The mind perhaps is the scariest tool a writer, filmmaker, artist or monster may have. To lose that mind whether by trauma, disease, age or choice is even scarier. Starring the talented actor Nicholas Vince (the Hellraiser Franchise and Nightbreed), rising UK filmmaker Katie Bonham (Doll and The Paper Round) team up with a brilliant crew to cultivate a tale making your question the line of psychological horror in MINDLESS. Jay Kay was lucky enough here on THE BLOOD SHED to speak with Katie about casting, colors and camera angles surrounding this chilling tale of man on the brink…
Jay Kay: Katie, it is always great to speak with you about your film work and growing career. MINDLESS delves into something I have first-hand experience and belief in, the idea of what happens when you grow older and you not only lose your mind but the perception of that person’s world around them. Talk to me about the moment that this short form film came together for you and was it personal at all for you?
Katie Bonham: Absolutely, MINDLESS first came together when I was trying to figure out what my next short film should be. My intended follow-up to THE PAPER ROUND was supposed to be KEEPSAKE, but the film gods were ultimately against me, and, in hindsight, this was probably the best thing that could have happened. I had to go back to the drawing board and work out what kind of a story I wanted to tell and how I wanted to tell it. It had to be a small self-funded budget, minimal crew and intensely focused on story and characters. I had grown up working in a care home for the elderly and witnessed first- hand the reality of growing older. The fears and respect due to venerable adults, despite illness, actions and past lives. This was a very personal story for me, understanding the elderly and focusing on the fact that they are humans in need and that empathy is key.
So, I wanted to tell a story about a vulnerable adult with the on-set of Alzheimer’s, who is at war with the people who have been elected to look after him. I think the audience is torn between who they are positioned with (Peter) and the caregivers, who are trying to look after him. I really wanted to comment on the social status of being an elderly person in the UK and how their voice and independence is something that should remain and be respected throughout their lives, regardless of the help they may require. It’s a basic human right.
JK: Why tap Nicholas Vince for the role of Peter? What was the intangibles he brought to this production?
KB: I originally approached Nicholas to play a very small role in KEEPSAKE, so when I wrote MINDLESS I put him as the lead, luckily he loved the role of Peter and agreed to be a part of it. I really wanted Nicholas to play Peter because his character is so complex and has an understated eeriness to him. I knew that it would really push Nick’s talent and showcase his great range. Previously we had seen Nicholas in iconic roles from HELLRAISER and NIGHTBREED, both great films, but I thought it would be interested to strip away the make-up and focus on the actor and the story he has to tell as Peter.
Nicholas is such a pleasure to work with, very dedicated and really fun. We talked a lot about Peter and his motives. I have a open policy with all the actors I work with, if a line or a reaction doesn’t feel right we discuss, review and, if need be, adapt it, in order to create the most natural and engaging performance possible. Myself and Nick really understood each other and were able to develop such a wonderful performance in the role of Peter.
JK: Can you talk about directing Nicholas’s expressions and body language both under distress and at ease watching TV?
KB: It was something I witnessed during my time as a caregiver. I wanted to comment on the dependence on technology and the laziness of families to engage with their relatives. It was also a homage to Douglas Sirk’s 1955 film, ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS, in which a widowed woman’s children buy her a television set as a surrogate companion, after they have split up her and her new love interest, and later decide to move away from her.
This is an idea that I wanted to highlight, when technology is used not as entertainment but as a compensation for human interaction, something that is really heartbreaking. For Peter he has become dependent on the TV as a lifeline to the outside world. So, I wanted to focus on his reactions and emotions to the TV, from being confused by it, too it comforting him. He clings to the TV for reassurance and to ultimately exist, making a connection within his confusing and lonely environment.
JK: MINDLESS is a very bare bones production with very simple sets, camera movements and production design. Talk about those around you in the UK film community that you looked for support, resources and insight? How was the blocking and camera space in Peter’s house?
KB: Indeed it was very bare bones! Well I didn’t have a lot of money so I really had to be frugal and try to focus on the story. I had made a few shorts before and had luckily met some really talented people along the way, so I called in a lot of favors and thankfully the cast and crew loved the script. I had some great friends in the industry who always told me story was paramount, everything else could be forgiven if the story was strong enough.
