Welcome To Britannia. Together We Stand Alone.
Interview with Writers/Directors/Producers Varun Raman and Tom Hancock
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
We wanted to test ourselves in making the most cinematic short film we were capable of, mainly guided by feeling, and not driven by plot, in the same way, you'd watch a David Lynch film.
Before Transmission, we nearly went ahead with a few shorts that due to our naïveté, were abandoned because they turned out to be too sprawling in terms of characters and locations for a small budget.
So again and again, we'd have to go back to the drawing board, until we got to the smallest possible idea - a two-hander predominantly in one location, injected with surrealism and playing with the perception of time, very much influenced by Nicolas Roeg and Juraj Herz.
Our narratives are usually drawn to an individual's existential crisis - the unbalanced mind always lends itself very well to interesting camera plot, editing and sound design. However, in 2015, the ripples of the failed Arab Spring finally reached our shores in the form of the migrant crisis, and European values really began to be tested.
The UK's right-wing media and political elite set out to stir up division in the typically detached way it always has - and in turn, sold newspapers, provided a great form of distraction from the real issues at hand and prepared the febrile atmosphere that delivered Brexit.
Only in hindsight, did we see that this climate is probably where Transmission was born. Somewhere deep down, we felt it was time to look at the big political structures that govern us now and to accept that the time of the individual has now passed.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
We can't make you watch it but we can tell you more about it! It's a divisive film so it's up to you to decide how exactly you feel about it.
It's a short that's meant to be played on the biggest screen possible, with the speakers turned up and the lights turned down low. We like to think of it as a film that is felt, rather than understood. It's disorienting and it embraces the traumatised perspective of the prisoner - which makes it an exercise in constant 'rug-pulling'. Despite what the previous answer says, we're not here to be preachy or to provide any definitive answers. We just hope the viewer is affected in some way, whether they feel uneasy, dizzy, paranoid of their perceived reality, or even just angry at what they've seen.
We want the viewer to ask more questions than to be spoon-fed easy answers.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
The political prisoner in the film is emblematic of the everyman. He may be unjustly crushed by the system, but there is something dignified, even sacred, that can't be touched. In his small world, all he has to hold onto are the memories of the people he loves dearly. And the only thing instilling him with a will to continue living is the hope of one day seeing them again.
His tormentor, Dr Sam, represents the will of the powerful structures that oppress us, and the film looks touches upon how they can eventually break a person.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?
The script remained basically unchanged from the original draft. The evolution really came in the workshopping with the actors Michael Shon (Leonard) and James Hyland (Dr Sam).
It's a very sparse script and very much about power play, which always lends itself to an interesting camera plot. A lot of the film's appeal relied on the actors' performances. They were all about the nuances of gestures and eye movements, especially for Michael, who didn't have a single line of dialogue and had to develop an emotionally complex internal monologue.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
Considering it's a film that plays right down the middle of drama, genre and experimental we're really pleased with how well it has done and where it has played.
The French and Canadians seem to have enjoyed it the most and even laughed at some of the dark humour, which for us just made us fall in love with them as an audience. Generally, the US and Europe have responded very well, probably because the aesthetic is a bit of a hybrid between the two cultures.
The big UK institutions didn't seem to dig it so much though, probably because as a country we seem to shirk away from surrealism, and the kind of politically provocative issues looked at in the film. A lot of the cinema here is firmly invested in maintaining the status quo and absolving the establishment of any responsibility. Our culture is reticent to confront ugly home truths, which has led to where we're at now.
Online, it has been very divisive. Some people have completely got it and loved it for what it is. And some people have been almost angered by the surrealistic approach, and have demanded more plot and an explanation. It's quite hilarious to read some of the comments.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
There have been quite a few different interpretations so far which we really appreciate. We did start from a place of ambiguity and were fully embracing the idea of making an ambiguous surrealist film, held together by a fairly simple set up of the oppressor vs oppressed. But it has been interesting to read some vastly different interpretations to our intentions.
The religious readings into it have been the most surprising. It seems to mean different things to different people, but we're well aware to some people it will mean nothing at all...
The main thing we've learned is that we would like to make something different next time. We mainly operate on the scale between the horrific and the hilarious so expect something with more overt laughs next time.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
We always said from the start we wanted to make a short film that people would want to play twice and revisit. We'd like it to stay with people, and for its meaning to grow as time passes.
We Are Moving Stories lends the film a frame where the issues represented can be thoughtfully considered, and it would be nice thinking that this is what the audience is coming here for, and with that positive mindset, the experience will be all the more fulfilling and invigorating.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
We want the film to play to as many people as possible. All of the above would help amplify the film's message.
But a sales agent who can find extra channels of distribution and getting the film further out there would be ideal. The biggest aim would be to play to 'regular' people. That's the hardest echo chamber for a short to break.
And of course, any filmmaker would hope a producer would see the film and like it enough to get in touch, and maybe help us get our first feature made. We're always on the lookout for collaborators.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
We would just really appreciate hearing from people who have enjoyed it. Because we're aware it's quite out there and not for everyone, it means that anyone who likes it must be on a similar wavelength, and is someone we'd like to hear from.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
Could this ever happen in the UK? Or in the US?
Would you like to add anything else?
Thanks for reading down to this point!
What other projects are the key creatives developing or working on now?
We've written a couple of comedy features that are so far doing quite well on the script competition circuit.
We're also about to shoot our next short. A very little experimental comedy.
And we're going to start writing a low budget horror feature after this summer, intended for ourselves to direct. Something scalable that allows us to make that first jump no matter what. It's always good to have a project like that on your slate.
Interview: June 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
Welcome To Britannia. Together We Stand Alone.
Director: Varun Raman & Tom Hancock
Producer: Varun Raman & Tom Hancock, Thomas Shawcroft, Peter Robinson
Writer: Varun Raman & Tom Hancock
About the writer, director and producer:
VARUN RAMAN and TOM HANCOCK are Parallel Madness - a UK-based writing and directing duo. Their first short, Transmission (shot on 35mm film), premiered at Fantasia, played at over 90 festivals and won 13 awards.
Key cast: James Hyland (Dr. Sam), Michael Shon (Leonard), Kelby Keenan (Joan)
Looking for: sales agents, distributors, producers, journalists, film festival directors, buyers
Facebook: PARALLEL MADNESS
Hashtags used: #Transmission35mm
Where can I watch it next and in the coming month? HollyShorts Monthly Screening at the TCL Chinese Theatre. Date TBC. Towards the end of the year.