Spunkbubble recently entered in ECU’s European Dramatic Short

British director Tom Browne talks to us about his film Spunkbubble recently entered in CU s European Dramatic Short category. As original as it is violent, the film is shot entirely as surveillance-camera footage, witnessing the events taking place in one individual hotel room. Yet what these events actually are, we can never really be quite surreal.

By Mairi Cunningham

Q: Your film is unsettling yet intriguing. Tell me what it is about and where the inspiration for the story lies.

The inspiration for the film came about through circumstances. I played the character of Top Hat in Van Helsing which was being filmed in Prague. I had three weeks when I was not filming and yet was not allowed to return home to my family so I felt very frustrated and angry in my hotel room and began to imagine it as a location. I am fascinated by pornography. In the old days it used to be possible to flip through the TV channels in a hotel room and watch all the different dramas in different languages and then suddenly come across the porn channel and see two people having sex, which seemed very shocking and real compared to the acting. Porn is so unreal and contrived and simultaneously so real and animal. That intrigues me. So I began to merge the anger I felt at the time and the porn. Beneath all this I suppose the fundamental inspiration is addiction. The hollow feeling of craving a substance, ANYTHING which will make you feel whole or complete. Addiction seems to produce a complete lack of structure where there are no values which separate one act from another.

Q: What would you say are your major influences as a director?

I have many influences but only some were in play during this particular piece of work. In the case of Spunkbubble there were a number of key visual influences. I have mentioned pornography. Also I am fascinated by UTube particularly the footage of English football hooligans fighting. This footage has a particular look which I found strangely beautiful acidic colours and a curious incoherence as the camera struggles to find the action or finds it almost by accident. Film makers I most admire are Godard, Powell and Pressburger. Their films possess integrity. By this I mean that the camera, the values of the production, the performances of the actors and the script are all infused with the same spirit and energy. Also their films are not naturalistic ­ and do not aim to be. My greatest hope was that the production and film would possess a similar integrity.

Q:  Violence and sex are two strands which intertwine in your film. Explain a bit more about what you were aiming to achieve with the graphic nature of the film.

I know the film is graphic but I don t think it is anymore graphic than what is easily available. I think what is difficult is the way it brings violence and pornography together. I wanted to make a film without boundaries. The internet has destroyed traditional boundaries in terms of what can be seen. But I think these boundaries are not always that distinct in life anyway. So I wanted to create characters who have no distinct boundaries or values beyond a desperate quest for some kind of external material spirit/substance which might rescue them. Finally I was intrigued by the ludicrous side of hard core pornography and violence and I wanted that to be apparent.

Q: The fact that the entire film is shot as surveillance camera footage adds to the unsettling nature of your film. Why did you choose to shoot in this way? Is there a point to be made about our big brother society?

The CCTV cameras were partially a practical idea. The first cameras I saw were incredibly cheap and, of course, would create the look I was interested. Also I wanted the film to have great energy and momentum and by using multiple CCTV cameras, it would be possible to film long uninterrupted takes. In this way the actors would have great freedom; they would never have to worry about finding the camera, we would not have to cut and move the camera or change a lens. We shot all the action in the hotel room (95% of the film) in one day. I think the CCTV cameras give an immediacy to the action and narrative which makes the film all the more powerful. We are crazy for CCTV in England (as a people we come under more surveillance than any other country) so it undoubtedly had a influence on me but I had no ambition to make any point about Big Brother Society other than the fact that those behind the camera are no better than those in front of it.

Q: Why did you choose not to reveal the faces of the policeman viewing the surveillance footage?

Their faces are not shown because I wanted the focus of the audience to be on the action in the room. I wanted the audience watching Spunkbubble to feel that they were watching the action over the shoulders of people sitting in the row in front. Also I wanted to suggest that the policemen were also just an audience and, in spite of their professional position, they were subject to the same chaotic and irrational desires as the men they were observing. And so, by implication, is the audience in the cinema.

Q: Explain the peculiar female figure who appears towards the end of the film. Who is she and what does she represent?

[The character] was originally intended to be played by someone who I knew vaguely called Lucky. Lucky is the most tattooed person in the world: he looks very strange basically he is blue. The only hitch was that he was not up for it, but he was the inspiration for the part. It was very difficult to find an actor who was willing to do what was involved for the part. We met several freaks. One Prince Albert ­ had a staggering amount of metal in his genitals but he was about 60. Finally I saw an article about Alice Temple. She has an extraordinary skull tattoo which covers her whole back and I thought we might be able to work with that. But Edward Gibbon (the costume designer) created a look for La Freaque which was a work of genius. My idea for La Freaque is that he or she is a kind of mirage ­something mythical which they all aspire to possess but which of course can never be possessed. And she simple vanishes from the film ­ after showing what she thinks of us all by sticking the camera up her backside.

Q: Is there significance behind the geographical diversity of accents adopted by the characters?

The original actors I had in mind were all Londoners. However Hangman (the production company) were naturally keen to attach actors who were more established than those I first thought of I think that the casting makes the film less localized and specific.

Q: What projects are you currently working on?

I have just completed a film about a young boy s nightmare about his father ­ Aston Gorilla. Again it was shot very quickly, this time using a Canon 5d. It stars a dancer called Christopher Evans and my eldest son. I am trying to write a feature film set in my family home in Cumbria, near the Lake District. As with Spunkbubble the inspiration is emerging from circumstances: the decayed state of the house, certain actors with whom I would like to work and, again, themes of failure and the hope for some kind of redemption.

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