Film Courage: Where did you grow up?
Tom Sands (Director/Producer): I grew up in a town called Tunbridge Wells in the south of England. It was a typically middle-class town – pleasant but boring.
Mick Sands (Writer): Life at home was also middle-class when dad was writing for money as opposed to writing scripts for nothing. Tom was a bright, happy, balanced, and much-loved child.
Film Courage: Can you name a few of the films that have had the most influence in your life?
Tom: I actually very clearly remember the first ‘proper’ film I ever watched was The Rocketeer when I was about four, which I still have a soft spot for. My dad introduced me to Star Wars on VHS soon after, then followed Indiana Jones and the rest of Spielberg’s oeuvre. Years later, he introduced me to James Cameron’s work and T2 remained a favorite for quite some time. When I was a teenager I got quite into the French New Wave and their pragmatism and gung-ho attitude to film-making certainly had an effect on me. My horizons have expanded considerably since I was devouring Hollywood blockbusters on VHS, but the lasting effect of that education is that I am driven to emulate those rare blockbusters that are exciting and profound.
“I remember letting Tom watch Saving Private Ryan when he was about 10. There was a plumber in the house that day and he disapproved of my decision to expose such a young boy to the horrors of war. Because of it’s realism, I considered Saving Private Ryan to be an important film (and didn’t care what the plumber thought), but perhaps this is where Tom’s darkness started!”
Mick Sands, Writer
Film Courage: The Holly Kane Experiment (THKE) and your last feature BACKTRACK had unique and overlapping psychological themes of being haunted by past traumas, dream like states, etc. Why does this intrigue you?
Tom: My dad and I seem to like dark psychological material! From my point of view, I think the world is quite a dark place. For example, we all have past traumas and it drives everything we do. I want to explore those deeper motivations. I think the unconscious mind exerts so much influence over people and over society and life itself that it just seems like an obvious subject to explore. I also dream a lot – I regularly wake up six to eight times every night – so maybe that has something to do with it. Backtrack (AKA Nazi Vengeance) was about how you cannot escape the past while The Holly Kane Experiment has a slightly more optimistic theme – that you have to learn to trust your feelings over your mind.
Mick: I remember letting Tom watch Saving Private Ryan when he was about 10. There was a plumber in the house that day and he disapproved of my decision to expose such a young boy to the horrors of war. Because of it’s realism, I considered Saving Private Ryan to be an important film (and didn’t care what the plumber thought), but perhaps this is where Tom’s darkness started!
Film Courage: Where does your shared interest in psychology come from?
Tom: We have been discussing psychology over coffee for over a decade now. It effects everything so it seems an important subject.
Mick: I think it’s longer than that. I remember regularly taking him to Caffe Nero, when it was hazy with cigarette smoke. I felt guilty about smoking in his presence, but he always said he liked the smoky atmosphere, which was perhaps reminiscent of the creative spirit at large in Parisian cafes in the 1920’s. He didn’t talk a lot but always listened carefully, so I used to tell him whatever I had been thinking about, which often had a psychological element.
Film Courage: The lead role of Holly (played by Kirsty Averton) was an intriguing character to watch through the various stages of her journey. Was it important that men and women have empathy for her? What traits do you assign to a protagonist so that each gender wants to root for them? Did you adjust her character in anyway so that she could win over a variety of audiences?
Tom: I don’t really consider character in that way. I concentrate on making characters realistic and trust that audiences will root for someone if they can see their struggle. I don’t think gender needs to be a consideration if the characters are well-rounded and fleshed-out.
Mick: I agree with this. The theme of trusting your heart over your head was explored through Dennis as well, and the cliched gender considerations were reversed.
Film Courage: How did you meet Kirsty Averton?
Tom: We had quite an extensive casting process on this film. I think we probably saw about 15 people for the role of Holly. Kirsty was always a clear favorite. She had the perfect look and the right mix of authority and humility that I was looking for.
But I think Holly is a unique opportunity for an actor because her conscious and unconscious mind are pulling in completely opposite directions. I think it’s a tricky performance because an easy way out would be to sink into confusion but Kirsty gave a very measured and precise performance that was complex and relatable.
Film Courage: As a filmmaker, was there a certain process or framework that you used to tell the story?
Tom: I like to do a lot of planning in advance. I like to find the theme, which emerges from discussions with Mick, and then I like to try to bring all of the film-making tools at my disposal to amplify that theme, balancing that with the needs of the story. With Mick’s screenplays the theme is already deeply embedded, which makes it a very enjoyable process. Since I can’t really draw, I tend to write up mammoth shot lists and break down each scene, making up the beats, the subtext of the scene, key words for the tone of the scene and then each shot. However, I this 200 page document doesn’t get consulted that much on set. By that time, it’s all in my head and, working on low budgets you have to be very flexible so I tend to work on the fly. But all that planning is an important process to get the film in my head and communicated with heads of department.
