Filmmaker and artist Andy Sowerby, director of Vanished, which was one of the films featured at the Exit 6 Film Festival in 2016 and who has now made sci-fi drama, The Jump.
Hi Andy, first off, tell us a bit about your new movie The Jump and where the idea came from?
The Jump is a short sci-fi drama on the elasticity of time, love and loss. In it, an astronaut braves a pioneering solo mission into deep space, leaving behind her loving husband. Through disjointed communications, she discovers her life on Earth has changed forever.
The idea was initially inspired by the concept of The Overview Effect, which is “a cognitive shift in awareness reported by some astronauts and cosmonauts during spaceflight, often while viewing the Earth from orbit or from the lunar surface. From space, national boundaries vanish, the conflicts that divide people become less important, and the need to create a planetary society with the united will to protect this ‘pale blue dot’ becomes both obvious and imperative.”
To me this concept is so poetic and beautiful and I wanted to make a film about it. So originally I had a small idea of an astronaut sending messages back to Earth, where at first the messages seem like they are going to a single person but later it’s revealed they are to all of humanity.
As I collaborated with two writers on the project the idea developed. We decided to move towards a more dramatic narrative film, but that I hope there’s still some lyrical notions of the overview effect within it.
There are some lovely space visuals in the film, how did you create these effects?
All the space visuals are actually official NASA footage. The film was produced for the NASA short film competition CineSpace, where filmmakers are asked to make a short film, of 10 mins or less duration, that contains at least 10% footage from the NASA Archives, using actual NASA imagery within the film. We used a broad selection of NASA archive footage, including CGI sources, such as representations of stars collapsing and black holes, etc, alongside some actual photographs of space and the Earth. It was such an honour to be able to use actual NASA imagery alongside our production footage.
What were some of the inspirations behind The Jump?
As mentioned above the main idea was the overview effect and the idea of an astronaut sending messages back to Earth and it developed from there.
I was lucky enough to catch Vanished back in 2016 at Exit 6 and I really enjoyed it and watching again recently before this interview, I had the same question – where did the idea come from?
The idea for Vanished developed around the plot twist of having a character who is actually a different character by the end of the film, subverting expectations. In this case, a man who is actually a boy. I liked the idea of a lost child represented by a grown man - expressing feelings of being “grown up” enough to travel alone but still maintaining a level of innocence about the world around him.
How long did it take you to produce Vanished and The Jump and what obstacles did you have on the way?
I shot Vanished over a few different days with just myself and the actor. Being just two people meant we could be extremely flexible and embrace improvisation and respond to the locations around London. Overall I found it an easy and enjoyable process, without any major obstacles. It was very collaborative on the shoot and I was encouraged by the band to follow my vision for the video.
The Jump had considerable more time pressure due to the deadline for the NASA competition. In fact, the whole film was conceived, written, produced, edited and delivered in about 2 months, which is quite fast for a short film. I think we managed to overcome this tight deadline by just setting targets and continuing no matter what.
Following on from that, we know that getting finance for films can be tough, how did you get the resources to make The Jump?
We only had a low self-funded budget for The Jump and I must thank all the cast and crew for their help with the project. Without their dedication and commitment the film wouldn’t of been produced.
So, with only a low budget to create a spaceship, we created only small sections of a set which would fill the camera frame behind the actor, to give the illusion of a location without creating a whole set. We also used a projection trick to create the scene where the character looks out of the spaceship onto a stellar nursery. Using a NASA photograph projected onto a screen outside the window it created the illusion of space.
Overall we really embraced the limitations and focused on the story, rather than special effects.
As you know, Exit 6 is a great showcase for film makers both experienced or just starting out. For those who are thinking about making their first short, what advice would you give?
Great question! I’d say focus on strong characters and really work to understand narrative structure as it so important. Also make sure you have strong dramatic conflict, both inner and outer in your characters. Plus… Intuition can be so vital to producing creative work so don’t be afraid to follow your heart.
Is there a particular genre you like to work in, or do you like try out new things?
I like to work across styles and genres, including of course sci-fi films like The Jump. With sci-fi I feel you can explore whole new worlds and delve into the fantastic; but still ground the idea in human stories and emotions that everyone can relate to.
Finally, what exciting projects do you have coming up in the future?
I’m developing an audiovisual work called CON-TACT with composer Matthew Grouse. The work examines the skin as a bodily boundary and our sense of touch as a passage between the body and its environment. It has been commissioned by Cryptic, Glasgow, for their Cryptic Nights programme, and will be presented at the Centre for Contemporary Arts Glasgow in spring 2020.
I’m also involved in Forever in a Day, a feature documentary about the nature of time, loss and storytelling, directed by Lawrence Barraclough. I’m working with Lawrence to develop the story structure and will work as editor on the film.
You can follow Andy on Instagram: @IAmAndySowerby