Gabriela Staniszewska: The Horror Director Killing it on the Festival Circuit
To succeed in film is no mean feat. Here, SYNC.SW speaks to Gabriela Staniszewska - the filmmaker scooping up the special selections at this year's festivals - on how she made I Should Have Run and her secrets to success.
Gabriela on Location
Hi Gaby, give us a little info about yourself and what you do.
I am a Bristol based Writer/Director working primarily in the horror and sci-fi genres. I have made a couple of shorts that have done well on the festival circuit and I am currently working on future short and feature projects.
How has I should have run been received since it was released?
I Should Have Run has done very well on the festival circuit, screening at around thirty festivals worldwide and winning eleven awards. The reviews have been good and I am very pleased with the run it has had. Blumhouse.com premiered it on their website which was definitely a highlight for me. They have been extremely supportive of my work, which is amazing because I am a huge fan of theirs. Another high point for me was screening at Encounters Film Festival. My DOP and I spent the whole week down at the Watershed and they were so friendly and welcoming. We learned a lot.
What challenges did you face in making the film? Do you enjoy the limitations of low budget filmmaking?
I wrote around the budget I had, which was zero really, just the wages I earn in my day job. I was always going to film it on the Bristol to Bath Railway Path, at night, just me and my very small team. From there it was just about asking people if they wanted to be involved in helping finish it. We lucked out with our composer and sound designer that’s for sure! Everyone worked on it for the love of making something interesting. I am incredibly lucky that Bristol is a creative place with very talented people who want to make good work. The film ended up costing me £200, which was predominantly spent on rope, food and make up. Entering festivals costs quite a bit though, and I spent what I could on that as I earned the money. I entered about ninety festivals in total, which I guess over the course of two years cost me approximately £1000. I do enjoy the limitations of low budget filmmaking, as I think it makes you more creative when you’re boxed into a corner. For example, I would never have written a poem as a narration if I didn’t have budget limitations. It meant little to no recording on the shoot, plus only one day in ADR. If I’d have written it differently it might have been a little more difficult. And the poem is really the centre of the film.
As someone who works as both a writer and director, which part of the filmmaking process do you feel most at home?
Both, if not all of it. I want to bring a story to fruition, from start to finish. I guess it might be called control-freakery, but I want to be involved in as many aspects of the film I have written as possible. I write, produce, direct and sometimes edit, sometimes act in my films, whatever is necessary to bring it to the fore. My DOP is in charge of the more technical aspects of the shoot: equipment, lighting, cinematography etc. We have worked together for six years now and know one-another’s tastes and weaknesses backwards. It goes without saying that trust in your core team is extremely important.
What are your future plans? Do you want to work exclusively in horror?
I really like the genre as it has many subtle subgenres and can be used to express the inexpressible. I am very interested in issues of mental health: grief and depression in particular, and I feel that horror is a very good medium for describing the inner workings of our minds and emotions, allowing people to express their fears and paranoias in ways that others may finally understand. I also work in sci-fi for similar reasons. Both genres present a creative freedom and a poetic license I don’t think are as available in genres such as drama.
And finally, do you have any snippets of wisdom to pass on to young filmmakers out there?
If you want to be a filmmaker, pick up a camera and make a film. You can’t call yourself a filmmaker unless you’ve actually made a film. Write something, anything. Borrow a camera, or use your phone. Get your friends together, and make it. It doesn’t have to be great, or even good… make it for yourself if that helps. Show it to some people, figure out where you went wrong, then make another. You learn from your own mistakes, from your own process. Each time you get a little better at some things and mess up on others. It’s very nice when your film is successful, but for me the most interesting thing is figuring out what I got right or wrong, and seeing how that information can help in making my next one.
To stay up to date with Gabriela's work visit her website: www.gabrielastaniszewska.com