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Categories: Interviews

The director details the inspiration and production behind his raw new short.

Manos Ioannou Profile

Manos Ioannou is a Cyprus-born and London-based writer and director with a breadth of experience in music videos, documentaries, commercials and fashion films. A 2014 graduate of the London Film School, Manos has since worked commercially with Vogue Japan, Numero Tokyo and Stella Magazine.

Recently, Manos has made his first foray into narrative short with the visceral Dilip’s Castle. Inspired by a scary encounter Manos had with a mysterious man on the night of a bender, Dilip’s Castle is dark, raw and textured film that captures a night in London. It stars Jonathon Kemp as Sidney, and Sidney Kean as Dilip. I spoke with Manos to learn more about the film.

“Dilip’s Castle” is based on a personal experience – can you tell me more about that?

It’s a funny story, really. Similar circumstances to the protagonist, Sidney. I had to deal with a few things, and I went on a bender, and I remember I was at this off-license, and this guy walked in, and it was the way he was carrying himself. He started talking to me, and he had this charisma, and I was just drawn to him for whichever reason. And then we started talking, and I realized there was more to him than meets the eye initially – when you see somebody and you have all these preconceptions, and then suddenly you see he’s very different. And then we started walking and everything and he’s like “would you like to come back to mine? We’re having a party, let’s just go back to mine and crash,” and I was like “o.k., yeah, that sounds awesome and fun.”

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So I went there, and it was this weird completely surreal world that I walked into. As soon as I walked in – I will never forget – he was like “sit here, I’ll just go grab a few things,” and then suddenly he comes back with this woman, and they sit down, and it’s like “oh, meet Manos…and he was like, oh, meet [whoever],” and she just sat down next to me and she just started completely, out of the blue, like flirting with me and basically he was kinda like pushing her to me, then suddenly all these people started to appear, and out of nowhere from what I remember, and it got a little bit more dangerous than I’d originally expected, so…like, they gradually got aggressive, and they started smoking heroin, and I was trapped in this living room and I see everyone doing heroin, and I was like “o.k., maybe it’s time to go home, home sounds really sweet right now.”

So what I did was, I saw him coming towards me and becoming progressively more threatening, and it was a ground floor, I was in the living room right by the window, and at some point I just said “yeah, I’m just gonna go to the bathroom,” and everyone was just focused on that and going “nooo, the bathroom is this way,” and I just opened the window and jumped right out, and I just started running. And I remember by the end, I reached my flat and I walked in – the sun was rising at that point – and I remember sitting in my living room, and it was like it’s a new day, it’s a new dawn, and I was thinking did that really happen? Did that whole thing transpire? And I was so confused and so excited that I just wanted to write about that, and I guess that was the emanating point for Dilip’s Castle.

So which parts of the film were fictionalized?

A lot of things. I would say that was just like a platform to elevate the story to what I wanted it to be. Dilip is a completely different character from the actual person that I met, and of course nothing extreme happened, but the whole journey I would say is more or less the same, in terms of – I didn’t know where I was going.

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Was there any part of the film that was especially challenging to organize?

The most challenging part, I would say, is that I wanted the whole film to be nighttime, so it had to be a night shoot. The bulk of the story took place at the flat, so we had to find a whole location, a house that we could film for at least three days; Alex Grigoras, the DoP, and Jennifer Eriksson, we sat down and we figured out that we needed three days to shoot all the scenes in the house, and it’s really expensive to rent actual film locations. And Jennifer had this amazing idea, she came to me and she said “why don’t we Air BnB a place, and we just say to the owner that we’re gonna be filming, it’s as if we’re staying” and we did stay, because the whole crew and cast lived in the house for three days, so that created an organic workspace, because we would sleep at the very same place that we were working.

We’d wake up, and my crew was there, my cast is there, so I can just discuss the next scenes with them and everything, and keep this kinda homey environment to, in three days, knock all the scenes out. Just having the opportunity to be there for three days straight, it gave me a better understanding of the space, and what we could do with that space. I don’t shoot with shot lists; the way I work is, we just work in the space with the DoP, and I’d rehearse a few times with the actors and see how they move and everything, and then we’d just say “camera here, camera here, camera here.”

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And given that’s the way I work, having found the house from the Air BnB angle, I think that was really awesome. From now on I know we have that opportunity to Air BnB, and meet the owner and just say “listen, we are a professional crew, we’re gonna keep all all our equipment in the basement, safe, there’s not gonna be any damage to the house, and thank you for giving us your space to make this film.” And the owner was really great with us. He came in, he met us, he saw that we were serious about this and super professional, so I think that alleviated his anxiety a little bit of having a film crew in his house. And I think in the end he liked the film, as well, so that did kinda work in our favor.

