After finding himself drawn to the age-old moral quandary of nature vs nurture, filmmaker Sebastian Delascasas started to question what he would do if someone expressed a desire so dark it could barely be uttered. How would he approach the situation and what would he then think of that person? Promise, his directorial debut, explores the immediate moment of such a confession being made in confidence to a trusted friend, and with the raw horror of the aired admission, forces its audience to place themselves within the unbearable discomfort of the situation as it plays out on screen. Ahead of today’s premiere Delascasas, who also takes on an acting role in Promise, spoke to us about the trepidation he felt researching the film, losing his main actor the night before the shoot and wanting his audience to feel the palpable discomfort as they watched.

How did you decide what angle to approach this difficult situation from?

I wanted to make the movie short, confined and very intense. Never having made a film before, but having a background in theater, I was able to create a story that did everything I wanted it to do while never changing locations. I wanted the storyline to be the main thing driving the film but I also wanted to create a stressful and claustrophobic ambiance for the audience to feel how the situation feels. We shot the whole movie handheld and in tight closeups with long lenses to achieve the claustrophobic feel. I wanted to make sure we used lenses only ranging from 50mm – 85mm. This way, we feel like we dropped into this room that we shouldn’t be in and are spying on these friends having an intimate moment. I wanted to force the viewer to watch up close without any space to breathe.

The way Chris describes his situation to Teo in the film is actually taken from a way in which someone described it themselves online.

How did your research asking friends what they’d do and their subsequent answers lead to the delicate and precise writing needed to tackle such a subject matter?

In trying to figure out how people would react if their close friend confessed something like this, I realized I actually knew very little about this topic. More questions started to come up like when are things wrong? When are things okay? What is okay? I had to do all online research through forums that exist. It’s actually quite sad when you really start to read how these people feel. The way Chris describes his situation to Teo in the film is actually taken from a way in which someone described it themselves online. I wanted to make sure the writing was unbiased and that we got to see these two sides that don’t really know how the other side is going to react.

While I’m sure not the first depiction, this is a conversation I have never seen on screen before. How did you decide what the timespan you needed to capture around this dark confession was?

I had many different versions of the script where things happened before and things happened after but for me, the most important part was leaving it open-ended. We start with Chris and the secret he is holding but we end with Teo and how he feels. We don’t know if Chris is good or bad. We don’t know what happened. We don’t know what to do. What would you do? I found that the question itself really only works as a movie if it’s the only thing we see. Anything after that and we are either disagreeing or agreeing and it also becomes less subjective as it’s now about what Teo does as opposed to what can he do?

Promise very much relies on the acting and performance of Rupert Fennessy who is terrifyingly captivating.

The main actor who was supposed to play Chris dropped out the night before our first shoot. Luckily the runner up for the role, Rupert, ended up being the best choice for the project and immediately said yes the night before shooting. Rupert is an amazing actor. We met up the night before and rehearsed for hours until we felt comfortable with what we needed to do. We were lucky that Rupert and I had been friends for a while so he had seen and read and talked about previous iterations of the script and also what I wanted. It was important for me that Chris was not a villain but also not a hero. I needed Chris to be normal. I needed him to feel like he could be anyone. Rupert has this amazing delicate quality to him that I thought was perfect for Chris. He was truly able to just do his thing and shine. He is a very captivating performer and I know for sure we are going to be seeing a lot more of him.

I found that the question itself really only works as a movie if it’s the only thing we see.

Were you always going to act in the film?

In a way, this whole film was an experiment from the beginning. I had never made a movie before so I wanted to see what I could do. I originally wrote it with the idea of not directing it but just acting in it. But slowly I realized I had such a specific vision for it that I just wanted to try direct it. I was very lucky that my friend Kaya Tone wanted to step in as AD. She’s an incredible filmmaker and I wanted her help whenever I was on screen. We talked extensively about what my vision was and she was able to help execute and give notes whenever I was being filmed. I wanted to make sure I was present for the other actors when I was in the scene so that they felt comfortable and present in the moment.

The intensity of the conversation is poignantly reflected in the angles you use to capture their conversation, what setups did you have?

I wanted there to be an uncomfortable shift in the scene when Teo and Chris are left alone. Like something strange just happened but we can’t really tell what it is. We shot everything with Julian on one side of the 180 line and then when he left we crossed over to capture the conversation on the other side of the 180 line. That helped us create this weird shift in the scene that I think was necessary.

The film has a realist aesthetic that doesn’t hide behind fancy colour grading or flashy cinematography, what informed that decision?

I wanted the film to stand out using two things: performance and story. Everything else was there to try and compliment and elevate the two things that were important for the story. I took heavy influences from the Safdie brothers’ films to try and achieve what I was going for. I find that most of their movies make you feel like you’re sort of watching people go through circumstances that you shouldn’t be watching them go through. It’s this uncomfortable feeling that you are just a bystander watching this person go through an awful night. I wanted to capture that in this film by using similar shooting tactics like close up on wide lenses and fast pace editing.

There is something eerie and suspenseful about the repetitive almost childlike tune that keeps going as the characters start to dive into an uncomfortable topic.

The silence punctuated only by the bleep of the video game holds its own power and is as uneasy as their conversation.

When making the movie, I realized how many serious conversations I have had throughout my life with my friends while the sound of a video game was playing throughout. I wanted it to feel real and I wanted to force the audience to listen and not have anything they can sort of get distracted by. Just this ongoing repetitive and unbiased song. There is something eerie and suspenseful about the repetitive almost childlike tune that keeps going as the characters start to dive into an uncomfortable topic. It really adds a lot to the tension.

After the weighty, intense nature of this film, what are you looking at developing next?

I just wrapped my second short which has a completely different vibe. To me, filmmaking is a way for me to make the movies I want to make or I want to see, so I’m really just experimenting a lot. I want to focus on using things I didn’t know existed and focus on creating films I’m excited about. I think my next project will be a feature. I already have a script and I want to incorporate a lot of the things I’ve learned with Promise and my new short. I’m just excited to keep making films. Hopefully, you like them but if you hate them that’s also quite nice. Just as long as you don’t feel indifferent about them.

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