Daniel Thomas Freeman’s feature film, ‘The Silence After Life’, won the award for Best Actress at Brighton Rocks 2020 and we are delighted to be hosting him again at London Rocks this year with his latest film ‘The Day After’. Daniel has a multifarious background immersed in and around music and film which allows him to experiment with both forms and has led to the creation of the visceral and haunting work ‘The Day After’. An experimental short which demands to be watched and then rewatched in order to absorb the full impact. This film is the first in his NULL Audience series which will house work which is deliberately created with the expectation that only very few people will ever experience it. After the release of ‘The Silence After’, Daniel asked himself why should any one piece of artwork demand more attention than any other? Why spend so much time promoting art when the focus should be on the work itself?
‘The Day After’ is a beautifully-crafted project from which the audience can decipher a multitude of explanations and feelings if they allow themselves to open up to the craft and really immerse themselves in the work. Daniel was inspired to create the film after Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine and pieces of work such as this are of the utmost importance lest we forget the atrocities which continue to blight us all over the world, including in Ukraine. We spoke about the intricate weaving together of the film and the sound he deftly created and went into more detail about his motivation to create the NULL audience series and what exactly it entails.
“The artwork is just one person’s individual attempt to prayerfully and quietly lament the brutally unleashed tragedy and insanity now laid before us.”
Where was this beautiful piece of work borne from?
’The Day After’ was much more of an emotional reaction than a concept. I had been in the middle of working on the follow-up to my last film ’The Silence After Life’ when the Ukraine invasion happened. And literally the day after the war started I woke up knowing that I had to indefinitely pause my current film project so I could create a new piece of music to mourn for Ukraine and for how the world had changed irrevocably in that instant. A week later I knew I had to add images to that music.
As ‘The Silence After Life’ was your first film as a director, writer and composer – what have you learnt and brought into the creation of ‘The Day After’?
I had so many good experiences and I learnt so much through the five years of making and releasing ’The Silence After Life’, but making that feature film nearly killed off my enthusiasm for film for good! You can definitely make a narrative feature with very few crew and with a budget of a few thousand pounds, but I would not necessarily recommend it as it involves a truly enormous amount of work.
Once I’d spent a year recovering from ‘Silence’ I decided that, if I was going to make another film, I would have to do it in a much freer, quicker and impressionistic way – much more about instinct and feeling and exploration than scripting and planning and admin. For many years I’ve been creating music by recording, processing, re-recording, reversing, layering, looping, stretching, compressing and distorting audio and, for the first time with film, I applied the same sorts of techniques to images. I did think about adding actors or narrative or poetry but, in this instance, I felt the project needed to be much more abstract and visceral, open and unknown, lamenting and minimal.
What particular images did you look for to form this project?
As ’The Day After’ was my immediate, emotional reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, I was looking for a way to transmute the terrible images we were seeing from Ukraine into something elegiac, a form of “turning swords into ploughshares”. As it stands now finished, the wordless images suggest x-ray ghosts of endless apartment blocks and the constant, unyielding dissolution of certainty against a dense, slow-motion fog of controlled feedback and drone choirs.
Can you go into more detail on how you layer the images in your analogue and digital processes to create the scenes we see?
The images were created by heavily manipulating loops of existing footage several times through various analogue and digital processes, including the use of an HD DSLR, before being finished in Final Cut Pro. The music was initially performed on analogue and digital electronics with some noises from an electric violin, before being heavily re-worked and processed. I used very standard analogue and digital tools but I used them in combination to create not-so-standard processes which – for this film – I purposefully made very analogous to the processes I’ve used for the music I’ve been involved in writing and producing over the last twenty years. One example of this is that I use lots of echo in the music I make, so with one of the visual loops in the film, I created visual echoes by duplicating the loop several times and ghosting the duplicates as delays after the original.
The overall effect is both very moving and with an ethereal soothing quality. How do you work on pacing the film with the music?
With a lot of patience. Although shooting the initial visual footage and recording the original music performances was fairly quick, finding the exact pacing and layering took week after week of careful watching, listening and reflection. Typically I found the material ran too fast for the spiritual feel I was after so it was a case of slowing the material down yet further and further and letting it breathe. ’The Day After’ is a prayer and I don’t think you can get to that meditative space without pulling back from the relentless pace of the world and allowing our souls room and time to heal and reflect.
As it is such a unique and technical project, how did you approach the edit?
I believe editing is absolutely critical to any artwork and that’s why the minimal credits for the film state “image + score + edit” and nothing else. I think it’s relatively easy to make some sort of image or sound, but what makes it work as a piece of art, what gives it context and meaning, is the thousand and one decisions made both during filming / performance and the more formal editing process. Formal editing on ’The Day After’ involved choosing which sections of footage and audio to process, which of that processed material was then re-processed, and then deciding how to order and layer the final selection of the very best of the resulting components.
To talk about the NULL Audience Series, what inspired you to start such an endeavour?
Some of the inspiration came though making my previous film ’The Silence After Life’. I made the film with the hope of getting a few thousand people to see it and the very long-shot hope of getting the film into a big or medium-sized film festival. An approach which has worked in the past for a very small number of similar outsider directors like Peter Strickland and Shane Carruth. After the standard run of too many rejections, I was really glad and grateful to get the film into three smaller festivals, including Brighton Rocks where it won Best Actress. This helped me realise that I’d personally approached filmmaking from completely the wrong angle. In retrospect, what was really important to me was making the film, the quality of the interactions of the people I worked with, the resulting film and the quality – not the quantity – of the response … which is where smaller film festivals like London Rocks and Brighton Rocks are so important and vital to independent film culture.
This was not a conclusion I came to easily. After all, I had submitted the film into quite a number of big and medium festivals, I had created a large number of social posts in order to promote the film and had paid for advertising on film and music websites / magazines, all in the hope of attracting a larger audience. But by the end, this all felt very unhealthy to me. It was capitalism not creativity, a justification of numbers rather than the deep spiritual satisfaction that flows from making good art.
My personal conclusion was to start the NULL Audience Series. I’m planning that this will only consist of work which is deliberately created with the expectation that only very few people will ever experience it. It could be that a NULL work goes on to have a reasonably-sized audience (which could be really interesting) … but the work is not made with a target audience or marketing strategy in mind and there will be no desperate striving to bring attention to it. It’s important to me to show high-quality work – art is, after all, a form of communication – but ideally I want to enjoy that process rather than worrying too much about numbers or visibility or networking.
What is next from you and in the series?
To keep me focused on what I hope is a more practical and positive way forward with my art, I’m intending that all my works for the foreseeable future will adhere to the NULL Audience Series principles. I’ve created a ramshackle collection of words, images, ideas, music and sound for a number of potential projects, two of which are showing more promise. One is a science-fiction experimental drama set in Scotland which I’ve been struggling with for a few years now. The other project – which is a bit newer and feels much more possible to make at the moment – is a reflection on where we are with the environment. There is still a long way to go with both of these projects, especially if I’m to find a way of involving the main actors from ‘Silence’ as I’d love to do, but the experience of making and showing ’The Day After’ is proving invaluable in demonstrating a potentially more artistically sustainable approach of creating films and music. I’m hoping to get another film or two out within the next couple of years if all goes well, but that’s as near as I want to get to any sort of timetable at the moment.
‘The Day After’ will be screening on Friday the 4th of November, during our 3rd Session, as part of the Experimental Film & Comedy – “Further down the rabbit hole …”