The Limelight Index: Si Horrocks – Writer/Director
Si Horrocks is a filmmaker with a passion for stories, and he achieved bringing his to the big screen on a bare budget and effectively a one-man crew. Here is his story:
What first sparked off your initial interest in filmmaking?
Through childhood I wanted to be a film director, but found myself going into music after school. Then a neighbour showed me a script he had written – he was a painter and decorator who also had a dream to make films. He’d saved enough money that he decided he was going to make a short, shot on S16mm. He spent about £8000, even hiring Stansted Airport for one scene. I was recruited to record sound (using an old reel-to-reel Nagra).
But I got involved in much more – running, assisting, set decorating, sound designing and even designed the promotional postcard. After this, my filmmaking passion was re-ignited.
Who are your influences?
Charles Laughton (although he only directed one film), Chris Marker, Orson Welles, Sophocles, William Shakespeare, Christopher Nolan, Philip K. Dick, Michael Moorcock, Darren Aronofsky, Jean Vigo, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (I tend to take this question literally, so this list is potentially nearing infinity.
You work at BFI’s IMAX cinema, are you not sick of ‘tent-pole’ cinema? Does this drive your passion for independent film?
I love films from all areas of filmmaking. I wouldn’t say I was sick of it, but working in this kind of cinema does give me the opportunity to watch films I would never normally see. Having to watch Avatar over 100 times was certainly a challenge. But sometimes you find a film which surprises you. Pixar’s Up had some very inspiring and moving moments.
Few arthouse, festival-oriented directors would admit this but… The Dark Knight gave me hope for ‘tent-pole’ films. I found the film to be more complex than I expected or at first realised. It has almost a Shakespearean grandness and depth of character. As in Shakespeare’s plays, the ‘villain’ is a sympathetic character – there’s a logic to his madness. Plus, he’s the only one in the film prepared to die for his beliefs and stick to them until the end. Meanwhile, all the supposedly good characters become corrupted and the film ends on a downbeat note.
I don’t think its good to dismiss anything. If I did, I would be as blinkered as the people who dismiss Third Contact without giving it a proper thought.
What drives my passion to be independent when making films is the need to express my ideas and stories without having to work to the agenda of someone who doesn’t have empathy for what I’m trying to do. Being a truly independent filmmaker means my work is between me and my audience and the work doesn’t have to be corrupted by the often uncreative and unsympathetic system which has evolved to fund films – not just through the studio, but also the public and private equity funding systems.
How did your debut feature Third Contact come about?
It’s a long story: http://thirdcontactmovie.com/makingof.html
You shot the film almost single-handed, how did it feel working with such a small crew?
Great. I never at any moment wished I had a bigger crew. Life would have been slightly easier with a trained sound recordist/boom, and perhaps a production manager.
With such a small crew, things usually moved very quickly. Organising a team can be a job in itself. For example, when we shot the park scene at night, I forgot to bring the boom, so Scott couldn’t do sound. What we found was that, as Jannica was the only one with lines, she could hold the mic just below the edge of the frame. So, for that scene all, we needed was me and 2 actors.
This meant I was completely free to experiment with shots, almost documentary style. And of course it has a bit of that feel to it.
Sometimes I had to multi-task. There is one shot where Jannica is coming out of the crematorium and while I was filming handheld I was also negotiating the expenses fee with the actor who was to play the cab driver, over the phone. If you watch that shot with the sound from the camera you can hear me negotiating.
You’ve, independently, managed to generate a staggering buzz surrounding your film, any tips on your marketing strategies for this?
The important thing is to spend time making friends, just like in any situation or any business. To succeed in any walk of life, you need friends and allies.
When you’re using social media, you soon realise that everyone is shouting at each other and nobody is listening. I took the opposite approach, most of the time. I decided to have quiet conversations with people while everyone else was shouting.
I thought it was better to have 5 connections on twitter who are good friends than 500 who don’t care what I’m doing. Twitter is like a big networking party and it works pretty much the same way. If someone is just talking about themselves the whole time, you make your excuse and move on. But once in a while you find a connection and common interest and then you form a stronger relationship.
I felt it was important that as many people got to know me and what I’m trying to do, so I added a blog to the website and wrote about the things I was passionate about. People seem to get inspired by the story of how I made the film as much as the film itself so I pushed both in equal measure.
Your philosophies appear to be very spiritually and psychologically influenced, can we expect these themes to be cast in your film?
My interests are more psychological than spiritual. Ghosts and spirits and unreliable memories are all psychological, to me. They all reflect the state of mind of the one experiencing them.
Any important dates for the films future?
Since the global premiere of the film on Sept 2nd, people have been asking how they can see the film. Some of the fans of the film have started to set up ‘cinema on demand’ screenings of the film in their town, around the world, starting with Zurich (22nd Jan) and Antwerp (16th Jan).
Are there any other projects in the works we should know about?
I’ve got 3 projects in various stages of development, including a film/graphic novel which is a kind of follow up to Third Contact. Plus I’ve also been asked to collaborate on an architecture project involving narrative.
Finally, can you give any parting advice for young filmmakers on the industry?
Go your own way. Learn by doing, not following others. Watch as many films as you can, from 100+ years of filmmaking. The ‘industry’ is overcrowded, so how do you stand out from the crowd? By having your own unique voice – there is no long term career to be made by making yet another zombie movie (unless you come up with a brilliant new take on it).
The industry also operates on the wisdom of the self-fulfilling prophecy. If they all say something is not commercial and don’t back it then it will fail and they will feel justified. It all about proving them wrong. Go out there, back yourself and never listen to the naysayers.
The stuff Si is talking about here is extremely intriguing and positive. Here is someone who cares about people getting their stories told without them being filtered out by various investors, but nevertheless he still loves all routes of filmmaking and says that you shouldn’t dismiss anything. Give everything a chance and give yourself a chance by getting out there and making something even if you do have to be handling a phone call whilst shooting (Spielberg would go mad)!
Photography courtesy of Daniel Stocker http://www.danielstockerphotography.com