It’s been a long time since Director Oliver Goodrum joined us with his searing drama This is Vanity – over eight years in fact! But today we welcome him back to our pages to talk about his long-mooted follow-up, Iniquity. Goodrum’s This is Vanity was a critical and online smash, garnering over 14 million views on YouTube and shortlist selections from BAFTA and BIFA due to its compelling and morally complex story which focused around a tragic event involving a struggling mother and her disabled daughter. Goodrum applies this signature realism to Iniquity, which takes place in the same universe, but from an alternate perspective. The result is a fascinating short film rife for discussion about the moral codes we cast upon people on a daily basis. DN caught up with Goodrum to ask about his return to this story, how he worked with Richard Creehan to dig deeper into the character he portrayed in his youth, and the overwhelming pressures of society he wanted to convey.
What brought you back to the world you created in This is Vanity and how did you re-immerse yourself this many years later?
Writer Alexander Craig and I had the idea of doing this one and a third when we made the first film back in 2012. We wanted to explore the Michael character and everything that went into making him and challenge the idea of being born bad or evil, or even that they exist. After talking about it back then and failing to get anywhere we had about seven years away from it, in which time we wrote a feature together, and then started talking about it just over a year ago.
It probably started with rereading all the articles on the original true story of Francesca Hardwick and finding great bits of info on the ‘feral family’ as they were branded by papers. Alex started by pitching four or five story ideas to me, which were a little too far away from where I felt the story was. Then we exchanged a few emails and started meeting regularly at his place just south of Dublin in a town called Roundwood and over the course of four or five visits we fleshed out the film it is now.
What do you feel time has brought to Iniquity both from a narrative and filmmaking craft perspective, that would have been different if you’d made it immediately after This is Vanity?
There’s the obvious answer, which is experience. Alex and I are both better writers, and I’m a better filmmaker and storyteller. Specifically, with narrative, I think time allowed us to see where Vanity was lacking, which was maybe in character development and that is where we focused a lot of our attention and where the journey for this film began, discovering who Michael was and is and could be.
The key is to keep learning, keep making mistakes and get better consistently.
Concerning craft, there was definitely some experimentation this time around and I think that came from a need to learn more. I had not shot enough narrative in the time since Vanity. I don’t think this film would be the same film or as good a film if we’d made it straight after Vanity but maybe I’d be a better filmmaker. Maybe I’d have made another short or even a feature by now, so I’m certainly not sure that the road we’ve gone down is the best, it’s impossible to say. The key is to keep learning, keep making mistakes and get better consistently.
How did the visual language you implemented in This is Vanity dictate that used in Iniquity? Did you shoot on the same equipment?
Rather than think about it as Vanity’s visual language I think about it as my style as an evolving filmmaker. Iniquity’s style is a product of my evolution over the last eight years in conjunction with Vanity. I was just aiming at what I consider to be the right way to realise things in an ideal scenario, juggled with the constraints of production and experimenting with being more controlled with the camera’s movement. We did not shoot on the same equipment, last time we shot 35mm and this time Alexa, this time we shot 2:1 instead of 1:78 because I think the 1:78 is too close to 16:9 which is too square and on the flip side I find 1:2.35 too wide with too much black space when viewed on TVs/Laptops.
Both Vanity and Iniquity are morally complicated films, when you develop films like these are you cognisant of how some people will inevitably receive the film be that positively or negatively?
Maybe a little but my main interest, and what I choose to spend time on, is the pursuit of what I deem to be the best. It’s impossible to try and appease everyone and trying to maybe just weakens and dilutes what you do. Some people only want to see films that are an easy entertaining watch and I’d imagine my work is not for them.
Similarly, what kind of discussions are you hoping audiences have after watching Iniquity?
None, I don’t hope for discussion, but if people talk about it after and it makes them think then that’s great but it’s just not something I think about and hope for.
Michael is a really complicated character to portray, how much of a challenge was it to film some of his more intense scenes?
Richard (Michael) did an amazing job so generally, everything was easy because he nailed it right from the start. The difficulty was probably greater than before as he and I were both scared and needed this to be good. We’d worked together a few times before but this was all on him so it was much scarier. So much that he kept avoiding doing the first ‘sort-of-casting’ tape – it was not casting as he had the job from the start. Once he eventually did this it just started taking off. He came down to my house for a day or two next, and we did more tapes, then he came to my house a week before the shoot and we did rehearsals with all the actors and spoke about the character and the script for a week, and he also spent time with it on his own all the time. He put an incredible amount of work in.
We also had the memories of the first film, his experiences of actually doing those things and watching the final film, so that all created something quite unusual for us to work with and which we were able to use for the benefit of this film. Everything was very real in a way. Maybe he tells a different story.
It’s impossible to try and appease everyone and trying to maybe just weakens and dilutes what you do.
In terms of the story there’s a strong sense of the pressure from both the media but also online in general. Was it important for you to have the ‘world’ confronting Michael from everywhere he looked?
Right from the get go I had the idea of the journalist, it’s something I’ve wanted to touch on and explore in other things, and this paired with the online abuse felt like very futile ground.
How did you find writing and structuring Iniquity to work as a stand alone film but also one that would be enhanced when watched after This is Vanity?
Making Iniquity as a totally stand alone film was massively important to me, I never wanted this to be seen or thought of as a sequel. The writing and development process was slow to begin with, we did a lot of rummaging around and exploring different plot ideas, so we needed patience to do that but it was very enjoyable and exciting. Structurally, keeping as much from the audience as possible and drip feeding throughout, just always felt like the right way to go, to both Alex and I right from the start. Some people thought it was too much and felt we should give more, but it was like in Vanity when people told us starting with the explosion was wrong, we just totally disagreed and felt confident in this direction.
Once you got going how long did it take to make the Iniquity?
After completing a successful crowdfunding campaign and adding some personal money, Covid postponed us from early last year to just after summer in late August, which was when we started full-time pre-production. We then had a month doing all the usual stuff before starting the shoot in late September, then I started cutting straight away on Premiere and fitted it in around work. The whole film took just over two years from when we actually started developing and writing.
What’s it like being your own editor? Does it give you perspective on your role as a writer/director?
The reason I edit myself is probably because I know no one will put up with me, as well as that I’m free labour! Whilst they aren’t the reasons there’s definitely truth in both points. Being an okay editor definitely informs both the writing and directing. I think it gives me a big advantage on set and at the computer but also allows me to reimagine things easier than I’d imagine a director/writer who does not edit and isn’t used to going against themselves.
I never wanted this to be seen or thought of as a sequel.
One of the main things is that it gives you time to cut it how it’s meant to be, then explore options when it isn’t right or fix shortcomings and then just walk away for a day or a week or more and not be constrained by someone else’s schedule or the budget to hire them. I can take as long as I need, it allows me to see it six months into the festival run and act on an itch I had six months ago that I’m now sure enough with that I want to remove a scene, a moment or add something.
What will we be seeing from you next? A continuation of the Vanity and Iniquity story or perhaps a feature?
A feature, but it’s early days, trying to develop new ideas to compete against a script Alex and I wrote in 2016 that we’ll revamp. I’d love to read some scripts already written too!
Iniquity is one of the many great projects shared with the Directors Notes Programmers through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them submit your film.