Filmmaking has been a lifelong passion for Writer-Director Savvas Christou. Since graduating at NYFA, Christou has made a number of short films alongside his latest feature film Captive (2020). In the following interview, Savvas gives us an insight into some of the technical aspects a writer or director has to consider when working against a budget. From table reads to shooting on set, the award-winning filmmaker highlights the importance of learning your craft inside out as well as remembering to appreciate the struggles and victories along the way…
FF: Can you tell us about your filmmaking journey so far
SC: I have been experimenting with filmmaking since high school. My lifelong passion led me to move to Los Angeles in 2016 to study Filmmaking at NYFA. Since then I have written and directed 13 short films, 5 of which were awarded in local and international film festivals. One of them, A Scream That’s Trapped Inside (2017) was awarded as the ‘Best Short Film’ in 19 Film Festivals from all around the world. After completing the festival circuit, the short film got its first distribution with Meridian Releasing Group for their MGR Collective “Horror Volume II”, its second with Four Thieves Productions – can be seen in Hyvio streaming platform and it’s third by Filmeraa. My feature debut film Captive (2020) (AKA “Katherine’s Lullaby”) is released by Vertical Entertainment and can be seen in the USA and Canada (VOD).The spark behind Christou’s horror
FF: What inspired you to write Captive (2020)? Can you give us an insight into your writing process for the film?
SC: It all started back in 2014 in Thessaloniki, Greece – on my way home after a long night-out with friends, I shared a pizza slice with a delusional homeless man. After a long conversation with him, I went back home and stayed up all night to write down this “idea” as a high level synopsis on my laptop. Then, I started writing many drafts of the whole script and shared it with friends and colleagues for feedback, and two years later, in 2018, I had everything prepared to the last detail. Throughout the process, I also organised several table reads with random audiences in order to understand if what I wanted to convey could be translated to other people categorising into genres, ages and likes.
FF: Was there a particular message in Captive that you wanted to tell and share?
SC: The film’s themes are survival and family relationships. Everyone has been developing their own family bonds and experiences throughout their lives, and hence all of us perceive these relationships in different ways. For this reason, I wanted to put the audience in a constantly evolving emotional state where they could resonate with different situations as the characters unfold their true colours. The changing perception of the family bonds will make each one empathise with different situations at different stages, and as a result ignite thoughts and internal discussions with ourselves, which is the main takeaway of watching Captive (2020).
FF: How did you go about the casting process? Was there something in particular you were looking for in the actors?
SC: I had several casting auditions. The first thing I am looking for in an actor is whether they understand their character and their objectives. I love it when actors want to take it a step further and try to grow their character by suggesting ideas and enhancements. I am extremely happy with all the cast and honestly, all of them exceeded all expectations. They are very talented actors, and the mutual respect they had for each other helped us bond extremely well as a team, which in turn brought us the final great results.
Appreciate every accomplishment and weakness
The whole preparation and the rehearsals with William Kircher and Tori Kostic took us 2 intense weeks where we shaped and analysed every single scene together meticulously. Not only did they make my life so much easier as a director by being very easy to work with, but they also tended to always go the extra mile by bringing their own ideas on the characters. We cooperated seamlessly and took a very open-minded, artistic approach when building up the characters and for me the result was breathtaking and spot on.
FF: Did you learn anything new about filmmaking during the overall project?
SC: Absolutely. Every time I create a project I learn something new. There are endless possibilities for how a film can be developed both on screen and my mind. In every step of the process, I’m constantly learning so much about what’s possible and how’s best to do it. Till this day when I still receive comments about the film, I keep learning and appreciate every accomplishment and weakness.
FF: What horror films are you inspired by? What would be your favourite and why?
SC: I watched many movies in my life but I rewatched several similar films and analysed every single thing. Some movies that I was influenced by were The Shining (1980), which is my favourite movie of all times – Stanley Kubrick is a great director to educate yourself. I watched all the films from Asghar Farhadi (multiple times) who I consider one of the best directors to create tension using spot-on dialogues in his movies. Other movies I was influenced by were Misery (1990), Berlin Syndrome (2017), 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016), Room (2015) and many more.
For us filmmakers, watching movies is not only entertaining, it is also time for research. Therefore, the credit should go to my teachers and everyone that was involved in the films I watched so far. Those are the real influencers in my craft.
FF: What piece of advice would you give to other filmmakers trying to get into the industry?
SC: I would say it’s crucial for all filmmakers to study deeply the kind of movie they want to make and at the same time, to map out all the possible roadblocks they may have from the beginning, in order to make sure that they are putting all their energy towards delivering a sellable, exceptional product. Having the ability to picture the scenes before even writing them could be a special power in most cases, but sometimes it can be a bit tricky too.
In my case of Captive (2020), I wrote the first draft wearing the director’s hat, but soon enough I realised that doing it solely from this perspective wouldn’t bring the end-result I was hoping for. I had to step up by bringing in other hats and tweak the story and characters to make sure we stay on budget without compromising the plot or the emotions.
At that point I was writing more as a producer rather than a writer, but I guess most low-budget films can become rather restrictive in that aspect. Since I had to delete some scenes at the very last moment, I was trying to find smart solutions visually to fill the story gaps and keep the audience on their toes. That’s the part I needed to be creative the most, and make sure that no major compromises were made on the plot, at the expense of the restrictive budget.
Scriptwriter, Filmmaker, Actor, MA student in ‘Writing for Script & Screen’. Passion for travel, love comic books and no.1 LOST TV show fan!