“It was an easy pitch reference – Love really meets melancholy”: Camille Griffin on her apocalyptic Christmas film, Silent Night
Just in time for the holidays, when the question of what makes a Christmas movie appear in movie feeds on social media, comes Camille Griffin’s film. Silent night. From his title to his Christmas setting, where family and friends gather for the kind of boozy reunion that goes from holiday cheer to emotional warfare, Griffin’s directorial debut falls squarely in the subgenre. and, due to a cross-genre addition, feels particularly of the moment. In the Griffin film, the Christmas gathering is to be the last as a cloud of poisonous gas is about to envelop the earth, killing all living creatures. Faced with scientific knowledge that a painful death will be inflicted on all of its citizens, the UK government becomes the ultimate nanny state, handing out suicide pills that should be taken at the stroke of midnight. For this group – which includes hosts Nell (Keira Knightley) and Simon (Matthew Goode), as well as Nell’s eldest son, Art (Jojo rabbitby Roman Griffin Davis, also the director’s son) – the concept that tonight represents their last hours is initially something to deny, a less urgent disaster than dessert recipes and romantic settling of scores. Of course, as the movie progresses, the stiff upper lips sag and the horror becomes real.
Juggling a number of tones, from farce to classy satire to horror, Griffin has created an ambitious image that strikes even deeper due to its release during the COVID-19 pandemic. Like Adam McKay Do not seek, the film was originally designed to talk about the issues of climate change, but the political and social dimensions of the current health crisis are giving new meanings. Below Griffin and I talk about how she didn’t make an anti-vax film, struggles to greenlight a UK debut film, support from filmmaker Matthew Vaughn, and tips from post-production used by directors to broadcast end-of-the-world news.
Silent night is in theaters of RLJE Films and streaming exclusively on AMC +.
Director: Let me start by asking you about your journey towards this feature, your first. Your IMDb credits in the camera department go back 25 years and you have been directing your own short films since 2003. A feature film has always been something you were looking for, and could you tell us about the different stages of your journey towards Silent night?
Griffin: I started my career in the film industry working in the camera department. I spent 13 years uploading movies until the industry went mostly digital. I knew early on that I was fascinated by story and performance, so I started writing screenplays, making short films, while also making money as a tap changer. It took me so long because I couldn’t get funding in UK. And when a project was rejected, I would cry a bit, then go out and study more. I found development workshops, film labs, film schools, all while being on set and seeing other filmmakers doing their jobs. Then I had kids, no more paperwork, no more applications, no more workshops, no more tears, until a friend said, “Stop asking for permission, stop asking donors to British funds to endorse you as a filmmaker. So I did. She was right. I stopped. Which led me to approach Matthew Vaughn.
Director: I think Americans looking at UK and EU funding systems see ways to make somewhat orderly first feature films – a series of short films leading to films with some sort of institutional funding. As I have read in other interviews, your funding came from private equity, which is more often the case with American independent films. Why do you think it was difficult for you to launch a feature film on some of the most conventional UK roads, and what helped attract Matthew and the funding you ultimately got for ‘Silent Night’ .
Griffin: The UK film industry has constantly told me that my material is tonal and psychological ambitious and that they don’t know if I can be successful as a first-time filmmaker. I found this difficult to understand while writing the material and had no doubts that I could deliver. I also believe that my work has challenged the status of the middle class and that our industry is primarily governed by middle class gatekeepers.
I admit that after 20 odd years, I found it hopeless. I jumped through every hoop imaginable until I was ready to give up. I only went to see Matthew Vaughn for advice on finding funding. I never thought he would produce Silent night. But Matthew admired the courage of the script, was a firm believer in the film’s environmental message, and was keen to support a first-time filmmaker as well. It wasn’t necessarily always child’s play with Matthew, he’s a relentless, rigorously meticulous masterpiece and a filmmaker in his own right. But Matthew stood up for me, he taught me a lot, he supported me when no one else would. As for the money, you would have to ask him.
Director: I am curious about the origins of the story. Did you start with the holidays or the impending disaster? Or maybe the specific tone of the film? What came first, and then how did you build the other elements around it?
Griffin: The film came out of me, perhaps with the freedom that it wasn’t intended for anyone other than me. And my intention was to make a low budget movie myself. No begging the guards, just me and a few friends, maybe my family, whatever I could get together, so I just sat down and started writing. My initial inspiration was Taika [Waititi]. I’ve seen him work with comedy and drama on Jojo rabbit and something changed in me. I suddenly saw the light as such. I wasn’t sure if I could be funny, but thought I was going to give it a try. And I’ve always written about the dysfunction within the middle class. My subject had always been both melancholy and absurd. The tone was not harsh for me.
Director: What were the storytelling challenges inherent in your concept of disseminating information about the calamity that is about to befall mankind? How did you decide when in the script you would deliver this information and how, and have those decisions changed in terms of post-production?
Griffin: You are absolutely right. I had worked hard on the rules of the world, but most of them were rejected in the edit. My gas cloud was different, and even the story of the cloud itself changed from filming to editing. The news packaging was still in the script – which was shot on camera. We had several versions of the telephone sequences, the speeches, the original versions, the radio inserts, we went back and forth and so on.
Art (Roman Griffin Davis) being on his phone was still in the script. We only went back for a few close-ups of [where] Roman then gave us various reactions to a blank screen.
We all knew his phone would be the main source of information. In my draft shoot, he listened to reports, watched videos about the effects of poison, etc. This was an area in which Matthew was particularly rigorous. I wanted more ambiguity, Matthew wanted absolute clarity. The placement of the Art phone scenes didn’t change structurally, I wrote them to build them up with the acting changes and dramatic tonal changes as the Art world grew more confrontational.
Director: When it comes to the apocalypse movies, which are your favorites? And which movies – apocalypse or not – influenced you when directing Silent night?
Griffin: I think it’s obvious to say that I wasn’t trying to do Melancholy but it was clearly an easy pitch reference: “Love in fact meets Melancholy. “But really Haneke, Polanski, the French, the Danes, these European masters have always inspired me.
Director: Without getting into spoilers, your movie has one final shot that ends a bit, or at least, reframe – maybe – what came before. It also provides an ending from which one can extrapolate in very different ways, from hopeful to even more terrifying. Was it always the last shot? What were your intentions with this?
Griffin: I always wanted Art to be rewarded for his courage – otherwise I was afraid the film would be too hard to bear. I also wrote and shot a different ending for Sophie to support Art’s. But that was changed by the producers later in the trip.
Silent night has always been meant to challenge the values ââof the privileged classes. I wanted to focus on those who have the status and the capacity to make change but who don’t. The fictitious EXIT pill (inspired by Brexit) is issued by the government to avoid suffering. Suffering is what happens to people when governments avoid taking responsibility.
Director: Finally, there have been numerous films whose stories take on new resonances and meanings in the wake of COVID-19. Yours too. As you acknowledge from the press notes, the film questions how much we can trust the government on health policy, and a major plot point is not about a life-saving vaccine but a deadly suicide pill. . At what point in the process did you become aware of the possible new ways of playing the film in light of COVID-19 and anti-vaccines? What kind of conversations have you had around this plot point, and has anything changed in your script from its original version?
Griffin: I did not do an anti-vax film, let me say this directly. Of course, the film does not question the authenticity of the science so indisputable. But yeah, I made a movie that challenges trust in the government.
We didn’t know the movie could be misinterpreted. We never tested the film. We never had a public reaction to refer to in the post. The vaccine was not available worldwide. My only reference to COVID during editing was Trump and Boris doing a total hash of everything.