It’s great to welcome back to the blog writer and director Lewis Carter, who we last chatted to about his film Showdown, and joined for the first time by producer Kate Beasley to talk about making the most of being isolated at home by putting together a short film called Lifeline.
Hi Lewis, welcome back to the Exit 6 blog, and Kate, welcome for the first time. Before we get into it, what have you been up to since we last spoke?
LEWIS: Thanks for having us! Collectively, we’ve worked on a few projects together since I last spoke to you. Kate was my script supervisor on a short film I directed called The Graduation for BBC TWO, which you can find on It’s My Shout’s YouTube channel. And, we’ve been active on the festival circuit with a few indie projects we’ve got out.
We’re in this strange new world where we’re all at home communicating through video, only popping out to stretch our legs and trying not to touch each other – how’s it been for you?
LEWIS: In the grand scheme of things we’re totally fine. A lot of people are in far worse situations than we are - which is where the idea for Lifeline stemmed from. But there have been definite downsides. We certainly miss each other and our friends and colleagues.
KATE: Exactly, we’re going to come out of this whole thing intact. Other people unfortunately won’t be so lucky. Although, that doesn’t mean we haven’t gone a little stir crazy at times. Working on this project has kinda a been a lifeline for ourselves.
This brings us smoothly on to Lifeline – can you tell us a bit about the production of the film – what equipment did you have available, how many of you were involved and how did it all come together?
LEWIS: While I was working on corporate projects at home during the start of lockdown, there were all these little soundbites seeping into my subconscious, such as the rise in domestic abuse, for example. It dawned on me that people going through these kinds of experiences need specific content that they can turn to for context and catharsis. So, I set about writing something that could hopefully do that.
KATE: It was clear from the script that the webcam concept would be integral, as actors would be filming at home. Although, it was important for us to tell a story that made sense within the concept of webcam calls. We didn’t want to draw attention to the equipment too much in case it came across as a gimmick. The use of cutting between webcam perspectives is used creatively at times during the film, but we never wanted it to distract from the story of our two characters.
Logistically it must have been hard work?
KATE: In hindsight yes, you’re very reliant on the actors to double as the HOD’s. They were their own costume dept, make up dept—they even had to set up lighting while talking to us on Skype.
In terms of setting up so that Lewis could direct—that portion was fairly easy. Again, we used Skype to create a group video call and the actors set up their devices so that we could watch them in our own separate little video villages.
LEWIS: I’ve never given more information to actors about my vision for a film than on this project, because, Kate’s right—they were also the HODs, and they were responsible for pulling off that vision on a technical level beyond just with their performances. Directing via webcam took some getting used to. I’m not a fan of video village. Normally on set, I’m down amongst it with the actors and if I have a monitor it’s a small potable one. However, there is something to be said for directing from the comfort of your own home. I certainly didn’t hate it.
Lifeline touches on themes of isolation and the LGBT experience of the current pandemic – why these particular themes?
LEWIS: You can’t create a short film that encapsulates everyone’s experience of isolation. But you can tell a specific story that helps people make sense of the impact of isolation on our society. When you’re writing something inspired by real life events, you often have to come up with the worst-case scenario of those events. My thinking was very simple: We’re all locked in. What if someone was locked in with someone they didn’t like? No, not good enough. What if someone was locked in somewhere they weren’t safe? Better! Ok, how about on top of all that they had to lock away their true nature within themselves in order to survive?
That worked for me. Now I had a specific story about lockdown and the consequences of locking things away. From there, it was just figuring out the characters that would logically inhabit that story world.
KATE: We know there are people out there who can’t live as their authentic selves, so when you tie that in with the idea of being ‘locked down’, you soon come up with some very scary scenarios. We explore what that means through the character of Jeremy.
With our secondary protagonist, Oliver, his biggest fear is to be alone. Which is something many people can relate to. So, when he finds Jeremy on the other end of a computer it’s a relief. But Jeremy can only be online for so many hours a day. When he’s alone with his own thoughts—that’s when his demons start to flood in. Everyone needs a ‘Lifeline’ every once in a while to get them through dark times, that’s what Jem and Oliver are to each other.
How long did it take you from script to completion and what were some of the main obstacles you had to overcome?
LEWIS: When I first put the story down in an outline the ending was more in line with my horror sensibilities. But we soon decided that if we’re telling a story specifically for people to watch during isolation, we wanted to end on a note of hope rather than fear. After that, it took a day to write and a couple of days to re-draft.
Then we went straight into casting, which took about a week and was done through a self-taping process. There were a few obstacles, but the biggest one came after day 2 of filming when our actor’s tablet, which he was using to film, froze on him. There was a sleepless night when we all waited to see if it would be functional the next day. But, thankfully it was! All well-laid plans about how to shoot and record the scenes went out the window at that point and it was just about getting the footage in as quickly as possible and storing it in a safe place.
What are your plans for distribution, and can we all watch it?
KATE: It’s going live on Facebook on Friday the 8th May for all to watch. You can follow the film by searching @LifelineShortFilmUK on Facebook so you don’t miss it.
LEWIS: And if anyone wants to host Lifeline on their; YouTube, Vimeo channel, or website just get in touch. We want to spread it far and wide so as many people can see it in isolation as possible. Especially those, that don’t feel safe themselves during this difficult time.
What do you want people to take away from your film?
KATE: That you’re never really alone. And if you are isolated from your own lifeline right now, be good to each other and soon you’ll get to hug that person that got you through lockdown.
LEWIS: Couldn’t agree more. For me it’s very simple. If you’re having a hard time and you feel like you’re trapped somewhere or feel unsafe and alone—reach out. Somebody out there will be your lifeline, and the world will be a brighter place if your still here to join us on the other side when this is all over.
Would you tackle making a film like this again?
KATE: If the story called for the webcam style footage, I’d happily do it again. It’s a challenging format of film making, but we’ve proved that it can be done.
LEWIS: I don’t want to make films about Covid-19 when this is all over. This was a unique situation where we felt a responsibility as filmmakers to tell a story that people could turn to right now. In terms of the webcam/found footage aspect—it depends on the story. Although, I have to admit I’m looking forward to being able to move the camera and have a little more lighting available on my next project.
Any advice for someone thinking about making a film in isolation?
KATE: It’s all about the story and performances. Especially if the aim is to follow in the path of the webcam theme because you can’t rely on camera movements and other filmmaking tools to accentuate your films pivotal moments.
LEWIS: Tell a specific story. Don’t try and be all things to all people. By zeroing in on a unique story set during this period of isolation, we’re able to understand its impact a little more.
Once we’re all allowed out again, what’s next on your list of projects?
KATE: As of right now, I care more about seeing all the people I love. But, thankfully, before this all went down I was accepted into the BBC’s talent pool as a production management assistant, so hopefully there will be some exciting things waiting for me professionally on the other side of this. But, of course I’m open to working with anyone that thinks their film may benefit from my involvement.
LEWIS: Before lockdown I was just about to move from into production on a documentary with Fine Rolling Media, which will be our documentary follow up to ROYAL—which screened at Exit 6 a year or two ago. We’re also delving into the world of audio drama. My first script for that medium, which Kate script edited is being produced as we speak by Third Time Lucky Productions, and I’ve got plenty more ready for development, as well as a feature film script in the horror genre—if any producers want to take an interest in bringing that to life after lockdown.
Follow the Lifeline Facebook page to catch the premiere Friday 8th May.