I was also fortunate enough to work for a camera house so access to camera kit was not a problem. For Peter’s house, I called upon a friend who owned a place near my hometown, which is what I usually do, ask around for houses and sets from friends, as locations can be very expensive. Luckily my friend came through and we had full reign for two days to shoot, which was integral to creating Peter’s world.
I had previously talked to Matt Camlin (DOP) and he was really interested in the story, so we met and discussed the project. I was completely honest about how low the budget was and together we worked through these restraints, from using a minimal crew to working within such a tight space. We spent a long time blocking the script and did at times struggle to work within such confinement, but we persevered and had to be creative in shot choices and camera set ups. It’s just another struggle of indie film-making. We all mucked in on set, two people in the camera department covering all aspects of a camera crew, I drove the kit, set designed, the list goes on. I think we had a crew of 7 in total during principle photography.
JK: Talk to me about the camera movement and focal points for MINDLESS? What did you and DP Matt Camlin do to achieve those levels, focal points and movements that the viewer must follow to build the tension and chaos of the narrative? Why pan around the room towards the end?
KB: We discussed using a static style not only due to economy and spatial limitations, but also because I am a fan of long static shots, which allow story and characters to take over the space and become the focal point. By not cutting or moving away, we are witness to time unfolding before our eyes, allowing performances to breathe and evolve whilst the weight of time allows us to experience the one thing that ageing makes more apparent: mortality. The spatial constraints allow us to focus on Peter’s environment as one of suffocation and contemplation. It, for me, has an authenticity, carried in such minute details such as a gesture or slight improvisation made by the actors in order to create the story’s realism. It embodies the essence of who they are and how the feel when no integral action is the focus of the shot, but instead we see them play out into ‘real’ time.
I believe it’s important not to ‘spoon feed’ the audience as I like them to have more freedom in how they perceive and interpret the story, and so, in turn, I favor wide compositions so the viewer has time and space to process those characters existing in their environment with as fewer prompts as possible. So even as the tension and climax of the story built, we still tried to stay as static and understated as possible; the performance of the characters and the music were the cues that we wanted to focus on.
Thanks for asking me about the pan shot at the end, I don’t think anyone has ever asked! I wanted to pan across the pictures towards the end of the film to determine the amount of people Peter knew, relatives and friends, who were no longer present in his life, or had effectively abandoned him. It also hints at the life and character of who Peter ‘used’ to be as a younger man, an unknown story and a different lifetime of the man we see today in the film.
JK: That is a truly sad visual at the end… Any connection with color as we see with each character having a certain solid color on their chest?
KB: Yes, we were very conscious of character’s costume colors in this film. Peter (Vince) wears a washed out grey color throughout as I wanted his character to have the appearance of blending into the background and becoming part of the set, invisible and unimportant, representing how he feels and how he is treated by the care staff. He has essentially become part of his environment – the only place he feels safe and must protect, which he tries to do as he moves unseen in motive and menace throughout the story.
For Judy (Katy Danbury), her red tabard was key in presenting her temperament and attitude towards this job and Peter, she wants to get in and get out, her level of empathy and caring is basically non-existent, but as you may have noticed, her red tabard blends in with the red carpet in the lounge, a signifier to the climatic ending in which she becomes invisible and part of Peter’s ‘world’. I think color is such an integral part of filmmaking and the grader and I spent a lot of time getting the balance right to convey Peter’s world.
JK: There is a moment that bridges to the final revelation of Peter’s condition. In the shed, we see that insane moment that is balanced on reveal and the viewer’s imagination. Can you talk about the planning, execution and editing of that to make it as effective as it is?
KB: I really wanted the shed reveal shot to be as concise and dramatic as possible so I didn’t want to show the audience the full action, but rather smash cut it for ultimate impact. It is such a violent shot and is the moment the story really opens up. I didn’t think the audience needed to see the actual impact as their imaginations fill in the blanks, which most times can create something more horrific than anything you as the director can show them. It’s a harsh, grotesque shot but that was exactly what we wanted to create.
