Cam Wade, a young experimental filmmaker, talks about his influences, growing up in Cornwall and his hopes for making genre films.
I knew Cam Wade for some time before he made his first film, Seven Sisters, from the usual functioning in online circles of film and music enthusiasts, so when it came to the time that he started making and releasing short films, my interest was certainly piqued. As it happens, I’ve enjoyed all of Wade’s output from 2019 to his most recent film, Solitude, which I reviewed recently here: https://reecebeckettreviews.wordpress.com/2021/02/08/solitude-cam-wade-2021-review/
I wanted to talk to Wade about his artistic intentions, his influences and his other grand schemes, and so, soon enough a conversation was had about all of the above. Once more, it was a fascinating look at how another mind works artistically, how those lateral thoughts all link together and produce what we see in films like Father and The Musician. This conversation is below.
Reece Beckett: To start chronologically then — what would you say is the first film that really pointed you towards filmmaking? (Either in general or specifically the kind of experimental shorts you’re doing!)
Cam Wade: I’ve always loved movies and would often be found watching films as a kid. I was obsessed with Raimi’s Spider-Man films, and even though they’re not the films that got me into filmmaking per-say, I have to mention them because I think it’s the first time I felt emotionally moved by a piece of art.
Around the age of 13, on the last day of school, I saw an older kid dressed up as Alex DeLarge from A Clockwork Orange. This unlocked so many forgotten memories for me. I never watched Clockwork as a child, but my uncle was obsessed with it and Malcolm McDowell in general. He would have shirts of Alex and posters on his wall. I felt a somewhat nostalgic feeling over this image of Malcolm McDowell with his iconic eyelash. I went home that night researching everything about the film, but more notably, I researched everything about Stanley Kubrick.
It would be weeks until I would watch A Clockwork Orange properly, yet this sudden remembrance of Alex DeLarge set off a chain of events that lead me to watching Kubrick’s films and researching film criticism in general. It was the first time I had heard of critics for films, as I thought they were only for food, and was really interested in the subject of it. I didn’t care too much about filmmaking itself, but more the criticism of film.
Then a few years later, I got into Twin Peaks. I had not been a huge fan of film since I was 14, and yet, Twin Peaks changed my life in more point than one. Not only was I going through a hard time, but everything about the way it was filmed and written just totally hit me. After this, I watched David Lynch’s films like Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart and Mulholland Drive. Not only was I totally reinvested in film criticism, but also very interested in making movies myself. It would take 2 years and 100 more films to shoot my first real film Seven Sisters, yet that was definitely the point where I knew I was destined for film.
I’m sorry that such a simple question made me give three answers, but I feel as though I can’t not talk about three of these films. Without one of them, I wouldn’t be interested in movies, so I felt as though I needed to list every one of them.
RB: Raimi Spider-Man was really my starter film too!! I remember always hiding in another room during the bite sequence haha. I’ve definitely spotted the Lynch influence in a few of your films, though, particularly in the sound design of Solitude – would you say that these directors/films are still the ones you take from now? Or have your interests shifted now?
CW: It was always the part where he killed his uncle’s killer that got me. Nightmare inducing.
Lynch will always be the ultimate artist for me. I not only carry my love for Lynch in my film’s ideas and sound design, but in pre-production too. His approach to confronting ideas is very creative and beautiful to me.
I try not to replicate the “Lynch” feel though. I love surrealism, and a lot of that comes from David Lynch, but I think it’s bad when anybody attempts to replicate his feel. It’s not just being weird for him, it’s the emotion that comes with every one of his features. Mulholland Drive, my favourite movie, is for sure weird as fuck, but it’s also got this emotional arc throughout that keeps the film as good as it is. So maybe in a sense I carry that Lynch influenced stuff over in that I believe surrealism needs to be hand-in-hand with an emotive story, but it’s never to the degree that Lynch himself uses it.
There’s a ton of other things in my work that I can say are influences. Ingmar Bergman is a huge one, not only in his use of blocking and close-ups, but certain scenes. A lot of Seven Sisters has Hour of the Wolf in it. The opening scene has my character talking to the camera, and it’s heavily inspired by the opening of Hour of the Wolf, which sees Liv Ullman talking to the camera. I loved this scene, and how it breaks the fourth wall, so I took a lot from this. Yeah, Bergman is for sure one of my cinema heroes. In fact, I think Midnight Run, my second film, is my attempt at a murder mystery version of Persona.
