The word ‘wunderkind’ is thrown around a lot. But it's pretty understandable in director Rob Savage's case, seeing as the 20-year-old's film Strings was made when he was only 18 and was nominated for Best Debut Feature at Raindance film festival. Wonderland talked to him about visual inspirations and going out there and making it – blood, sweat and tears included.
How did Raindance come about? And how does it feel your debut feature up there in front of an audience?
I actually submitted a really rough cut of the film, along with a handwritten letter scribbled on a crumpled bit of paper explaining that I had been toiling on the film since I was 18 – I asked that they look at my completed short films and promised that the film would be finished to that standard. They must have trusted me, and loved the film, because they premiered the film on the largest screen of the festival on the first day and nominated the film for Best Debut Feature. Fortunately we managed to repay that trust and our first screening sold out to a wonderful audience who gasped and laughed in all the right places. I had a double whiskey before the screening to calm the terror, but by the end I was almost enjoying watching the film! But so far the strangest and most wonderful moment was seeing a “sold out” sign next to the name of my first film. Very surreal.
Where did you get the idea for the story? Is it auto-biographical or based on people you know?
I started making the film as a short, just a semi-improvised piece starring my friends – it was made up of a series of revealing conversations between couples after they had sex, just buttoning up their shirts and making forced conversation. Then as I was uploading the rushes from the first days shoot there was a colossal power surge that fried my laptop and harddrive, losing all my footage. So I spent the next few months complaining and muttering that I really wanted to direct features and tell long-form stories – then after a while I became sick of hearing myself complaining about not being able to tell the stories that I wanted to and decided that the only thing stopping me was that I had decided it was impossible. So I started to expand the short film and develop the characters, using aspects of my own relationships and those I saw around me.
Who were your main visual inspirations for the plot of the film?
When I was 13 my dad put me in front of Apocalypse Now, which really blew my mind and made me realise that cinema was able to do more than just kill a couple of hours. From there it was Hitchcock and Dario Argento – I used to recreate sequences from their films as a teenager, before starting to make my own sub-par slasher films. The main influence for the visuals of Strings was Kieślowski, particularly the Three Colours trilogy: from the start I knew that Strings had to have a striking colour palette, rather than looking like a run-of-the-mill desaturated piece of boring social realism. I also make sure that I watch Soderbergh's Traffic the day before I shoot any film.
What are your feelings about getting into the film industry now? What advice would you give to someone who wants to make a film but doesn’t know how to start?
I know that I have began my career in a pretty atypical way, but the only advice I am confident in giving is that rather than talking about making something, waiting for funding or convincing yourself that the time isn't right – make what you can with the resources you have. Be hugely ambitious. Put your blood and sweat into a project and after it's finished you will step back and think: “How did I ever manage that?”
Words: Sophia Satchell Baeza