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Categories: Interviews

The director goes in-depth on his new “ten-minute feature film.”

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Director John Perivolaris runs Random Clock Film Productions, who released their first film, Mona and the Stations of the Cross, in March 2016. Shot entirely in Glasgow, and written by C.J. Lazaretti, a previous Jammer of the Month, the film follows a young woman’s journey through the trials and tribulations of a troubled relationship, condensing all the usual steps of a feature into a “ten-minute film.” Cinema Jam caught up with John to discuss this unique project.

Mona and the Stations of the Cross” is introduced as a ten-minute feature. Why wouldn’t it qualify as a short film?

Have you watched a two-hour long film, where after an hour and a half you asked yourself, “when will this film start?” I’ve watched a lot of feature films like that, where very little happens, and I’ve watched even more short films that suffer from the same problem.

So, I was discussing this with C.J. Lazaretti, a fellow filmmaker I’ve known for years, and he brought up the idea of using Save the Cat’s screenwriting method as the basis for a film under ten minutes. Having read and used the book myself, I immediately commissioned him to write that script. The result is Mona and the Stations of the Cross: a ten-minute film that includes all the 15 plot points from a feature script structure, as outlined in Blake Snyder’s book.

I gather this is your first effort as a filmmaker. What is your background in film?

Before starting my production company and filming Mona and the Stations of the Cross, I spent a long time reading books on filmmaking. I became obsessed with figuring out what makes a movie work, from the story on the page to the visuals on the screen. When you first sit down to write a story or make a film, with no prior research, you think anything goes, and then you put everything on the page. You go with your guts, shoot what you can and hope viewers will like what comes out in the end.

Early on I realised that the process of directing a film can’t be that chaotic. So I studied. On my own, and a lot. When I felt comfortable with the medium, I put Mona and the Stations of the Cross together.

Could you explain a bit more about setting up your production company? How did that happen? How did you go about looking for funds and collaborators?

Even before I founded Random Clock Films, I knew the projects I wanted to work on were not the kind you only share with your friends and close relatives. I never found joy in vanity projects. A proper film is made to be shown to as many people as possible, and aims to entertain as many of them as possible. And you can only achieve that if you embrace film for what it is: a collaborative medium. 

I’ve met so many talented people working in film out there, not always getting the chance to work in films they cared about. I felt someone had to bring them together, to bring them into projects that are produced to be watched, not to be rushed out willy-nilly or shelved forever in someone’s external hard drive.

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Why kick off with this film? What are you trying to say with it?

The story of Mona and the Stations of the Cross, simple and elegant, is a brilliant way to demonstrate how much drama you can bring out in a short amount of time. Great drama can be achieved in films of any length or scale. When you remove all that’s unnecessary, every whisper is a scream. That’s how we ended up with a script that’s four and a half pages long.

There’s this line I love from Derek Jarman’s Caravaggio that says “nothing is more difficult than simplicity.” That’s the challenge I had in my head after I first read the script, and my objective throughout the production.

The choice of tone was something else that made me eager to develop this project. When a story is designed to be this simple, and yet deliver so much humour and pathos, how do you express it? What should its cinematography, production design, colour scheme and performance be like? In the end, I went with larger-than-life, non-realistic and farcical. It’s what makes the most sense for a film like this.

Of course, all these different components would never come together without the right performance. Miranda Langley, the actress portraying the title character, did wonders with the role. Her performance complements every other element found in the film, to the point that even the room she’s in becomes Mona. 

What genre would you qualify it as?

In its essence, Mona and the Stations of the Cross is a romantic comedy, but an unusual one. It’s so synthetic, almost like a catalogue of the usual themes and stories that have come to define the rom-com as we know it. Despite how exaggerated the film is, though, it never shies away from the serious relationship problems we all have to deal with. Women keep telling me how much they relate to Mona and the emotions she experiences during the course of the film, and I’m over the moon to hear it.

Could you tell us a bit more about the cross? Was it made specifically for the film?

When I began visualising the script, the crucifix in my mind had a very specific expression, one that no crucifix on this planet has. So I approached Stuart Thomson, a Glasgow-based special effects designer, and asked him to make one with a judgmental stare that would make your mother-in-law proud. The nearest thing to my vision that I could offer Stuart as a source of inspiration was a photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin. So this could have turned out real nasty.

The job Stuart did with this one photograph is unbelievable. I was expecting a crucifix in which Jesus Christ looked as if he’d just been asked to join the end of a long queue, or fill out an application form, and he gave me a pocket-sized Bill Murray. I soon noticed that the immovable expression on the cast had a Kuleshov effect of its own, suggesting different reactions according to Mona’s lines, faces and tantrums. During post-production, I would look at the footage and think “oh my God…this prop is literally performing!”

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Are you hoping to screen it? Or are you using the film as a calling card for future work?

Both, of course! As I said before, every film should be made to be watched. And to make that happen for a short film, is there a better place than a film festival? You get to see both lay and professional audiences experiencing your work, and then you can go and talk to them about it. Hear in person what they think, where the film touched them and where it missed them. At the same time, whatever is on that screen IS your calling card, and talking to people about it is you promoting it, building bridges.

The second most important thing a filmmaker should do is to attend film festivals. The first one is to make films. 

What is your next project? Anything in the pipeline? 

I am currently producing two short films, both based in Glasgow. The first one is a supernatural comedy titled Time of the Month, about a bloody but hilarious domestic argument between a vampire and a werewolf, and the other is a three-minute experimental drama called The Turtle Terminator, which follows a man who suffers a turtle bite that forever changes his love life. Each project comes with its own set of challenges: Time of the Month requires a great deal of practical special effects and makeup, and The Turtle Terminator an array of locations, a long list of props, and an even longer list of cast members. These requirements are unusual for short films, but I find them very fun to tackle, when the scripts are worth it.

On top of that, I’m currently reading through a growing pile of unsolicited scripts being submitted to Random Clock Films. Despite the company being less than a year old, we’re continuously receiving screenplays from writers around the UK, and a good deal of them can easily be turned into short, refreshing and engaging films. One thing is certain: as soon as Time of the Month and The Turtle Terminator are completed, two other projects will rise in their place in no time!

What do you hope to achieve as a filmmaker? 

I want to make movies that engage audiences in ways they don’t expect, and I want Random Clock Films to follow the same ethos. It’s one thing to entertain your audience with tested formulas, set-ups and stories they’ve seen a thousand times before. But there is something special in coming across a film that feels fresh, and when it’s over you just can’t think of anything else that’s quite like it.

It’s also important for me to achieve the above while keeping a highly professional mindset throughout every single production we work on. Young filmmakers with big dreams are always talking about giving a film 110 percent and that sort of pep talk, but no matter how big your ambitions are, this is still a job like any other. Of course, you don’t get into filmmaking if you don’t have ambitious dreams in the first place. But your dreams belong in front of the camera, and the best way to make them come true is to be grounded and professional behind the lens.

Mona and the Stations of the Cross is currently under submission to international film festivals. For more updates, visit the film’s official Facebook page

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Posted on May 5, 2016

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