Underwire 2019: New Mars by Susie Jones

Susie found her own way to filmmaking when she discovered an unused camera while studying literature and made a "Rough Guide to..." her University. This led to her creating an immersive film experience, long before people started using the term 'immersive'

How did you find your way into film making?

I have only recently realised I was doing it without being aware of it a long time ago. I was supposed to be studying English and French Lit at University in the 90’s. But then I discovered we had use of a very basic camera and ended up making a Rough Guide for Freshers to show at Freshers Fairs (Magenta Devine style) - I am not sure why I decided to do that - it wasn't anything to do with my course! To edit it there was a rudimentary video edit desk which I spent a lot of time playing with. I think I found all of this more interesting than essays alone and that led to me creating videos as back-drops in a theatre type space where I had people moving about the space from inside or pulling along objects I'd made, all accompanied by a four track sound scape I created. I was very interested in creating an immersive experience for an audience and in transforming how they felt and it was so pleasing when it worked! I was also writing screenplays which were well received. However when I left University, in the days before the internet - I had absolutely no idea where to go next and suddenly life and looking after my new baby daughter put everything in that department on hold while I raised her as a single mum and then later my two sons with my partner. So recently I went back to Uni with the intention of making a film to start back where I left off and so my first film was New Mars.

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Tell us a bit about your film?

It's a sci-fi set in an imagined not-too-distant future. It could even be happening right now for all we know. I won't go into the story too much but I would say I have always been interested in themes to do with the ghost in the machine - with emotion and instinct over reasoned logic or scientific explanation. I used to resist being spoon-fed apparently water-tight literary theories - I was horrified at the idea that we all had to accept or consider with huge reverence this theory in its entirety just because x person wrote it and most people would sit there nodding away and sitting on the fence - who am I to question 'x' etc. In New Mars there is a struggle between what the characters have been raised to believe and how that suddenly doesn't fit in reality - as they deal with strong emotions that they struggle to ignore despite all the logic they've learned. New Mars also has a subtle environmental theme as it takes us out of the sea of what we know to look at Earth from a new perspective - I think that idea might actually be from a literary theory - oops haha - it's one about us not understanding that we are in a sea unless we can step out of it. Maybe some of it did go in after all.

How did you take the news of being accepted into the festival?

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I thought I was mis-reading the email when I first opened it - it took a few reads and I then i asked someone I was with to see if it said what I thought it said. When they said yes I think I leapt up and down - quite a lot. I think that says it all. When people started to find out that New Mars had been selected I had messages from fellow female filmmakers congratulating me and ALL of them then also expressed how they feel Underwire is a truly special and brilliant festival. It is an utter joy to have our film at this wonderful festival especially in its 10th anniversary year. We are so excited!

Funding in this industry can always be a challenge, how did you achieve yours?

New Mars was made as a student film with a DSLR camera, very basic sound recording gear, a couple of lights and a few bits of blue gel. We had kitty-litter bags to stop the lights falling over and the total cost came to around £65 which we rounded up to £100 on IMDB to sound better.

What was the most challenging aspect of making your film and how did you overcome this?

As New Mars was made entirely from people saying yes for free, this often created unforeseen problems: For example on the very first day of the shoot I'd managed to get us free access to a deep cave system that is usually a tourist attraction. On this day the cave was closed which was ideal, until we realised as we trudged down the slippery steps carrying all our gear, that they had also decided to get some workmen in to repair the metal bannisters that ran all the way down through the caves. They were drilling into metal in a place that naturally amplified sound on a big scale - the noise was ear-splitting - so dialogue was not possible. We just filmed it with no dialogue which actually became more effective - often serendipity seems to lend a hand in the most challenging situations - thank goodness!

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Underwire celebrates female film making talent in the industry, what female film makers do you look up to?

Oh gosh... Well my female filmmaker friends of course who are all incredibly talented - each has a very distinct voice and style and I love that instinctive difference that grows from us as individuals - they are also all solidly supportive which is wonderful. Of the female filmmakers I haven't yet met I would say Celine Sciamma is one director whose films I have been admiring since her early shorts. I am entranced by how natural and real her actors' performances are and I love all of her films. I have a wide range of film tastes and I am also in awe of lots of other female directors - Dee Rees, Jane Campion, Jennifer Kent, Anne Turner, Christine Jeffs... and lots more.

What’s the next project for you?

I have a short in post at the moment called Bird Lady. I am also about to shoot another micro-budget short called Luck Money - about a female upland farmer and her daughter and I have a funded short in the pipeline set in Norfolk that I am very excited about and a feature I am developing in the background.

New Mars is screening in the Science Fiction Theatre category on Tuesday 17th September at Prince Charles Cinema. For tickets and more information on Underwire 2019 visit their website here.

You can follow the Facebook page for New Mars short film here.