At its best, science fiction looks at our existing way of life through the lens of the future. The sci-fi short film REMEMBRANCE by Mark Jepsonis a great exploration of memory and what makes us human. Jepson chatted with Recursor about the film, his love for sci-fi, and what’s next for him.
RECURSOR: How did you get into filmmaking?
JEPSON: Filmmaking is something that’s grown on me. When I was younger, it was writing, painting and music composition. I even ran a sound engineering business for several years, but didn’t consider making films until 2006 when one of my friends asked me to help shoot a music video. I loved the whole process, immediately went out and bought myself a Sony Handycam, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
What are some of your science fiction inspirations?
As a kid, it was Star Wars, Blake’s 7, Space 1999 and even Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of War of the Worlds. But as an adult, I’ve been greatly influenced by the likes of Kubrick, Tarkovsky and Christopher Nolan — films such as Solaris (1972) and Inception (2010). These films have had an impact on me in the way they are epic in scale, but share the same fascination with the frailty of the human condition. That’s the kind of sci-fi that inspires me. It’s all about inner space rather than outer space.
What inspired the story of your short film REMEMBRANCE?
I’ve always wanted to have a go at making a sci-fi short, but wanted to avoid the problems of CGI and expensive set-building. Once I came up with the idea of creating my story around the re-experience of memory, then I knew I had an idea I could run with. I’ve been enjoying the kind of sci-fi that you see in Black Mirror, so this was my attempt to produce something in that vein.
What was it like to both write the story and then direct it?
It has its benefits and disadvantages.
The great thing is having no one to answer to about shaping the story. I was able to guide the film in exactly the way I saw it, which gave me an advantage for getting things done and knowing exactly what I wanted from my actors.
The downside is that being the writer/director/producer can create emotional blind spots. This tends to happen when it comes to the edit; there’s a desire to hold on to stuff that seems so important, but turns out to be less critical than you thought. In the end, we got rid of nearly 30% of the story, which was pretty painful for the writer in me, but the end result works much better as a film.
What challenges did you face in producing REMEMBRANCE, and how did you overcome them?
A lot of the challenges can be overcome at the script stage. For REMEMBRANCE, I avoided the use of any VFX and futuristic technology or locations. None of us have huge budgets for short films, so it’s about trying to create something credible using limited resources.
One of the best resources any filmmaker can have is the natural landscape. In our case, that meant using the beauty of Saltburn beach on Teeside to get all our exterior shots. Although the location cost us nothing, there were always challenges. We still had to get a film crew there for the day, and the tidal conditions and weather created their own problems for us. Our plans to shoot early in the morning were scuppered by high winds, driving rain, and high tide. By midday, the empty beach was suddenly filled with dog-walkers and surfers (in freezing November!).
Then we got lucky. The rain and wind eased off, the surfers and dog-walkers went home, and we had the beach to ourselves for about an hour. We got the shots we needed and headed back home with relief.
What has been the most satisfying part of creating your own indie sci-fi film?
Getting the shooting finished was a huge relief, but we still had so much work ahead of us with the edit and sound design. It wasn’t until several months later at The Berlin Sci-Fi FilmFestthat I suddenly felt the moment had come to sit back, relax, and feel content with all we had achieved. Watching REMEMBRANCEon the big screen at the Babylon Cinema was definitely a moment to savor.
How have audiences responded to the film?
The response has been great — we’ve even picked up a few awards and nominations — but it’s quite nerve-wracking watching your own work with a crowd of strangers. It’s nice to exchange polite pleasantries with audience members at festivals, but I’ve actually been more affected by the online response to the film. Nothing has been more satisfying than getting messages from complete strangers who have seenREMEMBRANCE and want to tell me how much they liked it. I’ve had several people tell me about losing loved ones and how they could relate to Una’s desire to see her mother again.
What was it like for you to participate in Raindance London?
Attending the Raindance London MA programwas the best decision. I wanted to take my filmmaking to the next level and create a project to really challenge me and set me off in a new direction. REMEMBRANCE was born out of that experience. I had tutors and mentors who had experience working in the film industry, but I also took full advantage of the classes and training offered to MA students at Raindance. I made some amazing contacts that are still helping me today.
What projects are you working on right now?
I’m currently working on another sci-fi short about an astronaut trying to reach a new world. It’s more technically ambitious than REMEMBRANCE, but it will still deal with the themes that concern me: family, love and the human condition.
Mark Jepson is a British writer-director with an interest in conceptual science fiction. His latest film is REMEMBRANCE (2018), a short film which explores memory, identity and loss. Connect with him via Twitter.