Last week, CWR published our review of Animus, a short but powerful film directed by Mark J. Blackman. This writer had an opportunity to put a few questions to Animus actor/producer Johnny Sachon, who was nice enough to take the time to respond.
What inspired the story behind Animus?
It all came about quite organically. I’d worked with Katie [Goldfinch] a few times before. We both felt that we brought the best out in each other and wanted to challenge each other. As we’ve both produced films as well we made the decision to develop something together.
I met Mark [J. Blackman] in Cannes 2012 and had been following his work since. Out of the blue Mark contacted me regarding another project which sadly didn’t come work out for me. However, Mark asked me if I had anything else I was working on… and it just so happened I did. I guess everything happens for a reason.
2016 was a strange year for a lot of people and from my point of view I felt a lot happened in my own life as well that I wanted to explore and even exorcise in some way. The three of us met, and again, quite organically began discussing all of this and found a mutual subjects and ground to build upon. We spoke about absolutes – we wanted to produce a drama set in one location that focused on the performances. Having recently worked on projects that were bold and intensive when it came to their scale of production Animus was quite a refreshing challenge we all looked forward to. Out of these meetings Mark wrote Animus. The first draft was remarkably close to what you see on screen.
Even for a short film, Animus definitely packs some emotional punch. What kind of prep went into playing Elliot?
I found Elliot a difficult character to relate to in many ways. For example, him being content with living the confined, small life he does is so far removed from my own personality it took me a long time to feel comfortable with him. I tend to walk around with a role, almost as a shadow for a long time leading up to the shoot so that I can slip in and out of character and discover how they felt in various situations. Physically I lost some weight, let my facial hair grow and made sure my hair hadn’t been cut and was unkept. I tend to live a very active healthy life style so I had to let that slip to an extent for the role. On set I always use music, I find it an instant emotional connection and I tend to have a playlist that works as a sort of sound mood board for the characters journey. I also used a few very personal props that meant something to me but were also relevant to aspects of Elliot’s own life and experiences to help with the connection.
In our last interview with the director, Mark told us that he likes to encourage improvisation and workshop his pieces. How true is that of Animus? How much of you wound up going into this film?
Once we had a draft of the script to work from Animus was very much a collaborative piece developed through workshops and improvisation. The three of us got together several times to workshop the characters, scenes and dialogue. We wanted to find something that was completely truthful and relatable, perhaps even a little too close to home at times. As actors we wanted to try something we’d not had the opportunity to explore before which is always exciting. For me, I found that recently I had been cast in quite well groomed, action based roles – which I absolutely love but I wanted to find a character that went completely in the opposite direction.
Even on the day filming Mark gave us room to improvise dialogue and action within the structure of the scenes, keeping each other guessing all the time, having to be completely “in the moment” and listening to each other at all times. I believe this helped us to find honest reactions because we didn’t quite know what the other actor was going to do next.
The core conflict of the film seems to be in the clashing outlooks that Sienna and Elliot hold. Without giving too much away, who would you say that you agree with more?
I feel both characters outlooks are flawed. However, I think being content in life is something I strive for. People can spend a lot of time chasing the next thing that they often forget to enjoy and appreciate what they already have or have achieved. I feel if that you’re truly content then you must be truly happy – which, for me, is one of the most important things in life.
Are there any new projects you’re involved in that we can look forward to?
I’ll be appearing as “Lee” in the worlds first interactive feature film LateShift which I believe will be out in cinemas later this year. I have a couple of really exciting things lined up in 2017 but unfortunately I’m not allowed to say too much about them at this stage. I’m also currently producing my first feature film Shadows with my business partner and writer/director Luke Armstrong at Inspired Pictures. With several other projects in development it’s looking like an exciting year ahead.
Animus has won the award of merit at the One Reeler short film competition in Los Angeles.