilst watching. The few that guess the twist are always very pleased with themselves!
I hope that Sylvia reminds people of what's important in life. In a heartbeat, the things we hold dearest can so easily be taken away from us, so make the most of them whilst you can. We had a message from someone who watched Sylvia. His relationship with his parents wasn't great but as soon as he'd finished watching the film, he called up his mum and dad to tell them he loved them. A bit soppy I know, but as a filmmaker, it's an amazing feeling to know that you've had a positive impact.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
RACHEL: Every single one of us, worldwide, can relate to love and loss on some level. Sylvia is about the basic makeup of humankind, our ability to love each other and how valuable and cherished our loved ones are. This film introduces you to a simple happy family, a Grandma, Mother and two daughters, enjoying each other’s company, enjoying life and leaving remnants of happy times everywhere - a set-up most people can relate to.
RICHARD: Mothers and Fathers of all generation will understand that kids are great at scratching things, breaking stuff and generally causing a mess. As a parent, those annoyances can really grind your gears but after reading Sabrina's letter, it made me stop and think - what if my kids were taken away from me tomorrow? I think we'd do everything in our power to hold onto those imperfections, as they would serve as a reminder to better times and that's what Sylvia is about.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?
RICHARD: The script did not really evolve from the initial drafts, a few minor tweaks here and there but nothing detrimental to the story. This meant the filming remained mostly in line with the script, except one addition suggested by Benjamin Hartley, who played Biran and was also the executive producer. He suggested adding Brians daughter into the final scenes as an uplift to the end of the film, it was such a natural and easy addition and really works.
Jack Clayton-Wright, our outstanding editor, also suggested adding the flashbacks to the final scenes, tying in perfectly with Sabrina's letter and her reflection on happier times. This adds so much weight to the final scenes and really pulls on the hearts strings.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
RACHEL: We had an initial screening at the BAFTA theatre in August, just days after the film was finished and it was a hugely nerve-racking evening! Playing Sylvia for the first time to an audience of nearly 200 friends, family and industry professionals - we had no idea how the film was going to be received but thankfully we were overwhelmed with the positive response. We have continued to receive wonderful feedback from critics, festival audiences and peers alike, and it still makes our hearts swell every time someone reaches out to let us know they loved it!
We also received some constructive criticism early on based on the length of the film, with a handful of people mentioning it took too long to get to the pivotal part of the story. We very gratefully took their feedback on board and cut the film by over three minutes. Peoples honesty and professional opinion are so valuable, we would have been obnoxious not to take it on board and take action.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
RACHEL: I think the overwhelmingly positive response has been a wonderful and very welcome surprise! You always hope to make something people love, but until you take that leap of faith and put it out there, it's only your Mum's biased, unconditional supportive positive opinion you have to go on!
RICHARD: It has taken me years to finally get this short film made, so to know it is well received makes all those long, long nights, financial sacrifices and borrowed time from so many dedicated people so worth it. We make sure every crew and cast member are honoured in all of our positive posts about the film. It would not have happened without them.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
RICHARD: Sylvia is a truly independent film, made by a collective of passionate crew and cast. Naturally, because Sylvia is a short film and we don't have have any studio affiliation, attracting media attention can be a challenge. Therefore we're extremely grateful for all the media coverage that Sylvia has garnered over her festival run. www.wearemovingstories.com will hopefully spark interest with its readership and urge people to seek out Sylvia at film festivals and ultimately build up an online following for Sylvia's eventual digital release.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
RACHEL: Sylvia was made to simply showcase the skill set of everyone involved and to tell a story that would hopefully resonate with an audience. I feel we achieved all that set out to do and so now, we just want as many people as possible to see it. So currently, we're hoping that with media coverage like this, festival directors and other journalists will give Sylvia a chance. Once Sylvia has finished her festival run, it would be great to secure a distribution deal, but once again, this can prove difficult for short films, so time will tell!
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
RICHARD: I'd like people to stop and think about what they have in their lives right now. We so often focus on the future and strive for something more, we can easily forget that what we have right now is precious and perfect. That's really what struck me with Sabrina's story. (Trying to avoid a spoiler) In her letter to Kevin, Sabrina talks about the small details in life that we often overlook and it's only when we lose those people who've left those marks, do we fully appreciate them. I'd love it if people watched Sylvia went home with a little more appreciation for the important people in their lives. You never know when life will snatch them away.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
RICHARD: The first question that's asked after every screening - What is the IceCream guy all about? 50% of the audience get it the first time, 50% don't. Maybe you'll have to watch it twice to understand his relevance.
Would you like to add anything else?
Please check out our social media pages and give us a follow. We'd love your support!
And please keep your eye out for the online release of Sylvia.
What other projects are the key creatives developing or working on now?
RICHARD: I am currently back in my cupboard writing away! This time I am working on a feature film, with a very different feel to Sylvia. This one is more of a sci-fi thriller and like Sylvia pulls in true life events with fiction. The script is coming along well and I am now starting to look at building a development crew on this to move it forward, this is going to need a budget and more production time than Sylvia, so watch this space!
Interview: May 2019
We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series, music video, women's films, LGBTQIA+, POC, First Nations, scifi, supernatural, horror, world cinema. 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
A car. A family. An unwanted destination.
Director: Richard Prendergast
Producer: Rachel Prendergast
Writer: Richard Prendergast
About the writer, director and producer:
Working for 15 years as Director of Photography, RICHARD PRENDERGAST took his first step as a director on the set of Sylvia. He has a deep knowledge of cinematography but learnt a huge amount working with actors on scripted drama for the first time. He has been commended for his exceptional work in bringing out great performances with cast members and tying this in with beautiful cinematography. This is Richard's first scripted drama, an adaptation of a true story he came across on online. Having contacted Sabrina Archey, whose tragic story makes up the essence of Sylvia, she quickly gave Richard her blessing to bring her story to life. Now writing his first feature off the back of the success of Sylvia, Richard hopes to write and direct many more films in the near future.
RACHEL PRENDERGAST started out as a junior producer for an Icelandic streetwear clothing brand and her work has since taken her all over the world, creating branded content and commercials for some of the worlds leading brands. Rachel's latest endeavour is to bring her knowledge and meticulous attention to detail to the world of scripted narrative drama in Sylvia, all whilst raising two young girls!
Key cast: Jolie Lennon (Mandy), Gaynor Fraser (Linda), Maisie Prendergast (Maisie), Evie Prendergast (Evie), Benjamin Hartley (Brian), Mike Fryer Kelsey (Ice Cream )Man
Looking for: sales agents, journalists, film festival directors, buyers, distributors
Hashtags used: #shortfilm #sylviafilm #britishfilm #truestory
Where can I watch it next and in the coming month? The American Pavilion/Cannes - 21/05/2019; Carmarthen Bay Film Festival/Wales,UK - 27/05/2019; Palm Springs International Short Fest/Palm Springs, USA - 18-24.05.2019 (exact screening date TBC); Chelmsford Film Festival/Chelmsford, UK - 07/06/2019; Show Low Film festival/Arizona, USA - 18-20/10/2019 (exact screening date TBC)