There’s an eerie timeless quality to Super 8mm film. A sense that what you’re viewing has been plucked from a bygone era, discovered like a mysterious unseen relic. That exact mood is at the heart of Lindsay Hallam’s sci-fi horror They Called Me David, a short film which sees the titular David look back on his life as a focus for a large scale science experiment. Hallam cleverly utilises the aesthetic of the Super 8 and taps in to the found-footage feel, perfect for a spooky sci-fi. They Called Me David is due to have World Premiere at FrightFest this weekend and Twelve Cabins caught up with Hallam ahead of the festival to learn more about how she took her love of horror from an academic setting and applied it to her filmmaking practice.
How did you come up with the concept for They Called Me David?
My partner Liam Dunn and I found ourselves with an old Super 8 camera and decided to try it out. We went around London and shot a few different things and when we got the footage back we were surprised at how it made everything look timeless, like it was shot in the past, even when filming ultra-modern spaces.
Liam had written They Called Me David initially as a piece of flash fiction, so I asked him to turn it into a script as I could see it would fit really well with the Super 8 aesthetic. It’s the story of a child who is created in a lab as an experiment, and it just gelled with what we were doing, which was experimenting with this format that we didn’t have much experience in. We shot more footage with actors to fill out the story and also edited in archival footage available in the public domain and it somehow managed to work together.
How did you find shooting Super 8? For me, it’s gives the film a timelessness and an archival look which works really well with the sci-fi undertones of the story.
Neither Liam nor myself are great cinematographers, so it was all very much trial-and-error. Its agony waiting for the film to come back, not knowing whether it was going to work or not. Plus, it ain’t cheap either! But luckily most of it was able to be used. The only thing that didn’t work was shooting in a butterfly house – all the condensation in the enclosure fogged up the camera! But it’s worth it because it looks so different to digital, so we at least knew it would stand out.
Liam is obsessed with the Cold War era, so we wanted the Super 8 footage and archive to hark back to that Atomic Age, of nuclear paranoia, MK Ultra, as well as the schlocky B-movies being made in the 50s and 60s that were cashing in on the fears at that time.
You work primarily as a film lecturer, how do you feel an academic understanding of film has informed your approach to filmmaking?
I always tell my students the Quentin Tarantino quote: “I didn’t go to film school, I went to films.” As someone who teaches primarily film history and film theory to students who want to be practitioners, I always stress to them that seeing other films helps you to see all the options that are open to you and all the things you can do. It can only help, seeing lots of films and having a broad awareness of the medium certainly isn’t going to make you a worse filmmaker!
An academic approach also helps you to think through everything and plan and be ready to solve problems as they arise (which is most of what filmmaking is!) – but also prepares you for that inevitable moment when all that planning goes out the window and you just have to get it done with what you have right there. At the end of the day, you learn by doing, but its good to have that basis of knowledge to draw from. Also, a significant part of the process is getting your work out there, screening it and engaging with your audience (and potential investors in your next project!), so knowing how to speak about your work and articulate your ideas is another skill filmmakers need.
Who did you work with in creating the synthesised score? What were you looking to convey with the soundscape?
The soundscape was created by a friend of mine Damo Alexander, who also appears in the film. I knew the film was going to live or die by the sound as the camerawork isn’t exactly ‘polished’. Again, keeping with the 50s/60s influence, I kept thinking of the ‘electronic tonalities’ used in Forbidden Planet and wanted something along those lines, but even more lo-fi.
I sent Damo a rough cut of the film and he sent back a whole bunch of different pieces, some were bits of score and themes, others were just a series of sounds. I started to play around with putting different sounds underneath the footage; then there was a bit of back-and-forth between us as he sent me more stuff but it all happened quite quickly. I ended up preferring the stuff Damo did initially when he was just playing around. I like that at some points you can hear his fingers clicking the keyboard. So the lack of polish ending up being central to it all, I love lo-fi, low-tech, low budget sci-fi – stuff where you can see the nuts and bolts holding everything together – and that’s exactly what this is!
What is that has attracted you to the horror genre in both your academic career and your filmmaking?
I really started to get into horror when I was a student and writing essays. The most interesting stuff to write about is horror, it deals with our fears, it pushes us to really dark places, it confronts us with death, makes us think about the power and fragility of our bodies and our minds. It is also a great vehicle to talk about social issues, gender, race, history – all this radical, subversive stuff can be smuggled into what on the surface just seems like a monster movie, or a slasher, or just mindless violence, although mindless violence just for the sake of it is fun, too.
I also think, as a female horror fan, that horror is inherently a feminine genre. There are so many great horror heroines, and so many great horror films explore the female experience. So the accusation that it is a misogynist genre always really bugged me and makes me go all ranty. But I’ll stop there.
That is a rant we’d love to hear! Do you plan on making anymore films soon?
Liam has another short horror script, a relationship drama (with vampires), pretty much ready to go. He also has a whole mythology worked out connected to They Called Me David, about the company who ran the experiment and created David, and something referred to ‘Project First Light’, which he is developing into a feature film script.
But being a full-time lecturer and writing books and articles takes up most of my time, so unfortunately filmmaking seems to be something I can only get around to every few years or so. But hopefully it won’t be too long before we do something else.