So where did the idea of focusing on broadcasting come from?
I’ve been wanting to make a film related to psychiatry and mental health for some time. For many years I’ve been involved in producing mental health training videos for a University and hospital teaching unit, so I’ve been somewhat immersed in the subject. With the recent revelations by Edward Snowden, of mass data gathering and monitoring by our secret services, I thought it would be apt to combine a paranoid, anxious psychosis with issues of surveillance or spying. The film draws upon real-life accounts of a schizophrenic disorder called ‘thought broadcasting’, in which a person believes their thoughts are being transmitted and heard by others.
Can you tell us a bit more about the selection of filming locations?
I’ve been struck by the proliferation of mobile phone masts in the urban and rural landscape. They are now everywhere, and have become almost invisible to us on a daily basis, despite being so prominent. Most of the phone masts were filmed in my home city of Manchester. I also filmed in an abandoned broadcast television station, plus an actual psychiatric training video unit – which is where I shot the role-play sequences. The other main location is Menwith Hill, Yorkshire. This is the military base which is effectively run by the United States’ NSA (National Security Agency), with massive white ray domes used for covert listening and incerception.
Why did you choose to have a voice over?
I usually work in layers of sound, combining voice-over, archive audio, location sounds and the soundtrack score performed by Lord Mongo. It’s a method of collage, and I am interested in how an image is altered by the addition or manipulation of sound. It has a transformative power, in a way that only cinema can achieve I believe. The voice-over is mainly from a patient role-play, and I wanted more visual interest and contrast with visuals from a wider, external landscape. I didn’t want to use actors really, wanting a very natural feel to the voices, rather than a dramatic interpretation. So I’m grateful that my friends did such a good job, with Alan Creedon playing the patient, and Adele Jordan and Andrea Zapp the psychiatrists. Fellow artist Clara Casian stood in as the AV technician in the film, observing and documenting the recording.
How did you work on the sounds and vibrations?
It’s nearly all from the composer Lord Mongo. He creates these amazing tracks based on a mere hint or suggestion from me. Sometimes this is just a phrase or word, which is enough for Lord Mongo fire up his imagination, work late at night in trance-like state of mind, and conjure up these evocative, atmospheric scores. He uses a whole range of tools and devices, such as a MiniBrute synth, guitar, flute, hammer, scrunched leaves…which he manipulates and molds into something. He doesn’t see any actual video footage until the film is completed.
What are your interests as a filmmaker? What are you keen to experiment with in a future project?
I’m interested in the documentary form, but from a visual artist background and approach. The subjects usually relate to the interconnections between natural, cultural and social history. Cross-pollinations or hybrid works which present oblique, layered narratives, photographed in direct response to particular locations, without much in the way or prior planning. My film work has emerged from a fine art painting background, so the visual dynamics or unique properties of ‘moving pictures’ is paramount to me. I’m also interested in how fictional genres such as sci-fi or horror can be combined or used in interesting ways within the documentary format. I’m currently working on a new film called Intentional Community, made in collaboration with Clara Casian. It’s a documentary portrait of Braziers Park School of Integrative Social Research, in Oxfordshire. Alongside archive material and portraits of the extraordinary gothic house and grounds, it features interviews with residents and members of the collective, which is modelled as an experiment in the ‘art and science of living together’. It has a fascinating and unique ‘psychosocial’ organizational structure. It’s also home to Supernormal Festival, where we’ll be showing the work later this year.
How was the Clermont-Ferrand festival? Any films that you’d recommend?
The festival was an excellent experience. This was my third visit to Clermont, following my previous films The Atom Station and The Rising being selected also. But luckily this time Lord Mongo was able to attend, having composed the soundtrack for all three films. Great to meet other film-makers, programmers, curators and see many astonishing short films. Some highlights for me included Decorado, directed by Alberto Vázquez, an incredibly dark, disturbing and hilarious animation, and L’exilé du temps, directed by Isabelle Putod – a very intelligent and sensitive combination of archival imagery, voice-over and incredible macro photography. Very focussed and immersive cinema.