RB: I remember you mentioning Bergman in connection to Seven Sisters now that you mention it! What about Father? To me that one always stood out amongst your films as the one that I can’t really attach to anything I’ve seen – it feels a little like a kind of merging between YouTube vlogging and the sort of darkness of something like Van Sant’s Elephant – I think the black and white helps that a lot too, and links back to Bergman in the look of it. Do you want to talk about where that particular film came from, seeing as it feels so different in approach to your others?
CW: You’re right in that Father doesn’t really come from anything of inspiration. There’s a lot I would like to say to my father, things I cannot say. My hatred and disappointment for him has manifested into something which will always be apart of my brain. I wanted to get it out somehow, and so I made a very personal film where I talked to him. There was no script, no practices, or anything. I did it in one take, and let mistakes come at me. You can see me stutter and look at the camera. I get lost for words and mumble sometimes. I kept it in because it’s an honest conversation with this man, something that would be filled with even more mistakes if it was real. The black and white effect is more a stylistic choice, one that I found just looked better than in colour. The nice colours of my living room didn’t really fit the nature of the subject. I guess it could fit into something like Bergman in that it’s completely personal and is a monologue, much like the opening of Hour of the Wolf which I previously mentioned, but that’s one I feel comes the most from me. Many times, my films feature a subject I love… murder mysteries, crimes, religion, films about family… but Father is one that is me. It’s not just personal, it’s all me. Sometimes I regret making it, but I’m happy I was able to have that dialogue, even if there was nobody at the end of the table.
RB: I feel like with a film like that – one that comes entirely from reality in the way that Father does – is almost always important because in opening that kind of a dialogue (as you say – even if it was to an empty chair) has a kind of knock-on effect and is certainly impactful. I still remember viewing it for the first time quite vividly and I could really feel the visceral core of it. You mention that each one of your films come from a personal interest or passion, and I noticed that in Solitude location came to the forefront more than I expected – do you think that where you live has played a part in Solitude, or maybe your work collectively?
CW: Definitely, and not just in environment, but limitation. I live in Cornwall, and it’s not exactly the kind of place I want to live. It’s beautiful, full of nice people and has some really rich history, but I much prefer the loudness and chaotic-ness of a city. I try to make the most of this limitation, however, by telling stories. Truro is always quiet by 5pm, so you can always go out and film something in the streets with nobody around. There’s also some amazing sites that make for some amazing landscapes. The Cathedral is one I constantly see myself coming back to.
In Solitude, it was even more at play. I thought when going into it, the streets would be clear and nobody would be able to be seen, but that’s not the case. Cars were everywhere, people were talking all over the place, and I couldn’t believe it! You don’t know how busy your neighbourhood is until you shoot a film there. Even with COVID at play, this was such a hard film to shoot because of that. Despite this, I still think the emptiness of the streets were effective, and that it produced an eerie post-lockdown feeling. Environment is definitely important to Solitude, and even though there were plenty of mishaps, we got the job done and were able to film around people, except for one car we you can openly see. Oh well.
RB: I go completely the other way, weirdly. I can’t wait to buy a house in the middle of nowhere and hide out there forever, haha. The emptiness of the streets, especially in that shot towards the middle of the empty street with shops at the sides, was almost tangible in the film for me – it felt like a physical character in a way. A seriously eerie point, as you say. Has Covid had much of an impact on your work – cinematic or otherwise? I know you run the Film Retrospective podcast and work on other various projects – were they affected much?
CW: They were, but not in a bad way. Shooting films has been hard because of actor availability, and I would rather shoot myself than write a film set in a Covid world. I guess I’m lucky to have such wonderful siblings who are down to do anything when it comes to making films. Without them, there would be no film at all.
With my other projects, it doesn’t really affect in. In some aspects, lockdown has strengthened it. People are more available to do things, which is sad, but makes you more flexible to do life’s nicer things like watching a movie or talking about something on call. This really impacted my podcast well, and the one I’m collaborating with my good friend Caden LaPlante on, where we talk about Twin Peaks. I’m very much looking forward to that.
As soon as COVID ends, if it ends, I’ll be shooting a project with some friends of mine. I’m also going to be doing something with my friend Holly when I travel to York in November, something very surreal and abstract I’m sure.
I’m also currently writing a screenplay for my first feature, about an unsolved murder on a Cornish beach. Very excited to get that made.
