‘Our Lady of Lourdes’ dir. Peter Szewczyk

A mentally unstable vagrant comes to the aid of a student. When she tries to return the favor she gets far more than she bargained for.

Writer-Director: Peter Szewczyk
Producers: Kasia Lesniak, Peter Szewczyk & Verity White
DOP: Oskar Kudlacik
Key Cast: Naomi Scott, Nick Moran

C8: Where did the idea for ‘Our Lady of Lourdes’ come from and how long did it take to write?

PS: I am most comfortable directing projects that I feel a personal hook into. So with ‘Lourdes’, the hook was the character of Bernard. He was a composite of some of my uncles, who had a pretty rough run of life. To be honest, it was not an easy film to write. I learned a lot in the process. I was revising it pretty consistently for around six months.

C8: Can you talk to us about your writing process a little bit? Does it vary from project to project?

PS: It definitely varies. ‘Lourdes’ was very methodical and measured. I wrote long versions, short versions, and just about everything in between. We revised dialogue right up to the minute of the shooting. On the other hand, another short film I did, ‘ColourBleed’, was a flurry of writing that only took three hours. By lunch time I had the whole thing written, exactly as it was shot. Events like that are so rare, you have to ride them out at any cost, when the inspiration strikes you.

C8: As a Director how do you prepare for a shoot?

PS: I have tried both improvisational shoots, and very well thought-out shoots. It depends on the material. You can never really go wrong over-preparing, but that being said, for performance-based scenes, with a lot of dialogue, I encourage the actors to make it their own, even if it means going off script. Action scenes, on the other hand, I plan to excruciating precision.

C8: If you did the whole process again is there anything that you would do differently?

PS: Oh god yes. It was a massive learning curve. I had always done very visual projects, and this one is far more dialogue-heavy. I would have loved to spend much more time with the actors, both in rehearsals and on set. I would have loved to shoot the whole thing in London, but the BFI/Lighthouse scheme I applied for turned me down, so I had to scramble and find an alternative.

C8: What advice would you give to emerging filmmakers wanting to use visual effects in their work?

PS: I would tell filmmakers to try and not get bogged down by it. Better to have less, and do it well, than try huge set pieces, that end up looking dodgy. ‘Lourdes’ is often called a VFX short, but actually, there is only 1 minute of VFX in the 17-minute film. VFX is just another tool, like a steadicam shot, or a continuous take. It should always serve the story, and not be a distraction.

C8: You’ve recently experimented with the web-series format releasing ‘Our Lady of Lourdes’ as both a four-part series and as a short film. What have these experiences taught you?

PS: The web series is a really interesting platform. It is far less crowded than the short film market place, and allows you some interesting creative choices. You can tell a longer story, with a wider variety of tone, in a web series. I’d like to do more in the format, if the opportunity allows.

C8: You attended this year’s SXSW Festival and spoke about the merits of web-series. Can you tell us what else you discussed?

PS: Well I released ‘Lourdes’ in two formats online, simultaneously. On Vimeo I released the whole film, and through HungerTV I released the web series. I was very surprised to see that Vimeo made it a Staff Pick, which was very flattering. As a web series, however, the release schedule goes on for a few weeks, so more people are likely to hear about it as some point, and get involved. Also, there is more to discuss with fans, since they are commenting on four times the content (as it was four chapters).

C8: What else did you learn from SXSW?

PS: Austin gets very cold and rainy. Since I am a filmmaker, and therefore always broke, I had to camp in a parking lot, in a tent, with no sleeping bag. It was brutal. But SXSW is a great place to get your finger on the pulse of where media is going in the year to come.

C8: Do you feel that the market for shorts has become oversaturated?

PS: Sadly, I would say it is. I have friends with some terrific work that really struggle to get it seen. You can spend a huge amount of your own money, on something that is beautifully executed, but without the right contacts and mentors, it will disappear into the crowded field.

C8: What, in your opinion, is the essence of a good collaboration?

PS: Well I think that it’s important to work with people that sometimes disagree with you, but clearly are passionate about what they do. It’s from that crucible that great work is forged. Also I only collaborate with people that do what they promise. I have no time whatsoever for people that talk a big game, and then don’t show up for a meeting. My favourite collaborators are the people that do what is asked, but then chime in with their own version, directly after. They work hard and they respect people’s perspectives.

C8: What is on the horizon in 2014 for Peter Szewcyk?

PS: Frankly, with five award-winning shorts, I think I am ready for a low budget feature. I have a strong concept, but without an agent, manager, or producers, it may never see the light of day. The hardest part of filmmaking is that it’s 90 percent hustling, and 10 percent creativity. So 2014 is going to be exhaustive hustling, to find the scant means to offer up some creative storytelling.