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Noah Conopask's Powerful Film Reveals the Harsh Reality of Abusive Relationships

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Written and directed by Conopask, the film for NCADV highlights the effects on children who witness domestic violence

Noah Conopask's Powerful Film Reveals the Harsh Reality of Abusive Relationships

Director Noah Conopask has written and directed a poignant film about children witnessing domestic violence, in partnership with National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV). The film is an intricate balance between a boy’s fantasy and the harsh reality of his parents’ abusive relationship.

Entitled ‘Hero’, the foundation of Noah’s film lies in scientific research that reveals kids who witness abuse can suffer permanent changes to their personalities. They don’t even have to be hit themselves. 

Noah said, “The film is autobiographical. The boy is me. I had to make it. Children look up to their parents. Even if they don't want to. I hope that I can inspire action in those who may be broken or hurt and are acting in this way. I hope I can stir them to look at themselves and recognise what it is doing to their child, their family and themselves.”


Below, Conopask discusses how he came up with the idea, and lends insight into the production behind the poignant new film.

Q> Tell us about the starting point for this film? How did you come up with the idea?

NC> It's autobiographical. The boy is me. I had to make it.

It came to me in a rush. I sketched it out quickly in shot by shot writing. The original brainstorm is essentially exactly how it turned out. I feverishly wrote it down in what must have been a few minutes.


Q> What was your approach to making the film?

NC> Super DIY. Every component had to be so perfect. The budget wasn't big, so we had to be very smart about how we spent every cent.


Q> How did you bring to life the balance between the boy’s imagination and the reality of the parents' violent relationship?

NC> The middle of the film rocks you back and forth between the boy's imagination and the reality. This contrast serves that purpose, but also comes from out of nowhere and really draws you in because you don't know what you are watching anymore.

I spent a lot of time on set with Sebastian (the child). Always walking him through each scenario before we shot and then working with him closely between takes for adjustments. We spoke a lot about what was real and what wasn't. And we'd talk about things in his life that made him feel a certain way and then tap into those memories and ideas to tune his performance.


Q> What was the casting process like? What did you look for to capture the emotion in the story?

NC> I knew straight away that the casting and performances were everything for this film. Each character had to essentially play two roles – their fantasy and true selves.

I wanted a boy who would give us all the intricate and big emotional moments the script called for. Truly tender happiness and love for his parents and a kind of emptiness when we see him in his true reality. I also wanted him to have a visual element to him. Sebastian has these giant black eyes that are almost alien. It's a subtle detail, but I was drawn to that.

For the father, I wanted someone who looked sweet, but also kind of broken. Who could capture the essence of what a child's perception of what a great father is and then immediately became a violent monster.

The story is mostly a father and son experience, but I wanted the mother to be an active participant, not just a victim. In these types of tragic homes there is a complacency, participation and co-dependency that can be just as horrific. 

For casting I brought in a mum, dad and son. I mixed and matched, looking to see who had the most chemistry. We would run through different scenes and I would get right in there in the mix and guide each performance. I gave the kids special attention and would get down on the floor with them or crawl under a table so I could be right there and really test their range.


Q> What were you trying to evoke with the cinematography? What were the structural and emotional needs of the story?

NC> There are two worlds we were creating here, the child's fantasy and the family's harsh reality.

I wanted to create an idyllic happy and loving dream look that felt safe and soft that I hadn't seen before and I wanted it achieved in camera without heavy handed practical or post effects. We shot anamorphic and cropped in camera to 16x9. I loved the smeary style and dreaminess of anamorphic, but not the wide frame. We maximised this in the DreamWorks as much as possible. I wanted the height of 16x9, which was better for the portraiture I was after in this film. The film in this section was graded more saturated for a more idyllic look.

We smash brutally into the real world and along with the violence there is a marked change in the look. The dreaminess is gone. We see more of the environment in focus. There's no hiding the reality here. It's grittier and grimier. The lighting harsh and unflattering. The colour is more desaturated green and muted. It's cold and empty, even the walls are bare, but the father and mother make it look like it's humid and sticky. It's just uncomfortable all around.

It’s a mixture of over cranked and real time.


Q> What were the trickiest components during the creation of the film and how did you overcome them?

NC> Constructing the rocket. Making it an interesting set piece that you would want to get into.

Finding a location that was the right scale, tone and feel. I loved how this house had a long white hallway with x grid patterns in the wood. I thought to myself, it's like a rocket bridge!


Q> And the track? What was your thinking here?

NC> It had to be something dreamlike and beautiful, but also unstable, like it could fall apart at any time. Wandering. Classic, yet totally unique.


Q> What are your hopes for this film bringing to life this crucially important subject?

NC> Children look up to their parents. Even if they don't want to. I hope that I can inspire action in those who may be broken or hurt and are acting in this way. I hope I can stir them to look at themselves and recognise what it is doing to their child, their family and themselves. 

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Music

Sound Design: Gavin Little

Post Production / VFX

Colourist: Seth Ricart

Post Production Company: RCO

Producer: Sheina Dao

Offline

Editor: James Dierx (Whitehouse Post)

Production Company

Director: Noah Conopask

DOP: Garrett Hardy Davis

Executive Producer: Laura Thoel

Producer: John Malina

Production Company: Chirp Films

Production Designer: Alex Choate

Production Manager: Mario D’Amici

Stylist: Marissa Adele

Client

Advertiser: National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Genres: In-camera effects, Music performance, People, Storytelling

Categories: Charity, Corporate, Social and PSAs

Sweetshop London, Tue, 25 Jul 2017 10:29:16 GMT