INTERVIEW: Robert Savage, Director of Dawn of the Deaf

Dawn of the Deaf

How do you take one of the most worn out sub-genres in horror and give it the kick up the backside it sorely needs? To freshen up something that you think has been done to death (or undeath)? I was just about ready to give up on zombie movies until Robert Savage’s Dawn of the Deaf came my way, so you might be best off asking him how he revitalised a huge part of the xraze within twelve minutes.

This isn’t hyperbole: Dawn of the Deaf is one of the most important zombie movies in quite some time, so to explain it to you would be to spoil its surprises. What I can tell you, though, is that I had the great pleasure of talking to its director, the aforementioned Robert Savage, all about the film while I struggled not to type a wall of ‘pleases’ when asking for a full film.

If you haven’t watched Dawn of the Deaf yet, make sure you do.

Hey Robert, how are you?
Knackered. We’ve just finished a pretty mega short film shoot for a piece set during World War 1. Every day there was a new challenge: pyrotechnics, underwater shots, stunts… I’m still recovering.

Tell me all about Dawn of the Deaf.
Dawn of the Deaf is an apocalyptic horror short about a strange, possibly alien sound that is heard all over the world, infecting the hearing population and transforming them into flesh-eaters. The film follows a group of Deaf characters who are unaffected by the sound, and have to band together to survive.

Our aim was to create a genre film that would connect Deaf and hearing audiences in an engaging, thrilling way. As opposed to re-treading the same narratives usually seen when dealing with disability, we wanted to create a tense story in which the characters’ “disability” becomes their ultimate advantage over the hearing population.

Dawn of the Deaf

Did you actively try to make a zombie movie, or did the ideas just all sort of click into one?
All the credit should go to Jed Shepherd, who came up with the original concept. I’m a zombie obsessive, but it’s probably the most over-saturated genre of films, so I knew that it would have to be a really unique concept if I was ever going to make a zombie film. When Jed pitched it to me, I knew we had to make it.

How did the project get off the ground?
It began with a phone call to Douglas Cox, who produced the film, where I pitched him the idea, starting with “Ok this sounds insane, but…” and he loved it. From there it was just a case of navigating the crazy ambition of the project and bringing on the right team of collaborators. Luckily Douglas and I have built up an incredible team around us over the past three years, and everyone came on board gladly and did exceptional work.

How does working on a short film differ from a full production?
The whole “it’s a sprint not a marathon” cliché is pretty spot on. We had about 50p (well, a little more…) to make Dawn of the Deaf, so every day was about finding solutions and making the day. In a way you are able to get away with more on a short film – people are willing to do favours for a couple of days, whereas a 30 day shoot would be a big ask. So many amazing people gave their time and resources to the film for free, and the film couldn’t have happened without them.

Can we expect a full movie? Please say yes.
Definitely. The short is very much a proof of concept for a larger feature, which we are currently shopping around production companies. We have so many cool, terrifying ideas and set pieces already in place for the feature that I’m really excited about – we’re really trying to push the concept as far as it will go, and leave no opportunity for horror unexploited.

Dawn of the Deaf

Is there any scene in the film you’re particularly fond of? The conversation in the underpass with the subtitles is a personal favourite.
I’m very proud of that scene, but I also have a lot of love for the shots of London littered with dead bodies – we had a team of amazing zombie extras who shuffled out of bed at 3am to come and lie on the cold ground just as the sun was coming up, and I think it was worth it, as people always ask how we pulled that sequence off. Also, I play about 5 or 6 dead bodies in those shots, I just changed clothes in between set ups!

What’s your favourite movie of the year? Any other zombie films we should check out?
Probably Green Room. I know they made it for 6 million, but at its heart, it’s almost the quintessential low budget genre movie – mostly one location and a brutally simple concept. The execution of the film is flawless, the performances are great, the writing is funny and sharp and surprising and the adjectives go on and on. In almost every meeting since I’ve been pitching films as “Green Room meets…” (incidentally, the Dawn of the Deaf feature has been pitched as 28 Days Later meets Green Room with Deaf leads)

Where next for Robert Savage?
I’m currently in development on a horror feature called Seaholme, with Salon Films, BFI, BBC Films & Creative England. It’s a monster movie about a bunch of kids who find a wounded creature washed up on the shore of their island community, and decide to nurse it back to health. It’s sort of a fucked up British take on the Amblin movies I grew up watching.

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