5 minutes with Robbie Studsor

Belinda Lack in Shallow Breath.

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Australian short film Shallow Breath will screen at Monster Fest next month following its international festival debut this Saturday 27th November at the Oscar, BAFTA and Canadian Screen qualifying Foyle Film Festival in competition for the Light in Motion Award.

The Foyle Film Festival is the only Oscar affiliated festival in Northern Ireland and an essential festival in the international shorts circuit.

“I’m really delighted to be starting our international festival run with Foyle and humbled to be screening with the other excellent international shorts that were selected,” says director Robbie Studsor.

Made in between lockdowns over the last year with veteran Melbourne director of photography Garry Richards (Patrick, 2013), Shallow Breath is described as an hypnotic deep dive into the psyche of a drowning survivor and the dangerous fixation she has developed on the accident and the woman who saved her life. It’s intimate, fatalistic and immersive with tones of neo-noir and psychodrama and I can’t wait for audiences to see it.

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Within Australia the film will be starting its run with MonsterFest on Sunday, 12 December in competition for Best Australian Short.

“Monster Fest is such a great festival in Australia for outsider and genre filmmaking and I’m always thrilled to be involved. They are an excellent team that put on an amazing show,” said Studsor.

With a lean running time of five minutes, the ideas in Shallow Breath run deep and Studsor sees significant potential in expanding them for a larger canvas.

“This short film shares a connective tissue with a feature length idea that I’m currently developing and the early signs for international sales attachment have been really promising.”

For now though, Studsor is enjoying the festival circuit and looking forward to more screenings of Shallow Breath.

“Filmmaking is never easy. Whether it’s a five minute short film or a two hour feature film, it’s the same creative challenge of telling a story on screen. It’s always a great feeling to finally let something go out into the world and see what people make of it.”

You can find out more about the Foyle Festival Northern Ireland here. Monster Fest screening and details here.

Shallow Breath filmmaker Robbie Studsor is an Australian film writer, director and academic.

He has co-written various Australian independent genre feature films since 2008, and in 2011 was awarded a PhD with his thesis concentrating on 1960s Italian cinema.

His feature film debut as writer and director was the visual stunning and highly stylised noir thriller, Burning Kiss.

Here, Studsor discussed Shallow Breath.

Interview by Matthew Eeles

Shallow Breath is an intense watch with a unique narrative. Where did the idea for this story come from?
The pathology of repetition compulsion has a rich history in films that probably starts with Vertigo and I really wanted to do something that explored this kind of obsession in an unique way. The core idea of a drowning survivor becoming fixated on the accident and the person that saved them is an idea I’ve had for many years but I could never quite land on how to approach it as a short film until now. Looking at CPR from a perverse perspective, the act of breathing life back into someone is a deeply intimate moment for both the saviour and the survivor and something that lends itself well to explorations of dangerous obsession. I wanted to push the idea into the extreme. 

The pacing of Shallow Breath is similar to a music video, so I wasn’t surprised when I learnt that Garry Richards shot this. How did you come to work with Garry and what did you take away from your experiences working with him?
I’ve been friends with Garry for a couple of years now and I’m sure he’d agree that us collaborating was inevitable. He’s been doing amazing work for a long time with all the different music videos in the 90s and 2000s (INXS, John Farnham, Jimmy Barnes, Paul Kelly, You Am I, Powderfinger, The Cruel Sea etc) and the feature film work he has done, such as the Patrick remake in 2013 with his long-time collaborator Mark Hartley. Garry is easily one of the best in the business and I was constantly amazed by what he could achieve with natural light or very simple set ups. He’s a total master of his craft and is very collaborative and easy to work with. We definitely have plans to work again in the future.

You’ve mentioned that the film was made between lockdowns in Melbourne. Can you tell us about some of the Covid obstacles faced during the production and how you overcame them.
I don’t even know where to start! There was about an eighth month gap from when we wrapped the first block of shooting to the second block (which featured a swimming pool) so that might give some indication of the challenges we faced trying to schedule around lockdowns. In terms of overcoming the obstacles, mostly it came down to the design of the script. There are only two characters in the whole film and they are almost never in the same shot so that helped quite a lot. I also kept the blocking and visual ideas achievable for a very reduced crew and had good advice from experienced collaborators such as Anita Jankovic.

Even though the film only runs for five minutes and is entirely narrated, lead actor Belinda Lack brings a real sense of depth and anxiety to her performance. Tell us about casting Belinda and what she brought to the production.
Belinda has great instincts and intuition as a performer and can do a lot with very little. This role called for a performance that was very understated and fragile, yet also deeply troubled with hints of volatility. Belinda managed to create a real sense of tension and charge with some simple expressions and behaviours which is difficult to do and quite rare to come across. As a collaborator Belinda is very perceptive and has a good sense of humour. She was a joy to work with and completely up for the challenge. 

What can you tell us about the feature length version of Shallow Breath and how it will differ from the short? We’d also love to know of any other projects you’re working on currently.
The feature film version builds on some of the ideas of the short but strays much more into thriller/psychological horror territory. It has lineage to things like Repulsion (1965), The Innocents (1961), and maybe even Black Swan (2010) but with other concepts that are quite unique and will make it a really wild ride. I’m also developing an original take on the vampire genre set within the world of Melbourne paramedics with writer Clea Frost and I’m hopefully adapting an Aussie true crime novel that I’ve been interested in for some time. I’m crazy excited about all of them! 

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