The tragicomic filmmaker talks about how he deals with love and pain on camera
This week's Dazed Visionary is Gabriel Bisset-Smith, a London based director working through the heavy subjects of love and the pain that comes with it. Having made his first film, the award winning Thrush, in 2009, using still images and narration to explore the fall out from a messy breakup, Gabriel has turned his attentions to live action, telling his tragicomic stories in clever and inventive ways - and you can see this invention in action throughout his takeover this week. Find out more below.
DD: Tell us a bit about the films you have chosen for Dazed?
They’re all about the absurd never ending task of trying to find love or, as Mark from Peep Show would put it, “The One”.
Thrush is the first film I ever made (except for a few horrors starring a Boglin when I was ten). I knew I wanted to try and make a film but didn’t have access to a good camera or any equipment. Then my very talented photographer friend Graham Turner shot this video of one of our nights out using only stills and I realized that was a way to do it. I was coming out of a pretty bad break up at the time and stalking my ex a lot on Facebook so Thrush basically wrote itself. We had no budget but we did have a lot of helpful and talented friends. We shot it over three weekends. I used a song my flat mate Gwilym Gold wrote and it all came together. We were definitely surprised by how many people responded to it and after we won a few awards we knew we had to make more.
Last Night is the first live action film we shot (i.e. not using stills). I wanted to keep it super simple so there aren’t really any close ups apart from the one of me at the beginning (vain). Each shot is kind of like a photo. Again the story is based on where I was at the time. Stuck in this perpetual loop of being single and not wanting to go out but knowing that I wasn’t going to meet “The One” by staying in. We still had literally no budget so we shot guerrilla style over two days around Old Street.
Toilets is our latest film and was specially commissioned by Dazed. It’s the first thing we’ve made that’s had any kind of budget so we tried to be as ambitious as possible. We shot over four days (the hottest of the year) in four different toilets. Classy. Again it’s very personal and I wanted to tell a story that’s less “right place, right person” and more “right time, right state of mind”.
DD: The contrast between happiness and sadness seems to be a key theme in your work. Would that be fair to say or do you see it differently?
Gabriel Bisset-Smith: What I’m really interested in are patterns. How we’re all caught in loops and circles that make us unhappy and how we set about changing them. When you’re single you think falling in love will change everything but once you’re in a relationship you then have your relationship patterns to deal with. You forget that you were a jealous bastard or irritable in your last relationship and end up making the same mistakes in the new one. I try and learn from my past but I may also need to just find someone who can put up with my shit. Poor fucker.
DD: Your films have a very modern attitude towards love and relationships. Where do the ideas for your stories come from?
Gabriel Bisset-Smith: My life. That’s why I act in them as well. I write lots of other plays and films that have nothing to do with me so I don’t mind handing them over to other people to make. I mean they obviously have parts of me in them (wanker alert) but they’re not directly linked to my life. These ones are, so it would somehow seem dishonest not to put myself in the middle. Although I do portray a nicer/hotter version of myself.
DD: The visual style of each of your films is very different - still images, non-linear narratives, etc. How do you chose which approach to take?
Whatever’s to hand to be honest. Toilets is the first thing we've had any real equipment for and I hope to make a feature next so my ambition is growing. But to begin with we used stills because we only had a stills camera.
Are there any particular filmmakers whose work you love/admire?
Gabriel Bisset-Smith: Shit loads. David Lynch, Curtis Hanson (purely for “LA Confidential” ), Ray J and whoever made Toy Story 3. My mum and dad are both incredible filmmakers and have a lot of influence on my work - they both make cameos in Toilets actually.
But my biggest inspiration has to be Woody Allen (of course). The end of Annie Hall when, after all the shit, they bump into each other and have coffee and he says:
“After that it got pretty late and we both had to go, but it was great seeing Annie again. I realized what a terrific person she was and-and how much fun it was just knowing her and I-I thought of that old joke, you know, this-this-this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, "Doc, uh, my brother's crazy. He thinks he's a chicken." And, uh, the doctor says, "Well, why don't you turn him in?" And the guy says, "I would, but I need the eggs." Well, I guess that's pretty much how I feel about relationships, you know. They're totally irrational and crazy and absurd and ... but, uh, I guess we keep goin' through it because, uh, most of us need the eggs."
This is pretty much the basis of all my films. And my life.