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Filmmaker Interview with Dominic Stewart

Filmmaker Interview by Chris Olson

Your short film, When The Tar Leaks Red, draws on Greek mythology as well as having classic horror trappings. How do you describe the plot to a new audience?

First of all, I'd like to thank you, Chris, for this opportunity, it is greatly appreciated. I love what you're doing with UK Film Review and I'm excited to see where it goes. ​When the Tar Leaks Red is a film about a woman's guilt over past actions and how this guilt manifests within her subconscious in the form of a sleep paralysis demon. As she struggles to fight back, she realises that her subconscious and her reality are closer linked than she knew.

It's an intriguing premise. One of the things that struck me early on was the changing aspect ratio. I felt this was done to keep the audience guessing what was real and what wasn't. What were your intentions?

​As you said, the changing aspect ratio was to give the audience the feeling that the ongoing events were different to the calm reality seen prior.

It was also to help portray the sensation of being closed-in and trapped, a feeling synonymous with sleep paralysis. A restriction that she is desperately trying to escape.

It works really well. I also really loved the sound design - incredibly eerie and immersive. How pleased were you with the end result?

I was really pleased with the end result, credit to my sound recordist/sound editor Javier Carles. We wanted to create a soundscape which felt surreal, rich with a dark ambience. It was important to assure that the few noises that we do hear within this film were vivid and fear-inducing. Often, it's these singular noises that penetrate the silence of nighttime that inspire the most dread. I wanted to emulate this feeling as much as possible.

The demon from When the Tar Leaks Red
The demon from When the Tar Leaks Red

The make-up on the demon was incredible. Who was responsible for that and what was your guidance to them?

​The make-up was the efforts of two very talented, highly professional twin sisters called Sierra and Michelle Martin, the prior applying the actual make-up on the day but the three of us designed the beast with both the sisters procuring the necessary materials to see our vision realised.

My specification was that the demon look like a reanimated corpse, abandoned in the ocean of the victim's mind (hence the wet look hair). I have a feature version of this script which adds more context to this.

It was spectacular. In your notes to me, you mentioned the significance of the painting. I confess this was something completely missed by me on first viewing. What can you tell us about that?

The artist of the painting, "The Nightmare", is a gentleman called Henry Fuseli, painted in the 18th century. It depicts an incubus (demon) sitting on the chest of a sleeping woman. Victims of sleep paralysis often mention the symptom of feeling like a weight is on their chest. Hence, the picture has often been interpreted to represent the helplessness that sleep paralysis imbues on its victims.

I turned the picture around in my film to show the woman's will to shift the power dynamic of herself and her sleep paralysis demon, placing the sleeping woman at the top of the frame and the incubus beneath.

I was fairly flippant with my review of the film during the festival podcast (again, sincere apologies for that). For me, the film required several viewings and also was better viewed at night. What are your wishes for audiences viewing your film?

I think the dialogue at the beginning of the film is important to listen to as it provides the narrative/gives some context to the upcoming events. It's also quite a dark film, so I'd ask they don't watch it on a screen with glare.

I also try to write/direct films with a level of ambiguity so that the audience can attach their own meaning to the events which occur, so I'd ask the viewer to try to extract something deeper from the piece.

Why do you make movies?

I make movies because, to me, it is the ultimate medium for conveying what sits within someone's heart as well as communicating all the weird and wonderful things that the mind can conjure. Film allows its viewers to transcend the parameters of their realities. Some of the strongest emotions I've ever felt, good or bad, has been brought about by great cinema. I want to contribute to the art form which has given so much to myself and many others.

What are your plans next?

I have a couple of #shortfilms that I'm looking to produce, write and direct in the near future. I also have a feature script for WTTLR that I'd love to see made. I'm just looking to keep on writing, create good work and see how it is received.

Keep us posted, especially for the feature! Who would you love to work with and why?

Despite him being another director and hence a collaboration potentially being diminishing to a piece (too many cooks and all of that), Christopher Nolan, to me, is as close to a flawless filmmaker as one can get. Each one of his films is so thoroughly thought out, the behemoth-scale narratives that he decides to pursue, so fearless. He is one of a kind and one of my favourite artists of all time.

What would you say if you were a dolphin?

"EeEeeeEEeeEeeeEEEeeeEe", probably.



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