Hearing the rattle of a cassette tape inserted into the player, then the record button pressed, Black Nest opens to the interview of Alice, brought in on a suspected murder charge. Everything points to her but there is something standing in Detective Quinn’s way to find out who did it. Starring Victoria Gibson, Neil Grainger and Stephen Tompkinson, Black Nest intertwines the complexity of family relationship in a crime.
Directed by Christopher Linton, his short is a hopeful at a bucketful of UK film festivals such as Raindance, BFI London and the Encounters Film Festival. Due to its Scandinavian crime drama influences, Linton also hopes to gain screenings at Haugesund, Grimstad and Tromso, all of which are invite-only. “We’re hoping to get our foot in the door in places like Bergen and Amsterdam and with a little luck glean some attention.” Linton is no newcomer to the festival scene, screening his short Sanctuary at the Seattle International Film Festival in 2014.
As we viewed Black Nest and Linton’s back catalogue of films, we found a constant within them all. Linton clearly takes his time to think about the sound design of his films. Before we viewed the film, he made sure we watched it how it was intended by suggesting, “best viewed on a big screen with a decent pair of speakers! Phones and tablets tend to loose a lot when it comes to sound mixes...”
And we're very glad we did so, otherwise we would have missed another layer of the film. “We really wanted to use the soundscape to underline particular sections of dialogue and really heighten the tension in select areas. We are able to do this through the expert application of ambient scoring and atmospherics at critical moments in the film. I say expert because I will always give the highest praise to my brilliantly talented sound mixer colleague and close friend, Luke Pietnik.”
Black Nest was shot in one location (an interrogation room) with only three characters. The film allows the audience to hone in on the story and the depth of the characters by blocking out everything else, in a way not too dissimilar to tunnel vision.
“With a film of this length, we needed to keep things reasonably simple whilst still maintaining realistic, relatable characters and throwing in a solid hook.” One of the key things to point out about Black Nest is the dialogue. Not only is it crafted in a believable way that tells you everything you need to know without it feeling overly expositional, it knows when dialogue isn’t needed.
“We decided to constrain ourselves to three characters and one room, which meant that we had to create a compelling narrative through discourse alone. Every line was important for the progress of the film; every word was vital in revealing a new level of a character. The final cut is almost verbatim with the script, I think because of [Dan Major's] skill as a writer and his understanding of north-eastern dialects.”
Linton’s decision to make a film that revolved around one location and only three characters came from necessity. He thought back to his time on the production of the small budget, multi-location short, Sanctuary. “[The cost of locations] swallowed a lot of the money, which for instance could have gone into camera or production design. I'm certainly not against location filming; it's just that sometimes budget holds you back. It's great having vision and ambition, but execution is a different thing entirely.”
With location costs cut in Black Nest, it meant that Linton and his crew were able to concentrate money on other areas of the production. “We wanted to step up our game by concentrating on what were perhaps the weaker points of our past projects. For instance, I wanted to film on a broadcast / feature film quality camera, rather than the DSLR setups we were used to. That meant committing more money into that department.”
Linton also cut costs by pulling in some favours when acquiring the location for the film. “Most of our crew, at some time, have worked on ITV's Vera, as it is a stalwart of the north-east film & television economy. I myself have worked with them over various series as an assistant director. Vera's CID office was perfect for our needs, so we simply asked the question and were rewarded with a quiet Sunday afternoon.” This is the textbook classic of "if you don’t ask, you don’t get" and a great lesson for any filmmaker out there to use what you have at your disposal; to just ask people. What’s the worst that could happen?
Director Chris Linton and Writer Dan Major are currently in the process of writing the Black Nest feature film. In the meantime, Linton is working on another short with the hopes of making it this year, and is also hoping to gain a place at the National Film and TV School to study a Masters in Directing Fiction. With Sanctuary and Black Nest already behind him, he stands in good stead.