RB: Your siblings are good actors too! So that helps. I agree – Covid has definitely had the silver lining of giving artists time to practice and play around AND expanded their audience a great deal as everybody is watching more too. But of course it is also hugely limiting to shooting more often than not. Are there many specific topics you still really want to make a film on? Anything itching away at your brain a little?
CW: Oh, so many. I have so many interests, a lot that aren’t film related. Things like true crime and bands, normal things, that I want to turn into films somehow. I read up an event that happened and think “wow, that would make a good film”, or I see a documentary on an artist I like and think “how would I film this if it was a scene in a film?”. My brain is constantly relating my other hobbies to movies.
There are so many subjects and themes I wish to convey in my future works. Films of the sea, ghosts, mermaids, criminals, aliens, journalists, cults, mobsters… there are so many ideas in my head all at once, and sometimes it’s hard keeping one at bay. I’ve written 80 pages of a screenplay, nearly done the first draft, but I’m currently writing another one that I’m 20 pages into. I have trouble with project commitments. I think I have ADHD.
RB: I think it’s good to be interested in such a range right up until, as you said, it becomes difficult to stick to a single project. And especially with budgets, too – it so often gets in the way. Do you feel freed or limited by working with people you know on these small projects? Do you wish for a larger budget and more actors most of the time, or are you adjusting to using what you have to tell your stories?
CW: There’s good and bad with being limited. The good is that being limited means more creativeness, because with more of a budget, the more generic ideas can be. I don’t think Solitude would have worked as a 2-hour feature with 2 A-list actors. I think it needed that connection of two sisters who filmed out of their back garden. Not only does it give it more of a personal touch, but making it is more fun too. The three of us were just walking around Truro, laughing about how ridiculous the process of shooting was. It feels very much like “our” film because of that.
I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t love a couple million pounds to go and make whatever I wanted with actors and crew I wanted to. I would jump at the chance, and I think anybody with a brain would. Nobody wants to admit this, and it’s sad, but art needs money a lot of the time. Sure, all writers need is a laptop of a typewriter, but people like filmmakers and musicians and artists need money, because the things we do cost a lot. Stories cost a lot. Sometimes you have to look at things and say “I can’t make that right now, so I’m going to go make this”, and that’s what I’m doing. I’m making films on my phone with people who are doing this because they want to help me and they want to. I’ve waved through the money problem and have started telling stories I wouldn’t be telling with a good budget, and I like that. It really can make things go a lot more interesting.
Can you imagine a 100 million pound version of Father? That would be pretty funny.
RB: A version of Father with a 100m budget sounds like a drunken joke or a very good money laundering scheme – hahaha. Do you have much of a plan for where you want to go with your next few films, or does it revolve more around whichever idea inspires you first? (And whichever idea you have the right equipment and actors for, of course!)
CW: The plan is to direct and write a few more shorts with family, as I still have quite a few ideas left. Then, once I’m finished with my screenplay, I’m going to pool some money together and film it. It won’t cost much, as it will be all shot locally and has a premise that won’t cater towards having a big budget, so I really hope I’m able to get it all done independently. I hope, from there, things really take off for me. I have some things planned, and I can’t wait to share them with people. Sharing ideas is such a cool and amazing thing for me… so liberating and worthwhile. I get art is a personal thing, but there’s nothing better than somebody saying “good job” on something you went above and beyond to make.
RB: Yeah! I think really not enough independent artists talk about how good it is to know people are seeing and responding to what you’re doing – it seems like one of those things that are a little taboo to actually mention unless you’re starring in the Avengers and inspiring children. Do you plan to continue with your podcasts, and to stay involved in other arts if film does take off? Or are your sights more determined on what you can do within film?
CW: Podcasts are a lot more easier to do than film. All you have to have is a good mic and a laptop and maybe someone to do it with and you’re all set. If it was a full time thing and I was getting money for it, I’d be doing it daily. It’s so quick and easy, but there are some complications. There’s nothing worse than a block while you’re live on your podcast. It’s a terrible thing, and has actually made me not want to do any for a while. Luckily, the next podcast I’ll be doing is something me and my co-host are very passionate about and could never have enough of it.
Films, on the other hand, are a different story. They can take weeks and months to come up with… I shoot all my films in a day, and edit it that same day, but it’s still getting to that point which is so hard. Once I’m done, I feel so overwhelmed and turned off of films for so long, it’s crazy. However, it’s so rewarding and truly is an amazing thing. I am definitely going to be making films and doing some more of my podcast… podcast is just a lot more easier for me to dish out regularly now.
