It’s about the power of film and the responsibility of filmmakers. Something that The Silent writer and director Karen Turner says during our interview is echoed not long after by Ridley Scott in his life-long BAFTA achievement award acceptance speech.
Karen talks about the issues her short film, The Silent, deals with.
“It’s about raising awareness ultimately through a narrative. We want to entertain – we want to give people 12 minutes of hopefully compelling, thrilling entertainment, but by the same token there’s a real message underlying the film, and it’s important that that, more than anything, comes across,” she says.
Here’s Ridley: “The opportunity to create authentic and relevant engagement, the future of film and storytelling can have, must have, a profound effect.
“As storytellers, we have a duty to be mindful how we use this power. We must strive to protect the core tenet of the narrative, that all the best stories tend to come from the truth, even fiction.”
Of course we’re not comparing Karen to (Sir) Ridley, but rather pointing out a motif that runs through filmmakers like the names of seaside towns through rock, which is the power and responsibility of top-notch storytelling.
There is another similarity: both have Devon film people in key roles. In Karen’s case that’s headed by Dom Lee as co-director and editor. (Ridley has a Torquay boy by the name of Deakins.)
Karen, Dom and producer Pete Turner are talking about the inspiration, shooting and production of The Silent, which conveys its dramatic and powerful undercurrent in a sub-minute trailer.
“It deals with the issue of male domestic abuse,” says Karen. “The impetus for writing it is that the South West has the highest incidence of male domestic abuse by far in the whole country.
“In Cornwall, the latest statistics show 4 out of 5 deaths from domestic abuse are male. And 90 per cent of men countrywide don’t report incidents to the police,” she says.
The seed of the idea was sown during Karen’s time in journalism, when she was taken to the secret locations of women’s refuges to interview the female victims of domestic abuse, and she considered other hidden victims.
Exploring that through narrative film was an idea she was keen to pursue.
“I made a documentary before this film,” says Karen, “and for this film I wanted to go down a narrative route. I wanted to pick two characters who you would never put together in a million years. Especially in the circumstances that they are in.”
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The two characters are George and Tom.
“George is very much like my grandad – he’s a man in his 70s, and he’s a lovely guy,” says Karen. “Then you’ve got Tom, who’s the other end of the scale – he’s in his early 20s.
“The issue of male domestic abuse brings these two polar opposites together and changes their lives for ever.”
Where they meet is at a skatepark – a unique location, ideally situated on Teignmouth sea front.
“I love Teignmouth,” says Karen. “And I don’t know many places where you’ve got a skatepark on a seafront – unless you go to LA or somewhere like that.”
Hot on the heels of their experience with the filming of The Mercy, the people of Teignmouth were very welcoming. For the making of The Silent, the promenade and skatepark were closed off, The Pavilions doubled as dressing rooms, the shopkeepers at The Triangle were accommodating, and the crowds were respectful (including an elderly couple who managed to traverse security to ensure they kept to their usual route, only to pop up in shot). They even managed to transform the residence of a lady called Judith into one of their sets for a day
“I couldn’t imagine it anywhere else, now,” says Dom.
And for Karen, the location became an extra character in a way.
“Every time I used to go to Teignmouth, walking my dog up and down the beach, I would see these gangs of boys in their early 20s and late teens at skatepark and I thought – that’s who that character is. It just fitted perfectly,” she says.
Crowds were an issue the filmmakers were concerned about. George was played by Oliver Ford Davis, of Star Wars, Game of Thrones, and Kavanagh QC fame, and who was just off to shoot Father Brown.
“He was George,” emphasises Karen. “And then we had Oli Meredith [playing Tom], who I would say 100 per cent is an up-and-coming star. He was just so compelling.” After The Silence, Oli got a part in a new Netflix series.
“We were really lucky with the whole team,” says Karen. They all agree.
Producer Pete says, “When everything goes swimmingly well, you understand how good your crew are.” One of the problems the team encountered was weather – one minute sunshine, the next overcast. Typical seaside weather, which the team used to their effect in creating the film’s atmosphere.
But it was the combo of months of preparation plus thinking on their feet that got the film made in the planned three days, including a fascinating shot from a cherry picker.
Post production was fuelled by cake and a desire to tell the story in the best way possible while trying to do something new in terms of structure.
The Silent is making its way onto the festival circuit and it’s long-term legacy will be as part of an online male domestic abuse awareness campaign.
It’s that notion of social responsibility that runs through the film, and seems part of that intricate planning from its original conception.
“We were working very closely with ManKind UK, who is the leading male domestic abuse charity in the country and there was a lot of work involved with them in the initial stages of writing,” says Karen.
“I had no idea about the sheer volume of men that this is happening to. And as a writer and as a director I needed to make sure that this was true to the issue.”