Interview with director Henry Coombes
Movie • 1 hr 21 min • Arthouse, Comedy, Drama
UK, Completed Feb 2016, Dutch Premiere, Q&A with actor David Sillars after screening
DIRECTED BY Henry Coombes
La Belle Allee Productions is delighted to present ‘Seat In Shadow’, a feature length film by Henry Coombes, in which the quiet domesticity of reclusive artist Albert is pitted against the raucous self absorption of gay youth cultures’ excesses, in a hilarious exploration of analytical extremes. When he’s challenged by his good friend Marcelle to apply his years of psychotheraputic experience to curing her lazy homosexual grandson Ben of his inertia and fear of happiness in a cold dark Scotland, a fantastic journey of wit and imagination unfolds, as Albert attempts to get to the root of what’s making Ben so afraid – with the help of You Tube advice guru Petunia and a cheese plant.
A bravura performance by actor David Sillars makes Coombes debut feature a witty and delightful joy, while still retaining all the hallmarks of a truly original and authentic artist film-maker…
What inspired you to make a feature comedy that explores the world of Jungian psychoanalysis and the excesses of gay culture?
The characters were based loosely on friends I know within the city of Glasgow, some of which were cast in the film.The story was based on a real event, of a older gay man giving therapy to a young gay man, who eventually became trusted friends, breaking the conventions of a therapeutic relationship. It was from these characters and their stories, a wild narrative was inspired, where a therapist seeks supervision from a cheese plant possessed by the ghost of Carl Jung. I watched interviews with Carl Jung I kept on seeing a cheese plant in the background which sparked my imagination.
During this time I had just qualified as a psychotherapist, having worked with clients, and having had therapy from a highly skilled Gestalt therapist, I suddenly envisaged therapies cinematic potential, that was both epic and possible on a shoe string budget.
I wanted to see if these powerful therapeutic techniques, that had such a profound effect on me, could be used to discover a visionary story.
Seat In Shadow, is set in Glasgow Scotland, why did you base the film there?
The city of Glasgow became a character in the film, I have lived and studied there for 17 years. It often gets portrayed as grey industrial city, a backdrop for social realist drama. I was interested in its colorful, exotic wild side, that I experienced as artist and an art student. Hanging out with groups of people with no money creating energy and dynamism out of their imagination.
I explained Glasgow to a lady in L.A, that so wanted to wear her grand mother’s fur coats she inherited, but she never got the chance, due to the hot climate. I described Glasgow and she said it sounded ‘exotic’, she thought it would be a good place to wear her coats, I never thought about my home city in that way. It pisses with rain, its cold, but with a fresh eyes you discover a magic; Walker Percy the writer of ‘The Movie Goer’ called the cities unique magic the ‘Ginie Soul’, its the spirit that keeps us somewhere, or that we miss when away.
How did it feel to have your premiere at Edinburgh Festival?
Fantastic to be invited and supported by Edinburgh Festival, they saw a rough cut 6 months or so before completion and accepted the film on the program. This really helped us push the film to a higher level in terms of editing, music score by Tut Vu Vu, and post production. When we handed the final copy to Edinburgh it had only been finished 2 days before deadline. It was great to be able to premiere Seat and Shadow at such a wonderful festival in Scotland, to a large engaged independent cinema going audience. The festival was the platform and catalyst for the film being screened internationally, in Europe , Australia, and America.
Is there scene in the film that you found challenging to shoot?
We shot the film in 14 days, We looked at the paintings of Sidney Nolan, I produce over 200 collages/story boards to establish a vision for the film. David Liddell the DOP took these references in, and planned a process that allowed us to shoot a feature in 14 days on a low budget. In terms of camera and lighting every scene was beautifully constructed allowing for the spontaneous moments to be captured.
It was challenging shooting a half empty club at 10 am on a Monday with sticky floors, and make it look convincing. We even had someone come off the street who thought it was a morning club event, we needed the extra bodies so I think that poor lost soul is in the background somewhere dancing strangely.
Recreating the Australian Outback out of cardboard and paint in a living room was a personal nightmare. I nearly cried with relief, when I realised we had got the coverage we needed on the rushes.
How did you achieve such great performances from lead actors?
I trusted my gut when casting David Sillars and Jonathan Leslie; they both worked tirelessly for 3 months workshopping the therapy scenes, developing a great bond and acting relationship.
When it came to shooting they had done all the hard work, I went with momentum of the performance only having to make slight adjustments, with my eye on the narrative. I trusted the two leads implicitly to find the performance, it gave them space to explore there characters with creative freedom.
What would you have done differently on this film?
Stayed away from the coffee on set. (Drunk too much).
I loved the character of the Granny by Marcella Macintosh, would of loved another scene with her.
Did you learn anything new as a director from making ‘Seat in Shadow’?
You need a producer you trust and have a very good working relationship with, especially on low budget features. Trust your extinct rather than other peoples rules when it comes to script development. Do not make films to audition for bigger projects, wether in budget or duration. Embrace your restrictions, and compromises, often the creative solutions produce the memorable moments and images . As a director your one part of the creative team, give crew and actors room to discover. Excitement and anxiety go together like eggs and bacon and are constantly on the menu.
As a Successful artist known for your film work. Have you always wanted to be a filmaker?
No, up until age 17 I wanted to be hotel manager, I got a Job in a kitchen of a hotel one summer. I hated it, work felt like I was receiving radiation, I wanted to scream in the corner rather than make duck pate.
It was at this point I promised myself I would go to Art School, where a fascination for moving image started.
Was there a film that inspired your ambition?
Putney Swope by Robert Downey Senior, it gave me permission to make what I want to see on screen.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
In terms CV it was probably representing Scotland at The Venice Biennale 2007, I found the whole experience a bit terrifying, everyone who bought my work, had dreadful plastic surgery. I remember waking up the day after the opening with an awful hang over, wondering what to do next, I am going to be exposed as a fraud? have you run out of ideas? I was never emotionally present in celebrating the event or achievement, I was always thinking about ways to prevent my inevitable catastrophic future.
The best feeling I have ever had, was the day we signed off Seat in Shadow after final post production screening, I suddenly dawned on me that I achieved my ambition, I had direct a feature film. I stepped out of the cinema and went for a walk feeling like I was floating full of gratitude. I am determined to make another feature film, I love working collectively.
What advice would you give to a filmmaker starting out?
‘You should be pleased when you screw up its a sign you are learning.’ (Keith Johnstone)
I need to remind myself of this advice everyday.