‘DAWN’ dir. Stephanie Zari

Dawn is a psychological drama exploring the bond of triplets, broken at birth, that sends surviving siblings Jude and Madison on an intimate quest to fill their sense of loss, grief and loneliness. On their 36th birthday, the missing link in their trinity lays just around the corner…

Writer-Director: Stephanie Zari
Producer: Isabella Battiston
DOP: Brian Strange
Key Cast: Edward Hogg, Keeley Forsyt, Nick Barber


C8: Dawn is a unique story, where did the idea come from?

SZ: While researching sibling co-dependency for my second short film, I came across a few bereavement sites and started to learn about the unique form of grief a vast majority of twins experience after the death of their ‘other half’. This statement especially was pretty profound: ‘50 percent of twins follow their identical twin into death within two years’. The real life stories were so compelling and harrowing. Their overwhelming grief and loss, their sense of abandonment and loneliness was like nothing I’ve read about before.  For most, it’s as if a part of them is literally severed mentally and physically, accept there is always a reminder of the missing part. It stares back at them every day in the mirror. I wondered what the psychological impact this must have, so unlike someone who experiences death, as we experience it, however tragic that may be. And I thought, how far would one go to bring back a part of her/himself to make them whole again?

C8: This is your second short film as writer and director. How did this compare with your first short ‘Marigolds’?

SZ: Very hard!  I did this one on my own. I had written two or three other shorts and also a half-hour dramedy back in Canada on my own, but I actually prefer to work with another writer who is on the same page.  You can have a much richer script from the process and it’s not as lonely. I was lucky enough that my Executive Producer saw ‘Marigolds’ and wanted to fund my next project. I had two other tight scripts written, one had been shortlisted for several screenplay awards and also for the scheme Digishorts (now defunct). But I was lucky to have had a chance meeting at the time with uber shorts Exec Producer and wonderful script developer, Rebecca Mark-Lawson who really pushed me to think outside the box again – like ‘Marigolds’, as well as having a really supportive and patient Producer this time around, Isabella Marches Ragona of Moving Pictures Media.  And so I conjured up this story of triplets who lost a sibling at birth and who were desperate to be ‘three’ again.  It was actually a feature idea so I took some of the themes I wanted to explore and used the short to explore them and to have a kind of taster for the feature film.  The hardest part of that premise was getting across the impact of loosing a sibling at birth, very hard in such little time and also hard for an audience to connect to, it’s quiet rare.

C8: In both ‘Marigolds’ and ‘Dawn’ you explore incestual relationships. What is it about this subject matter that you find appealing as a filmmaker?

SZ: That’s interesting.  I don’t actually see them at all as exploring incestual relationships. To me in both films, it is about desperation.  There is no actual incest going on. The mother in ‘Marigolds’ is stuck in a lifeless marriage; she fantasizes about her son because he has become the man she thought she married. More psychological, than physical. In ‘Dawn’, the twin sister, in a complete act of desperation and madness, jumps her brother because she just wants to get pregnant and replace their dead sister.  He stops her.  It’s a desperate act from a grieving and desperate person. In both films, most audiences all took away something different. So for me, it’s about pulling back the layers of these lives and exploring the psychological ramifications of their plight.

C8: What was the most challenging aspect of the shoot?

SZ: The house was very hard to find. We settled on this house, just about could do it for the budget. It was originally supposed to be a six-day shoot and ended up being about four and a half days as we had artist availability issues last minute.  I was really aiming on this short to push my creativity in the use of camera to tell the story, so a lot of very big shot ideas had to go in the end. I’m happy about that, as it makes you learn at the end of it all, a transition shot isn’t story. Get your actors on the screen, get their story no matter what.  That is what’s important I think if you’re up against it. So as usual, big ideas, little time is always the tough part and usually little money!

C8: What was your favourite moment of the film or shoot in general?

SZ: I love the shot of Edward Hogg (Jude) walking behind the huts and seeing his sister Madison (Keeley Forsyth) on the beach with Tom (Nick Barber).  Just the flow of it, the creepiness, but also his jealousy and loneliness come across all at once here.  I also like the moment Jude says ‘Fish’ to Tom and their exchange.  Madison and Jude singing, the performances of both.  In fact finding and working with our amazing actors was such a joy, I really wanted more time with them, to explore their characters, to give them time to play on set. Directing is 80% casting and I loved my cast. We got very lucky as it was so low budget. So while I now see so many ‘mistakes’ in my film/films and they hard to watch, there are some things I think I can just about stomach watching!

C8: The film was BAFTA long-listed in 2014. How did the rest of the festival circuit respond to ‘Dawn’?

SZ: Pretty good. We got into several festivals from Busan to the US and Italy and it’s screened at a few other short film ‘road shows’ and been acquired by IndieFlix.  So quite happy with the results! Short drama is practically an oxymoron. So I’m glad it did as well it did especially at 28 minutes. That’s quite long for a short.

C8: You describe ‘Dawn’ as a taster for your first feature film ‘In Our Blood’. What elements are you going to take forward to a longer-form project?

SZ: The triplets, their sister’s death, living on an isolated Island, the music/silent disco aspect, the longing to replace their sibling. Themes of grief, loss and guilt that descend into madness.

C8: Were you always intending on making a taster of your feature? How did this come about?

SZ: Yes. It was always intended as a feature. The premise and story ideas were all too complex for a short. So I only explore a few themes in the short.

C8: How does the story develop further in ‘In Our Blood’?

SZ: Well, it’s now a psychological thriller, with dark religious/cult undertones to it.  But I don’t want to give too much away at this point. Our Kickstarter campaign to raise development funds is launching in a few weeks.

C8: How did you go about creating the art installation in the film and where did the inspiration for it come from?

SZ: That was a nightmare! Some of the ideas were so out there. I drove the art department insane. At one point it looked like an alien with long talons made out of frog tape! Eventually I literally had an epiphany during the first night of shooting about the lollipops being empty/half eaten etc and the art department did a SUPER fantastic job getting it done in time and really pulled it off I think!

C8: When casting the film were you looking for something in particular with the twins?

SZ: I definitely was looking for something ‘other worldly’ in a forlorn sort of way. We had many A-list TV actors who were interested, which was a massive compliment to the script as the pay was pittance and it was really tough to choose from. I saw Edward in some clips for ‘White Lightnin’, which did amazing at Sundance and immediately fell for him and his look. We met him after his show, ‘The God of Soho’ and I knew he was Jude and very grateful he joined us. For Madison, physically I really didn’t want a typical or what is a media-perceived ‘beauty’ but more ethereal, a beauty of her own with deep soulful eyes.  And that was Keeley Forsyth and her approach to Madison was right on.  Funnily, she approached us through hearing about he project through a friend and I’m so happy she did and uncannily looked like Edward in a lot of ways. Casting was hard obviously because of that as well. But we got there in the end and extremely happy with their performances and result!

For more information on ‘In Our Blood’ click here.