In his first feature film, Silent Roar, Johnny Barrington (writer and director) combines crushing grief, off-beat humour, and religious symbolism to create an utterly magnetic film. We follow young lad Dondo as he is lost in an all-consuming search for his dad. As he struggles to keep himself afloat, he must rely on those close by to rescue him. With the film set to open this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival, SNACK caught up with Johnny to chat about the making of the film.
How did you come up with the idea for Silent Roar?
Many things happened in my life that led up to the idea for the film. One of them was my dad dying very suddenly. I grew up on the Isle of Skye and had a childhood that was a bit like what it is like in the film – my father worked away at sea quite a lot, then switched from a sailor to a preacher which played into the themes in the film.
Considering the personal aspect of the story, was the process of making the film difficult for you? Or did it provide some closure?
The process wasn’t difficult because the subject matter was quite meaningful. Every moment since my dad died is closure of some kind. It’s always closing but never quite shut, and that’s good, I don’t want it to shut.
I don’t think I was aware of it in the shoot, but Tip Cullen, the actor who plays Dondo’s dad (Willy), doesn’t look too dissimilar to my dad. It was quite frightening and weird shooting the scene where Dondo’s dad appears at the kitchen table. It’s powerful for me, and in the moment, I don’t think I was even thinking about it.
You worked with composer Hannah Peel for the music – what was that process like?
Hannah was amazing in the variety of music that she could provide. With the wide range of electronic scores and orchestral compositions she made, it was almost like having two or three composers at the same time.
The music in the film evolved in a really creative way. A lot of people say you should have the composer in whilst you’re making the film and discuss ideas before you get into the edit, but in actual fact, if you bring a composer in slightly later – that’s what we did with Hannah – then it allows for a separation where you kind of recreate the emotional thread of the film again.
One of the biggest things I felt when I finished the shoot is that I definitely want to make another film, and the thing that excites me the most about it is about working with a composer again, as it’s such a nice creative process. I love it.
The film is beautifully shot on film and a large part of it takes place in the water – what was the filming like?
Working with Ruben Woodin Dechamps on the cinematography was, again, a voyage of discovery. He had a very difficult set of challenges as the weather was terrible, and a third of the shoot was in the sea – not a flat, calm sea, waves – but Ruben breezed through it very calmly.
I love the fact that we shot on film; it makes all the difference. The feel of the film is very important, and when you’re shooting on film, the way you shoot is different than on digital, and I think that complements the actors’ energy.
The actors that played Dondo and Sas are both extremely talented but relatively undiscovered. What drew you to them?
When I saw Louis McCartney playing Dondo for the first time, I felt that I’d found him immediately, and that feeling didn’t leave. He brings buoyancy and optimism to this character – a kid who’s going through a special kind of hell – and it was really important that Louis was a charming, innocent, galumphing, figure. Funny and lovable, but quite weird as well. I didn’t want him to just be a guy who’s good at looking sad, although he is really good at that when he needs to be.
With Ella Lily Hyland it was a similar thing. She’s got a wildness that is untameable, and I like that a lot. That’s what Sas has in the script.I felt from the very start that they’re both at the beginning of huge careers as actors, so I’m chuffed to say that I’ve worked with them on a feature film.
Your short film Tumult was nominated for a BAFTA in 2012 and now your debut feature is opening the Edinburgh International Film Festival. What are your next steps?
The journey was helped immensely by Chris Young, the producer, and Olivia Stewart, one of the first people who I worked with on the script. They were amazing, and I’m hopefully going to continue working with them in the future.
With regards to future films, I’ve got a few ideas and scripts that I’m finishing off, all set in Scotland and definitely continuing on a theme of messy humour drawn from my own life experience and Scottish History.
The Silent Roar world premiere opens Edinburgh International Film Festival 18th August. Tickets here.