What did you learn about yourself as a director when making this project?

I like to experiment a lot. I like trying things, and if I don’t try something, then I won’t know if it works or not. And the initial idea was to shoot 60mm, the cost would’ve been insane, and there was no reason to do that whatsoever, so we shot on the Blackmagic Pocket, which kinda simulates Super 16, and we just used old Panavision lenses from the 70s that are Super 16, and nobody was using, so they were really cheap to rent, but as a director I’d say I learned a few things about me.

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Besides experimenting, I’m more concerned about my actors, I love working with actors – for me, my crew is the actors, that’s my department. I just love working with actors. Love rehearsing with them, I love figuring out the story and the characters.

Also, I love incorporating the whole crew into the look and feel that I’m going for. I wanted everyone to know what I was going for. We did makeup tests, we did camera tests, for location hunting, both our art direction and production designer Alex Ward and Alex Grigoras would come with me, and we would all three figure out how the location works. It was important to me that they put in the film their artistic vision, and their interpretation of the script.

I love incorporating the whole crew into the look and feel that I’m going for.”

Speaking of different interpretations – did the film change in any major way as it went along?

Oh yeah. That’s the beauty of filmmaking, you’re rehearsing with the actors and everything, and then you go though the script. I’m all for improvisation. If the actors have something to contribute I wanna hear it. But they were really, really loyal to the script, really loyal. I guess they loved the pace of the lines and everything, and I said to them “if it doesn’t make sense to you, you can change a few things,” and I wanted that to be coming from the actors.

For a specific change – with the choreography of Sidney getting on the floor by the guy that was tied up on the chair; that guy, Mike Mitchell, bear in mind, was ex-SAS, so he’s military-trained and everything, so he knew exactly how to do the whole thing, but professionally. He would just grab Sidney and push him around like a rag doll; he was on it, like full-on commando mode. And I remember when we were on set, I said to him “listen, you’re not SAS anymore, so I want you to be scared when you do that.“

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And that’s the thing, cause in my mind I didn’t have the clarity of how he does that, how goes from full-on fear to apprehending Sidney, so when I initially met the actor, he told me the story of his first mission as SAS, so I just took him aside and just said to him “o.k., no more notes from this point on, I just wanna remind you of that first mission when we were first talking, and I want you to remember that mission throughout, I want you to remember that fear that you had,” and I just laid back, and I went to the monitor cause I was in a separate room and I was like “o.k., let’s go, do what you want.”

That whole choreography of him standing up and doing that awkward pushing-down, that was all him, that was all him. And I was like o.k., this is it, now the scene works. In my mind I had it a bit different, the whole choreography, but in the end, Martin did his own thing, and it made more sense, it made the scene work. And it all comes down to what I kept saying to my cast, “if you don’t mean it, don’t do it.” Because it won’t make sense, we’re gonna see it on camera if you don’t mean it.

What have been some of the more interesting reactions people have had to the film?

I would say primarily it’s the sex scene that has quite an appeal with an audience. A lot of dudes will come to me and they’ll say “oh my god, that happened to me as well! I was with this girl, and it was going well, and I thought I was top of the world, and then suddenly this happens!” And I was like “dude, that happens to, I would say 95% of the male population,” it’s just that dudes don’t feel comfortable talking about that.

And that’s what I find really, really interesting, because I didn’t wanna do a conventional sex scene where, you know, everything is perfect and man and woman meet and it’s the universe coming together and everything makes sense, I don’t think that’s how it really works out or pans out. Most of the time, it’s awkward and weird, and unsettling maybe, it’s because we’re humans, we’re human beings. It doesn’t make sense that every sex scene has to be perfect.

Manos is currently writing another short and developing some short documentaries. Find out more about his work at manosioannou.com

Cameron Johnson

Cameron Johnson is a writer and filmmaker born in England, based in Michigan, USA, and currently living in Enniscrone, Ireland. He writes about all things entertainment with a speciality in film criticism. He has been working on films ever since middle school, when his shorts "Moving Stateside" and "The Random News" competed in the West Branch Children's Film Festival. Since then he's written and directed a number of his own films and worked in many different crew jobs. Follow him on Twitter @GambasUK and look at his daily film diary at letterboxd.com/gambasUK.

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Posted on Apr 4, 2016

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