Talking Dawn of the Deaf with Rob Savage
One of the few downsides of Fantastic Fest is that there’s just too many films and sometimes we wind up missing something to which we were looking forward. Dawn of the Deaf was one of those films, and we’ve been lucky enough to finally get a chance to watch. A 12-minute short from the UK, Dawn of the Deaf is a new and clever take on the zombie genre. When a mysterious sonic pulse kills the entire hearing population, only the Deaf are left behind, forced to confront a frightening new reality where the pulse was only the start of their trouble.
The film utilizes its short run time to great effect, managing to be potent and startling as it quickly builds a world and then completely tears it down. We’re given an almost voyeuristic look into the lives of four Deaf people just as their lives are about to irrevocably change. We experience sounds the characters can’t, putting us at a distance where we can only watch and start to comprehend how they live. And when things go bad, we can’t look away. All four leads are terrific, offering natural and sympathetic performances that ground the film’s outlandish premise in terrifying realism. To the film’s credit, we’re left wanting more and that’s exactly what writer/director Rob Savage has in mind. He plans to hopefully return to this world with a feature length version of the film.
We’re excited to present a brief chat with Rob Savage about the film.
The Ink & Code: What inspired you to create a film with the Deaf community in London?
Rob Savage: I actually had very little connection to the Deaf community before we started working on the film. I was already Facebook friends with a great Deaf filmmaker Samuel Dore, and I’d seen some of his work and had been keeping tabs on what he had been posting regarding Deaf culture and Deaf cinema in particular. However, mostly we just chatted about horror flicks, bonding over a mutual love of John Carpenter and George Romero. And so when we started work on Dawn of the Deaf, I knew Samuel had to be a part of it. The idea for [the film] was actually one that was brought to me, rather than developing out of my friendship with Samuel or any other connection to the Deaf community. I was getting drinks with horror-buff, writer, record producer, and all-round-busiest-man-I-know Jed Shepherd, and he pitched me the idea of a Deaf-led zombie movie where the infection is spread through sound, and I knew right away that it was the zombie idea I’d been waiting for.
I&C: A key component of any great horror film is the sound design, at which your film absolutely succeeds. How does that affect making a film meant to engage Deaf audiences as well as hearing ones?
Rob: The sound mix of the film took a lot of consideration and is one of the elements I am most proud of — and is entirely down to our fantastic sound designer/mixer Callum Sample. We spent many months experimenting with just how far we wanted to push the sound design, making sure not to over-stylize and risk disrupting the flow of the film. Obviously, we knew that at some point the sound would have to drop out — though never to complete silence — and we’d enter the headspace of one the Deaf characters, a moment we wanted to have huge impact. However, if we relied too heavily on stylizing the sound design, we would risk alienating a Deaf audience and so we decided that the first half of the film was about normalizing the Deaf characters in the eyes of the hearing audience, where we adopted a more conventional approach to the sound design, and that towards the end of the film we would allow the sound to become more stylized, bringing in a lot of bass so that the impact is still felt by Deaf viewers in a cinema environment.
I&C: Are there any misconceptions about Deaf people you were hoping to address with the film?
Rob: More than anything, we wanted to present a situation where a perceived disability became a tool of survival — while the film deals with abuse and discrimination, there’s also a sense of the characters not being defined by their deafness, which was important to us.
I&C: My favorite moment in the short was the way you presented the couple fighting, with the camera circling around them. The subtitles were deliberately obscured depending on the camera position, giving the audience just portions of what the characters are saying. I found it fairly ingenious and invoked the voyeuristic feeling attempting to eavesdrop but not hearing everything. What was the motivation to present the scene in that way?
Rob: This came as part of a discussion with Samuel Dore about how to shoot BSL (British Sign Language) — there is one school of thought which believes that BSL should be shot to always include the hands and face of the person signing, forgoing close-ups and cutaways. I chose a more conventional shooting style, but included that moment as a reference to filmmakers who shoot in a “sign-safe” style — when the audience cannot see hands and face, we deny them the subtitles.
I&C: Zombie Godfather George Romero recently lamented the difficulties he faces making more modest/low-key and sociopolitical zombie films due to the success of things like The Walking Dead and World War Z. As someone looking to make a feature-length zombie film of substance, do you agree with him? And what been the biggest obstacle in your way?
Rob: We’re only just starting to pitch the feature version of the film, so I’ll let you know in a year’s time — I do think that the zombie genre is so over-saturated, it’s important to make sure that you are doing something totally different and innovative with the genre — I think that with a new and exciting take, the zombie film could be reinvigorated. However, I for one would kill to see Romero make a zombie film noir.
While I’d also kill for a Romero-made zombie film noir, I might be a tad more excited to see what comes next for Rob Savage and Dawn of the Deaf. To stay up-to-date and catch future screenings, be sure to follow them on Facebook and Twitter. The film’s official site can be found here.