We have had the distinct pleasure of getting a handful of our questions answered by the highly talented Joseph Sims-Dennett, the writer/director/producer of Observance, which is coming to blu-ray on August 2nd by way of Artsploitation Films.
Observance is a truly intense film about a private investigator who is tasked with watching a woman from an abandoned and derelict apartment across the street. Over the course of the several days he is on the job, an escalating number of bizarre occurrences take place that builds up the tension and sends him into a downward spiral as he relives recent horrific events. Reality blurs with paranoia and fear in this one, and brings you along for the ride.
We will be reviewing the blu-ray soon, but for now, check out our interview with the man who made this all happen!
TheNerdMentality: Joseph, first off, let me thank you for letting us tackle you with some questions for your upcoming release of Observance on blu-ray. Before we dive into the questions, can you give us the tl;dr on who you are, what you do, and where you come from?
Joseph Sims-Dennett: Hi. My name is Joseph Sims-Dennett, I’m a Syndey based filmmaker but am English born. I directed Observance and co-wrote and produced the film alongside my good friend Josh Zammit.
TNM: So, this is your second feature length film in which you’ve written, directed, and produced. It seems that any one of these three tasks is daunting and involved enough, is it the freedom and control that compels you to take on all three tasks?
JSD: No, it’s because no one else would do it other than me (and Josh who I mentioned before). This was purely a passion project for us.
TNM: Would you consider working with other writers? Or are you mostly interested in working on your own stories?
JSD: I prefer co-writing with one other person, I get too anxious by myself. My co-writer kinda becomes my muse for that project. I just love dreaming up a world and characters with another person, it’s so much more of a pleasant experience than making a film! I’d consider someone else’s script but there’s so many and I can only make a film if I feel that the story inspires something deep within me, or enough to keep my excited for the 2 years it takes to make it. I’ve been given so many scripts to read and they’ve all been very bad so far, so I’m a little hesitant to put my energy into reading other people’s stuff over developing my own.
TNM: Can you describe your creative process? How did the idea of Observance come to fruition? We certainly hope you weren’t drawing from past experiences on this one, heh.
JSD: Josh and I were both working in TV commercials and he’d moved into my apartment to be closer to the city where the office was. Shortly after he moved in we both got fired (for different reasons of which neither were our fault, promise!). We decided that we’d spend the summer making a film and ended up wandering the streets at night, hanging out in abandoned buildings, that kinda stuff. It was kinda like therapy for us. We’d discuss how we felt as though we had no control over our lives and that ended up as the key theme for Observance: about a man hired to spy on a woman but not told why.
TNM: What makes Observance special? Why should our readers go out and buy/rent/stream this movie?
JSD: I think the reason for this film’s success is it’s clear sense of tone. That grit and texture, this real sense of rising dread and terror. It was exactly the feeling that Josh and I set out to express by making Observance and we feel very proud to have achieved that.
TNM: Do you have any particularly interesting stories from making this film?
JSD: We shot the film in our own apartment in 11 days and during the biggest heatwave in history, it was awful. The anxiety and delirium on the set really feeds into the aesthetic of Observance which is good, complete madness! But it was a little traumatizing for us to experience.
TNM: Often times when looking on our completed projects we see our greatest influences shining through, reflected in our work. Who influenced you the most in film? Do you feel that you’ve drawn from any particular artists on this project?
JSD: I made a conscious effort to not allow myself to be influenced by other films. I really looked into myself to find this film as I wanted it to be completely personal to me. Ironically people have made some extremely flattering comparisons with the likes of Rear Window (obviously), The Conversation, and Repulsion, all of which I’d never seen before making this film. But Josh and I had seen Pulse (Japanese version), which I think explains the red tape around the window. Plus I think it’s fair to say you’re influenced by every film you’ve ever seen, subconsciously or not.
TNM: Looking back at Observance in its completed form, is there anything that you would go back and change? Were there any tough calls or changes that you had to make to get the film out there?
JSD: I guess not. When you’re doing a film it feels like such an horrible exercise in compromise, which is why I’ve learned to just twist things on the day and find something new and fresh. I really wish we’d had more time so I didn’t have to have a heart attack every day, but then would not having that level of delirium on the set have affected the interesting tone that the film finally found? I have no idea…
TNM: From conception to retail release, what part of the filmmaking process is your favorite? What is your least favorite?
JSD: I hate producing when there’s no budget. It’s really crap. My favourite part of the process would be the sound mix, which is essentially the final stage before the film is complete. It’s this strange moment, particularly in the case of Observance, where the horror and psychological elements are transformed into this more abstract, meditative space that sound occupies. I find it really exciting seeing the puzzle you’ve been agonizing over for months suddenly turn into a film.
TNM: Throughout Observance, we see Parker going through a pretty intense downward spiral over the course of seven days of observing this woman. We see his mental state change with several intermixed memories and visions he has that get more and more surreal and haunted. Furthermore, we see a change in the apartment itself. Were these minute details all planned ahead of time? How many of the finer details of a film end up being added as you go?
JSD: We did some pickups with just myself and Josh, I cut my thumb open and slit my wrist in close up (cheaper than prosthetics but not recommended). A lot of the close up details, eyeballs etc, were all planned more or less but I do remember the marriage of the pendant and the engagement ring, in particular the meaning placed on them, becoming more important to the story through discussions with actors Stephanie King and Lindsay Farris on set.
TNM: Speaking of Parker, Lindsay Farris certainly played him perfectly. Did you have any knowledge of Lindsay prior to working with him?
JSD: I met Lindsay working with him on my first film and since then we have become very good friends. Observance was written and made with Lindsay in mind as we were both very excited to work with each other again and he’s one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met and is a huge part of why this film got over the line.
TNM: Do you have several other stories lined up that you want to work on? Any way we can get a glimpse at something that may be coming up?
JSD: I’m working with Kristian Moliere who produced The Babadook on a new film that I have written with Josh Zammit again. It’s based on real life events and we’re not ready to announce yet so I can’t give more details, but I can’t wait to be back on set.
TNM: Now for some personal questions, because we want to get to know you a bit more, as do your fans. What are some of your favorite films? Was there one that is ultimately responsible for your interest in filming?
JSD: I grew up in the ‘90s so I remember the ‘Star Wars’ re-releases, I thought ‘Terminator 2’ was fucking terrifying, couldn’t handle ‘The Matrix’. I was pretty obsessive and weird. I guess my favourite film is Bergman’s ‘Wild Strawberries’, after I watched that for the first time it just lingered with me for weeks and weeks, really stirred something with me. Nothing better than a film bringing on an existential crisis! There’s been some pretty incredible movies lately, in particular ‘Under the Skin’ and this year’s ‘Evolution’. Another film I love and watch a lot is ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’. I like films that put me under a spell and really challenge me. I’m not much interested in escapism and those sorts of bangs and crashes, light entertainment superhero movies, they feel pretty hollow.
TNM: Outside of film, what passions do you have? Any hobbies?
JSD: I guess I read books, go down the pub, that kinda stuff. But I’m in love with making films and that really does take up almost all of my life.
TNM: Have you ever thought of putting yourself on camera? Any interest in starring in a film?
JD: I am in Observance, but only because I couldn’t find anyone else to play creepy Walter Moore. But to answer your question, I would definitely not like to be in front of the camera. I’m really rubbish at acting, unless someone is after a person with no emotional range.
TNM: What music is on your phone or iPod right now?
JSD: Pye Corner Audio (does that sound cool enough?)
TNM: If there is anything else you’d like to plug or talk about please feel free to do so.
JSD: Please buy my film so I can pay my credit card off.
Great questions, thanks very much!! -JSD