From the earliest days of Directors Notes we’ve been featuring the work of Greek Director Stathis Athanasiou, regularly checking in on his ever-evolving and at times experimental approach to filmmaking – even if he does abandon us from time to time for the realms of theatre directing, live performance and audio-visual exhibitions. Not ones to hold a grudge, we welcome Stathis back to DN today for the premiere of Rage Park, a music video trilogy which (as presented below) was also conceived as a single short film created as an accompaniment for composer and sound artist Stavros Gasparatos’ new vinyl release of the same name. Stathis also joins us to talk about stealing unapologetically, creativity spurred by limitations and expressing female rage.
We lost you to the world of theatre for a few years there, what inspired your return to filmmaking and the creation of this music video trilogy meets short film?
It all started when last summer I decided to quit many of the things I was doing professionally and focus exclusively on filmmaking. During the last 4 years, I have been doing mainly theatre and performance work. My aim is not only to focus on filmmaking but to also move professionally to the UK as I feel the level of work coming from there is exceptional, so I was looking for ways in, when I saw this WDMV open call for a meeting in London and I said, I’m there! But I didn’t have a recent music video and I felt I had to produce something fresh and something reflective of who I am today before I went there. Luckily I have many composer friends, and so I reached out to one, Stavros Gasparatos, with whom I’ve done many things together over the past few years. Luckily he had a new vinyl release that fit perfectly with what I wanted to do and so we went on with visualising his latest record, Rage Park.
Since the album is made of three parts/chapters, I wanted to make a music video trilogy which would also work as a short film when put together. That way I could maximise the production, meaning if we were to go into production we might as well produce as much output as possible, i.e. 3 music videos and 1 short film.
Were there particular reference points which informed the visual/creative approach you took with Rage Park?
As far as the creation process, lately I’ve been exploring the “steal unapologetically and respectfully while making it as obvious as possible” approach, meaning when I have an idea I try to think of scenes, shots, paintings, photographs that this idea brings to mind. Then I start researching said works of art as if I were to use them as is, which gets the ball rolling in a fast and fun way. This eventually leads to completely unexpected outcomes where the original inspiration is obscured and a new thing is born. For this particular piece I wanted to leave the Haneke and Lynch references in the first two shots as clear as possible, because I loved it so much and because I think it is done respectfully and creatively.
Lately I’ve been exploring the “steal unapologetically and respectfully while making it as obvious as possible” approach.
Practically I used Pinterest a lot, which I hadn’t done before, and which I think is an incredible resource of visual candy and fantastic for visual brainstorming either for a single person or for team research. You can see my boards here and my production designer boards here https://gr.pinterest.com/erminapstlk/rage-park/
I am a very visual person and at the same time completely handicapped when it comes to drawing, so instead of drawing boards, I actually go out and shoot what I want to do. This is not always possible, but in this case, I could do it:
How did the narrative structure of the three self-contained but part of a larger whole films develop?
The basic direction was given by the theme of the album with its 3 parts, so the task was to visualise these 3 stages (build-up of unexpressed rage, explosion, post-explosion). The key was to find a visual metaphor for unexpressed and suppressed feelings, which is the first part. I put in place some constraints and some limits to work within, because of budget but also because limits and constraints are what actually spark great ideas and creativity. So these were one location, one person, gradually increasing discomfort.
After trying a lot of ideas I ended up going with the concept of a character receiving a wake up call from his/her subconscious. In real life, this happens by means of dreams, nightmares or physical disease, from indigestion to autoimmunity to cancer. In my case, it was David Lynch and Michael Haneke who in Lost Highway and Caché portrayed something like this by means of mysterious unexplained deliveries of VHS tapes. Since we are living in the 21st century and are one step before living inside our phones, it was evident that she would receive video messages on her phone.
As for the character and her character (sic), I went for Serafita Grigoriadou (my wife) because of many reasons. One, she was available, two she is a great actress, three I could communicate the idea super fast and we would have time to work on it practically every day after 9 pm when our son was in bed 🙂 and four, because she is a woman and we are not used to seeing women expressing these types of feelings even though they are there. I wanted to move away from the stereotype, which according to my background, is an angry male. Feelings suppression affects everyone.
We are not used to seeing women expressing these types of feelings even though they are there.
