Interview with Leo Poloniecki (representing Team Zissou) on "The Anniversary"

The Anniversary bagged the most prizes at the recent 48 Hour Film Project (48HFP) Singapore in December 2015, winning the awards for Best Film, Best Directing, Best Use of Props and Audience Choice. We speak with Leo, director and writer of the short film, to find out more about its production.

On the anniversary of her daughter’s death an American real-estate agent has to close the deal on the sale of a shopping mall to a Chinese buyer. The only thing between her and the sale is the buyer’s personal ‘spirit detective’, without whose approval she never says yes to a purchase.

Hi Leo, do tell us more about yourself, and how you & your team for the 48HFP got together-

I am currently working as a commercials director for Freeflow Productions. I have made a handful of short films and, as a writer in advertising, many adverts. The team for the 48HFP slowly came together through a mix of friends, generous people from work and kind actors who agreed to come aboard and help us out. 

Really creative use of the prop (BBQ tongs)! 
Did the idea of using a BBQ tong come quickly, or was it something you conveniently threw into the story? I believe I have seen Chinese mediums use some sort of fork when doing contact with the netherworld, but a BBQ tong is really one up! 

Haha! Yes. Once we had decided on the character of a ‘Spirit Detective’ we had a bit of fun thinking of all the strange and weird things he could do to ‘test for ghosts’ in the building. In comparison to some of the other ideas we had, using the BBQ tongs like a tuning fork actually seemed on the sensible side! 

I thought that your use of line was really good; I have yet to watch the winning entry for the Best Line prize, but the little girl screaming at the end was really creepy, and I was also very impressed with her delivery (though it was just one line). Have you made many horror films in the past? The Anniversary felt very naturally done, much smoother than how I would envisage a 48 hour film to be like.

It's only natural that, when racing to get a whole piece done in just 48 hours, a certain amount of mania is likely to appear on the screen! I'm not quite sure why our piece ended up having a very calm feeling to it. Certainly, while shooting, it never felt like a big panic and no one lost their cool. I suppose the spirits of the building must have been smiling on us. As for little Eva - yes, she did a perfect job delivering the line. It comes over satisfactorily spookily... despite the fact that she couldn't stop giggling while doing the shoot! 

And the inevitable question, what were the challenges you faced in directing a 48hfp? I am sure many people would have asked you this, but filming in a shopping (as dilapidated it was) probably has its constraints, permission from management, security guards chasing you out etc., did you go about gaining access to the filming venue, and how did you manage to bring together such a wide range of actors? Also, do share with us how long did you take to write the story, organize the shoot, do the filming, edit, etc..Will also like to know how much the making of your film cost (HAHA! Singaporean question), if you don't mind sharing.

It’s funny you should mention trouble from security guards. There was a security guard there and he did approach us to tell us to clear off. When we showed him the papers to show that we had permission from the building’s management, he suddenly went completely the other way in terms of his attitude to the production. He was virtually holding the boom microphone by the end of the day - we probably couldn’t have made the film without him! As for the questions about timing, the writing all happened on the Friday night. So we had the rest of the weekend to shoot, edit and grade. The costs were pretty minimal because of the competition rule that all participants have to contribute on a volunteer basis. I think the hiring of some kit, the competition entry and then other stuff like transport and food all came to about S$800. 

Is there a director whose work you admire, or any film you had in mind when you were making The Anniversary? I couldn't really put a finger to it, but old building + little creepy girl + nervous middle aged lady + silent slightly-crazy chinese man....

With the 48HFP you can’t prepare much in advance because of the nature of being told your genre and so on when you arrive on the Friday night. However, we did know our location. And so, thinking about that, this empty abandoned and creepy space (like the Overlook Hotel), we found ourselves looking at a lot of Stanley Kubrick’s framing. He uses a lot of “one-point perspective” shots which suited us very well. So we pretty much copied that directly! 

*Spoiler alert*

Not very clear on whom the little girl was actually speaking to, and not wanting to settle for my best guess, I sought clarity from Leo.

Quick answer: It is the ghost of the woman's daughter speaking directly to her. 

Long answer: We always saw the building itself as being a character in the film. Almost the strongest character. The building has a will of its own. And it doesn't want to be sold. It wants to assert itself. So, sensing this unresolved issue in Mrs Anderson's life, the building conjures up the ghost of Mrs Anderson's daughter in order to ruin the prospect of the sale. When the daughter says "Look at what you did, you..." (which is the mandatory line of dialogue for the competition) we feel she is talking about the failure to sell the building. But perhaps more than that... perhaps this is a wider comment about Mrs Anderson's failings as a parent - which may or may not have had a role to play in the daughter's death. 

Interested yet? Watch The Anniversity here at this link: 

Photo credit: Leo Poloniecki

By Gwen X
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