‘Buoy’ dir. David Higgs

As NASA’s Curiosity descends towards the surface of Mars, back on Earth, a stranger sits on an empty beach.

Writer-Director: David Higgs
Producer: Charlie Mather
DOP: Simon Walton
Key Cast: Gavin Dent

C8: Where did the idea for ‘Buoy’ come from? How long did it take you to write the script?

DH: The film is based on an encounter I found myself in many years ago when I was faced with having to rescue a boy from the sea on the south coast.

C8: Can you describe your writing process? How did ‘Bouy’ differ from other shorts you’ve written?

DH: The script didn’t take long to write at all as, apart from a few embellishments, I wrote it almost exactly how it played out in reality. But I wished I’d spent more time developing the scenario. I think it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that an interesting life event will translate directly as an interesting story event. When it’s a story that is so close to you I feel like the challenge is to try and remove yourself as far from it as possible in order to look in on it objectively. It has to be accessible to everyone, not just yourself. I’ve been having the same struggle with my new short that I’m prepping at the moment. The idea came from the day my grandfather died two years ago and it has taken me until now to figure out how to tell the story in a way that (I hope) will interest a wider audience. There were aspects of the first draft that were written exactly as they happened in real life but surprisingly these were the things that people didn’t believe when they read it.

C8: What advice would you give to an emerging writer who is new to scriptwriting?

DH: I think the point I just made is definitely something to watch out for. And the further I get into the writing process the more I’m starting to appreciate the importance of planning and research. It’s too easy to rush in to something thinking “I’ve watched films therefor I should know how to write one”, because it just isn’t true. You’ll quickly get stuck and won’t be able to take it any further. You have to know the world that your story inhabits inside out and that simply isn’t possible without extensive research into absolutely every aspect of it. But I think what I’m saying here applies much more to feature films than to short films. You can get away with a lot more in shorts as there isn’t time to go into the same level of detail as there is in a feature. You just need to focus on telling one thing as concisely as possible.

Lastly, and I know this sounds like a massive cliché for anyone that’s seen ‘Adaptation’, but read ‘Story’ by Robert McKee. It’s genuinely brilliant and enormously helpful. He essentially deconstructs story and lays out all the components for you to look at piece by piece. When the process is presented to you like it’s a science it all seems far less abstract and much more tangible. It’s like taking apart an old radio and putting it back together again. You suddenly understand how it works.

C8: The score for the film helps create its tone. How did the music for ‘Buoy’ come about?

DH: Whenever I’m writing or developing a new idea I’ll always find a soundtrack for it first. I often make playlists that I listen to that help get myself in the right frame of mind when I’m working on an idea. For some reason the track I listened to when developing ‘Buoy’ was by Chico Hamilton, who is an American jazz drummer who wrote the score for Roman Polanski’s ‘Repulsion’. Raz Olsher and myself then took this piece of music and used it as the foundation for the piece we eventually composed for ‘Buoy’.  It’s interesting to think how much of an impact the music I’m listening to at a particular moment in my life has on the work I produce. This might have been a very different film had I been listening to something else at the time.

C8: What was the most challenging aspect of the shoot and why?

DH: They say you should never work with children or animals and we had both. And on top of that we were filming in the North Sea in Scotland, in October, which is very cold. The challenges were many: the camera equipment nearly ended up in the water on numerous occasions, both the little boy and Gavin (who played the lead) started turning blue when we did the shots of them in the water, the level of the water when the tide was in was completely random and once meant we had to stop shooting for a couple of hours while we waited for it to retreat, the buoy we placed in the ocean when the tide was out kept getting washed straight back in again, it rained sporadically, the dog wouldn’t do what it was told, Gavin told me he couldn’t swim moments before we sent him into the water, we only had eight hours of light to shoot each day,  the wood burning stoves in our accommodation took too long to get hot in the morning to cook our breakfast, we had to carry the dolly over a 50ft sand dune several times a day and lock off an entire beach from dog walkers with about three people. As always I fell into the trap of thinking the shoot would be easy because it’s just a couple of actors on a beach. But it really wasn’t.

C8: How did you fund the film? Did you receive any assistance from film organisations?

DH: The film was funded through a combination of my own money, the very kind support of friends and family, plus an offering from some nice people in Mexico called Bh5 Group.

C8: The film had a good run on the festival circuit. What do you think contributed to this success?

DH: Yes it did OK and played in competition at a few festivals, which is always nice. I guess non-dialogue films are universal; maybe this is why some of the festivals quite liked it.

C8: How would you describe your directorial style? Has it evolved since you first started?

DH: I think I would find it difficult to define at this stage in the game, as I’m only two shorts in and still experimenting. It’s definitely becoming clear to me that photography and lighting will always play a huge part in what I do as I focus on this a lot. I’m really excited about how the next film is going to look. Working with the actors more closely is what I’m really concentrating on for my next film as the story is much more challenging in this respect. Both my previous films have no dialogue and have been shot very quickly, so there was never the time or the necessity to spend too much time working on performance. But that approach isn’t going to cut it for this next one so I’m making sure I give myself the time to get it right.

C8: Do you think that film festivals are still the best place for emerging filmmakers to showcase their work?

DH: Yes, film festivals are definitely important but I think the audience you can reach online is much more exciting now. Film festivals are great for meeting people but there’s no question that you can reach infinitely more people online.

C8: What is next for you? Any interesting projects on the horizon?

DH: I just got back from Scotland where I’ve been looking for locations for my new short that I hope to shoot in June.  I’ve got a great actor to play the lead so I’m really looking forward to working with him and the locations I’ve found are amazing. I’m also very excited to be working with the cinematographer Robin Whenary for the first time as I’m a big fan of his work and he likes Hitchcock as much as I do.

This film is definitely the most challenging thing I will have attempted in terms of character and story. It’s a much more complex and subtle drama than my previous films.