CHRISTOPHER BUTLER INTERVIEW
Interview conducted by Simret Cheema-Innis
If there’s one film you need to see this week it should be The Scopia Effect. The journey of the film has its own neurosis and Chris Butler is able to share with us just what was involved over the three and a half years of the film’s making.
"It was the Eraserhead model of indie film making, you find a bit of money, do a bit of filming, find more money and do more filming! There's shots in Scopia where the close up was filmed three years after the wide shot, so there was magic continuity from the onset". Chris comments.
It’s this kind of dedicated film-making that makes watching Chris’s work even more of an interest, with a multi-layered storytelling style over various time periods and continents. The authenticity is striking, the worlds are believable and each place feels like a real moment in time. Chris is able to share just how this was possible. "I used two cinematographers, one for the past and one for the present. They were treated like different films. Each previous life was treated like a different film and the job was to weave them together into a tapestry that would assault the senses".
"It's one of the advantages you have when a film is independent because there's no real deadline. Just because you haven't got enough money, it doesn't mean you don’t have to allow people into your film that you don't think are completely convincing". Chris adds "We did lots of castings, we advertised on sites like Talent Circle and Shooting People and although we couldn't afford a casting agent, we had the luxury of time to get it right".
When delving into issues concerning the psychological, it can be easy for characters to fall into those clichéd, hands-flailing-crazy-bitch stereotypes. In Scopia, actress Joanna Ignaczewska plays Basia’s character with such conviction that it felt well researched and disturbing to watch because of the sting of reality forced upon the audience. "It's not fun because once you've got your lead actress, you now have to go and portray trauma, sadness and really dark content. The road to getting that authenticity can only be a dark one really," says Chris, explaining how the chosen style of method acting helped actress Joanna into character.
"We'd talk about really depressing things. She'd throw herself into those mentally, we'd try experiments where she was imagining her worst phobias in the room, and from those we started to develop methods that we could use on set," he says. Luckily there was a way to come out of those scenes mentally for Joanna. "She would always keep her iPod with happy songs, so when she was getting too traumatised, she could listen to some happy music. We had quite a few traumatising scenes we'd film in one day".
Some might say filming such challenging scenes as a director and making your cast relive traumatic moments repeatedly takes on a narcissistic kind of role "Absolutely," says Chris "It feels a bit mean, but you know throughout it that the actress or the talent are grateful to you. It's what they want as well. Sometimes when you go quite far and you don't shout ‘cut’, the crew are looking at you thinking 'you need to stop this’, but it's like you have to understand that you do this and you allow this happen, hence happy music".
Chris’s ability to write such a compassionate film surrounding the issues of mental health is down to his experience first hand. He tells me how real life provided the foundations of The Scopia Effect.
"A lot of Basia's character came from an ex-girlfriend of mine who developed mental illness when we were together. That was a very difficult time because I spent the best part of two years caring for her. She never quite got committed but there was talk of it".
"You begin to study someone you live with, care about and love who suffers from mental illness and you’re kind of responsible for them so you have to learn a lot about it. You realise how delicate you can become when your brain and your mind aren’t aligned as they should be and how devastating things can be when you're in that state. And when it comes to the staff, I just remembered she'd tell me about these therapy sessions and that's where the psychiatrist came from. That's the thing in life you just absorb things and write what you know".
The Scopia Effect isn’t your run of the mill film, spending time focusing on Basia’s daily routine, her life, friends and giving the audience time to connect with her character. It’s a clear mark of the director’s very deliberate choice in easing us slowly into the story. "I wanted the audience to start off almost underwhelmed in reality, almost like a kitchen sink drama because I knew what I was going to do to the audience," Chris adds, "I wanted the contrast between the end of the film and the beginning to be huge".
The topic of reincarnation is complex and ambitious, but this is one independent movie that has succeeded in delivering a primal-grandiose picture. With a lot of time invested in the subject matter, it’s I ask where his own beliefs on reincarnation lie. "I believe that everything goes somewhere in the Scopia," Chris says "It's my interpretation of implementing science into a human story and how that idea affects people's lives. I wouldn't say it's how I believe in it, but I do believe it's some kind of recycling in the universe".
And what does the universe have install for Chris now?
"I’m working on two movies. One is a horror film in the traditional sense, called Storm. It's about two young girls who ride out Hurricane Sandy in their tiny Manhattan apartment in New York. The electricity of the storm and various things are going to awaken this demon entity inside of the apartment, so they either embrace the storm or be trapped inside with the demon. Storm is like a creative detox after Scopia". he continues "Then there's a sci-fi film called Anomaly, which I'm still writing, which is my next baby. It’s about two astronauts that leave earth never to come back and go on a mind-bending odyssey involving quantum experimentation. That's my new epic film. That's about a year’s writing and it's my next big project I'm hoping to get a green light on this year".
"The next step is to find independent producers that can finance movies from sole financiers, not Kickstarter campaigns and I think that's the difference. After that I'd like to go the studios. But I want to enjoy the indie scene a bit more because I’ve still got some raw creativity left in me before I get told exactly what to do".
As previously commented in my review, Chris Butler is a director we should all be looking out for. His creative voyeurism is evident in the film providing you with scenes that will replay in your mind days and weeks after viewing.
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