Thursday, January 13, 2022


A salute to everyone reading this interview. Today we'd like to introduce you to SAVVAS CHRISTOUS. He is from Cyprus, the passion for the arts came from very young thanks to the reflex he had from his family, in other words, the love art is from inheritance right. Graduated from Aristoteleio University in Thessaloniki in fine arts, later on decided to shoot short films with friends and hone his directorial skills. IN 2020 was premiered his first feature film, the psychological-horror-thriller CAPTIVE, also known as “KATHERINE’S LULLABY”. The story centers on a struggling teenager trying to escape from her abusive father and decide to do it with the help of her boyfriend wandering in the woods, in a moment they decide to split up, but she lose her boyfriend and in her search to find him finds a cabin to ask for him, an old man hello her and from that moment her nightmares starts.

The movie had a north america and worldwide release by Vertical Entertainment and  High Octane. SAVVAS in very open-minded manner chat with us about the origin of the story, teach us that from simple and casual moments the stories emerges on, gave us advice regarding pre-production, principal photography and post-production, even we talked about his experience reaching a distribution deal and the ups and downs he experienced while creating this movie.  If you are and eager indie filmmaker, please, scroll down and read this great interview with massive advice for you.

EFF: Hi Savvas, first off, let me thank you for having this chat with me, really. LEt's know a little bit about you, so, where are you from and how your passion for filmmaking stemmed from?

SC: I come from a family of artists born in Cyprus. My grandfather and father are both painters and also one way or another, the whole family we are all involved in music. My dad especially had a huge influence on me because I grew up watching him create every day. 

From a young age, I loved watching movies and then discussing them with friends. I started experimenting with filmmaking when I was about sixteen and I got more into it during College studying fine arts at Aristoteleio University in Thessaloniki. I wrote stories, gathered my friends and organized them to shoot the movies on the weekends. In my third year of study, I decided to go to an Erasmus program in Dublin and learn more about animation and experimental videos. Then when I went back to Thessaloniki, I made the decision to present short films for my degree thesis. And I guess that's how the journey started...

EFF: Let's address the matter, I would like to ask you about your horror-thriller movie CAPTIVE. So, first, tell us about the plot of the movie, please.

SC: “Captive” AKA “Katherine’s Lullaby” is a psychological thriller about survival and family relationships. 

Lily, a struggling teenager, runs away from her abusive father with the help of her boyfriend. They are wandering around together in the woods until they split up and lose each other. After a long walk, Lily finally finds a cabin in the middle of nowhere. Evan, the old man who lives in the cabin alone, unexpectedly grabs her and drags her into the basement. While he is keeping her captive, he oddly forces her to work out intensively. Soon, Lily will realize that Evan believes she is a different person.
Captive (2020)
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EFF:  Let me ask you about the core of everything, the story. Tell us how the story idea came up to you, maybe do you reference from other movies or books or any close situation? 

SC: It all started back in 2014 in Thessaloniki, Greece - on my way home after a long night-out with friends, I shared a piece of pizza with a delusional homeless man. After a long conversation with him, I went back home and stayed up all night to write down this “idea” as a high level synopsis on my laptop. Two years later I started writing the film and had everything prepared to the last detail by 2018.

EFF: Most of the times the inspirations to create a story come from simple and casual situations. What is your writing method? What tips, tools, shortcuts do you use when you are crafting a script? How many drafts you wrote before got the rigth one?

SC: I start with Pages where I write all my high level ideas first, and then the storyline. After that I create a full beat sheet and then the treatment. When it’s time to write the screenplay I use Final Draft. As soon as I finalize the first draft then I revisit the script whenever I feel like I have something new to add, or simply just to remind myself of the dialogues and then maybe twitch them a little bit. But I always take my time with my scripts. For Captive, I wrote the first draft in one month and then probably took me a whole year to lock it.

EFF: The story hits us immediately with the second act, I guess is maybe ten minutes and we have our lead character immersed into their "issue" and we are receiving background information through flashbacks. I point this out because I'd like to ask you, first, why did you decide to set up the story this way and second, if you had any creative blocking while writing this story and how did you unblock it?

