When Director Dan Löwenstein, founder of film production company House of Create, was approached to make a film for Survivors UK he was immediately drawn to the importance of the subject matter and was keen to create something of a high production value with a memorable message for them. Safe became a passion project where real stories of survivors of sexual violence are portrayed direct to camera by a trio of actors, all chosen for their ability to connect with the harrowing subject matter with the level of sensitivity required for the roles. Safe is a brave film which speaks to the isolating experience of abuse while conveying the unfortunate realities of a story which is so often the same, enabling the film to talk to a much larger audience and for survivors to see themselves in those on screen. We spoke to Löwenstein about building the script from authentic experiences and dialogue, taking care of his actors as they dealt with the difficult content and why creating a naturalistic setting was key.

How did you approach this very challenging brief from the most authentic position?

I haven’t got any personal experience of abuse but when looking into Survivors UK I saw straight away that this was something that affected so many more men than I thought. I felt guilty for not knowing more about it. This feeling inspired me to accept the project and do my best to spread the word. I feel like we’ve created something that’s easy to understand and powerful enough for people to sit up and listen.

It needed to feel intimate and personal to each actor.

I wanted to use real stories in the script so I got permission from Survivors UK to take case studies and write the script using real authentic experiences and dialogue. Wayne Waterson assisted me with the casting. I approached Alex Bender, a very talented DoP and explained my concept, which was to have a bedroom that changes slightly for each actor but is basically set out the same way, it needed to feel intimate and personal to each actor. Alex suggested we build a set for this! I had to remind him we only had £1500 but he pulled in some favours with a production designer and I brought in a set builder and we went to work in my wife’s mum’s community hall! We had the lighting donated to us for free by Pilot Lighting and all crew and kit was also free of charge. I paid the actors £150 each and paid their expenses. This was for the love!

I really wanted the viewer to see a representation of people from all ages and backgrounds to understand that this could happen to anyone and stays with you and shapes you for a long time. I gave Wayne the brief so when they came in to cast they were all aware of the subject matter and wanted to be a part of it to help shine a light on something that isn’t spoken about enough.

I feel like we’ve created something that’s easy to understand and powerful enough for people to sit up and listen.

It is still a subject which is unfortunately taboo and not spoken about enough. How did actors react to the subject matter during casting?

I held a casting at The Audition House facilitated by Wayne where I had some really great actors come through. They all knew the subject matter beforehand and were very willing to give themselves to the project. I didn’t have any barriers from them at all, it was a fluid and very open process for all the actors that attended. In the end I went with Bhasker Patel, Vic Zander and Isaac Money as they gave the most honest performances and were completely open to direction. They also understood the importance of the message which made their performances even more authentic.

What was your approach for directing your cast through the nuances of these extremely intimate performances?

Any direction from me was taken on board without question which was very humbling and satisfying as a director. I felt a warmth toward each of the actors, I wanted to care for them on set to make sure they felt at ease and they weren’t intimidated by the dialogue. I gave them room to explore and to make suggestions. I kept it free and organic. I strongly believe that if you cast the right actors then you are able to collaborate on the journey of the narrative and this was no exception.

I gave them physical cues which they expanded on and pushed to new levels.

Safe injects its cross-cutting accounts with flashes of raw emotional reactions, could you tell us about building that structure in the edit and how you found those moments on set?

I always knew I wanted to bounce between them in the edit. I didn’t fully plan the structure whilst we were shooting and I made sure I had enough material from each of them to choose the right moments to include. They all delivered the identical script so the edit left a lot of options which was great. In terms of the inserts, I directed each of them through an emotional journey which we caught on an inverted 58mm Helios lens. I gave them physical cues which they expanded on and pushed to new levels which I again went through and included the most appropriate moments of.

We shot on two Z CAMs through iron glass lenses owned by the crew. One Z CAM was on a gimbal but static and controlled by a remote to operate tilt and rotation. The other was on a slider. We kept the shots simple.

Had you also locked down the film’s visual style from the outset?

The look of the film was planned from the beginning. We wanted a strong side light which shone through the window, to create shape on their faces. I really wanted it to feel natural and not too stylised, I wanted it to feel like anyone’s bedroom. It should be relatable and not too far from reality. Grading wise we kept all the colours slightly muted but also embraced the realness of it all.

What future projects do you have in the works at the moment?

I am currently working on two feature films which are both in development. Unfortunately at this stage I can’t elaborate too much, but hopefully in the next month or two I will be able to spill the beans! As well as that I am in post on two other charity films which is something I want to continue pushing and I’m also working on three TVC’s currently which are shooting over the next 2-3 weeks.

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