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SxSW 2015 Interview: HONEYTRAP director Rebecca Johnson

by Jason Whyte

"HONEYTRAP is the story of fifteen-year-old Layla, who sets up the boy who's in love with her to be killed. It's the first UK urban film from a female perspective and it's set in Brixton, South London, where I have worked with young people for more than a decade and where I also live." Director Rebecca Johnson on HONEYTRAP which is screening at the 2015 South By Southwest Film Festival.

Is this your first SxSW/Austin experience and are you going to attend your screenings?

This is my first SXSW and yes I'll be at all of the screenings.

How did your movie come together as a director, and as well talk about the challenges and working with your team!

I spent a couple of years writing the script before I found my producer Sarah Sulick and then another year after that still frantically re-writing while we put the film together. It took five years all in all from first coming up with the idea to finishing the film.

The film was made independently, on a tiny budget, so there were huge challenges involved. Without money nothing runs smoothly: you can't close roads so you have to stop filming when a car comes, your equipment is discount so it keeps breaking, you never have enough time and you never have enough resources, everyone is I need to go on? In terms of how I overcame the challenges, how we all did, is that we just kept going. Often I didn't think I would get a scene at all but there just wasn't going to be the opportunity to do it again or go back to it so we just had to keep going on to the next one. I had it in my head that if we could just get the big set piece stuff done: the fight scenes, the bus and the crowd scenes, then we could raise more money to do the rest. I honestly did not think we would get through the schedule because it was insane. But we did.

If you had to pick a single favourite moment out of the entire production, what would it be? The moment where you thought "I had something?"

In terms of the moment when I thought "I have something here" to be honest it wasn't until three months into the edit. Total respect to my amazing editor John Dwelly. It was only at this point that I felt my voice coming through. There were lots of great performances during the shoot and the crew did amazing work but the whole thing was such a scramble with so many compromises along the way because of time etc that I really didn't know up until this point whether the film would hang together as a whole.

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?

I ate huge amounts of sugar and drank huge amounts of coffee on the shoot as well as eating three hearty meals a day but I still lost a ton of weight. I was not in a great physical state after the film and it was a lesson learned. I will never mainline sugar like that again - I will have dried fruit and nuts on tap instead! Fitness has always been a big part of my life and I thought I was physically unassailable because of that...ridiculous arrogance! I know better now.

For the aspiring filmmakers who read our site, I would love to know about the technical side of the film, your relationship to the director of photography, what the movie was shot on and why it was decided to be filmed this way.

I worked with cinematographer Annemarie Lean-Vercoe and we used the Sony F55. It was fairly new out so we did tests to look at its colour range, how it reacted with light and it was great; also we wanted to use a camera that was as small and light as possible and it was significantly smaller and lighter than the Alexa or the Red. We were filming in a tiny flat apartment much of the time and almost always hand-held throughout the shoot so size and weight were very important practical factors to consider.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie at SxSW and in Austin?

This will be the first time an audience sees HONEYTRAP outside the UK and I am really interested to see how people respond to it and what comes through most strongly. I hope people connect with it; as a filmmaker having that feeling that you have connected with someone through your work, that you have moved them, made them think and feel something new perhaps and made them see something in a new light is what it's all about. I love films, books and art of all forms because when I find work that transports me, I feel like it becomes part of me; a building block of how I see the world, part of my emotional reference map. When you feel that your own work has reached someone in that way it's an amazing feeling. After all the years writing and staring into space your ideas are out there and not only real but becoming part of someone else's reality.

After the film screens at South By Southwest, where is the film going to show next?

We are submitting the film to more festivals internationally and it will be released in the UK in May. The first festival it is going to after SXSW is Sarasota.

What would you say or do to someone who is talking, texting or being generally disruptive during a screening of your film?

I hate watching my films with an audience! Every cough or popcorn crunch is earth shattering! Not only do I sit there thinking that the cougher or cruncher must be really bored but that everyone else is now totally disengaged because all they can focus on is the coughing or crunching! But I have learned that I am disproportionately sensitive, for obvious reasons. I once screened my short TOP GIRL in the community centre on the estate it was shot and there was a baby crying throughout half of it. I thought the screening had been a total write-off but when I spoke to people afterwards they said "What baby?" They hadn't even noticed, but it was the only thing I could hear. Talking and texting during any film is pretty bad; better to leave if it's that boring, but as long as no one brings a baby I can handle it.

There are a lot of up and coming filmmakers both at SxSW and reading our site. What would you want to tell them if they are aspiring to become a filmmaker?

Keep going! If you believe in something keep going no matter how many obstacles or naysayers come your way, and there will be many.

And finally, what is the single, greatest movie that you have ever seen?

My favourite film is TIME OF THE GYPSIES by Emir Kusturica. It's magical; like being in a dream or a vision and utterly, hauntingly beautiful. I have the score and listen to it often. You really should see it on the big screen is worth the wait.

Be sure to follow HONEYTRAP on Facebook at HoneyTrapFilm and on Twitter at @HoneyTrapFilm!

We hope you enjoyed this SxSW filmmaker interview in our 35+ filmmaker interview series. We will have interviews posted all throughout the festival so be sure to visit us often for more coverage!

This is one of the many films screening at the 2015 SXSW in Austin, Texas between March 13-21. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to or use the SxSW GO App for Android and iOS.

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte

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originally posted: 03/10/15 11:53:28
last updated: 09/22/15 17:58:47
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