SC: I wanted to write the entire film from Lily’s point of view. So the flashbacks that we see later in the film are actually how Lily pictured them as she reads the diary. I believe the only blocking I had with the story was the decision of the last frame but I remember I decided pretty fast on it. 

EFF: How was the project timeline? I mean, how was the project creation from zero, did you have to pitch out the movie or Producers hired you? How was the funding process?

SC: The funding process was probably the toughest one. It was funded by private investors. I probably pitched the film to hundreds of people before I secured any amount of money. I really don’t know what it was, maybe luck, maybe when you do it hundreds of times you are becoming better at it.

EFF: Hard work pays off. All right, you now have your script done and your project funded, I mean, ready to start the movie, what was the first thing you made? Speaking in terms of preproduction, Tell us a little bit about the casting for instance, William Kircher and Tori Kostic were amazing, how they two and the rest of the principal crew joined in to the project?

SC: Well, I started pre production pretty much a year before principal photography, but the real catalyst to that was Melissa Gutierrez (the producer) who came into the project just three months before shooting - that's when we really figured out everything together. All this time (especially during our discussions around the low budget and the limitations), I had to go back to the script and make changes, which was one of the worst emotions I've ever had in my life. Painful. 

Casting took probably about a month - on and off. Fun fact, William reached out for the casting audition online, but he was back in New Zealand, so we made three or four long Skype calls and when we both clicked, he flew to LA probably 1 month before shooting. 

For the role of Lily, we probably saw more than a hundred girls but when Tori finished her first audition, I turned to Melissa and we both immediately knew that she was the one. The whole preparation and the rehearsals with William and Tori took us 2 intense weeks where we shaped and analyzed every single scene together meticulously. Not only did they make my life so much easier as a director by being very easy to work with, but they also tended to always go the extra mile by bringing their own ideas on the characters. We cooperated seamlessly and took a very open-minded, artistic approach when building up the characters and for me the result was breathtaking and spot on.

EFF: They had a sparkling chemistry together on the screen. OK, Even this was one location movie, how was the location scouting?

SC: I came across Wrightwood, this little town outside of LA that caught my interest right away. Melissa Gutierrez (the producer) and I drove 5 times there scouting for the perfect spot, and on the last time we landed on this specific cabin, which ticked all the boxes except it was not isolated at all. There were a handful of other cabins around. We had to use certain angles to avoid showing the other buildings and get the feeling we were in the middle of nowhere - Manuel Velasquez (our DP) is very experienced in such environments so he nailed it! Regarding Production Design, Alix Seskin and I had long sessions to decide on specific props and on how to manoeuvre the cabin in such a way to feel both a cozy place and a dark prison at the same time.

EFF: Shooting stage, how long took you shoot the movie? What was the date?  

SC: We shot it in 18 days (3 weeks, Sundays off). We started shooting on August 20th, 2018 and the last day was September 9th.

EFF: Ok, now commence the principal photography, how did you set up your day-to-day shots, I mean, did you make storyboards from all the scenes? Did you talk with actors before every scene, things like that.

SC: We’ve had many days of rehearsals with the main actors but we made a lot of changes when we were rehearsing before shooting each scene. The actual location always changes a lot of things blocking-wise and when you don’t have much time or you are behind schedule you have to find solutions on the spot to but be faster also effective. I was fully prepared with the complete shot list before even reaching the preproduction phase. As soon as we jumped into the pre production phase, I started changing the story boards and the shot list based on the new information I had.
Savvas Christou

EFF: What was the hardest scene to shoot and why?

SC: From my perspective, I would say the hardest one to shoot was the very first one (the beginning of the movie) because we also shot it first. We were all so all over the place and we still hadn't found our rhythm as a team. Luckily, beyond some minor mistakes and some small delays, nothing major went wrong and that then gave us a great boost and momentum moving forward.

EFF: What were those setbacks you had during the shooting process and how did you overcome it out? 

SC: There was a power outage in the whole Wrightwood area for 4 hours and we had to shoot an entire scene in the living room using battery lights and LEDs to stay on schedule with shooting times.

