Janet Devis came about through both a passionate desire to make a film and the need to limit myself to one main location for my first 'proper' effort. I've always dabbled in the medium, buying a video camera on HP when I was 17. I used to make little surreal films that I could make music for and always harboured ambitions to make a 'real' film. After writing a couple of soundtracks for other people's films, that desire grew.
My aim was to make a short, experimental film with a particular atmosphere to it. An idea that could be expanded given the right budget. Flat-sharing for many years in London (and often being confined to four walls) started me thinking about ideas involving one prisoner(one actor) in one room. I didn't like the idea of a modern-day setting, so I started thinking about scenarios set in the future, or maybe on a different time-line. Sci-fi is a great way of holding a mirror up to the now. I was originally going to use an android as the main character but this changed (partially through lack of budget) to a peaceful human who was suspected of having 'occult' powers such as telekinesis, and an influence over people through peaceful means. A threat to the authorities. A thorn in their side. I didn't want a tough, stereotypical rebel. I wanted a resilient female. The #MeToo movement was also rising around this time and definitely had an influence on the casting of a female prisoner. Janet is a misunderstood girl, punished largely for being different. It's set in a modern/future/alternate time-line (the date and setting are never mentioned) during a witch-trial where the highly scientific and logical creators of an all-encompassing programme want to understand and obtain her powers. Why won't she just join the programme like everyone else? Why is she gaining supporters and followers? They cannot understand this woman. After all, to join is the logical choice. They must control her.
Reading about many notoriously individual characters, such as the legendary British prisoner Charles Bronson's incarceration for years in English prisons, the FBI's hounding of John Lennon in the 1970's (for speaking out against Vietnam) and Jennet Device, the horrendously treated Pendle Witch Trial girl, were all influential. Arthur Lee's repeated line from 'The Red Telephone' on maybe my favourite album, 'Forever Changes', also came to mind.......'They're locking him up today, they're throwing away the key, I wonder who it'll be tomorrow, You or me?'
The Wikileaks/Julian Assange story (witch-hunt?) and Governmental surveillance of its citizens, along with the increasing use of machines and drones in war zones were also all on my mind. Paranoia and abuse of power. Paranoia of the state is always both amusing and distressing to me. Especially the lengths they are pushed to when they don't understand their enemy.
Historical British witch-trials have always fascinated me. The insanity of them. The unfairness. Probably the biggest mass-state perpetuated injustices towards women in history! And all largely based on the paranoia and ego of one king (Witchfinder General is also one of my favourite movies). The McCarthy communist hunts many years later are equally fascinating and were another inspiration (the paranoia of the state again).
Unseen forces in the film are very much based on the idea of a scientifically sure, logically reasoned, computer-controlled power. A power that has lost touch with its own humanity. George Lucas's original 'THX1138' student film was very inspiring because it was made on a tiny budget and had such great ideas and ambitions, along with an interesting atmosphere and sound design (I much prefer it to the released film). Brian De Palma's 'Carrie' was also an influence, as were Rod Serling's 'Twilight Zone' TV series and 'An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge'-the incredible French Oscar-winning short from 1964.
With no budget and 10 minutes or so to tell the story, I wanted Janet Devis to be akin to a visual poem; ambiguous and allegorical ('The Prisoner' TV series was an influence here).The computer screens/cards idea that appear were suggested by Neil and I wanted them to appear similarly to the screens in David Cronenberg's 'The Fly' - which Neil did a great job in recreating. An atmosphere of frustration and claustrophobia was what I was after. An atmosphere which I certainly feel in modern life, and I'm sure that many others do too!
Janet Devis is set in a non-specific time and place. It blends sci-fi with horror and social commentary. The short film tells the tale of a telekinetic girl, named Janet Devis, who has been captured by an unknown organisation. She is interrogated, tortured and forceably inducted into an all encompasing programme by computers and machines. It appears that the unseen forces see Janet as a threat to themselves. They aim to control her and understand and obtain her powers for their own usage. The film is allegorical in many ways and explores the perennial theme of the individual versus collectivism.
This is my first short film and was filmed entirely on location in Brighton, England. Mostly in an old world war 2 bomb shelter. For my first film, I wanted to limit myself in terms of crew and location. Well, I certainly managed that. The crew consisted of just two: My sister and myself! I spent every spare day off work for 3 months travelling down to Brighton from London to plan and film. We had just one camera- a Canon 7D with a kit lens , and two additional lenses; a 50mm f/1.4 and a 28mm f/2.8 len. As we were attempting to shoot in very low light, these last two were essential. Jeanette and I lit the shots and shot via a tripod. It was a really creative and fun time and I looked forward to shooting on every journey down from London.
We used an old Korg synth to make the droning sounds, a sound that Neil had pre-programmed (I've always loved the sounds of anologue synths that John Carpenter, among others, often used). I played my own simple acoustic guitar riff for the beach scene, to heighten the juxtaposition of the technological cell and the freedom of nature. Computer voices were programmed by trial and error (a THX influence). I dislike preset sounds on films, so the rest of the sound designs were produced organically. For example, an electric razor was used for the CCTV camera movements and droplets of water onto cardboard for blood dropping in the cell.I tried to keep the film very visual and atmospheric. I wanted to avoid the camera darting around (a modern trend that I'm not a fan of) and kept it stationary on a fixed tripod for most of the shots. This also (hopefully) conveys the cold, logical atmosphere of the world that the film is set in.
Jeanette ended up playing Janet herself as, while shooting test footage, she appeared natural and sympathetic on screen and gave the film a slightly documentary feel which I liked. Being a film-make up graduate, she also did the makeup herself, which was handy. Once it was filmed, I took the film to Neil's (another Gregory but no relation) flat to edit and complete the sound. There were many shots and takes to go through, so it was a somewhat laborious process, though very creative and rewarding. I programmed the computer voices through trial and error and experimented with sounds and phonetics. We also came up with some music/atmospheric sounds via an old analogue Korg synth, manipulated samples and acoustic guitar. Neil and I have known each other since Primary school and composed soundtracks for two other short films, as well as being in a band together for many years, so we were very used to working with each other. A private screening of Janet Devis enabled us to recruit two actors -Adam Eveson and David Keyes ( a well-known face on British TV and in several Hollywood films ) for our next short film, Daniel Came Home.