It’s generally accepted that creativity is something to be nurtured, encouraged and celebrated but what if your form of expression turns out to be something rather horrific? This is the question asked by Manchester-based Writer/Director Dorny Sunday in his explosive new short Judith, which sees the titular bride give full volatile rein to her deep desire to experience something special. A film which keeps us guessing about the line between fantasy and reality, we invited Sunday to discuss the role of music in his writing process and how a 4:3 frame, coupled with Steadicam cinematography, helped to trap audiences in the unstable world of his unreliable protagonist.
I have so many ideas that go nowhere, and others that take hold of me. For whatever reason, the wedding theme opened up a visual landscape that I wanted to dive right into. I started writing Judith’s monologues first and the rest of the narrative organically sprouted from that point. The world started to build out from the voiceovers. It’s difficult to pull off indulgence, and fantasy, especially if you’re pivoting it all around one selfish character. Exploring the nature of impulsivity and the dark side of creativity is where I tried to ground the script.
I started writing Judith’s monologues first and the rest of the narrative organically sprouted from that point.
Creativity is usually seen as a spark that’s wholly positive but the instinct to create can be corrupted. In the short, we’re presented with a character whose creative instinct has been contorted. At a certain point, it’s not even clear if this is all happening in real-time. There are no immediate repercussions to Judith’s actions – her actions may just well be visions she’s playing out in her own mind. We live so much inside our own heads and many of the things we fantasise about never materialise.
Those with a ‘creative streak’ live so much in their own heads that they don’t even really exist in time, in any classical sense. What I was attempting to explore was how creativity can be taken to the absolute extreme, in the most selfish way, at great costs. The narrative touches on social media but this wasn’t a critique of it – it’s more a portrait of misplaced creative energy.
The mood and tone of the film were influenced by a lot of different genres I listened to when writing. There was no intention of making a ‘wedding film’ or anything like that. When I listen to music I always see key frames, little snapshots, that I know I’ll get on the shoot. I find the music I listen to ultimately informs the script and as a result, the shot list.
When it came to casting, Gemma-Leah Devereux was always on the top of the list, but as her scheduling initially didn’t align, we auditioned various other actresses. All of them were bold in their reads and brought something unique. Eventually, Chelsea O’Connor was cast in the supporting role of Orla and I needed to find someone who had a short-hand with her, to play Judith. Gemma-Leah and Chelsea were very good friends in real life and the chemistry was clear. Elizabeth was cast as Jessica a few weeks before we shot, she did an immense job at conveying a lot with no lines.
The intention of the telephone overlays was to frame the narrative through Judith’s and Orla’s differing perspectives. Judith is our main character, but she’s a very unreliable narrator. Her relationship with reality is frayed. She speaks in abstractions. Having Judith be the centre point and Orla telling her side of the story, simultaneously, was a multifaceted structure I wanted to play around with.
We shot on the Amira as I loved what DP Paul Mortlock achieved on a couple of promos he shot for my good friends/directors, Grandmas. Shooting in Super 16 mode aided in achieving the more hazy feel and filmic look we were after. The tones the Amira captures are so soft and rich, it complemented the wedding décor well (which Production Designer Sophie Barrott worked magic on with little budget), and I could see exactly how I was going to push things in the grade before the edit rolled around.
There’s a certain novelty to not being able to shoot full HD – we didn’t want things to photograph pristinely and it gives you just the right amount of noise to work with. Opting for 4:3 framed the venue aptly, there wasn’t all that much room in there, and the feeling of being contained is what needed to be conveyed. We needed to portray that this room was Judith’s playpen.
I could see exactly how I was going to push things in the grade before the edit rolled around.
Early on, Paul and I saw the necessity for Steadicam. We felt like it was a must have, so begged two operators to split the shoot time between them. It brings so much to the story. We’re following Judith like the frenzied force of nature that she is. Observing the action like an omniscient spectre was the only way to go.
As I’m writing this, my country is on the cusp of the pandemic’s peak, but I’m currently writing my next short and prepping a music video due to shoot when the industry (and world) regains stability.