Exclusive interview with the award winning Director Richard Prendergast

We recently reviewed the live action short film Sylvia, which is currently Under Oscar Consideration.  Here is a snippet of how much we love the film:

After been awarded numerous accolades such as ‘Best Film’ at The American Pavilion at Cannes, ‘Best Actress’ at the New Renaissance Film Festival, the ‘Jury Award for Best of Fest’ at the Cordillera International Film Festival and ‘Best Film’ at the Sydney Indy Film Festival, “Sylvia” is now being considered for an Oscar. We wouldn’t be surprised if the movie would take home that well deserved Academy Award. Not only because it’s an incredibly emotional and moving socially important film but also because it’s a stunning performed one.

Read our full review here.

The director Richard Prendergast took time of his busy schedule to talk to our film reporter Liselotte Vanophem.

Hi Richard, how are you doing?

Hey, yes all good, thank you! It’s been a whirlwind week but it’s all exciting stuff!

Congratulations on your wonderful and emotional film. It’s your debut. How does it feel for you to see your film finally being out there?

As a filmmaker, connecting with the audience is the best feeling in the world. Pulling a project together and getting it made is a such an arduous task, the real payoff is sitting amongst an audience and felling their emotion with them. We recently won Manhattan Short film festival, which screens at 350 venues worldwide to an audience of 100k people. It’s been amazing to see how the film connected with varying demographics and we’ve received hundreds of emails and messages from around the world from people telling us that our film has impacted them – that’s an amazing feeling.

When did you decide that you want to become a filmmaker?

I’ve had an interest in moving image since my late teens, when I used to film friends skating or surfing. I went on to shoot and edit snowboarding throughout my 20’s and then progressed into documentary and commercials. I wanted to know as much about each department as possible and I feel like this route has enabled me to do just that. It felt like the next natural progression was to move into scripted narrative. For me, it’s been the most rewarding step in my career.

This movie is based on true events. How did you come across this story?

My wife and I run a production company (submotion.net) and we mostly produce branded content and adverts. We knew we wanted to take the step into scripted storytelling, so we’re on the lookout for a story that could tick all the boxes. I was working on a treatment for a commercial and like all creatives, I was procrastinating, clicking around on Facebook. I think someone had shared Sabrina and Kevins story. As soon as I read Sabrina’s letter, it was like a punch in the gut. Her words so beautifully reminisced about her family memories and whilst it’s a heartbreaking film, their was somehow hope within her letter. It really touched me and I knew that this was the story on which I wanted to base a film.

What make from this story the perfect topic for your film?

As I mentioned above, I was on the lookout for a story that could tick all the boxes and Sylvia did just that. Firstly, the story need to resonate. Being a father of two girls (they’re in the film), Sabina’s words really touched a nerve. Her letter made me appreciate life just a little more and that’s what I wanted the overall message of the film to be. Secondly, it needed to be something we could create on our doorstep. Apart from the fact that this story originated from Kentucky, I knew that it would transport well to the UK. Thirdly, I wanted to avoid the usual “single location” film and I knew that a car journey would enable me to do that and we could add a lot of production value in the process. Lastly, I wanted a story that would give a platform to the actors to perform. Whilst nuanced, I think we managed to achieve this.

Jolie Lennon takes on the lead role in this film. How did you come across her?

We’d never cast actors for narrative, so I had no idea where to start. I put a shout out on Shooting People and that’s where I met Benjamin Hartley. He put himself forward to play Brian but also said that he could help cast the film, through his agency, MFS Casting. He immediately suggested Jolie for the lead part. After Jolie’s audition, I was in 100% agreement that Jolie was the right person for the lead. She played her character exceptionally and as a result has been at the receiving end of some amazing reviews.

During the making of this film, you worked with some of your family members. How is it to make a movie with your family?

I’d probably reverse that question and ask them how it was to make a film with me. Stressful I’m sure! Having restrictive budget means that you have to get resourceful, so calling upon relatives to help out was imperative. To say that we couldn’t have made this film without them would be an understatement. From Rachel’s parents Peter and Kay chaperoning our kids, my Dad driving the low loader to my brother stepping in as 1st AD, family support is what made this possible. Using our daughters, Maisie and Evie as actresses seemed like a logical move. Every time we took a car journey, we practiced their lines and sung Dr Hook’s Sylvia’s Mother, so they were ready for filming. To be honest, when it came to shooting, I was massively surprised at how professional they both were. I was expecting it to be a nightmare trying to direct my own children but they both understood the process and managed to play their parts perfectly.

What do you hope that people will take away with them after they’ve watched this movie?

We had an email from a guy who’d watched Sylvia. He explained that his relationship with his parents had declined over the past few years for reasons he didn’t divulge and that they seldom talked anymore. After watching Sylvia, it dawned on him that life’s too short to hold a grudge and he called them, reconnected and repaired the relationship. I hope that people are reminded that life is fragile and time is precious, make the most of it while you have it. There’s an upshot at the end of the film that for me, restores my faith in humanity. A global community of strangers band together to help a mother that they’ve read about online. When there’s so much negativity posted on the internet, this is one of those stories that deserves the exposure.

“Sylvia” was already awarded multiple prizes and went to different film festivals. Did you expect that the movie would be praised so much? It’s all incredibly well-deserved.

I mean, when you make a film, you always hope that it’s well received but we’ve been blown away with the success of Sylvia. It’s been screened all over the world and we’ve had the chance to travel with it. It’s been amazing to go to places like Cannes, Palm Springs, SCAD etc with a project that’s being so well received. But as I mentioned, it’s Manhattan Short that we need to thank, simply because of the audience reach and as we know, Sylvia is an audience film.

Are there any other film festivals you’re going to with this film?

We’ve been on the festival circuit for a year now, so our run is coming to an end. The few festivals remaining are Pittsburg, ShowLow in Arizona and SCAD in Savanna, Georgia. SCAD is such an amazing way to end our festival run, so Rach (producer and my wife) will be going out to represent us, whilst I’m left home at home to write! Whilst it’s sad that Sylvia is finishing it’s festival run, it does mean we can finally release it online. So keep an eye on our Facebook (@sylviafilm) and Instagram (@sylvia_film) for more updates!

One last question: Do you already have other films coming up?

Rachel and I are excited to be partnering up with Ben Hartley as we develop 2 feature films. Both very different in style and audience appeal. One is a BioPic Drama/Comedy and the other is psychological horror/sci-fi. We’ve developed a great team with Sylvia, so I’m excited to see what we can do with a feature film.

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