‘Betrayed’ is a multiple award-winning short film, including ‘Best Sci-Fi’ at Brighton Rocks International Film Festival 2022, which is now in redevelopment as a feature film. We caught up with writer and producer Jay Shurey and director Dagmar Scheibenreif to garner some inside information on the evolution of the film and the work that went on behind the scenes.
The film follows a young woman whose mysterious, supernatural abilities pinpoint her as the target of a murky, secret organisation. ‘Betrayed’ is a film of two halves, the first being directed by Ewan Gorman and then the second undertaken by Dagmar Scheibenreif. The talent behind the production, including the principal actor Caitlin Cameron, have been fused seamlessly to ensure the flow and continuity of the story. Tension and mystery grow steadily throughout the film, which is deftly enhanced by a soundtrack composed specifically for the film.
“I have always been interested in stories that carry meaning and cause us to reflect on our own experiences. I think most people have been taken advantage of by someone at some point in their lives, making the story highly relatable.
‘Betrayed’ takes from a scope of genres including sci-fi, thriller and drama. Where did the idea originate from?
Jay: The concept for ‘Betrayed’ started out as an A-Level Film Studies practical in 2002 titled ‘Isobel’. The idea was to tell the story of a girl with supernatural abilities and those who wish to take advantage of her powers for their own greed. I have always been interested in stories that carry meaning and cause us to reflect on our own experiences. I think most people have been taken advantage of at some point in their lives, making the story highly relatable. ‘Betrayed’ is actually the fourth incarnation of this story, but the first to be produced to a professional level. Key developments over the 20 years include changing the setting and swapping the gender of the main antagonist.
The script and film have undergone such tremendous iterations, what processes did you go through as the writer and how did you know when you were at the final point and ready to film?
Jay: There have been a number of different versions of the story with the first set in a psychiatric hospital. I kept with this idea for a number of iterations, but I was never really happy with it and I felt distracted trying to make this setting accurate and believable. By simplifying that section of the narrative to include a kidnap, I was able to move forward with my focus on Isobel’s gift and the main premise. Further down the line, I had an idea for an interrogation scene between two characters which worked well as part of Isobel’s story and I was able to develop this. It was after the story had been sent to our screenwriter, Phil Halmarack, and subsequently delivered back to me that I knew that we had a strong enough screenplay to turn ‘Betrayed’ into a professional film.
How did you then make the big move into professional filming?
Jay: The professional production finally enabled the core values of the story to be realised in new ways which had not previously been possible. The three previous incarnations were acted and crewed by friends, and there is only so far you can go with asking friends. We were able to produce a really hard-hitting story that showed the pain and suffering of Isobel, and I am so proud of everyone involved, but it was time to move forward.
We filmed over two weekends in March 2018 and March 2022. The gap was partially down to other work getting in the way, and also due to the fact that we didn’t originally intend to extend the film. It was meant to end with the note on the table, but we decided to include a flashback to strengthen the story. The film was completed on 3 June 2022.
The direction of the film is split between Ewan Gorman, who took control of the first half and Dagmar Scheibenreif who came in for the second half. How did this come about?
Jay: As I mentioned the film was meant to conclude with the note on the table reading ‘I’m gone’, yet I began to feel more and more that something was missing. My original idea didn’t have Isobel experiencing the visions, but I began to feel that the short needed more visual elements to it. Caitlin and I then set about working on a second part of the film which would extend the story. I had two key ideas which I wanted to include, the first being a murder scene, and the second a sex scene – both designed to be visually and emotionally shocking. Because of the nature of the sex scene, I was adamant that a female director would be a requisite for these scenes. It is very important to me that everyone on set is comfortable with what takes place and I felt Dagmar would be able to provide this reassurance and lead us to get the best possible work for these scenes.
How did you go about the direction and planning as you worked on the second half to ensure the flow of the narrative and the film?
Dagmar: I watched the first version of the film carefully and on repeat quite a few times in order to analyse the overall style and to feel the performances. Throughout that process, I was able to direct Caitlin and everyone else smoothly into the second part. Everyone involved did a really great job, but I was specifically impressed with Caitlin. I found her very easy to work with, how she switched in and out of character given the dark subject matter and the challenges that we faced on a low-budget production.
The rewatching also enabled me to match the cinematography with the equipment we had. I have done a lot of previous jobs shooting additional content for already existing work, so that part of the process wasn’t new to me. Also, after discussing it with Jay, I changed one of the planned shoot locations to ensure we could match the look and feel of the first half.
The performances are all strong, especially that of Cailin. How did you work with your cast in the rehearsal and shooting of the script?
Dagmar: Caitlin and I spoke in detail about how we could achieve a realistic portrayal of her character given that it was shot 2 years apart. We were also working on portraying a much younger Isobel and we wanted to accurately portray how her visions impacted her physically, as this is such a key part to the film. I wanted to make sure Caitlin had a solid base to work from and we used epileptic seizures as a guide as to how they affect the body and movement, as we were then able to achieve such a visual and dramatic result which worked well with the drama of the first half.
The very real and traumatising rape scene hits perfectly. How did you approach this with the actors to really convey the horror, yet protect them in the process?
Dagmar: As we didn’t have much time for in-person rehearsals, we began by bouncing ideas and backstories back and forth and talking about each of the characters’ motivations via whatsapp and zoom, and then spent the one day we had to rehearse in person leading up to the rape. This allowed us to talk about what each character was comfortable doing and what I wanted to achieve. It was a very conscious decision not to rehearse this scene itself as I wanted it to be as authentic as possible, but everyone was very clear about how far we could take things. Both actors welcomed this approach and on set the next day we spoke through the blocking, and I shot with a handheld camera to make sure we have exactly what was needed
The soundtrack is so well suited to the themes and carries the film in its own right. How was this approached and put into the film?
Jay: I am a huge fan of the TV show ‘The Voice’, and after hearing a contestant Christina Marie, I fell in love with her voice. She released a song called ‘Compromise’ with Andy Gillion and as I loved the song, I decided to email her and ask if there was any chance I could use ‘Compromise’ as the closing theme to ‘Betrayed’, as I felt the lyrics worked really well with our themes. To be honest, I thought it was highly unlikely that Christina would be interested, so it came as a complete shock when Andy replied saying they had watched the trailer, and would not only be happy with providing the song for the credits, but they would like to offer to write the score for the film. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse, and I subsequently worked with Andy on the score, and the result is the amazing music you hear throughout the film.
How was the edit approached to seamlessly weave the two parts together and how long was that process?
Dagmar: Like any edit, this had its challenges. After paying close attention to the stylistic choices in the first part, I was able to match them in the second part. One of the trickier challenges was to create the planned match cuts of Isobel coming in and out of her visions as she bumps into the two girls on the street. This part was quite technical but my planning paid off as I had also taken various POV shots of Isobel feeling dizzy after her visions, which added to the drama and were very useful in the edit.
It is well known to be a tricky road from short to feature. What is your approach to developing the script and the strong themes already in place?
Jay: I already have a treatment for where the story goes in the feature. My focus is on raising the funds so that the idea can be handed to a professional screenwriter to produce a 90 minute screenplay. We will then apply for funding to make the feature film. The story will answer many of the questions raised in the short, such as the truth behind Lauren and Grace’s true intentions, what is going to happen to Isobel now she’s run away from the hideout, will Simon get his comeuppance and who was in that car at the end of the film? I can promise more scares, more gore, but most of all, more thrills and more answers in ‘Isobel’, the feature film.