Searchlight: Samuel Abrahams

It may be cold outside but Samuel Abraham’s short film Connect is sure to fill you with a warm glow. Exploring the transient moments of human connection that blossom and wither everyday on public transport, Abraham’s short shows masterful command of wordless communication. We’ve got a sneak peek of the trailer and catch up with the artist-turned-filmmaker.

When was the first time you ever picked up a camera?
The first time I picked up a camera and really considered what I was framing was during my A-Levels. I was taking Photography, and this was prior to everything going digital. I completely fell in love with the process of shooting, developing and printing my own film. I kind of specialised in black and white street photography and was most interested in capturing real moments between real people, going about their lives. I still consider my final project, a collection of photographs taken during New York’s Easter Day Parade, one of the best things I have created.

How did you get into filmmaking? Did you study directing or are you self taught?
I would say I’m a self-taught director. From about the age of 10-11 I had it in my head I was going to be an artist. I was always painting and drawing and I remember it just being assumed that I would go on to study art in London. Which is exactly what happened. I first started making films whilst studying Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art. By this time my love for photography had really taken over my love of painting, and making films just seemed like the next step. It was during this time I became completely movie obsessed and learnt a great deal from just watching a silly amount of films. After graduating I stumbled into shooting and then directing observational documentaries, which was a million miles away from my fine art days. I feel like I have two different backgrounds that have prepared me for directing. My art background taught me to work with ideas and how to express them visually, and my documentary background taught me a lot about the craft of storytelling and character.

What inspires you?
The thing I am most inspired by is people. It might be family, friends, acquaintances, or strangers, or whoever. I think I’ve always been fascinated by people; what they do, what they say, what they really mean, what they want, need… everything about them. When I was a kid I remember being asked to paint a still life and instead I painted the girl opposite me looking at the still life.

Outside of filmmaking, what sort of thing do you get up to?
Well I love the ritual of going to the cinema; the queue for the tickets, the popcorn, the trailers, the movie, the overhearing of people’s critiques as you leave the theatre. But that is an obvious answer for a filmmaker, so something outside of filmmaking… I am obsessed with the Chicago Bears. Yes I am English, and yes I know I should follow football and not ‘understand’ American football. But ever since I was 8 or 9 me and my dad started watching the NFL and I got hooked. A few years ago the Bears played in the Superbowl and my dad and I fulfilled our old promise of getting tickets if they ever played in the big game. Of course they lost, but anyone who is a Bears fan knows that Hester’s opening kickoff return made the whole thing worthwhile. Da Bears… Da Bears…

Connect is beautiful – how did you come up with the idea?
The idea for Connect came from being on a jam-packed tube and we must have both been wearing t-shirts because I remember my arm accidently touching a stranger’s arm – skin on skin. Neither of us knew where to look, both a little self-conscious. With a small smile I hoped to acknowledge that it wasn’t intentional, but at this exact moment our arms touched again. Then we both just stood there, in silence, uncomfortably close to each other, both thinking about this moment, but saying and doing nothing about it. In London, and especially on the tube and on buses, there is some kind of rule that strangers don’t interact with each other.
Here we were, two strangers who had been forced together trying desperately to ignore each other’s existence. For the rest of my journey home I was thinking about this situation, and I was drawn to it as an idea because it expressed something I had been feeling for a while living in London – that despite being surrounded by people everyone is alone, isolated. As soon as I got home I typed up the first draft of Connect.

Its a very well observed film – I think its immediately recognisable to anyone who has ever taken a London bus! where did all the characters come from (the gun fantasising business man etc…) – did you do lots of research bus trips?
I tend to draw inspiration from people. It might be people I know really well or someone I meet, but in this case, traveling on the bus you don’t meet anyone, everyone is a stranger and you just sit there and people watch. So I was left to imagine who these people were, and I realised this was exactly how I should treat Tuppence’s character. We should jump into her imagination and see how she sees the world and these people. It would tell us more about her character whilst also creating a context for the story and bookend the film thematically.

It was very important to me when casting all the passengers on the bus that there was a real cross section of characters; all different people from different walks of life. The only thing they have in common is that they are trapped on this bus together.

I love the way the film deals with the magnitude of small moments. Why did that theme appeal to you?
I don’t know why I am drawn to these small moments in life but they tend to be the experiences I remember most vividly, and consequently my notebook is filled with them. I think I like how so much complexity can be extrapolated from something so everyday as ‘two people exchange a look’, or ‘two people ignore each other’, for example. They can be very relatable incidents, and within them there can be so much tension and drama. I also think how people react in these little moments can reveal an awful lot about their character.

What was the biggest challenge of shooting the film?
The biggest challenge when shooting Connect was getting everything I had storyboarded shot before the sun came up. It was always a rush against time. I had a lot of setups I wanted to get through and as we were shooting in the middle of the summer our nights were very short. We shot over two nights and on our final night the sun was threatening to rise whilst we were setting up for the dance sequence. I would have liked to have dedicated more time to the dance sequence but I have to thank my DOP Sam Care and Choreographer Veronica Ellis who, when the pressure was on, really delivered. In fact, everyone really delivered and I owe a massive thank you to all the cast and crew, especially my producer Beau Gordon and of course Smuggler for all their amazing help during the production. It really was a great collaboration… anyone fancy making another?

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