Mick: Tom has the capacity to keep an awful lot of things in his head.
Film Courage: Mick was a copywriter and has been a screenwriter for many years. Do you remember the first time he shared his love for cinema and/or writing with you?
Tom: When I first watched The Rocketeer, it was with my dad. I remember he taught me, even at that age, that you don’t talk during films and if you want to say something you have to pause the film! He was always very encouraging of my passion for film and he used to help me work up my ideas, even at a really young age. I remember I started off writing new Batman films and he would help me refine the storyline and correct all my mistakes.
Mick: When he was quite young, he and I used to go to the cinema at lunchtime when it was most likely to be empty. We would sit right down the front. It was obviously intense for him because I wasn’t allowed to ask him any questions about the film when we came out. He was still processing his experience.
Film Courage: How is it to work with your father? When making dual decisions, how do you separate the role of paternal figure versus co-collaborator?
Tom: I think because we’ve had such a history of working together, even it was my dad correcting my early ramblings, I find it very easy to work with him as a co-collaborator.
Mick: Tom was always mature, and his thoughts were always considered. So when we’d discuss things, the fact that he’s 30 years younger never entered my mind. In his early 20’s, he seemed like a 40 year-old. Perhaps because I always encouraged independence in him, when we work together we’re much more like brothers than father and son.
Film Courage: The cinematography in THKE was superb. Who is your DP? How did you find him?
Tom: My DP is called Haydn West. He was a good friend of my uncle’s and I met him at the pub when I was 19. We made a short documentary for Kentish beer. We got on really well because I think our philosophies are similar and we want to make the same kind of images. He has a terrific sense of humor and I think it’s important to get on with your closest collaborators. He is also a brilliant improviser – I remember that in one scene on Holly Kane, we were shooting second unit and we didn’t have a lot of kit, so he used our white van as a giant reflector!
Film Courage: Can you share how your DP Haydn West has worked in high-stress environments and how this lent to his expertise on THKE?
Tom: Haydn West started off as a press photographer and has done assignments in high-stress environments like riots in Belfast, elections in Ghana, famine in Chad and race riots in Oldham. He’s also worked in India, Iraq, Cambodia and Israel. He was the picture editor of a daily newspaper and he’s worked to tight deadlines for 20 years, so he knows how to get stuff done.
Film Courage: Why is your love for film stronger than writing?
Tom: I don’t think that it is. But I have a great writer who’s always writing so I focus on directing.
Film Courage: How long did it take you to raise the money? Is there any way you could have raised the money faster?
Tom: We raised the money through private investors and made use of the UK film tax credit scheme. It took a long time and a lot of work to get the pitch right. I’m not sure if we could have raised the money faster, but if there is a way, I’d really like to know about it.
Film Courage: How long was the shoot? How many people were involved on a daily basis?
Tom: We shot 68 locations over 17 days. That equates to three movements a day with a crew of about 25 people. I’m still not quite sure how we managed that – but somehow we did! It was an intense, grueling shoot – even by low budget standards.
Film Courage: How did you get access to the locations in the film such as Holly’s apartment, Marvin Greenslade’s unit which turns into a work space, the bar/restaurants, etc.? Since you’ve lived in Brighton (where the movie was also filmed), were these places where you had existing relationships with the owners?
Tom: During the two months of pre-production, we rang up restaurants, knocked on doors, begged and borrowed to get all of the locations. We didn’t even have the lab location two days before shooting. I lived in Brighton for five years so I had a lot of good places to start. For instance, Mick and I always knew we wanted the kiss to be under the pier. And I wanted to get as many of the locations as possible close to the sea. The theme of sea is an important one and for me communicates Holly’s sense of being out of control. And many of the locations were exactly what we were after, for example the pub where Dennis takes Holly is exactly what I had in mind. Elsewhere, compromise was needed. We were lucky that the location owners in Brighton were so friendly and willing to help out a low budget production. We complemented this with one day’s shooting in London for Marvin’s world.
Film Courage: How long did it take you to complete THKE (from idea to completion)? What drove you to complete it?
Tom: Mick has been working on the screenplay for almost 20 years! When I was looking for a feature film to make after finishing film school, this was an obvious choice since I’d been reading various drafts for the last few years and had always felt passionately about bringing it to the screen.
