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Q&A with Rob Summons - director of Skewwhiff

Saturday 25 April 2020, by Abla Kandalaft, Elise Loiseau

An elderly man insists on granting his wife’s wish of taking their car through a drive-thru car wash.

Could you explain the title?

The title Skewwhiff meant a couple of things to me. On one level, Bill’s shirt collar becomes “skewwhiff” or askew at one point and Rae adjusts it for him. This felt like a worthy moment to use as a title as we get the sense Rae has spent her life caring for Bill, which is bittersweet as the roles are beginning to reverse. More broadly, the couple’s world of normalcy and routine has become entirely off-kilter due to what is going on for Rae. I wanted their relationship to feel skewwhiff. I also simply like the look of the word itself, it’s awkward and many films have much more delicate names, but this didn’t feel like one those films.

What inspired you to tell the story of this couple? Is any part of it biographical?

Shortly before my mum died in 2017, she and my dad went on a car ride. For the first time, my mum seemed to completely lose touch with reality for an extended period of time. It was a horrific experience for my dad. When he arrived home, I noticed his car windscreen was cracked. I used the windscreen as a launching point for the film. I imagined a couple driving along a road silently with a cracked windscreen and went from there. The story and characters changed of course, notably I made the couple older and implied the elephant in the room was dementia rather than brain cancer.

Dialogue is kept to a minimum and the film has a sober, minimalist style to it. Tell us more about your own filmmaking style and what you seek to achieve.
I guess I’m generally attracted to films where people don’t say much. The sober tone felt right for our protagonist Bill who is leaving a lot of his anguish unsaid. I love the films of Andrea Arnold and the Dardennes so I think they probably helped inspire the style of this film. The film probably ended up more similar to the style of the latter, although I envy the Dardenne’s long uninterrupted somewhat chaotic shots. I didn’t have the guts to commit to that on this. I’d like to shoot that way at some point – the way they achieve such wonderful scenes without showing off is superb.

What is your background as a filmmaker?

I’ve spent the last few years working on films. I’ve written and directed three shorts, Skewwhiff being the second, and the third called Occupation currently in post-production. But during this time I’ve probably spent more time writing features on spec than working on shorts. My original intention was to solely work as a screenwriter but I’m a little hooked on directing now. I wrote a mystery film first up which was garbage, then I wrote a rather experimental family drama of which I’m fond and finally a very low-budget film about an arsonist which needs a bit of work.

What sort of genres and themes would you like to work on next?

The short film I’m currently in post on called Occupation is a drama about a therapist who is unable to leave her workplace where she helps abusive men. I won’t say anything more about that as it’s basically impossible to pitch but I hope it will be an interesting film. After that, I plan to write features about climate change as nothing interests me more. I have a few ideas but the most exciting one at this stage is a drama about a group of former climate activists who build a cult of despair in the harsh Australia outback. This will most likely be my next writing project and I’m very excited about it.

Are there any works of art or films that have inspired you?

I mentioned a few directors above but I think I enjoy a wide range of films. I think films are good when you don’t know what’s going to happen next. I’m more interested in seeing films that adhere to that simple rule than seeing films of any particular genre, period or nationality.

Would you say that the short film format has given you any particular freedom?

I haven’t made many but I’d say the greatest opportunity is to try out different things and have the freedom to make mistakes when there’s less at stake than a feature. I also think they are easier to write.

Find out more about the film here.

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