INTERVIEW – with Director Max Sobol, of Award Winning Short Film The Photographer

If you want to watch an engaging short film this year then this is ons you must watch. The Photographer is about a reclusive photographer who finds himself confronted with a disturbing reality, after he becomes obsessed with following a young woman. He has the decision to make as to whether he should act or risk being discovered.

The short film has already won Best Cinematography Award a the British Independent Film Festival and has been nominated in a variety of others as well. The short film is to highlight and bring to live the dangers of social media voyeurism in the real world. The film has been produced through a creative initiative that was set up by Advertising agency VCCP Blue and was written by Mark Pluck. I sat down with Director Max Sobol to find out about the film.

Firstly congratulations on the awards and nominees that The Photographer has won / been nominated for – how did the idea first come about?

Thank you very much! It’s been a fun journey.

The idea came from the writer – Mark Pluck – and was originally born out of a time that he was living in Barcelona. He had just moved there and was still finding his feet so he found himself doing a lot of people watching and I think the idea kind of spun off from there as a What If daydream scenario.

You are the Director on The Photographer – how did the partnership with writer Mark Pluck come about?

I had just finished my debut feature and I was working at an ad agency called VCCP, they had been running an internal competition, looking for 3 scripts to fund, and Mark’s was one of those. The script was thematically and tonally similar to my feature and so it was suggested that we get together and talk about this project. We did and instantly got along really well.

The film is shot and edited beautifully – how did you decide in the style for it to be portrayed – what inspired you to film it in this style / format?

Visually we took a lot of queues from the classic voyeurism films of the 70s, for example The Conversation and Blow Up. We used old lenses from that era, which are uncoated, giving the image a soft organic look and doubling down on that lovely filmic quality that you get already from the Alexa.

My DOP Maeve O’connell and I were also conscious of trying to find a fresh approach to the voyeur visual style, not just falling back on long lenses, which give that typical ‘person hiding behind a bush’ feel. In the end we settled on the idea of using wide lenses and creating these kind of drifting oners. The idea was to give the camera an almost omnipresent feel – like it’s a subjective point of view, narrating the story for us. Hopefully it has a sort of slow, relentless, determined feel, which reflects what’s going on in the narrative.

The edit was also a really fascinating process, as ever there were lots of things that shifted and evolved in that final stage. I was working with Chris Coupland who is a brilliant editor and long time collaborator, so we have that wonderful short hand that comes from years of being locked in a small dark room together.

The film is really true to the original script but in the edit we were also able to discover new levels to the idea; one of the things I love the most about filmmaking is the way that the film keeps revealing itself to you as you go along and then finally you have that moment when you watch the edit and it all clicks in to place and you go: THERE IT IS.

The short film gives a really strong message about what social media and technology such as phones as a whole are doing to society – has it had any personal effect on you as to how you interact with the technology since making this film?

The use of social media and technology was a really big part of our thinking throughout the process but we obviously did it in a slightly round about way – given that we don’t actually feature any social media in the film – so I’m glad that comes through.

I think for me personally it has made me a bit more conscious of how I interact with social media. Particularly the way in which we make assumptions about other people’s lives. You see this carefully curated version of people’s lives, a collection of images of them having a great time and you just assume everything’s fine and dandy but then you talk to them and it turns out they’re having a really tough time.

I think it’s a weird distorted place in a lot of ways and it just goes to show how essential a genuine interaction can be in a time when we’re becoming more and more detached.

What was some of the most challenging things about producing The Photographer?

The film was fairly low budget, we didn’t have nothing but we didn’t have a lot, and as a result you are always facing challenges in terms of resources. The main one being time, we ended up having to shoot a day and a half’s worth of stuff in a day and it was a long tough day. When’re you’re just covering the crew’s expenses that starts to feel like taking the piss.

# The whole basis of your film is about the ideaology of being watched and being unaware of it-

I recently read a statement in a book that the average American spends 444 minutes a day in front of  a screen and that people are now creating a online persona that is very different to their real selves (both from Modern Romance: An Investigation By Aziz Ansari ) and in other news articles that we are a generation that is becoming more lonely with the presence of social media taking over – this means that at some point in time the average person in their day is ‘watching’ others on social media / dating sites / twitter etc

A – what messages about this topic are your film raising and why is it important?

I think on one level the film is just talking about the limitations of the medium and therefore the need to get out from behind the screen and go and have a genuine interaction with someone.

But also the dangers of buying into that world too much; our protagonist is trying to cast himself as the hero in someone else’s story – a story that he has a limited, self serving perspective on – and as a result his behaviour crosses a line.

b – Do you find it on a level scary about how much we actually watch others?

There’s undoubtedly something deeply uncomfortable about the idea that someone else is watching us without our knowledge, it makes us feel vulnerable. On the other side of that coin I think we also compromise ourself when we spend too much time watching others, what can we really hope to gain from it? I think it mainly just makes us feel deeply unhappy

c – You use technically an old fashioned technology to express these ideologies of the modern day world – why do you think this has created such a strong perception on the point of being watched?

I think it helps to create a bit of distance between the behaviour and the medium, it gives us the chance to look at it without our own baggage, hopefully we let our guard down a bit and look at things objectively.

Since doing the film how do you feel about the amount of information you put about yourself online – has it altered and why?

To be honest, although I’m maybe more aware of it, I’m not sure that I’ve changed too much. I think over the years I’ve just naturally found the need to post less stuff anyway. Mainly I’m just begging for some film related favour – or someone to feed my cat.

The thing that really freaks me out is the algorithm; we used to go online in search of new things but now we just get fed more of the same and that perspective gets narrower and narrower the more that the algorithm decides that it know about us. We’re being kettled by our own social media.

For anyone who wants to find out more information about The Photographer how do they go about this?

You can satisfy all your Photographer related needs here:

And we’d love to chat to you on any of our social channels too…

Twitter: @thatbutnotthat

FB: @thephotographer2017

Insta: @thephotographerfilm

Are there any more short films we can look forward to from yourself in 2018?

The team are currently working on two new feature scripts that we’re looking to get funded this year, the first is a twist on a classic ghost story set up on Dartmoor and the other is a psychological thriller set entirely in a semi-detached house in the suburbs.

And finally in three words sum up The Photographer?

Thoughtful, dark and surprising

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