Toronto-based filmmaker Julian C. Wilkins joins us on Close-up Culture to talk about his filmmaking path and his latest short film, Rêverie.
Q: Your biography states you wrote and directed your first film at 14 years old. Can you tell us about your passion for filmmaking?
A: That claim is a little tongue-in-cheek. I never considered making short films with my cousins as a teenager would end up being the career path I’d actually be taking later in life.
Once I made the move from Kingston to Toronto, I had some success with commercial acting, and even some series work with the History channel; but ultimately, I realized I wanted to tell my own stories. I really love film because of the seemingly infinite amount of storytelling possibilities the medium allows for.
Q: Your short film ‘Rêverie’ just premiered at Pendance, Toronto. It’s an unsettling tale of delusion that touches upon religiosity and sexual repression. What led you to write this story?
A: I’ve always been fascinated with religion and how ideas motivate human behavior. I like exploring various delusions and how they can lead otherwise good people to do terrible things.
Serial killers and psychopathology are among my favorite research subjects, and sexual perversions are quite often intertwined in those cases. I’ve been wanting to write a story that explores those themes for a while, the trick was to develop something that could be self-produced on a very low budget.
Q: Why did you choose the dynamic of two female characters?
A: I had originally written it with a male captor, female captive. But in talks with Ash Tailor, my Director of Photography, who incidentally, co-produced and helped with story development, we decided to go a different route for a couple reasons.
The first being; very seldom do you see women in these types of roles – as psycho killers. And I suppose for good reason, statistically there aren’t many of them. But also, once we decided to go with an all-female cast, it was really interesting to see the change in underlying themes, character, and story dynamic.
Q: The film is led by a grippingly intense performance from Niamh Carolan. Can you talk about casting the role and what Niamh brought to the project?
A: We’re so fortunate that we connected with Niamh. A convincing psychopath requires a powerhouse actor and no one we auditioned even came close to the intensity and emotional commitment that Niamh brought to the role. And what helped us even more, is that Georgia Hunter – who plays her captive – and Niamh are long-time friends. Their chemistry was undeniable.
We’ve actually just learned that JellyFEST in L.A. has honoured Niamh with the award for ‘best actress’. We couldn’t be happier for her. She’s going to be a huge star, mark my words.
Q: The film is intense and set in what location. What was the shoot like?
A: The story takes place in a single location: An old van parked on a back road in the middle of a balmy forest area in the deep south. Now, the shoot itself was rife with various obstacles, as is par for the course when you’re working with a budget of less than a thousand dollars.
First, the location we selected for our wide shot- the forest- couldn’t be used for any of the other shots due to budget constraints- the van was parked on a very steep decline. So we had to shoot the rest of the film on a makeshift exterior stage with green screen. Lucky for us, Bob Gundu, who served as A.C, is also a very talented VFX artist, and ensured the background plates were seamlessly integrated.
Secondly, we had chosen a holiday as the day for our shoot in an attempt to avoid traffic and neighbor noise, but as fate would have it, a construction crew chose that same day to work on a house, about fifty meters from our set. Needless to say, sound was a big issue. We had scheduled the shoot to wrap at around 3pm, but due to the noise and resulting problems, we ended up shooting until 3am. Somehow, we survived the “noise roulette” – in the edit, you could hear hammer strikes literally straddling key lines from the actors.
We got very lucky – the dialogue was mostly unscathed, and despite all these challenges, morale remained intact for the duration of the shoot thanks to our very small, but very dedicated cast and crew and I can’t thank everyone enough for their commitment to the project.
Q: Can you talk about your choice of aspect ratio and putting together a visual style for the film with DOP Ash Tailor?
A: A key reason for shooting in 4:3 was the fact that the story takes place in such a confined space- a white cargo van. We realised early on that there was no way we could have compelling blocking and compositions using a widescreen ratio. The silver lining was that decision, combined with a monochromatic color palette, locked off camera, and very long takes, really served to give the film a unique look and feel.
The long takes and aspect ratio worked incredibly well together in producing the feeling of claustrophobia we were after. All of these choices are the direct result of having Ash Tailor serve as DP. The guy is simply prodigious. He really helped give the film its own identity.
Q: Which filmmakers out there at the moment do you admire and take inspiration from?
A: Anything I’m moved by I try to take something from. Whether it’s the depth of mystery and intrigue of a Nolan blockbuster, the beauty and importance of an Iñárritu epic, or a smaller scale Vimeo staff pick, I’m just addicted to being moved.
Q: What are your hopes and ambitions for the future as a director?
A: I’d have to say my number one goal for the short term is finding a home at a production company. I’d love to work with a creative team and take my stories and skillset to the next level.
As far as specific content, I’d really like to work more in commercials and branded media having done some of that last year, and enjoying the challenge of developing a compelling narrative arc in so little screen time. I’m loving the increased infusion of narrative themes I’m seeing in commercials lately- essentially short films that center around products. So exciting to see how this industry shift is empowering storytellers in that space.
Aside from that, I will continue to develop narrative projects, and build my network of contacts – probably my weakest area at the moment. Having my first film Rêverie being selected for the 2019 Pendance Film Festival here in Toronto has helped with that, now I just need to keep it up. I have a number of really cool projects in the works, and hope to take some major steps this year.