After finding these key points, the rest of the story came out quite fast and relatively easy. There were a lot of last minute decisions but the main structure was put into place as I described. Since this is a more or less abstract piece, in the sense that we get no background and very little to no explanation of what-who-where, I would normally refrain from explaining what it all means and what it all symbolises, I am doing it here though since this is the main premise of a DN interview and it might be interesting for someone to see how I went about approaching it, however this is only one interpretation so please destroy after reading!
The performance aspect of the project very much rests on Serafita’s shoulders. What was your process of working together to fully convey the range of emotions she needed to traverse across the various acts of the film? Did the performance necessitate you to shoot in order?
We shot in two days. The first day was the first movie, the second day the 2nd and 3rd. The first movie was not shot in order because there were many shots and the lighting was tricky because the house was very dark (it is in a forest practically), it was winter with short days and we would lose the little light we had soon so it had to be replaced by us. After making a shot list, everything was grouped according to location, time of day (available light) and lighting setup in order to convey the feeling that it takes place during the day.
The second movie was shot mainly in order in the sense that once the table was destroyed there was no time to do a full reset, but only a partial one. The third one was again shot mostly in order and this was done to help the people showing up at the house who with the exception of one (Nestor, the first guy with the mustache), weren’t actors.
As for Serafita. Serafita is a fantastic actress and performer who has been tried and tested many times in cinema, theatre and performance, doing all sorts of crazy stuff, so we had a good starting point. Another advantage was the fact that her theatrical training and her formative years in the Greek theatre, were alongside Michail Marmarinos, a great Greek director who is extremely physical in his rehearsals and plays, and on the other hand we have both had very intense psychotherapy but not the Woody Allen style, the hard-core physical resolution of emotional blocks and expression of suppressed feelings type. So we both knew what we were talking about and how to make it physical.
The challenge was to construct and portray an armoured character who would bit by bit break down and be reborn a little bit wiser. Practically we were trying to find her body, i.e. how she walks, how she looks, how she holds her breath, etc. I didn’t manage or micromanage her after that, only in some shots where we needed to have exact timing because we had to fit an action to the music.
Could you tell us a little bit more about the technical aspects of the film and the gear you use to achieve it?
It was shot at 6K with my beloved GH5 using a Metabones Speed Booster and mainly the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 lens. The slow motion parts were shot at HD 100fps. We used a hazer to achieve dramatic and atmospheric lighting in the house and a truck full of lights that I know nothing of because, hey… I might be opinionated on the look I want to achieve, but I’m not a DP. Editing, compositing, colour correction were all done in Davinci Resolve 15.2 which I’ve been using since September and I have come to adore. I moved away from the Adobe suite and even though it was a tough practical and sentimental choice to make (I have been using Premiere since version minus 1), I find Resolve so good that there is no turning back for me.
Have you been able to gauge how the experience of watching Rage Park is altered depending on how audiences view the film(s) – i.e. individual music videos vs the complete short?
We are only just releasing it to the public, so I don’t really know yet, I can only speculate. I can tell you about my aim. What I would like to happen for someone watching the stand-alone music videos, would be to be intrigued by their fragmented and cliffhanger-y nature, so much as to want to go and find the next/previous one. With regards to the short film, it is the kind of short film I would love to watch, specific, but not so much, abstract but not so much, trippy but not so much, narrative but not so much. Sort of a well remembered dream that means something, but I have to ponder upon in order to feel what it means. Not understand it. Feel it. So I hope when it finds a pair of eyes attached to a nervous system that is excited by this kind of storytelling, it will resonate with them and will lead them in roads and paths that I would never have imagined.
Limits and constraints are what actually spark great ideas and creativity.
Are there any new projects we’ll see from you in the near future?
Yes! Definitely yes! I have been struggling with my next big personal project for years and I can happily share with you that it is now on its way to becoming a reality! In late December when Bandersnatch came out I was happy out of my head for watching it, I cried for 30 minutes straight when I saw the ending scene with the guy playing the game tape on the bus because I was so moved by the Speccy loading sound, and at the same time I was shocked to see that Black Mirror has just put out a story that had the same background as the story I have been developing. 1984, a bedroom programmer, ZX Spectrum, no dad in my case (no mom in his case), etc. So at first, it was a major blow because I had to throw everything away since it would be considered a point by point rip off of Bandersnatch. But then, as it always happens, the solution appears and it is so much better than the original idea. So; all ZX Spectrum brothers, all Amstrad and Commodore enemies, all conspiracy theorists, all history buffs and all futurists, I am coming for you!
– All photos taken by Vicky Psychogiou.