We meet director Matthew McDermott to hear more about his visually striking short film, Gravity’s Law, soon to be seen on Channel 4 Random Acts, to find out more about the inspirations behind the film and why the Barbican was his location of choice…
Gravity’s Law is currently showing before screenings of The Price of Desire in our Cinemas.
I’m a director based in London. I specialize in live action TV commercials, content and short films with a visual effects and design sensibility. I’m attracted to great writing and fresh ideas with simple and universal truths at their heart. I like to create striking visuals with distinctive moods that can be left open to interpretation depending on the viewer’s point of view.
What was the inspiration behind Gravity’s Law?
I wanted to make a film for myself and my ambition was to work with my own concept and with content that has great depth of meaning. I’m fascinated in spiritual subject matters and mindfulness meditation in particular.
I first heard the poem ‘Gravity’s Law’ by Rainer Maria Rilke on a BBC Radio 4 programme about mindfulness meditation, which was gaining more and more traction in the news and culture in general. I love the poem, it’s very visual and it sparked the idea to make the film. The poem was written over century ago yet it seems to point to something very important in our modern society with the relentless overload of information and where our attention is constantly fought for.
Rilke suggests that we can learn from nature, which helps us to appreciate life without endless egoism. Nature can teach us to let go of striving and trying to control life, as he so beautifully puts it; ‘to fall, patiently to trust our heaviness’.
What attracted you to the Barbican Estate as a location?
I wanted to the location to have a strong visual impact and act almost like a character in the film. The Barbican Centre and estate is a place I’ve always been drawn to. It seems to have an otherworldly quality, I’ve always thought of it as an oasis of calm and a place to contemplate.
The Brutalist architecture is heavy and foreboding, there is a tension that seems to almost trick and fight with gravity itself.
There are clear contrasts in textures such as; the juxtaposition of flowing material of the performer’s costumes and the CGI effects of natural elements appearing on their bodies against the harsh angles of the modernist architecture. I was delighted the Barbican staff got so behind the idea, they’ve been extremely supportive throughout the production process. The Barbican was a breathtaking location to set the film.
One of the most striking features of the video is the slow motion effects – can you tell us a little about the production of the film
I wanted to exaggerate moments in time and create a hyper-real look. One of my most important ambitions for the film was that it should have a strong sense of mood and have a meditative quality.
In commercials we often work to tight 30 second edits so I wanted to do to the opposite and let the edit ‘breath’ and give space for the audience to attach their own meanings to the visuals and the poem itself, or simply be absorbed by the images.
Love High Speed were very supportive of the idea and loaned us a Phantom 4K camera and kit which shoots 1000 frames per second, it was the perfect tool for the job.
It enabled us to capture those split-second, falling moments and stretch them out to make beautifully graceful shots lasting up to a few minutes for each fleeting moment.
What were some of the challenges of the shoot?
One of the main challenges was coming up with a technique to shoot our actor to falling through the air in a horizontal position. Our stunt coordinator did a fantastic job in creating a solution for this using an Olympic trampoline combined with crash mats.
We also had almost all possible weather conditions on one day. In a drama (where continuity is crucial) that would have been a nightmare. However for me it really added to the texture to the film. The bright sun and heavy rain helped to define the light and dark moments in the poem. I loved the look of the wet patches of rain drying out on the wall in the leaping shot, they made a striking graphic pattern. We did add some rain to certain shots in post-production to give us the right flow in the edit.
I wanted to achieve a high quality look and finish that I apply to my commercial work so the biggest challenge was achieving this on the tight budget.
I’ve been overwhelmed with the support of Channel 4, The Gate Films and all the cast, crew and post production artists that have got on board with the idea and generously donated their time.
What other projects are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently working on a commercial which again involves a Phantom camera and shooting a host of different falling objects in stylized environments, it’s great fun!
I’m also working on a short film project for The Ministry of Stories, a charity and writing and mentoring centre in East London, where anyone aged eight to 18 can come and discover their own gift for writing.