Joe Dixon’s If Not Now Then When… (Can’t We Just Try Something New?) Please! (Thank You) follows Dom, a man trying to prove himself. He’s trying to impress his girlfriend and invest in something he deems will activate their stale sex life. Lo and behold, however, he gets himself in a bit of a tangle. Dixon’s film, inspired by a real life performance artist, tracks Dom’s day as he seeks to escape from a sex swing he purchased online. As the day goes on the tension, both literally and narratively, increases to a boiling point. DN is proud to present the premiere of If Not Now Then When… today and caught up with Dixon so he could tell us how he executed his hilarious vision.
What was the initial impulse to tell the story of a man caught in such a tangle?
The first thing I need to say is that this did not come from any kind of personal experience. Sex swings and triple ended dildos are fine by me, but the truth is the idea came from a friend showing me a video of a piece of performance art gone wrong. Hilde Krohn Huse, whilst creating a new performance ended up naked trapped in a tree and her Mini-DV video camera captured the whole thing. She has rope tied around both ankles and spends about five painful minutes dangling precariously whilst doing the splits before clambering her way to the branch above where she tries and fails to unhook her legs, then exhausted she falls back down, both legs now up in the air. The video is about 15 painful minutes, I definitely recommend seeking it out.
A few months after watching this I was bored whilst at Bethnal Green tube station and the idea of doing something similar with a guy in a sex swing made me chuckle. I must like putting people in difficult scenarios because by the time I got off the tube at Oxford Circus the basic outline of the script was written. A few months later, I thought of it and decided it was worth making, it just seemed absurd, highlighting the strange places people end up in their relationships as they try to keep each other happy.
Obvious question, how long did the shoot take and how long was Mike in the air for?
It was a one day shoot and the wonderful, talented and incredibly durable Mike Beckingham spent pretty much the whole time strung up, although we did let him down for a lunch break. We set up a table so between takes he could sit more comfortably whilst I directed him into ever more difficult positions. To his endless credit he didn’t complain once, even with all the marks and welts he was left to explain to his girlfriend.
Similarly, was there much effort in getting him up there in the first place?
Yes, we had to get in a wire specialist and obviously make sure it was completely safe. I spent a good amount of time seeking out the right sort of sex swing, I wanted one that felt like it was bought on a whim on Amazon Prime perhaps, but which Agnieszka Dębska my art director could then adapted to make it clear he was trapped. We spent a lot of time just figuring out how much leeway we should give him so he felt trapped but had enough movement to get into different positions. And yes I did have a little go, purely so I knew how much pain I was putting Mike through.
One other thing I’d like to mention is the amount of time we spent seeking out the right sex toys. Michelle May, our costume designer, found the most outrageous latex boobs, as well as a whole host of other contraptions we decided, were a step too far for this particular project.
I spent a good amount of time seeking out the right sort of sex swing.
We’re with Dom just the right amount of time which means the tension, pun intended, has really set in when Kate arrives, was this something you structured in the script or in post-production?
Yeah, like I said the original reference is about ten minutes of a single wide shot of a woman struggling to get out of a tree, it’s funny both as a long shot but also if you skip through as time elapses and she’s in new, weird positions. So, I knew there would be plenty of entertainment in just watching Dom as he struggled and that narratively it was important to get over just how long and painful his day had been. With Max Windows my editor, we really tried to resist the urge to skip over these parts and let them play long, I asked a good friend and superb musician Beni Giles to create a score for it and he did a great job in drawing out the pain, turning poor Dom into some kind of angst ridden wind chime.
But, yes, it was all in the script from the start. I think I even put the shot of the window with clouds passing in the scene description, I really wanted to get over the contrast between the perfectly normal, nice day outside and Dom’s interior nightmare…
How do you work? Did you storyboard much or work it out on the day? Or a bit both?
I work most with Tim, my partner in commercial and music video work and we storyboard a lot. I always think it’s best to storyboard, you can really think out your ideas this way and when you work as a duo it’s important to get very clear on what you want to achieve before you show up on set. Having said that, on this I didn’t, I was working in a single room and I knew the sorts of the angles that were going to work, plus Ben Todd is a brilliant director of photography, so I was very confident that we’d get it looking good.
Was there anything specific you learned that you’ll take from If Not Now Then When… onto your next film?
A whole list! Firstly, Putting actors into painful situations can get great performances from them but it should be done with care and respect. It’s all very well having a funny scenario but actually these throw up a lot of technical challenges you need to take care of. Secondly, even a simple scene needs time to get right and time spent rehearsing with your actors is invaluable. Also, and this is even more true of short films which are tough to make if you only have one day to shoot them, you come into it cold and need to get up to speed almost immediately so preparing and begging actors for that extra bit of rehearsal time before the shoot day is invaluable.
It’s all very well having a funny scenario but actually these throw up a lot of technical challenges you need to take care of.
Similarly, the casting sessions massively help with this, I re-wrote the entire scene after my first casting as it quickly became clear what was working and what wasn’t. Overall I loved working with both Mike and Kate Braithwaite who plays his girlfriend, she’s very smart, right from the casting I knew she’d bring the perfect resolution to the film as you realise where Dom’s motivation comes from.
What’s next for you?
Tim and I are always pitching and looking for more work, we’re with Friend Productions in the UK and have signed to the amazing companies Revolver in Australia and Psy-op in the US so are hoping to get some more great projects off the ground there. I’m always writing now, I love writing dialogue and am currently on about page 85 of my first feature film, which so far has zero sexual misadventures in it, if you must know. I’ll keep writing, shoot as much as I can and hope to start making some longer form work when the time is right.