By Tom Ue.
In “Chapter 1: Liv” (2018) by Manchester-based writer and director Dominic Stephenson (under eight minutes long), we learn of a car accident: Liv (Brooke Vincent) wakes up, apparently recovering from an injury, and she is encouraged by her mother (Sally Ann Matthews) to go over what she remembers. All is not, however, as it seems. Liv, we learn, has specific abilities, and her mother knows more than she lets on. In what follows, I discuss with Stephenson his inspiration behind this series, its production process, and what’s in store for the series and its characters. Screen “Chapter 1: Liv” here. And its longer sequel “Chapter 2: Zach” here.
Congratulations on “Chapter 1: Liv,” which I much enjoyed. What inspired it?
As random as it sounds, the story stemmed from a dream I had when I was ill with pneumonia. I couldn’t tell if what I was seeing was real or a dream and that’s where the purest form of the idea came from.
Do you have a master plan behind this project or is this in development?
After I thought up the initial idea, I then developed it to work into a series format. I like my stories to have bigger worlds around them.
The film seems so straightforward set-wise and yet it’s not so straightforward to create a typical bedroom. What challenges did you encounter?
I actually based and designed the bedroom from my spare bedroom at home (which is the room I had the initial inspiring dream from) so the layout was pretty much a direct copy from that. Then with the help of my Art Director Lauren we adjusted it slightly to work with all the elements of the script. We wanted to give it a simplistic but hopefully realistic look, like a skeleton room.
The question we asked ourselves was: If we were heavily sedated and potentially concussed and woke up in a bedroom with our Mum, at what point would you start questioning your surroundings?
We wanted to design a bedroom which looked simple enough and actually had no unique features to it. In the eyes of the antagonists: do they even know what Olivia’s bedroom looks like? They’re just creating a skeleton version of her room and hoping she will accept it.
The use of close-ups to reveal Liz’s suspicions is quite effective. Tell us about your decisions in cinematography.
We shot the whole short in one day so didn’t get to spend a long time on each scene. One section I knew I wanted to perfect though was Liv’s realisation on what was actually happening, and I think as soon as we switched to slow-mo shots you can start taking things in at the same rate she is and start to realise something is wrong.
It’s hard to imagine this film working better with a larger cast. Tell us about your casting choices.
This was my first experience in short films as a writer and director, so I knew I wanted to do a simple idea. I thought the smaller the cast the more focused it would be.
I work as part of the crew on Coronation Street (1960-present), so when I wrote the short, I had Brooke Vincent in mind. I know she likes to do other projects and she is a great actress. I wasn’t sure about the character ‘Mum’ so I asked Brooke’s opinion and that’s how Sally Ann Matthews got involved. Together, I thought they were perfect for the two leads.
Do the actors know more about the story than we do?
I like to keep my actors interested in the story, so I don’t give them all the answers on future plot but I give each of them a backstory so they know exactly where their characters have been until we find them on-screen.
What can you tell us about Liv’s abilities?
There are hints at her abilities in this short if you’re really looking for them, but you will see them more in the sequel.
Who is “him”?
You’ll have to wait and find out!
The title “Chapter 1” implies other chapters. How many chapters do you envision?
Our initial story arc idea was four chapters. Each chapter would follow a different passenger from the car crash and unravel the story that way.
Given that this is a Web series, you can ostensibly continue or end the series whenever you like! Would you end the series without resolving all the questions raised here?
I would like to give the viewers closure but also leave them wanting more, but the main obstacle in our way is time and money. The second film has taken roughly a year to make. All the cast and crew are doing it in their spare time and for free, so it’s a long process. Four is our goal.
Would you ever go back to an earlier chapter and revise it in light of new ones?
I don’t think so. I’d like to think that we have the whole thing planned enough for it to make sense without us having to go back and amend anything.
What is next for the series?
Our sequel Chapter 2: Zach is now released! To keep updated follow our social media on Facebook, twitter or Instagram @chapter2zach
What is next for you?
I like to have several projects cooking at the same time. After Chapter 2 is released, I will start writing Chapter 3 and I’m currently developing a short comedy musical with one of my good friends who is also a director. No rest for the wicked!
Tom Ue is Assistant Professor of English at Dalhousie University and an Honorary Research Associate at University College London. He is the author of Gissing, Shakespeare, and the Life of Writing (Edinburgh University Press) and George Gissing (Northcote House Publishers / British Council) and the editor of George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (Edinburgh University Press). Ue has held a Frederick Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Toronto Scarborough.