RB: What kind of impact does music have on your work (in film or otherwise!), if any? I was surprised by the sound design in Solitude, and that got me thinking about your other films and I realised that I can’t remember any music being used in any of them – is this intentional?
CW: Solitude has a lot of my own work in them. I dabble in electronic music and have a few projects out right now. Solitude had songs from my last EP in them… it was purely coincidental in that it works so well, so I’m really proud of that.
As for other music, I don’t really carry inspiration from my favourite music to my films. There’s a few exceptions, exceptions where some albums can feel very cinematic, much like The Caretaker’s “Everywhere at the End of Time” which is an album about dementia and memory loss, and has urged me to make a film about that subject. Apart from that, I haven’t really carried any of my musical inspirations into my films… they’re very different ballparks for me. Despite this, I have to say, choosing a song to be in my film is a very special and exciting process.
I love doing sound design, though. What I do when I want a creepy noise, is I get some random noise like a cow moo-ing or a dog barking, and slow it way down so it sounds something not of this world. In Solitude, you can hear a dog barking very slowly… if you didn’t know that, I don’t think you’d notice.
Yeah, my other films are quite absent of music. Seven Sisters is mostly non-diegetic weird noises, and Midnight Run is all songs that I write and play on guitar. Father is absent of music, and The Musician is just me and my guitar for the whole film.
It’s in Brother of Mine and The Musician where I start incorporating my own electronic music, and it’s something I’m going to keep on doing from now on.
RB: Your talking about the slowing down reminds me of the beat for Death Whistles actually – it started as a kind of typical hiphop song but King Krule suggested to slow it way down and it becomes absolutely haunting because the sound is completely distorted and becomes otherworldly through that distortion. I feel like it’s really the attention to detail that makes film sound so impactful, like those growls over the shot of the cathedral in Solitude – that was one of the moments in it that really stood out to me. I’ve also been meaning to listen to The Caretaker record for some time – it just proves difficult to find a 6 hour chunk of time free! I’ve heard some brilliant things though.
Do you have a personal favourite of your projects?
CW: The “Gotta Light” scene in Twin Peaks is how to do slow motion voice for horror… the shrieks of the woman are so disturbing. And you should totally listen to that Caretaker album… I’ve not even listened to all of it but I can still say it’s moved me in ways others haven’t.
I’m not sure. I’m still a fan of Midnight Run. It’s a little generic and the middle section isn’t great but I’m really proud of the way that one’s shot and edited. It looks really great too, but visually, Solitude honestly. There’s some shots I’m really proud of.
Favourite Kanye West record? (I always feel a need to start with this!)
The College Dropout. Kanye’s peak if you ask me. He does everything right in that album, and it has some of the craziest production of the time.
Favourite film of the 2020s so far?
Palm Springs. Not seen a lot of fantastic stuff lately, but Palm Springs because it’s so comfy and cute, and what we need right now. Plus it has a Kate Bush needle drop. (It’s a Sin is the best single best thing from 2020 and 2021.)
A great film you’ve seen recently.
I rewatched Barry Lyndon last month. In fact, it was the film I opened the new year with. What a masterpiece. I also watched The Silence of the Lambs for the first time last month… adored it.
A TV show you could watch endlessly?
The Sopranos. It’s not in my number one spot, yet it’s just so ridiculously addictive. Weirdly comfortable, too.
What is a film, from a genre you typically dislike, that you love?
I don’t think there’s any genres I don’t particularly dislike, so this is hard, but I’ve never been big on musicals. So for this spot, I’m going to say Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
What is a film you unexpectedly hated?
Scott Pilgrim vs The World. I love Wright, yet I hate that film with a burning passion.
Paul McCartney. The man wrote Here, There & Everywhere and Temporary Secretary… John didn’t. Enough said.
Favourite music genre?
This changes a lot but right now, I’d say funk. Maggot Brain is God-tier.
Is there a book that you feel has inspired your work?
Not really one that’s inspired my films, though Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas has definitely influenced my humour and dreams so I’ll go with that.
Is there a director whose work you admire but can’t quite get into?
Andrei Tarkovsky. Not seen all of his stuff yet, and Stalker is a favourite film of mine, but I can’t get into his work. Maybe my brain isn’t big enough yet.