Director Andrew Montague’s Live-Action short My Other Suit Is Human focuses on a couple who struggle after losing their baby son. A film which touches on a heartbreaking loss that a lot of people in this world have experienced and has screened at many film festivals including the Oscar-qualifying HollyShorts Film Festival, we spoke to Andrew about the importance of this film and why he decided to write it.
As a male why and how did you write the grievance process from the point of view of a female?
It was a conscious decision to write the piece from a female point of view as I always saw it as the mother who was struggling to move on from her son’s death. I wrote it from an empathetic point of view of someone struggling but also not wanting to go through the stages of grief as they’re almost afraid that if she goes through them, she would lose her connection to him. Grief is a universal theme and everybody goes through it in their life and everyone experiences it differently, it’s how they cope with it that’s the drama and the challenge.
Why isn’t a photo or memory of the son shown?
There is one photo of the son shown, in the crafts room where she builds the suit and it’s actually a picture of me as a child eating ice-cream! I didn’t want to see the child in the film as the story was about them (Zoe and Stephen) after the tragedy has happened, to explore what happens to the people left to pick up their lives after a tragedy. It was something that I decided upon early on and it’s not something we get to focus on in films a lot, the people left behind.
Why choose a robot and not a dinosaur or a superhero?
Kids love robots, I did. I loved transformers and all things connected with it. I love dinosaurs and superheroes too but there was something special about a robot. When the kid was sick, he saw robots as something which are infallible to illness as something that gave him courage and strength. Zoe uses the robot suit for protection but also as another link to her son.
Zoe’s husband tried to be there for her in his own way. Some would say that Zoe needs were neglected by her husband. Did you see the dynamic as neglectful or two personalities battling for dominance?
He definitely tried to be there in his own way but he wasn’t there for her in the way that she needed. It definitely wasn’t a dominance thing between them but more of a finding equality and a middle ground, which they were unable to do. Stephen had moved on in his own way but he misunderstood how much his wife was hurting and struggling, and he tried to help her int he way he thought was best – by trying to move forward.
The fight scene seemed to be a moment of clarity for the couple. They no longer avoided their real issues. Why did hope for rebuilding the relationship occur after the couple had only a single argument? Why not after multiple arguments with the largest being the most eye-opening?
As we worked on the script through different drafts and working with our script editor, Jess Jones, we took out the other confrontations and found that the simmering anger that Zoe has towards Stephen that culminates in the big explosion of anger between the two felt much more natural than constant arguments.
Was making a life-size robot costume fun? Did any crew get to take it home for their kids?
Yeah, watching the start of the suit being made was awesome. It was constructed by London based prosthetics artist Chris Fitzpatrick who has worked on some major feature films like Annihalation and Ex Machina and he called it the most remarkable unremarkable thing he’s ever built. He made a full body cast of the actress, Bethany Blake, which he then built the suit around so it was a perfect fit for her. It was a very complicated piece to make, with the robot hands and feet working perfectly and Chris did such an amazing job, There’s so much emotion in the face of the robot without it ever moving. That was very important to me, to convey emotion without seeing her face for half the film. The robot pieces live at home with me and our produce also has one the tactile robot hands. We can’t part with it!
If Zoe felt neglected by her husband why leave a departing note reading thank you?
It’s not that she felt neglected, she felt like he wasn’t there with her emotionally. She needed him to be in the same space mentally, to support each other. She knew he was trying, keeping up the post-it notes, trying to communicate in ways he knew how. She was grateful for that and for him trying, that’s why she left the note.
What were your intentions behind an almost love can conquer all approach? Why didn’t Zoe and her husband love each other enough to let each other go and remember their marriage for what it was?
I like a message of hope and possibility and it’s something I wanted to have at the end of the film. They still loved each other as a couple but losing a child is hard, most marriages fail. Zoe makes a choice to be with Stephen and that gives hope.
There’s a hidden significance to the beach. When Zoe finally made it to the beach she was joined by her partner. Did it represent a turning point or a new beginning in her marriage or something deeper?
The beach and the sea is always a significant symbol in films, one of hope and life. When Zoe first tells Stephen that she was trying to go to the beach, he’s worried for her but he knows her so truly that it’s where he knows she’ll be at the end. And it gives her a choice, to have that new beginning or to leave. It can be a new beginning in their marriage for sure, the problems aren’t over but it’s a new start on a good platform.