It’s such a short shot, but it speaks a thousand words. Finally, we have clarification of Peter and his motives (or do we), but I feel like audiences still find it hard to villainize him – he is an unwell man and not in full control of himself. Actions like this are rarely good and evil, it’s the grey area in between in a story like this that is the most interesting.
JK: What was the phase of the production that MINDLESS came together?
KB: Definitely in post-production during the edit. My editor David Malcolm was an absolute life saver. I always worry after I have shot a film, as being on set it’s such a stressful and surreal experience for me that afterward I start to over-think what we have shot and worry that it won’t make sense etc. I received a rough cut of MINDLESS within a week of delivering the hard drive to Dave.
He has such dedication, creativeness and just general determination to get this film right and to troubleshoot any issues, to which there were a few; he learnt new techniques and went above and beyond to ensure this film was ready for festival deadlines. I couldn’t have done it without him.
JK: How was the festival run for Mindless? How has it changed with each short overall?
KB: Each short has grown in festival success. My first film, DOLL, was more of a test run in my abilities and to determine if film-making was something I wanted to do. The PORCELAIN GROUND was shot for the “Shortcut to Hell” competition, in which you had to create a micro short based off of a feature idea, if you won they awarded you money to make the feature. I was lucky enough to make it to the final 9 in the UK and it was released as an anthology on “iTunes”.
THE PAPER ROUND was my third film and premiered at “Frightfest” Glasgow, but MINDLESS is definitely the strongest yet, playing at over fifteen film festivals across the UK and the US. It also held its World Premiere at “Frightfest”, which, for me, was two years in a row screening a world premiere there. MINDLESS also won two awards for “Best Foreign Film” from US film festivals, which was absolutely amazing and it also played as part of Mental Awareness charity week in Glasgow, which was a great honor.
JK: Mindless is your fourth short going back to 2014. How has that journey been as student? If I may ask, as a female filmmaker also?
KB: It has been challenging and amazing, but yeah, definitely challenging. When I decided to make my first film I had no idea what I was doing. So, I called upon my DOP friend and we spent the weekend shooting DOLL. DOLL is by no means groundbreaking, it’s low budget, has dodgy sound, bad production design, but it created a passion and drive within me to create film, especially entwining social drama with magical elements.
Every time you make a film, you think you have everything covered, but then suddenly a random unexpected problem occurs. You have to learn to adapt and take challenges head on, be creative and overcome them. It never ends, it never gets easier, but when your film touches an audience member whose mother is in a care home and they come up to you to say how much they related to your film, it all becomes worth it.
I have been pretty lucky as a female filmmaker, all of the cast and crews I have worked with have been respectful and I have never been made to feel like a female director, just a director on a set trying to create art. There have been instances with acquaintances where it was clear that my gender was at the forefront of their motive and I have always been quick to sever ties and warn fellow female creatives of the person in question.
JK: Everything you that has your finger print on it, you have written and directed from what I see. Why stay the course of your work and not branch out onto other film projects?
KB: To be honest I really enjoy writing and directing collectively on projects, especially as my films can be quite unique in their story and genre. I have been recently approached to write a horror series to which I am very interested in doing. I am not against branching out into other film projects at all, but at the moment I have freedom to write and direct as I please, which is something that is key in being creative and one of the only perks to being an indie filmmaker.
JK: What is next for you and where can we find out more?
KB: My next short film MAB is currently in post-production. MAB is my longest short to date and really encompasses the magical realism genre that I love so much. I am so excited to show this film to the world, it is unlike anything I have ever done before and a big step up from my previous films. I really hope audiences like it. I was lucky enough to work with DOP Sashi Kissoon (Stalled) who is a great talent and really bought this story to life visually, we shot on 6k “Red Dragon” with Anamorphic lenses, and the edit is looking stunning. We used amazing locations, stunning set designs, FX makeup, countless rehearsals and some of the best cast and crew in the industry at the moment. I’m so excited for people to see it.
I am also on board “Hex Media’s” anthology demon feature, which I will be filming shortly. And I have just completed a feature film which explores the foster care system, which I plan to start filming next year. Other than that, I am working full time and just trying to stay as creative as possible. The best way to find out about my projects is to follow my Twitter or Facebook.
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