❉ We talk with indie filmmaker Michael Fausti about his award-winning film EXIT, and his influences and inspirations.
“Cult films should be transgressive, unconventional, and challenging. They should offer something that the mainstream doesn’t. Cult films should also ignite a passion in their audiences and have something of a subcultural appeal. For me, the best cult films are those which challenge restrictions of genre and narrative.” – Michael Fausti.
British indie filmmaker Michael Fausti’s debut feature film EXIT is an enigmatic, erotic, dreamlike and disturbing psychodrama horror set in an anonymous London apartment, where a double-booking forces two very different young couples to spend the night together, a situation seemingly engineered by the mephistophelian Russell Bone, played by a perfectly-cast Tony Denham (The Football Factory, Keeping Mum, In The Name of the Father).
Directed by Fausti from a screenplay written by Mathew Bayliss, EXIT has won numerous awards on the independent film festival circuit across the States, and is now available as a Special Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray from Fausti Films.
We recently caught up with Fausti, to discuss his work so far, as well as his cinematic influences, inspirations and cult faves…
Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
I’ve been making films since the early 1990s. I initially started making these non-narrative, slightly pretentious, Derek Jarman-esque Super 8 films. Most of these I edited in camera and then just projected once they arrived back from the lab. I eventually then moved onto working with Hi-8 Video and shot some promos for friends’ bands. I then gravitated more to towards creating short films, before finally making the move to our full-length feature, EXIT.
What did you want to be when you were growing up? Has filmmaking always been your main focus?
Weirdly I’ve always wanted to be a filmmaker! I guess I always intended to go into the creative industries in some way. I can’t draw, and have no musical ability, so filmmaking it was!
Who has inspired you over the years?
A wide range of filmmakers have inspired me over the years. Amongst those who immediately spring to mind, would be firstly Michael Powell. He’s an incredible British director whose films create a sense that you are in another place. It’s a place out of time, which at times can be mystical, surreal, strange, frightening but always interesting. There is a strong visual sense to all of Michael Powell’s work, in part down to Jack Cardiff – his cameraman of choice. I’m also heavily influenced by surrealism, notably Luis Buñuel’s films.
Seeing Un Chien Andalou (1929) for the first time on late night TV was a real liminal moment for me. The film played as part of a double bill with Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), both films have been continual reference points for me in my own work. Similarly discovering Jean-Pierre Melville’s crime films, particularly Le Samouraï (1967), also had a significant influence on my work. I guess the films which I’m drawn to, have a strong visual aesthetic and are seeking to taking their audiences somewhere else, somewhere off the beaten track. All of these filmmakers showed me the possibilities of the medium.
What can you tell us about the cast and story from your current movie, EXIT?
Back in 2017, Mathew Bayliss and myself were having a discussion about making a feature. We had agreed a number of parameters that would be necessary in terms of practical considerations, such as budget and time. These included the fact that any narrative would have to take place in a single location as far as possible. Furthermore, we wanted a small ensemble cast and the setting should be in the UK. Mat came up with the initial idea for what would be eventually EXIT and things developed from there.
We spent a considerable amount of time casting actors in the early part of 2018. I knew that these people would have to work and in some cases live together for a week, as this was our proposed shooting schedule for EXIT. I also wanted the two couples that form the nucleus of the narrative, to look and behave naturally together. The cast which we eventually assembled, brought a wide range of talents to the production, plus we were extremely fortunate to secure British character actor Tony Denham for the role of Russell Bone, the Estate Agent from hell.
Where did you film EXIT?
Principal photography for EXIT took place in London during late May 2018. We always knew that we would have a tight shooting schedule and we only had access to the apartment for seven days. We then later filmed the exteriors and some pick ups at the end of winter 2018. I always wanted the exterior of the house to have a colourless, wintry aspect to it, in contrast to the Technicolor nightmare which we see inside the building.
What can you tell us about your other films and work?
My short films have all been quite diverse. The Ingress Tapes was shot on Super 8 film is very minimalist in its approach and bleak in its tone. I love the look that Super 8 film has, it’s an aesthetic I’d like to return to again. Conversely another short film, Dead Celebrities, was shot on digital and contains a great deal of dark humour. Z.A.F., one of my earlier shorts, is different once again, shot in black and white and dealing with characters who in their own way are all trapped by a sense of duty, regret or moral cowardice.
What element of your work gives you the most personal satisfaction?
Whilst I obviously enjoy the stages of pre-production and the actual filming process, the aspect of filmmaking which gives me the most satisfaction is editing and the Post-Production stages. When you are writing in your early pre-production, you have a strong sense of pre-visualisation. When you then get to the practicalities of actually filming this on location, you come to realise that some of what you wanted to do, just isn’t possible or what you thought would be effective, isn’t!