By utilizing only two actors you were able to portray a significant amount of raw emotion. During the casting process, what cues helped you decide on the acting duo?
The empathy from Simeon Oakes who played Stephen and the underlying fragile yet steel-like exterior from Bethany Blake made them both stand out immediately. Simeon was the first person we saw on the first day of auditions and he blew us away with his interpretation of the character. With Beth, she understood the fragility of Zoe and the struggle she was undergoing. Having the two together was a perfect match to bring these characters to life and I couldn’t imagine this film with anyone else.
Did you have a mentor or inspiration that helped develop your craft?
I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of guidance and mentorship from many people, both from at the London Film School from people like Rafael Kapelinski and Femi Kolade but also inspiration from directors such as Lenny Abrahamson, Michel Gondry and Noah Baumbach whom identify with storytelling wise. I became a writer because of my dad and my both my parents have had a massive effect on my life with them encouraging my creative side. One voice that has definitely helped me develop my craft and be the most supportive was the producer, Kira Fitzpatrick. She’s been so supportive, not only of the film, but of my vision and ability for so long. A massive thank you to her for her continued support!
The film is beautifully shot. What processes did you take with securing and finding the film location?
I was so lucky to have Zeta Spyraki on board as my cinematographer, she understood my vision perfectly and was able to execute it. She’s also a graduate of the London Film School and an example of the massive talent that comes out of the school. With the location, I always wanted this American vibe, a place we took to call Nowheresville, it can be any place but has a distinct feeling to it I wouldn’t describe the film as a UK style film and there’s a lot of American influences on my filmmaking style. I’m in a generation of “Spielberg’s kids” where we grew up watching American indie films with family and fantasy elements. My producer Kira found the house in Kent and it was recommended to us by one of my term tutors, Sue Austen, who had students film there previously. It was also the house where one of my favourite modern horror films, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, and Ethan Hawke, who is one of my favourite actors, filmed the movie Juliet Naked there. With a rich filming history, I was delighted to film there and the family who live there were so kind, welcoming, and accommodating. We left the picnic bench at the location after we wrapped for the family, so we were glad to give them a small, functional piece of the film!
Why not film how Zoe managed daily errands or a career in her grief?
We didn’t feel we needed to see Zoe go through the motions as she was stuck in a time warp as such, unable or unwilling to break free. We did film some parts of her doing day to day things but when we got to the edit, they didn’t feel right and they weren’t important to what we were going for. She was managing her grief by watching her son’s favourite cartoons and reading his favourite books, she would make sure everything was as it was in his room when he was there. Later on, we see her hanging the washing, part of her starting to process the grief, even though she’s wearing the suit while doing it. We felt that was important as it showed she was trying to move forward in her own way, and the scene also gave us a much needed tiny moment of levity to break the tension.
You graduated from the London Film School who’s home to renowned alumni Duncan Jones, Michael Mann and Ben Aston. Did the alumni list make you apprehensive or push you to work harder in pursuing your goals?
It’s an impressive list of alumni and it grows every year. The talent that comes out of such a small school is daunting in a way but I put it down to the amazing teaching that goes on. We don’t just specialise in directing or camera or sound but we get to learn every discipline which makes us better filmmakers. I’m a very hands-on director and I like to be involved in every department and having knowledge of cameras and lights only helps me as a director as I can visualise more. I’m someone with a very high work ethic and a very driven personality, so the immense talent that has gone before just makes me work harder so I have the opportunity to join those names in having a career that I love.
What was the most rewarding moment you underwent while making MOSIH?
The most rewarding moment was for me was seeing the shots come together in real life that previously only existed in my head and my story boards. Everything was so carefully planned out and executed but when we saw Beth on the monitor, putting on the head for the first time, that was an incredible moment for us in the create team that we had puled this idea together exactly as we’d planned it. I also love the silhouette shot of her standing and looking out the front door – it was my homage to an incredible silhouette shot in “Punch Drunk Love” by Paul Thomas Anderson that was a reference for me from day one.
What other storylines are you hoping to introduce in future films?
I’m working on a couple of scripts at the moment, two shorts and one feature which deal with family, loss, love but also equality and difference. I like to look at relationship dynamics whether it’s family, friends, or couples but also looking at social inequality which is something which I feel quite strongly about.