Party And Bullshit: Director Michelle Savill On Her Short Film ‘Bats’

MICHELLE Savill’s short film Bats captures the delirious randomness of modern nightlife. With striking visuals that would make Harmony Korine proud, the film intimately taps into this culture in a way that few filmmakers have managed.

Michelle (MS) and cinematographer Matt Henley (MH) join us on Close-up Culture for an interesting chat about the film.

Q: What did you want to capture in this film?

MS: I wanted to capture the energy and restlessness of being young and and those weird nights out – the good, the bad, the soul searching and that desire to find connection but not really being able to find it because you don’t know what you want or who you really are yet. I wanted to do some vignettes about strange interactions and experiences that come with the night-time.

I also wanted to make it specific to Wellington, New Zealand and capture that lonely feeling you can get living here being an isolated city in an isolated country at the bottom of the world.

Q: Was Bats informed by your own experiences of the Wellington nightlife scene?

MS: IT is very loosely based off my own experiences and those of my friends – of us being out in the Wellington night. The film has three stories woven together. One story is about a woman swimming out to a boat where they hauled her on board and did lots of whiskey and coke and sailed around the pacific. Another is about a guy who earnestly admits he once roofied a girl and took her home. The third story follows a young woman through a drunken texting breakup. All stories are based on real experiences.

Q: What do you make of current state of youth and party culture?

MH: IT appears things like gentrification and conservative attitudes have affected people’s ability to genuinely have fun. In Wellington specifically, regulations around the sale of alcohol and noise restraints due to an influx of high density housing has town shutting between midnight and 2am. Venues wanting to stay open later are inflicted with high extended licensing costs and aggrieved neighbours. People nowadays just seem to take MDMA and smoke marijuana, avoiding other substances.

Q: The trailer for Bats is just incredible. Can you tell us about the striking visual style you put together with DOP Matt Henley?

MH: The party aspect needed to be natural and feel immediate, so we went with a slightly unhinged handheld camera that would flow with the action and was motivated by immediate character movement as opposed to emotion etc.

When we had control of the lighting, it had to feel natural but also have atmosphere and a hyper real element to it – clubs and bars can look inherently shitty when photographed, but the experience to the punter feels more dramatic. We were aiming at that sense of inner drama/euphoria one experiences in those scenarios as opposed to an observed representation.

For the three dramatic vignettes I preferred a more static camera, as I could not see the reason for handheld work.

02 BATS Still

Q: I often hear about the difficulty of night shoots. What was the shoot like for Bats?

MS: It was both good and bad. Wellington has notoriously terrible weather, it’s windy here and we get blasted by storms all the time. So not surprisingly on our first night of filming which was the outdoor beach stuff a big storm was on it’s way in.

It was freezing, got crazy wind and started raining and we lost two hours of our day to the storm but you can’t actually tell from the footage that there was a storm raging which is a testament to Matt and how he was able to shoot it with everything going on around us and somehow cut out the storm from our shots.

Q: This is an excellent young cast that feel like you have plucked them straight out of a nightclub. Can you tell us about casting and working with them?

MS: The genesis of this film was with a drama school here in Wellington called Toi Whakaari Drama School. They approached me to make a film with some of their graduating actors, so I was actually paired with those seven actors that are in the film.

There were no restraints to what the film had to be and I saw it as a great opportunity to experiment and make something in a different way with them. But I had actually written the core scenes before I met them and then once I had hung out with them for a bit I was able to cast them in the roles. I did some workshopping with them around the scenes in the lead up, but also we just all hung out and had dinner together every week. We’d just eat Dominoes pizza because it was all we could afford! It helped me get to know them as people and what type of direction they might best respond to.

They were great to work with, really open to trying new ideas and giving things a go. It was quite a demanding shoot too, because of the weather and filming at night but they never complained.

Q: Which filmmakers of the moment do you enjoy?

MS: I got to see Holiday at MIFF and heard Isabella Eklöf talk. I think she is an amazing director who has made an incredible film. I’ve always been a huge Lynne Ramsay fan and love what she’s doing in film. Over in TV, I love Hiro Murai’s work and love what Amy Semitz is doing as well. Big fan of them all.

Q: I have to also mention your brilliant short Ellen is Leaving. How do you reflect on this project and its success?

MS: IT was totally unexpected and overwhelming. I had been thinking about quitting film while making Ellen Is Leaving so for it to go on and win SXSW and other festivals made me rethink being a filmmaker and what I had to contribute through the medium. I guess its success is partly the reason I’m still working in film. I still work with many of the key creatives I met through making Ellen is Leaving and some of them were even on Bats too.

Q: Do you have any future projects you can tell us about? Is a feature on the horizon?

MS: I have a few films and TV projects in development. One feature, Millie Lies Low, is on the not too distant horizon. I’m also looking for writers to work with or projects to join as I really enjoy collaboration and want to direct other people’s writing in both film and television.

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