Richard Prendergast has a truly natural ability for beautiful story telling through film and video. His vision and passion, backed by his in depth technical ability and experience, make for exceptional thought provoking watching. He has written and directed Sylvia, pouring over every meticulous detail within all aspects of the script and filming. The results are an astoundingly beautiful film that has brought many people to tears.
Sylvia won the 2nd place at the 5th annual Top Shorts 2019 (Best of Fest Runner-Up), and Jolie Lennon who plays the lead role of Mandy, won Best Actress of the Year.
We invited Richard to join us for an interview. Here's his story.
Richard, congratulations on winning the annual competition at Top Shorts. Sylvia was one of our favorites here at Top Shorts: so charming and sensitive! Before we talk about it, please tell us a bit about yourself; Where are you currently based, and where are you originally from?
Firstly, thank you for the kind words about Sylvia, it is a real honour to be recognised by Top Shorts!
So, I’m Richard Prendergast, writer and director of Sylvia. I am based in the UK dividing my time between Norfolk and London. I grew up in the UK and have lived in various different places around the world. In 2013 after a 6 year stint in the Austrian Alps, I moved back to the UK where my wife and I raise our family and have based our business. We have a small production company (SubMotion Productions) producing branded content, advertising and documentary content and Sylvia is our first step into scripted narrative film.
Why did you decide to get into filmmaking? Tell us about your journey. Are there any films or filmmakers that influenced your style?
For me, it all started as a hobby when I was about 15. Me and some friends were into skating and surfing and I got into filming them. I never really imagined it to be a career, more just a way of documenting how bad we were at skating, haha. During my 20’s I worked in the snowboard industry, filming and editing, which was an amazing experience and seemed like a legitimate way of avoiding getting a real job. It wasn’t till I hit 30 that I was really itching to put all my efforts into what I would call ‘real filmmaking’. I ended up progressing into documentary and commercials and after a few years, it felt like the next natural progression was to move into scripted narrative. Sylvia is my first scripted drama that I’ve written and directed. For me, it’s been the most rewarding step in my career and certainly where I will be focusing all my efforts in the future.
My influences are varied and broad, so I often find this question really difficult. Having never directed drama before, I decided to binge watch the Masterclass filmmaking playlist and I have to say, I took a lot away from Ron Howard’s class. His style of working with people, crew and talent taught me a lot. He has a very calm demeanour, which I’d love to emulate. Regarding storytelling inspiration, Olivier Nakache & Éric Toledano's, The Intouchables is a perfect example of a feature drama. The balance of humour and heartache is something I aspire to achieve. Plus the soundtrack by Ludovico Einaudi is amazing and complements the film beautifully.
There are so many stories to tell... How do you normally choose the projects you want to work on, and specifically, why did you decide to write and direct Sylvia?
As mentioned, my wife and I run a production company (submotion.net) and we mostly produce branded content and advertising. We knew we wanted to take the step into scripted storytelling, so were on the lookout for a story that could tick all the boxes. I was working on a treatment for a commercial and like all creatives, I was procrastinating, clicking around on Facebook. I think someone had shared Sabrina and Kevin’s story. As soon as I read Sabrina’s letter, it was like a punch in the gut. Her words so beautifully reminisced about her family memories and whilst it’s a heartbreaking film, their was somehow hope within her letter. It really touched me and I knew that this was the story on which I wanted to base a film.
Tell us about a memorable project that was special for you (Sylvia, or a different project). What was the most challenging moment, and why was the production meaningful to you? What message were you hoping to convey with the film?
I think Sylvia is probably the most memorable project for me to date. It's the first time I've been able to work without the constraint of a client or financier. It was just myself and Rach, making the film that we wanted to make.
However, we definitely came across some hurdles! Like most short films, Sylvia didn't have much budget. Multiple shoot locations, car tracking, kids with dialogue, shooting outside in the UK - they all add up when you have limited time and budget. We experienced a lot of issues but mostly, it was getting the crew and cast all in one place, at the same time. Nearly everyone on the crew and cast gave up their time for free, so navigating the weather forecast and peoples calendars was tough. We had to postpone the first shoot due to weather. It took a further 3 months to make the stars align.
The most enjoyable aspect was the sense of community on set. We were aware that we didn’t have much budget and were asking people to give a lot of time for free, so we wanted the set to be as friendly as possible. I think that goes a long way. Seeing Jolie, Gaynor, Maisie and Evie bonding like family by the end of the shoot was very heart warming. Post production is an arduous process but luckily we had Jack Clayton-Wright working his magic. I remember the first time we laid Ludovico Einaudi, Nuvole Bianche under the final scene - that was the magical moment when everything clicked for me.
Why does Sylvia carry so much meaning to me? It's a really sad film, no doubt about that but once you look beyond that, there’s a message of hope and appreciation for life. I think we’re so often wrapped up with fear of the future and regret of that past, we often forget to enjoy the things we have right now. I hope that people watch Sylvia and are reminded to appreciate life and the important people they’ve been gifted. You never know when they might be gone.
If you could chat with a younger version of yourself, what advice would you give them?
Haha, there's a bunch of stuff I'd like to say to my younger self. I'd probably tell him to stop being so bloody lazy and make more use of the spare time he has. Having children is a game changer for many reasons but spare time evaporates the moment that children are on the scene. I think that's my only regret, I wish I'd pushed myself to make projects like Sylvia in my 20's rather than waiting till my 30's. But hey-ho, we're doing it now and we're doing it as a family and actually, that makes it all the more special.
Please tell us about your upcoming projects, and when can our readers follow more of your work.
In January I will start a new short film entitkled "Maximus" which is another twist inspired by a true story. Beyond that, Rachel and I are excited to be partnering up with Ben Hartley as we develop 2 feature films. Both very different in style and audience appeal. One is a BioPic Drama/Comedy and the other is psychological horror/sci-fi. We’ve developed a great team with Sylvia, so I’m excited to see what we can do with a feature film.
Sylvia - Trailer