The Game of the Clock stood out at the London Frightfest short film program last year as a tight, tense and terse horror film that delivered on atmosphere and scares. To celebrate it’s recent release on YouTube we interviewed director Michele Olivieri about her process, the challenges facing new film makers and why the most important thing about The Game of the Clock is what you don’t see!
How did The Game of the Clock come about?
It was 2016 and I had recently moved to London from Italy. I had just finished an internship in film and I realized that I really wanted to start making my own films. I literally just sat down at the table and I was like, “What will be a story that will be interesting to see but also within my means”, which were like non-existent. What could be a nice no-budget story? What would be the genre? I decided that horror would have been the best genre because I know that in horror, they tend to have less of a budget rather than dramas, other type of movies. I knew that the lack of budget in horror wouldn’t have been a big issue so I decided to go for that. I literally just sat down at the table and I was trying to build a story that would be interesting, entertaining, but also achievable within limited means.
The creatures’ form is never fully shown. Of course, there’ll be budgetary constraints with that, but is it also important for you the monsters tend to remain unseen?
Absolutely. I designed the story around certain themes and one of these themes is the unseen. Not showing the monster was A, because of the budget and B, it played very well with the story and the themes of the unseen. I really like the idea of running away from something that you cannot see.
Yes. I notice that the film revolves around the concept of being blinded and our hero must not look at the thing that is stalking her, and she’s eventually undone by something that she failed to see. The theme of sight and eyes were important.
Exactly. The eyes as well. The sight as one of the senses is present in the movie as one of the themes.
Did you enjoy working within the horror genre?
Absolutely. It was so much fun. It was literally a lot of fun just thinking of how to scare the audience and creating the atmosphere. Working on the screenplay, the story, it was fantastic. It was really an amazing experience.
Did you intend for it to play to festival crowds as you were making it or did that come about later?
Yes. I wanted the movie to go to festivals. Absolutely. It was one of the intentions from the very beginning.
Consequently, did you find yourself bound to any particular expectations that you thought the audience would have?
No. Obviously, I wanted to make a movie that was entertaining and pleasant to watch. I guess to a certain degree, you always have in mind the audience because obviously you’re making the movie for the audience. To a certain degree, I think you have in mind the audience and what you think is going to be successful, but no, it wasn’t too limited or bound. I really went for what I wanted to convey and what I wanted to include in the film.
The film largely plays out almost wordlessly after its introduction and before the conclusion, the big middle section there is largely just a visual experience. Was that something that was fun to plan out? How was that to prepare for?
Basically, when I was writing the screenplay, as I said, I only had limited means, so I wasn’t expecting to be able to work with such an amazing actress as Simone Mumford, who is the lead in Game of the Clock. This is the main reason why there isn’t a lot of dialogue in the film because I wasn’t expecting the acting to be fantastic, to be honest, but then Simone came on board and I was absolutely blown away. She did such a great job in portraying the character and rehearsing the film without dialogue that I didn’t feel the need to add anything. I was really, really pleased. I think that was just all merit to the actress, Simone. She just smashed it really.
To be honest, we did rehearse a little bit, but she smashed it from the very beginning in the audition, so there wasn’t really a lot of preparation there. We were just lucky to find each other.
The film does feature one location and one character played by Simone Mumford. Was it a difficult film to make and shoot?
Oh yes. It was a nightmarish experience, to be honest. Unfortunately, the film underwent a lot of setbacks and failure. The movie that you see is the third attempted production. For some reason, the movie was very unlucky and everything that could go wrong went wrong. Even in the post-production. I t was difficult but I would say on set it was fine. It was fun! Shooting any movies if you’re passionate about filmmaking, then you enjoy being on set regardless. Have you seen The Disaster Artist? There is this very nice quote that one of the characters says, which is, “The worst day on set is better than any day anywhere else.” It really makes sense with my situation. It was difficult to work on The Game of the Clock from start to finish. Production-wise, like shooting-wise wasn’t too bad, but everything else was just plain horrible. I’ve got to be honest. Then eventually, hard work paid off and I’m pretty happy now.
Well, not to sound too much like a job interview, but if you were to take one lesson from the troubled production, or if you could give yourself, before you started production, one piece of advice, what could that be?
It would be learn to manage disagreements. How to handle disagreement. How to behave yourself when there are disagreements. It happens sometimes, you can lose patience. I think there have been disagreements where I could have handled it much better. Now that I have gone through this experience, I know that in the future, I won’t lose patience.
Is there something to be valued there in that process of disagreement? Do you feel that it would actually be somehow worse to just say to someone, “Okay, go do this” and they just do obediently? Is there value to having people challenge you?
There is value in having people bringing their own opinions. Absolutely. 100%. Obviously there has to be some mutual trust among everybody in the crew. It’s really, really important and good communication and really, really does the trick. I think there was a lack of all these things. On set, like I said, it wasn’t too bad. Everybody was focused. We didn’t really have a lot of time to quibble, because there was so much to do. We were only on set for one and a half days. It really took a lot out of us to shoot the whole thing in such a short amount of time. On set, we were fine, but before and after, yes.
Well, that sounds like something really useful to learn from.
It is. No, absolutely it is. I always say that The Game of The Clock is a miracle because it’s a project that should have never happened. It was also, it still is a school for me because I haven’t gone to film school. I learned so much in expertise and how to talk to people, how to handle certain situations. I just learned so much and it’s been such an amazing learning curve. Now I’m learning distribution. I’m reaching out to distributors; I’ve learned how festivals work. Everything happened through this only one little, non-budget film, which is so nice. It’s such a huge opportunity. I think every filmmaker should try to do this with their own films, try and learn as much as you can, try and put your film through as much as positive as possible for you to learn all you can.
