Brighton Rocks Interviews: Dogwood Writer/Director Steve Sale

Interview With Dogwood Director Steve Sale

We got a chance to speak with the Steve Sale, writer/director behind one of the most exciting films screening at this years Brighton Rocks Festival, Dogwood. He shared with us the story behind the film’s conception, how achieved such epic cinematography, and why artists must suffer for their art.

Can you share with us where the idea for Dogwood came from? Watching it now it clearly has a lot of contemporary resonance with the issues dealt with being on the public’s mind, but I’m wondering if there was a more personal place this story came from? 

Yes it definitely came from a personal place. Modern life is so difficult, I still do fantasise about living off grid. I know my kids would love it but my wife’s not keen lol. This is probably an usual film in that I didn’t work from a script or screenplay. When I first met up with Joe (who plays Martin) all I had was a line ‘a man goes to live in the woods’. This gave a lot of freedom and I was able to develop the story organically whilst shooting. I’m lucky to have the most beautiful woodland on my doorstep, that was probably the biggest inspiration to begin with. I was inspired too by some anti fracking protestors that were living in the woods near to me. There were many feelings about modern society, brexit, environmental issues, mental health, life and death that I wanted to portray in the film but ultimately didn’t know where it was going to end up.

Aerial shot of Brighton's Palace Pier as featured in Dogwood
Aerial shot of Brighton’s Palace Pier

The cinematography is really great and in particular, the aerial shots do a lot to give you this
massive scope of how nature and society dwarfs individuals. Is there anything you can tell us about the process of capturing these shots? How important do you think they were to have in the film?

Thanks, I used to shoot corporate videos and weddings and eventually I was able to get quite cinematic shots very quickly in those circumstances, my business depended on it. Also I realised I had built up a fair amount of gear and I had no excuses in trying to make a narrative film, which has always been my dream. In regards to the drone, you’ve hit the nail on the head.

Martin's labyrinth-like apartment building as featured in Dogwood
Martin’s labyrinth-like apartment building

With the film beginning and ending with Martin reading his poetry, the film becomes very self-
reflective with the character sharing his experience through art. Is this something that resonated with you whilst making the film? Did you see yourself in the character of Martin at all?

Thanks that’s a nice observation and yes I did. There’s a quote along the lines of ‘we need to suffer for our art’. Martin definitely suffers for his art and you could say both Joe and I did too.

Scribblings in Martin's journal featured in Dogwood
Scribblings in Martin’s journal

Talking about the ending again, I really admire the way the film addresses homelessness as this is something Brighton has far too much of and it’s easy to switch off and start to not notice just how many people are living on the streets. Was this something you initially hoped to address? 

Yes. When I see someone homeless I think, what is their story, what happened in their life for them to reach this point. We see this transformation in Martin as he goes from living off grid to living on the street, where he is eventually transformed into the poet he always wanted to be.

Is there anything else you hope for audiences to connect within the film, in particular? 

I think the film can actually be portrayed in a few ways just like song lyrics can be. I hope they like it, it’s not a film you should take your Nan to see, in fact I’ve banned my Mum from watching it. At the time of making it I felt we had lost touch with nature but I think we have rediscovered it in lockdown.

Brighton Rocks Film Festival returns for physical screenings this year 23-25 July at the Rialto Theatre, Brighton. For updates on the festival and to hear about when tickets are releases be sure to follow us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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