EFF: Now, let's get into the post stage, what can you tell us about it? What problems you faced off whilst editing the film and what advice could you tell us from your experience?

SC: It was definitely a long process. As soon as we wrapped I gave the footage to Javad Emami, the editor, and he came with a first cut in the first three months. After that we were meeting together 1-2 times per week for another 6 months to finally lock it, so we could move on to sound, color and music. I have a blind trust with Javad. He knows what he is doing and he can take a scene and cut in a way that I couldn’t even visualize before. Worked every time. He is brilliant as an editor and filmmaker in general.

The whole process took more than a year because I wanted to be sure that the cut we have is as solid as possible to move on to the next round. I would strongly recommend to everyone, if they don’t have restrictions and pressing timelines on releasing schedules, to take their time in editing, in order to have the best result possible. Javad and I hadn’t seen the film for a whole month, maybe more, and then we jumped back into it with a clear mind - for me it’s always a must-do, especially for new directors who operate in limited resources and small teams.
Savvas Christou - BTS - Captive

EFF: Rarely what director dreams on paper is what is shown on screen, tell me what from the movie is not what you planned beforehand? Maybe because of budget or other reasons.

SC: Shooting time plays a significant role for the film’s outcome. Unfortunately if your budget is low then the shooting time is low as well. There were days that we had shot 4 pages - and other days we had to do 8 pages straight. It depends on the complexity of the scenes. As I mentioned before we were well rehearsed beforehand but the actual location changes a lot of stuff. So in most cases we had to improvise a little bit on everything. As we were shooting when someone had an idea we were discussing it and if we felt it was a good idea to improvise on, then we did.

For example, the scenes in the basement were in fact shot in the cabin's attached garage on the ground floor. So we had to change days of shooting and of course the shot list had to be done again from scratch. We even merged a lot of beats in one scene which eventually made the rhythm even better.

EFF: What camera did you use in the movie and why?

SC: We used the Red Epic Dragon simply because that’s the camera we could get by that time. Manuel (DP) had to also choose some specific camera / lenses / lights equipment in order to have the visuals we discussed beforehand.

EFF: When was the movie released out? Where can people watch it and how have people responded so far?

SC: Covid didn’t make it easy on us as we had the final product ready in March 2019. So I submitted the film to the top tier film festivals but a couple weeks later they all announced that they were cancelled for that year. I immediately freaked out and I started searching for a sales agent and distributor. 6 months later we signed with Vertical Entertainment and 3 months after that we signed with High Octane Sales Agent for the rest of the world.

I really wanted to at least send the film to some festivals still. So, as soon as the festivals started going virtual, I had to make a fast move before the actual release of the film. We premiered at Frightening Ass Film Festival (Chattanooga’s Film Festival Helloween Edition), then screened at Nevermore Film Festival where we secured the Audience Award, followed by HorrorHound where we secured Best Feature, Best Writing and Best Actors (both William and Tori - separate awards). Panic Fest was the last film festival to go to before the release of the film. The actual release date for the film was planned for sometime in February 2021. But we kept pushing and hoping for theaters to open. Eventually given the big uncertainty with the pandemic, we couldn’t wait longer  so we released the film on all VODs (USA and Canada) on May 6th. After that, we screened at Motor City Nightmares, Galacticat - VIIIth Fantastic and Terror Film Festival in Spain, FrightFest in the UK, and finally Spooky Empire Horror Film Festival in Orlando, Florida.
Overall, we see that the comments from the audience are very positive and we are so humbled by this. We currently have a rating of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes from the critics and as you can imagine, the whole team is super excited and thrilled about it.

EFF: How was your working relationship with cinematographer and composer?

SC: The director of photography Manuel Velasquez and I met each other a long time ago, where we studied at the same Film School together. We worked together in multiple projects in the past, and became and remain very close friends since then, even though we live in different countries. Due to the excellent partnership we built as a duo in the previous projects,it was really easy for me to choose Manu for my first feature film and I’m glad I did because he made my life so much easier both in preproduction and on set. Beyond the fact that he is extremely talented, he is also a great guy and a good person to have on set. Everybody loves Manu so the shooting process went smoothly. Having watched the film again and again, despite the limited time and resources he had to capture the movie, I always get impressed about how he managed to nail it in every aspect.

