Refuge (Shorts in Support 2018)

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Simon Bishopp | 2017 |  4 min

A homeless woman seeks retribution after being displaced by the arrival of a future civilisation seeking refuge from global warming and war. A brief but powerful sci-fi meditation on migration, resistance and culpability, and a tour-de-force of homemade special effects.

Simon Bishopp graduated from Springvale Training Centre in 1999, earning a Distinction in television and video production. He worked as a TV production runner and progressed to documentary camera operator for the BBC for several years before leaving to work as a self-shooting director and editor through his own production company, Showman Media.

Is Refuge a response to current events? Refuge is a response to my experience living in London for eight months. The way technology permeates everyone’s lives there yet the transport system is broken and overcrowded and living conditions are intolerably poor made me angry. I devised the film to do something productive with that anger.

What inspired your image of the future? The future I imagined came from not being able to see a clear sky. Every view was always being invaded by giant concrete blocks. I fantasised about knocking all the buildings down, planting trees and seeing endless fields again. I imagined a future society might feel the same and then what they might do if escaping from a future that was nothing more than a wasteland as a result of unaddressed climate change.

The visual effects in Refuge are excellent. How challenging is it to implement such effects on a very low budget and make them stand out in a positive way? I took a lot of inspiration from Gareth Edwards’ film Monsters and the way he would augment real footage in small ways, such as adding posters, glimpses of CGI, to suggest a lived-in science fiction world.  As I have a background in visual effects, I elected to do them myself to save money and so time was the main challenge in creating the effects. I devised the film with the visual effects I could do quickly in mind and I decided I would do the bare minimum to get any shot finished. I work as a camera operator so I kept an eye out for interesting shots that I could add things to, like the queue behind the fences which was a queue to an amusement park on a foggy day. With very little work it became something else. 

Refuge has a cast of one and a crew of two. With such a small number of people working on the film do you find that many of the typical problems of filmmaking are averted? The best thing is that I didn’t need to chase funding, which seems to stop most people from making films. With so few people it allowed us to work in a loose way. I specifically didn’t storyboard the film. I had a page of narration and then I just found images that I thought would work. I would not have attempted to work that way with a proper crew. The only problem is when it doesn’t work and when people don’t like it, there’s no one else to blame, so it helps to have a thick skin.  

You’ve done a lot of commercial work in addition to your shorts. Do you find working with someone else’s set ideas appealing? In commercial work, it’s always challenging to try to translate someone else’s ideas into a film (especially as they’re not usually from that background) but I find it very rewarding and I love seeing a client happy with the work. However, in narrative fiction I could never imagine working any differently than I do now. I don’t see the point in realising someone else’s ideas – I just want to share the things in my head on a screen with an audience and see if they connect with them.

Glasgow Short Film Festival’s Shorts In Support scheme aims to revive the tradition of the supporting short film by distributing eight fantastic new short films (including two selected by the Scottish Queer International Film Festival) to cinemas and film societies to screen before features during autumn/winter 2018. Shorts in Support is supported by Film Hub Scotland, part of the BFI’s Film Audience Network.