Mick: I actually wrote the first draft in 1992. It sat around for a few years, then I turned it into a novel. A few years later, I turned it back into a screenplay. When Tom was at film school, I dusted it off, set it in Brighton and tried to reduce the locations to make it viable as a first film for him. But with 68 locations, I obviously didn’t make a very good job of that. I think Tom’s only consistent complaint about my scripts is that there are too many locations!
Film Courage: If you weren’t a filmmaker, what kind of work do you think you’d be doing?
Tom: I always say that I’d be a farmer! And sometimes fantasize about the simple life that would be. If I wasn’t doing this, I’d like to be close to nature. I’ve never really envisaged any other profession since I was about 11.
“ I’m proud of this film. It’s the sort of cinema I want to see more of. It’s genre film-making with emotion and depth. I always say I want to make films that are entertaining, moving and provocative – and I think with The Holly Kane Experiment, we have achieved that.”
Tom Sands, Director
Film Courage: What didn’t you get done when you were making your film?
Tom: We cut about five scenes during the shoot because we ran out of time. And many of my signature shots never got in the can. The time pressure on a shoot like this is so intense you sometimes have to be able to cut the film as you go along, ditching shots, portions of scenes and sometimes whole scenes. This is very difficult with a script like Mick’s because there is no fat on it to start with.
Mick: I think this is a testimony to Tom’s ability. There was nothing in the original script that wasn’t either a plot point or a character development, so if it still works that’s down to him.
Film Courage: What do you hope to achieve with this movie?
Tom: I’m proud of this film. It’s the sort of cinema I want to see more of. It’s genre film-making with emotion and depth. I always say I want to make films that are entertaining, moving and provocative – and I think with The Holly Kane Experiment, we have achieved that.
Film Courage: What did you find most challenging during the filmmaking process?
Tom: The time pressure on the shoot is definitely the most challenging aspect. Looking at Phil (my first assenter director) and seeing him tapping his watch makes my stomach churn. Often I only get 10 minutes to get a shot in the can and it is hard to think clearly under that kind of pressure.
Film Courage: What advice do you have for any young/aspiring directors who want to get started?
Tom: My advice is to make films and make mistakes. That’s the quickest way to learn.
Mick: Be a farmer!
Film Courage: What’s one unusual item you always take with you to set?
Tom: I don’t really have an unusual item I bring but I do require a cold can of lager at wrap time every day.
Film Courage: Where is THKE available to watch/purchase?
Tom: The film is released on Digital HD in North America on 25th April. It will be available on iTunes, Amazon and other outlets.
Film Courage: What’s next for you creatively?
Tom: I’m actually on set as I write this. We start shooting False Witness this afternoon. This is another dark psychological thriller which toys with the audience’s perception of reality. I’m also in post on a film called Three Acts, which we shot last summer, which is a dark comedy about an actor with Dissociative Identity Disorder. We worked with a psychotherapist on the script for Three Acts so it’s unflinching, sympathetic look at mental illness.
Holly Kane (Kirsty Averton) is an attractive 29-year-old experimental psychologist, whose determined research into mind – control techniques is driven by a fear of insanity. In her quest to control her unconscious thoughts, Holly is experimenting with drug-fueled subliminal programming when two very different men come into her life.
She is swept off her feet by Dennis Macintyre (James Rose), a handsome 35-year-old who seems to be impulsive and vulnerable but who conceals a background in military intelligence.
Meanwhile, her career gets a much – needed boost from Marvin Greenslade (Nicky Henson), a celebrated 73-year-old psychologist who uses his power and influence to facilitate the clinical trials that will legitimize Holly’s experiments. But Marvin hasn’t told Holly the complete truth either. When Holly steps up her experiments on herself with more sophisticated equipment and more powerful drugs, she descends into paranoia and madness. To discover the truth about what’s happening to her, Holly must learn to trust something other than her mind.
‘The Holly Kane Experiment’ is a British indie psychological thriller about about a controversial young psychologist who gains funding and research facilities from a respected benefactor but slowly finds herself the subject of her own mind control experiment. Helmed by father/son team Mick Sands (screenwriter) and Tom Sands (director and producer), the film is produced by Substantial Films and stars Kirsty Averton in the eponymous role alongside Nicky Henson, James Rose, Lindsey Campbell and Matthew Neal.
