Today, we’re presenting the premiere of Gillian Harker’s new Super 8 short Jinx. Created as a submission for the Straight 8 competition, which sees filmmakers confined to the use of one Super 8 cartridge with no editing, Harker has delivered a folklore-inspired short of intimate revenge. When a young woman, portrayed by Harker herself, sees her ex-boyfriend walk into the bar she’s in – she heads to the bathroom to consolidate herself. It’s there where she discovers a voodoo doll which offers her a unique level of control over her old partner’s new lover. Harker embraced the competition’s limitations and has created a short which is gripping and atmospheric, that sports the essence of cinema’s classical past. Watch the film now and read our interview below to learn more.
What inspired you to take part in the Straight 8 competition?
Last year, I saw Mark Jenkin’s Bait which was shot on Kodak 16mm, black and white. Now, in all honesty and probably quite shamefully, that didn’t mean too much to me but I loved the film, the aesthetic and the almost-tangible atmosphere that was created by using celluloid. It was the first time I’d properly paid attention to the use of celluloid as a creative tool in story-telling, rather than just a way to make a film. Immediately, I knew I wanted to shoot something on film at some point, even though I knew very little about it. I guess, subconsciously, I thought I’d feel like a real filmmaker if I shot something on film! All the greats have made films this way, after all.
I’d heard about the Straight 8 competition before: a mate of mine had DP-ed on one, I’d come across Edgar Wright’s Straight 8 film online and I was shown some brilliant previous films. I loved Alice Lowe and Jacqueline Wright’s Sticks and Balls. The experimental nature of some of the films felt very freeing to me and I knew that I needed the opportunity to explore, experiment and expand my creative range, particularly at this early stage in my filmmaking career. But, it was waking up at 3am on a December morning in the middle of an existential panic that made me actually take the plunge and put my name down for the Straight 8.
What made you want to tell a story of revenge via a voodoo doll?
One of my favourite short stories is Thomas Hardy’s The Withered Arm. The protagonist learns her ex-lover, and father to her illegitimate child, has just got married to a beautiful, younger woman. Her curiosity and jealously of the new bride quickly becomes a dark obsession and the story takes a gory, supernatural turn with devastating consequences. It’s incredible.
Anyway, about five years I wrote a really, really, really and truly dreadful short script based, very loosely, on this brilliant Hardy story, but set today. I was really interested in exploring the idea of jealousy, particularly between women, loneliness and obsession present in The Withered Arm, and I loved the supernatural element in the original story. The idea for the doll came from exploring and researching folk magic and witchcraft in Old England. Poppets were dolls made to represent a person, for casting spells on that person, sometimes love spells, but often harmful, vengeful spells. I quite liked the idea of exploring the reasons for wanting to use one of these dolls on someone, and it was particularly fascinating to think about its use for revenge. I wish I had a more scholarly answer as to why I was interested in exploring themes of revenge and jealously, but I had just come out of a long-term relationship so the bitter, jealous, vengeful side of me was threatening to rear its ugly head so I thought maybe it would be best to channel those feelings in a healthy, creative way!
When I actually entered Straight 8, I didn’t have any idea what the script was going to be. I wrote an entirely different script for it, which I was stubbornly trying to make work. It just wasn’t and I was close to just pretending I hadn’t entered the Straight 8, and was hoping to forget all about it. Then I saw some excellent gothic shorts at London Short Film Festival, including Backwoods, written by Neil Fox, and Hard, Cracked the Wind by Mark Jenkin and, suddenly, I was struck with the idea of making a gothic story, knowing the use of Super 8 would be well suited to the genre.
I remembered the early draft I’d written inspired by the Hardy story, so I dug it out, re-drafted it, took out all the cringy dialogue, and stuck to three pages, and voila – I had Jinx!
How did the limitations of the competition aid your creativity?
I knew any dialogue would be incredibly hard to sync up, so, right from the off, I decided to make a silent film. That forced me to have to think very visually. Also, with it only being shot on one roll of Super 8, I knew that every frame was precious and every moment needed to advance the plot. It was really exciting actually, having those limitations. Because I was also acting in it, I also knew that the limitations of the competition would provide an excellent opportunity to really think carefully about my performance. I’ve been too vague and wishy-washy with my character intentions in other work, and for this I had, to try at least, to nail the intention in each take. There was no rescuing a bad performance in the edit suite after! I also loved the chance to go a bit mad and over the top! Super 8 allows for slightly heightened performances.
Knowing we only had one take to nail each shot meant finding rehearsal time leading up to the shoot was key. I love rehearsing with actors, and Maddy and Joe were excellent. I always think magic comes out in the rehearsal room, and this was no exception. On the day of the shoot, everyone was on top of their game. We only had the location for five hours, and we had about 24 shots to shoot in that time. Mad when you think about it. Fortunately, everyone was hyper-focused and made excellent creative contributions to Jinx.
It has a really eerie atmosphere too, what were you looking to evoke with the visuals and the music?
Well, just by using the Super 8 roll, the eerie atmosphere is almost guaranteed. The location was also great. We shot in the Bull and Gate pub, in Kentish Town. I’d spent ages traipsing across London on the world’s slowest, longest and soberest pub-crawl, with my 1st AD Edwin Miles, looking at about 20 or so pubs, trying to find the right location, and I came across this one by accident!
I love creating mood boards, and I’m pretty old fashioned so they are all cut, glue and paste jobs. My mood board for this was an eclectic mix of visuals. One of my favourite films is Bergman’s Cries and Whispers; I look to that film frequently for inspiration. The close-up shots of pain and anguish in that film are so emotionally overwhelming, memorable and cinematically eloquent; I tried to capture just a fraction of that, if I could. I was really drawn to the work of Edvard Munch too, not just The Scream, but his other works which all depict mental illness, self-loathing, isolation and loneliness in such vividly harrowing, heart-breaking ways. The raw, devastation leaps off the canvas and I wanted, desperately, to capture some of that genius in my film. I was really struck by the iconic images of Heath Ledger as The Joker with the smeared red lips, which I echoed for the first moment of possession. I hoped to evoke from that a sense of madness, unbalance and the thirst for violence the protagonist has.
For the choreography and movement visuals, we looked at moments from The Exorcist, and images of contortionists to try to evoke the feeling of violence being inflicted on Maddy’s character, and the fear and pain she would be in having been possessed. Pretty creepy stuff. Maddy, with her extensive stage combat experience, was instrumental in creating the violent movements. And Joe was excellent with his instincts in reacting to her movements and conveying that sense of helplessness.
For the music, I wish I could take the credit. That’s the genius of Daisy Coole and Tom Nettleship of Two Twenty Two. I met with them in Picturehouse Central the day after we shot. I’d sent them the test shoot footage with the estimated timings of shots, a few days before. I showed them my mood board, some BTS photos, taken by James Corrigan, and just fired some random, incoherent adjectives and abstract nouns at them. They nodded politely, making notes, then went off. A few days later, they sent me the soundtrack. I was on the floor in awe! It was everything I wanted but I hadn’t articulated that with any meaningful precision. I don’t know how they do it.
And, last but not least, what can we expect form you in the future?
Hopefully more films. I like where I am, at the moment, and I’m excited by the direction I think I’m going in. I’ve got some incredibly creative, intelligent, passionate people around me who guide me, teach me, advise me, encourage me and inspire me continuously. So, more filmmaking, more film chats, more film watching, hopefully.
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