They do say that no matter how much film school they’ve had, nobody really knows how to make a film until they’ve made a film. That’s because there’s no way to be prepared for all of the things that are going to happen and all of the problems that are going to appear.
Absolutely. I agree. I haven’t gone to film school so I can’t say, but I would agree with that.
What do you feel are the benefits of working in a medium because your film is very punchy at seven minutes, there were films in the FrightFest that would go on longer, but not had that same impact. What for you is the benefit of working to a tighter runtime?
I think it’s certainly very challenging for you as a filmmaker. When you’re trying to make a story work in such a short amount of time. It’s an amazing exercise for any filmmaker to try and make a story and a journey of a character within such a short space of time. It’s not easy. Many filmmakers make their short films as a concept, sometimes it’s the concept of a feature film and I’m not saying that The Game of The Clock couldn’t be a concept for a feature film, but I did really want to make The Game of The Clock and to build it in a way that there was a beginning, and the end, and the middle. There was a journey. There was a storyline, an arch that was there. That wasn’t easy. I had to work with other people on the screenplay. I had to get it reviewed, revised. That wasn’t easy, but it was a lot of fun anyway.
There’s an old truism in film, it’s this idea that with every scene or shot if you can take it out and the film still works without it, then it shouldn’t be in there. Did you have any difficult cuts? Were there any things that you had to take out of there that you really did begrudgingly, that you would rather have included but had to lose for pacing or time?
This is a difficult question for me because I am a fluid filmmaker. I start with a story and have a script, then as I go on set, I film another story and then, in post-production, there is another story. Again, everything changes. Oftentimes I reached the end of a project, and it’s not the same as at the beginning, is not massively different, obviously, but it’s not the same as it was at the beginning. Also, I struggle with calling it, stop working on a project. I edited Game of the Clock, and I found it difficult to find a moment where it was finished. It was done. It was ready to be sent over to festivals, I really had to force myself to just stop working on it because it was just like there was always something I could tweak or something that I could bring back to how it was in the previous draft or tweak again. It’s really difficult for me to answer this question because I feel like I have taken off a few things just because they felt that they were not right in the moment. I don’t know if that makes a lot of sense.
Sure, it does. They say that no film is ever truly finished. It’s just eventually given up on.
I think that’s my case. Absolutely. That’s the case.
It ended up marvelous, in any case. The film played in the London FrightFest Program, as you’ve mentioned, how was your FrightFest experience?
It was fantastic. First of all, when I first had the idea of The Game of The Clock in 2016, and I started working on the screenplay, the FrightFest was one of the festivals that I wanted. The most important festivals to me, it was the one that I wanted to submit no matter what and I was trying to have the movie ready in time to submit to FrightFest. Then the movie failed a couple of times and then it seemed we would make it, but then everything went wrong during post-production as well. Then three years later, I submitted to FrightFest, and I got in and it was such a magical experience. From start to finish, they were very nice. Everyone was very kind and understanding that I was a beginner and it was really my first experience at the big festival. Showing my film in front of people who can make a difference. It was a magical, a magical experience. It was just fantastic. It’s really one of the best memories of my life.
That’s really fantastic. What comes next, what’s the next thing you’re going to work on?
At the moment, I’m working on a short drama film, which is called Sofa Surfer. It’s a Sofa Surfer who struggles with addiction and relapses and is going to be a surrealist film. It’s a different genre, it’s a different thing. I’m really excited about it as well. This is what I’m working on. I’m also working on the feature of The Game of The Clock but I’m trying to design, maybe trying to come up with some ideas for a treatment. Then hopefully, if I can submit it to people that could be interested; producers, then that would be great.
Have you seen other attempts to adapt short films into feature films like Mama, and Lights Out?
Yes. Lights Out was, to be honest, one of the main inspirations for the film in terms of atmosphere and also in terms of the journey of the film that went from a short film to feature film. I know that the filmmaker of Lights Out was contacted by a production company and now he’s launched and in Hollywood making beautiful films. Obviously, that’s where the inspiration for the film came in. I hope The Game of The Clock can do the same. I’m working on it and let’s see.
I certainly see that there’s that same potential in there, in both the film and yourself as a filmmaker. How can people see The Game of The Clock?
The film is currently on YouTube, and it’s free to watch. Also, the film is going to be distributed by Meridian Releasing Group, which is a distribution company based in Texas. It’s going to be distributed as part of an anthology of horror short films. There is going to be a DVD of The Game of the Clock as part of an anthology of many short films and I’m really, really excited about it.
I’m so thrilled someone is doing that because as a film critic watched all of these marvelous, short horror films, and they’re often very difficult for people to get hold of. YouTube is brilliant. I think it’s fantastic that your stuff is out there, but I’m so glad someone is actually collecting some of these films together into a collection. That’s a great idea.
I think it is. Actually, they’ve already released a few volumes, a few collections. I think there are six just for horror and then there are other volumes for comedy and drama and animation.
I should be looking into that. Is there any other way in which our readers could get involved or support any of your future projects,
Instagram account. If they want to follow me, I’m @micholivieri, that’s me, or they can just watch the movie and just enjoy the movie, The Game of the Clock. That would be perfect.
You can watch Michele Olivieri’s excellent short horror film, The Game of the Clock, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWmg3luP_L4&t=3s