CONNECT WITH THE HOLLY KANE EXPERIMENT:
Tom Sands – Producer/Director:
Although Tom was a keen student of the theory of film, he quickly realized that film-making is not an academic process. What was needed was a much more hands-on approach. So, in 2010, he dropped out of film school and cut his teeth shooting and editing a series of documentaries filmed in eight different countries. He went on to direct music videos and commercials, and in 2014 produced and directed his first feature film – BACKTRACK – which has so far been distributed in six countries, including the US. In 2015, he produced and directed the psychological thriller THE HOLLY KANE EXPERIMENT, which is just about to begin its festival run at the St Louis International Film Festival. And this year, he produced and directed the comedy-drama THREE ACTS about an actor struggling with dissociative identity disorder. He will direct another psychological thriller called ENACTMENT in February 2017. Tom’s experience has taught him how to balance the commercial and the artistic. If it’s too focused on the commercial, it isn’t interesting; and if it’s too focused on the artistic, it isn’t profitable. Tom passionately believes that commercial films can have depth.
Mick Sands – Writer/Executive Producer:
Mick had a successful career as an advertising copywriter at top London agencies like JWT, DDB and Leagas Delaney, where he wrote more than 60 broadcast TV commercials and won all of the major industry awards, including golds and silvers at D&AD, BTAA and Cannes. He was then commissioned to write the screenplays Millennium Man for Parallel Pictures and The Red King for Warner Bros. He has had screenplays optioned by Gary Kurtz (producer of Star Wars), David Kennaway (producer of The Rocket Post) and Imaginary Films. Mick wrote the low budget feature film Backtrack, which was released in 2015. He also wrote Three Acts, a black comedy currently in pre-production at Substantial Films with Tom Sands directing.
THE BEAT OF THE BAT is a full-length documentary that tells the story of the music of the 1966 “Batman” Television Series and how composers Neal Hefti, Nelson Riddle & Billy May gave Batman his first real musical identity- and one that has remained inexorably tied to the character for over 50 years!
In fact, if you saw the just released “Lego Batman Movie” you might have noticed the numerous references to the music of the TV series.
And face it, you can go up to anyone, anywhere in the world and sing “Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na!” and they will instantly know what you are talking about!
The music was as important to the show as the bright colors, campy dialogue and tongue-in-cheek performances. Yet, strangely, the story of how it came to be has never been told… Until now.
EXODUS documents the journey of Syrian refugees as they cross the Aegean Sea from Turkey into Greece. In the winter of 2015, over three thousand refugees attempted this treacherous crossing everyday, all in hope of seeking asylum in the European Union. It’s a life and death gamble that they are willing to take, all for a chance at a new life away from their war-torn homeland.
FREAK OUT: Matan, a soldier in the IDF, sets off for a week of patrolling in a remote base in the north of Israel with three soldiers whom he doesn’t know. As the week progresses, the soldiers begin to question whether they will come out of this experience alive.
THE HOLLY KANE EXPERIMENT: An obsessive psychologist attempts to reprogram her subconscious mind, but when her actions become increasingly uncharacteristic she fears her experiment is dangerously out of control.
AMERICAN TRIAL seeks to discover what a trial in the Eric Garner case might have taught us. How is our legal system designed to handle cases such as Garner’s? What verdict may have been returned after all the evidence was presented? More importantly, what conversations, perspectives and emotions went unexamined because of the grand jury’s decision?
Similarly to fiction courtroom dramas, the lead characters of this documentary will be the attorneys leading the prosecution and the defense. Our camera will capture them as they develop their public arguments and individual positions. How do they decide which witnesses to summon? How do they prepare for their court appearance? Are there any discrepancies between their systemic role and their true feelings regarding the case?
The film will also follow a news crews covering the trial and reporting on race relations in America within the context of the trial and the movement for black lives. They will travel across America to discover what public figures, intellectuals and activists think about the Eric Garner case, as well as other similar cases through the prism of racial relations in the United States.
COLD LOVE – Cold Love highlights three expeditions spanning many years of Lonnie Dupre’s career — the first non-motorized circumnavigation of Greenland, the first summer expedition to the North Pole, and the first attempt of a solo January ascent of Denali. The film’s powerful footage reveals up-close the beauty and life-giving forces of these icy realms. And in seeing, we can’t help but be inspired to love and protect our earth’s frozen places. Not only are they beautiful and fragile, but they are the global engine that regulates the climate and provides a stable environment for all life on the planet.
IT’S NOT MY FAULT AND I DON’T CARE ANYWAY – A rich and famous self-help guru’s controversial philosophy of extreme selfishness is put to the ultimate test when his only daughter is kidnapped and held for ransom (featuring the late Alan Thicke)
VALLEY OF DITCHES – A young woman bound in the front seat of a parked car watches helpless as her captor methodically digs a grave in the desert ground. The bloody lifeless body of her boyfriend lies framed in the rear-view mirror, a fate she will fight at all costs to avoid for herself. But this is only the beginning of a brutal struggle where survival could be worse than death.