Twelve Cabins last spoke with Stephen Burke for his mysterious short The Path, a dreamlike forest horror about a man tampering with the balance of nature. He returns today with a new film which takes the stylistic traits established in The Path into the city. A disturbing email and a late night call set off a nightmarish chain of events in Stephen Burke’s new thriller Pictures of You, and much like in The Path, Burke’s story twists and turns, as his character’s psychological state descends. Twelve Cabins was excited to be joined by Burke again below who reveals how the films of Nic Roeg inspired his tale of paranoia and isolation.
What inspired you to tell another atmospheric horror short?
I had the idea for Pictures of You during the first lockdown of 2020. I didn’t want to make a film about the lockdown/pandemic/deadly virus because I felt there would be a glut of them once we came out the other side. I did, however, want to explore some of the thoughts and feelings I experienced during that time, namely fear, paranoia, claustrophobia and isolation. I also wanted to do something with a very narrow focus, just one actor and one location. At the time I was watching a lot of Nic Roeg films and the climax of PoY is directly inspired by Don’t Look Know, an early version of the even script had James experiencing visions of a killer in a red duffel coat.
There’s some narrative and stylistic similarities with The Path in Picture of You, what interests you in telling stories like this?
In a way this film is an inverse of The Path. Where The Path was an exploration of the vast, unknown and unknowable quality of nature, PoY takes that and internalises it. So, in the film is James being haunted by a malignant, shape shifting entity, or is this some kind of elaborate suicidal fantasy? I think there are enough clues in the film to point in either direction, and I wanted to keep it ambiguous. To a larger extent I am interested in exploring altered states of consciousness and strange worlds that overlap with our own.
Was there anything you learnt on The Path that you brought to this film?
The big lesson for me on The Path was to find a trusted team who have your back. A lot of the cast and crew from The Path returned and I found we’d almost developed short hand with each other, which led to a lot of experimentation onset.
There’s some really well-composed shots in Pictures of You, what were you looking to achieve with the cinematography?
I wanted a lot of movement and fluidity to the cinematography, to mirror the internal disorder going on inside James’s head. I also wanted a richness to the look, which bordered on the sickly, and the decaying. DoP Stephen Roach shot on the Black Magic Pocket Cinema and used practicals as we didn’t want the film to be over lit. Similarly, I worked closely with the Composer Ben Bennett to create a soundscape which reflected the inner chaos James is experiencing. I’m super pleased with the score which I think has a bit of an Argento feel.
Where did you shoot? The location certainly adds to the tension!
I shot it in my flat! I live in an ex-office building in East London that has a weird internal architecture which really lends itself to a horror film. There are three floors, including the roof terrace, each with its own personality which I wanted to bring out. We got into all the nooks and crannies of the place, the weird little details like the stairs that’s too steep and the doors that don’t go anywhere, and I think the location is as much a character as James is.
What’re you working on next?
I’m reading James Frazier’s The Golden Bough at the moment as research on a folk horror feature I am going to write. Without giving too much of the plot away it features a postman who gets replaced by a doppelgänger which starts a cult in a small town in order to bring about a new messiah. I am still looking for a writer to collaborate with so if any of your readers want to get in touch my email is steoburke[at]hotmail.com.