Who amongst us cannot claim to have whiled away the hours watching others around us going about their daily lives? Darcy Vanhinsbergh, whose background lays predominately in front of the camera, used the forced moments of contemplation driven by the pandemic to consider the people he has been observing, their intricate social dynamics and what they were doing in life, and took to writing. He is centre stage in the production of Brighton-based ‘Cold Water’ as writer, director and performer, and has masterfully crafted a balanced and nuanced portrayal of two very different people whose lives converge under mundane circumstances. When Alex Lawton, whose skills cross production, cinematography and editing, reached out to Vanhinsbergh about working together, ‘Cold Water’ started to bloom. The film addresses the real and terrifying issues of addiction and control, but rather than reveling in the darkness, it shows us that you really don’t know what – or who – is around the next proverbial corner.
“I guess it became an exploration of how imperfect we all are.”
Where did the inspiration come from to explore two such unique characters?
Darcy: Alex had approached me about working together on a short and I was concurrently talking about ideas with my partner. We got on to the people we knew, friends and work colleagues, our strange interactions and imperfections. Some really interesting stories came up, and it kind of inspired me to base a story around an amalgamation of people I knew, including myself. I guess it became an exploration of how imperfect we all are.
Alex: I worked with Darcy as the lead role in 2017 on a short film which I produced and directed called Winter Hill. During production I got to know Darcy and I realised that he was much more than an actor – I’ve worked with plenty of actors in the past and generally from my experience an actor will turn up, deliver their performance and go home, whereas Darcy invested himself much more into the overall story-line, script and the project as a whole. This left an impression on me and when I was looking to collaborate with a writer/director on my next short narrative project, despite him being an actor first and foremost, Darcy was the first person I reached out to.
Why did you feel the need to cut down the script and how long did it take you until you felt comfortable enough with it to start filming?
Darcy: As a film writer I’m constantly trying to work on showing rather than telling. I think when you overuse dialogue it becomes indulgent and you can very easily fall into traps. I’m happy with it, but I still feel it’s over-written. I’d like to get a lot more visually creative on our next project. It took at least 4 months before I felt we were getting somewhere.
When did Alex get involved in the writing of the script and how did the creative relationship work between the two of you?
Alex: Whenever Darcy finished working on the latest version of the script he would send it over for me to take a look. From my perspective, as the DOP and camera operator, I was just as focused on how we were going to shoot the scenes vs the overall storyline, so it definitely helped having both of us constantly discussing each re-write and being able to bounce ideas off each other. I remember early on one of the challenges we faced was how we were going to shoot the scenes which involved the actors actually being in the sea. We toyed with a couple of ideas; underwater cameras, hiring a boat, but neither were really an option considering budget restrictions and also the limited time which we had at our disposal to shoot the film. In the end we both felt capturing as much as possible from the drone would be the best way forward. That’s the great thing about shooting with drones, it can get you to spots which are otherwise very tricky or even impossible to film from.
Vikash and Siobhan are engaging and credible in their roles, how did you go about the casting process?
Darcy: I did a show together with Vikash in London. I knew he wasn’t just sharp-witted and funny but had the depth of character to play Raj. It’s a complicated role and we spoke a lot on the phone about addiction and positive outlets, and he just got it. We are all addicted to something and searching for a release. It’s a very human experience. I casted Siobhan through my agent. I was looking for someone fierce yet vulnerable to play Dannie, and after I looked at her reel I was dead set on casting her. She did a self tape of one of the scenes for us and that was it. We spoke on the phone and I could tell she knew what was required. It’s a draining role, but she totally owned it and went to those uncomfortable places.
How did you then work with the actors on the character development to find the freedom in the text?
Darcy: Once the script was learnt and I knew they had a firm grasp of the scene, I just asked them to relax, fuck it, have fun! At that point, it’s about what the actors are experiencing, and capturing that magic moment when they experience something new. So I told them to forget it as such, it’s a framework more than a script. Of course we weren’t completely improvising and they largely stuck to the script, but they started to pepper it with interjections that I would never have thought of writing. This approach takes the anxiety out of the situation and further develops the characters on screen.
Do you have any plans to work together in the future?
Darcy: Yes! I hope Alex wants to work with me again ha. I already have the next project bubbling away. It’s got to be funded this time though, so we have to do a lot of work to get that secured.
Alex: My favourite aspect of the process has always been collaborating with like-minded people on the front line of independent filmmaking, and despite some of the inevitable challenges that we faced along the way, we’re both really happy with the end product all things considered. In the early days of ‘Cold Water‘ we both decided to see how things panned out, testing the waters if you like, with a view to potentially doing more in the future. So yes, I’m sure when the time is right, we’ll collaborate again.
‘Cold Water’ screens at 7.15 – 8.15pm on Sunday the 24th of July 2022 at Fabrica as part of BRIFF’s 16th screening programme.