SLEEP - A Dystopian Black Comedy
It's funny, almost the moment I published the post about 'Dining Alone' I found out Connor had also publicly released the follow-up film I starred in for him. The bizarrely-bleak SLEEP.
Written & Directed by Connor Farrow Griffiths, SLEEP is a 'short' (over forty minutes) student film that diverts into a hybrid of David Lynch and sly, digging economical satire with dark humour. I acted in the film throughout a couple of months in 2018, so I thought I'd talk a bit about it...
In January 2018 I had started to go around telling people I wasn't going to act in any more student productions due to the fact that I was preparing for my final few projects at university and wanted to excel at them. Of course, those I told knew this was a lie at the time but I still feel deep down that I kind of meant it. However, around the middle of the month I remember getting a message from Connor, asking me to read the hefty thirty-page script for 'SLEEP' under the guise of potentially working on it. I'd really enjoyed working on Dining Alone before and was especially interested in this new script so I said yes as soon as I read it because it felt different and strange and all the different kind of buzz words that are able to get me interesting in just about anything.
SLEEP tells the duel stories of Mark (myself) - a tyrannical television executive's slave who is used to harvest liquid sleep for him so that he can work constantly, and Alison Faith (Rebecca Crookes) a television actress drifting through her life and struggling to differentiate it from the roles she plays on screen. Both characters inadvertently become involved in the taking down of Stephen Lonsdale's Anders (the television executive) and spark a potential uprising against the fascist movement behind the entertainment industry that enslaves so many.
Or at least...that's what I get from it...
SLEEP''s ambition as a student film, and not from just its length, is what drew me to it. It's a surrealist nightmare that I didn't quite know how the team would pull off. Part-funded on Indiegogo, the screenplay by Connor and Reece Allen was based on an unfinished idea for a graphic novel by Connor and was clearly an idea that had been gestating for a long period of time. The world itself was so full already and I wanted to be a part of it, even if I just essentially played the role of a zombified prisoner.
After some rehearsals and screen tests with Steven and the original actor for Alison, production started midway through February. The majority of my scenes were in Mark's 'home' - a dingy, mold-covered basement under Anders' home (luckily enough student housing meant finding such a location was tremendously easy). I remember visiting the location for the first time with Connor and the team and seeing fake blood sprayed across the walls from a previous student film shoot...it actually suited the place quite a bit.
Stephen manages to have a grandiose theatricality as Anders, with a bellowing voice and astute screen presence which made working alongside him feel like working with a professional thespian. I remember frequently going over lines with him during shot set ups, and feeling a little bit jealous of the speeches he had to perform whereas the majority of my interactions were monosyllabic (apart from the film's opening which, essentially feels like a small remake of Dining Alone). Rebecca came in slightly later to the production yet her Alison came fully-formed, with an unobtrusive and bubbling spark of defiance that grows throughout the film.
The team for the project was pretty much just a group of friends. Peter Bonnell as Producer was one of the easiest people to talk to ever, Christopher Lily's work behind the camera continuously felt distant and dream-like, with no handheld work that bolstered the almost Eraserhead-like feeling of the film. Reece Allen's probably one of the kindest people on the planet, and whenever he wasn't sound recording on set he'd be the first to strike up a conversation. Joseph Ward too, was always easy going and smiling between takes - priming himself for the ensuing edit. Art Director and Effects supervisor Ben Huntington's dedication to attempting as many homemade practical effects as possible was a joy to behold. Each day it seemed he'd come in having watched a different behind the scenes tutorial of a classic horror, and took immense joy in crafting eyeballs, severed fingertips and mounds of fake, oozing blood in the process.
Production was long, and I believe by the end of it I had spent about two and a half weeks in total on set (my screen time is probably the lowest of the three main characters). At times the long hours were difficult, and it was in those moments that the team's company was most appreciated.
The stranger, more-surreal aspects of the film itself are my favourite I think. Ben's thick, lumpy, sugary concoction of 'liquid sleep' may have made me heave a few times, but looks great in the finished film. My only day outside too - out on a field in Derbyshire (I think) in the bright sunshine, may have resulted in horrific burning, but felt fittingly climactic for the film. I also savored the chance to be blasted with fake blood as Stephen's Anders clobbers Mark into the ground (fun fact - one of the punching sounds is the actual sound of him hitting me accidentally). The music Mark plays to Alison is an original piece by Connor, and fits the tone of the film perfectly.
Overall I think it's a very interesting film. I'd argue that the first half works better than the second. The world-building and slow construction of the film, combined with the dripping surrealist presentation (there are some wonderful shots in here) feels more complete at the start, whereas I feel as though the pacing of the second half falters just a tad by becoming worked-up in the events of the narrative. Still, I'm quite proud to be a part of something that was unlike anything other students were submitting at the time, and I'm quietly confident that at some point Connor's going to unveil a complete version of his Lynchian ideologies - whether it be online here or on screen. I'm very grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of so many productions, it's only now once university's ended that I notice how lucky I was to have a finger in so many proverbial pies.
Check it out above and see for yourself. I'd argue it could make for a nice little atmospheric experience.
SLEEP was Written by Connor Farrow Griffiths & Reece Allen. Directed by Connor Farrow Griffiths. Produced by Peter Bonnell and Connor Farrow Griffiths, with Cinematography by Christopher Lily. Art Direction, Special Effects and Fight Choreography by Ben Huntington. Sound Recording by Reece Allen. Edited by Joseph Ward and Connor Farrow Griffiths, with additional editing by Reece Allen and Thomas Flaxman. The film features the song Tea of Tears by Cherry Hex and the Dream Church, and stars George Morris as Mark, Rebecca Crookes as Alison Faith, Stephen Lonsdale as Anders, Ben Huntington as Seth, Reece Allen as Terry, and Joseph Ward as 'Man on TV'.
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