Well, the composer Dimitris Mann is out of this world. We met at a film festival back in 2018 and since then we became very good friends. I'm a big fan of his work, not only in film scoring but in general as a musician. We discussed the project several times and his authentic style as well as the way he approached the whole process was right on point for the film. When it was time to work we actually collaborated so nicely as if I was meeting a friend to have some fun by experimenting with art together. He is so good at what he does that even a sentence or two from me was enough to create a whole music experience on the spot - the real time translation was blowing my mind, every time. 
I couldn’t be happier to have all my cast and crew because each one of them were amazing at their position.
Savvas Christou

EFF: Please, what was your experiences about distribution with this film and what piece of advice would you give to us in this matter in order to get the best possible?

SC: I didn’t go down the normal road to find distribution. I did everything backwards because I had to adjust to the situation. As I mentioned before, I finalized the product in March 2019. I secured distribution in the US and Canada before we went to a film festival and then I secured a Sales Agent for the rest of the world. Back then, these were probably the toughest choices I have ever made in my entire life. Covid made everything so hard and uncertain, that you could never be sure what was the right thing to do because you had no other examples to follow. 

My advice for fellow filmmakers would be not to hurry with any decision about distribution. Take your time and explore all your options. At the end of the day, you will never actually find out if you made the right decision or not, so whatever path you choose, you need to feel good with it and make the most out of it. 

EFF: In overall What advice would you tell to newbie filmmakers out there trying to make their first horror movie based on what you learned from this movie?

SC: Try to raise as much money as you can before you shoot the film. But even if you don’t secure the money you wish, then shoot it anyway. Find creative solutions as the problems and limitations arise, and this restrictive universe will probably give you a unique perspective to tell your story. You can literally make a film with 0 budget nowadays. I don’t recommend it for your first film but if you have no other choice I would do it anyway. Filmmaking is not only about having a strong vision, but surely experience plays a significant role in the success - and in the case you have little experience or none, then the odds are against you. The key is to find an exceptional team. A team of A-players could make a killer film if you as the director are fully organized and prepared.

EFF: What are your inspiration; directors or films?

SC: My favorite film is The Shining - for me this is the best psychological thriller horror movie ever played. I am a big fan of Asghar Farhadi. His movies are shockingly good, from writing to directing to execution. He is the master when it comes to uncomfortable situations in real life.

EFF: How have you lived this pandemic? Personally, Professionally…

SC: When the whole thing started, I was in a pretty bad state because of the extremely bad timing with the launch of my debut feature-film. I gave my everything on this film and suddenly Covid comes and takes away all the opportunities the movie could have. But soon enough I got back on my feet and started working towards the distribution side of it. After I secured the distribution I went back home to Cyprus for 8 whole months to decompress, where things were slightly better and at the same time I started experimenting with Music, Dance and Fashion Videos. I was sucked into it and I still love it till this day. 

EFF: Are you a horror fan? What movies do you like most?

SC: I love all kinds of films. I personally like to create psychological thriller films but I tried and will experiment again with all genres and videos. I like to be creative, so I don’t limit myself to a specific genre.But I would say that I am indeed a big horror films fan. I am excited for the next Scream movie that will be released soon. Someone could say that I am a geek for horror movies and especially slasher films.

EFF:  What new projects are you working on now, anything you can anticipate us now?

SC: I finalized 3 scripts at the moment but I already chose the one I am shooting next. I am currently working on it and will soon start raising the money to make it too. Hopefully I will finalize the fundraising in the first half of 2022 so that I can start shooting later in the year.

EFF: If a producer gives you a chance to direct a horror film remake, what would it be and why?

SC: That’s a tough question. I’m not a big fan of remakes, especially if the original was a great one  anyway. Would love to direct the next Scream movie though. That would be awesome!

EFF : Would you like to say anything else?

SC: Nope, great interview - loved the questions!

**SAVVAS CHRISTOU'S | IMDb Twitter | Web Instagram |**

Captive (2020)
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