Editing and sound mixing is where you really get to create your film. The script is only ever a starting point for me. In some respects it’s like a basic shopping list of what you need from the production on set. Whereas the editing process of sifting and juxtaposing is where you really get to tell your story. Editing is when you get to focus upon your canvas, foreground the themes and aspects of the initial narrative and then push the creative possibilities of what you captured during filming. Whilst the reality of being an independent filmmaker means that you are always having to shoot quickly and efficiently, the post-production stage should enable you to take a step back.
After filming, which is always an intense process, even on a short film, I never like to edit the footage straight away. I think you are still “too in the moment” from production, your head is in ‘director mode’ and you need time to decompress before you begin editing. Editing requires an entirely different skill set. Editing can either be a harness in which lead the audience through your film in as straightforward way as possible, or it can be a serpentine path that allows for interpretation and ambiguity.
What was the last film that you watched?
The last film I watched was Juan López Moctezuma’s Alucarda (1977). It’s a beautifully insane tale of demonic possession set in a Catholic Convent. The narrative feels more like a fever dream and throughout the visuals are compelling. Whilst Alucarda explores themes of religion, the supernatural and science, it doesn’t tell the audience how they should react. I must confess that I hate “message” movies. I particularly love the morally ambiguous world that Juan López Moctezuma creates in Alucarda. I dislike films in which there are clearly defined heroes and villains.
What film could you watch every day?
Difficult to come up with a single film, so I’m going to cheat and mention two! Either Michael Powell’s Black Narcissus (1947) or Donald Cammell and Nic Roeg’s mind bending film Performance (1970). Both have been inspirations for me. Whenever I’m planning lighting and camera set ups I look at both these films. I always try to avoid watching any films whilst I’m editing, so as to ensure as far as possible any kind of unconscious influence when I’m cutting my own films. That said, I love the editing style in Performance and the approach that Nic Roeg would later take with films such as Don’t Look Now (1973) and Bad Timing (1980).
What’s your favourite film soundtrack?
I think the work of Claudio Simonetti is amazing. Particularly what he did with Goblin in films like Profundo Rosso (1975) and Suspiria (1977), as well as Dawn of the Dead (1978), I think is incredible. It’s difficult to imagine those films having the impact they do, without Simonetti’s score and sound design. If I had to pick one, it would be the soundtrack for Profundo Rosso.
What’s the best bit of advice anyone has given you?
Protect your creative spirit by limiting time spent with negative people. Seek out like-minded people who will critique and give you honest advice, but who will also support you in your endeavours.
What advice would you give to your teenage self?
Have greater confidence in your abilities.
What’s your definition of what makes something cult?
Ahh a difficult one! I suppose a number of adjectives spring to mind. I guess from the perspective of cult films, they should be transgressive, unconventional, and challenging. They should offer something that the mainstream doesn’t. Cult films should also ignite a passion in their audiences and have something of a subcultural appeal. For me, the best cult films are those which challenge restrictions of genre and narrative. In an age of superhero universes and movie franchises, the work of the outsider artists is where the true creative and independent spirt resides. This is not to say that cult films shouldn’t and don’t make money at the box office. They do and should. But… support indie filmmakers!
What is your advice for all young independent filmmakers on how they should work on achieving their goals and reach the best audience for their individual work?
Make films! On the surface that might not seem like the greatest advice but make as many films as you can with what you have to hand. Don’t wait until you can afford ‘that’ camera you really want, go make a film with what you have. The more films you make, the more mistakes you make and from your mistakes you learn your craft.
Also watch as many films as you can – particularly films outside of your “comfort zone”. Explore the obscure – in cinema this is where you’ll find true inspiration and interest. The contemporary mainstream movie landscape is an increasingly reductive one. There is over a hundred years of film history out there, go seek it out.
Do you have any upcoming projects?
At present I’m in the process of working upon a number of writing projects, both features. I’m writing a psychosexual Film Noir and I’m also working upon another film which embraces the aesthetic and spirit of Punk. I’m kind of working on both concurrently, time will tell as to which one makes it to the screen first…
❉ Visit https://faustireleasing.bigcartel.com/ to order ‘Exit’ Special Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray with reversible sleeve, booklet & art card set, RRP £14.99. Each Blu Ray is hand numbered and signed by the director.
❉ For more information, visit https://www.faustifilms.
❉ James Gent is the editor of pop culture webzine We Are Cult, and has previously contributed to volumes such such as 1001 TV Shows You Must Watch Before You Die, Blakes Heaven: Maximum Fan Power, You and 42: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Douglas Adams and Scarred For Life Volume Two: Television in the 1980s. He is the co-editor of Me And The Starman (Cult Ink), available to buy from Amazon, RRP £11.99. UK: https://amzn.to/30ZE8KE | US: bit.ly/starmanUSA ISBN: 9798664990546.