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SCI-Fi London Interview

SCI-Fi London celebrates its 10th year this year. Jez Sands caught up with Creative Director Louis Savy in the bowels of the Apollo Piccadilly to talk about his role in the festival

SCI-Fi London celebrates its 10th year this year. Jez Sands caught up with Creative
Director Louis Savy in the bowels of the Apollo Piccadilly to talk about his role
in the festival, the ups and downs of 10 years of Sci-Fi and the festival’s
role in shaping the Sci-Fi films of tomorrow. We also get an exclusive scoop on some very special news for
next year’s festival. Louis’s effusive, clearly in love with what he does and keen
to talk about what for 10 years has been his baby.

Why was the festival started in the first place?

Well there was this woman I fancied who did online marketing
and we were out one night and she said that she didn’t like Sci-Fi. I said that’s like not liking jazz –
there’s so many different strands; you might not like Star Wars but you must at least see Fahrenheit 451 or Le Jetée. So I said, right, I’ll
take you to see some films and there wasn’t anything good on at the cinema
because most of the stuff is blockbuster entertainment which isn’t very good.
And it’s exactly the kind of stuff that people who don’t like science fiction
think is the reason they don’t like science fiction.

I was looking for something to do and so I challenged
her. I said I’ll start a festival
and you can PR it and your job is to get people in like you, who don’t like
science fiction, to come to it.
So, no star backgrounds, no spaceships, and no aliens – we’ll go for
cool, indie, arthouse, that just happens to be science fiction; a good film
which just happens to be science fiction.
10 years later, that’s [pointing to the front cover of the Sci-Fi London
programme] my two-year old.

Arguably Star Wars isn’t even a Sci-Fi film…

[Louis makes a face and laughs]. It’s got spaceships in it, it’s a Sci-Fi film!

Well, I’m not going to argue, I’m not a massive fan

Me neither. I
think when it came out I was 15.

1977…Did it change your life?

No. I was interested in booze and girls and rock bands. I was working in a club as a
stage bouncer. I went and saw and
thought it was all right. I enjoy
it more now that I’ve got kids. My
kids, my two year old can do “dur dur dur dun dur dur dun dur dur”. My job here is done! I’m not a big fan of any of the
franchises really because they’re stretching things too much – they just keep going. “It’s not called show business for nothing”.

The festival really started because I couldn’t see the films
I wanted to see at the cinema. I
wanted to see Le Jetée on the big
screen. Other than going to the
French Institute, where they’d always put it on with Alphaville, and I hate Alphaville. It’s
very rare that you see those kinds of films in cinemas.

So it was purely selfishly motivated?

[Laughs] – Yeah the whole thing was purely selfishly
motivated. 10 years later…

How have things changed in 10 years?

We get more people coming. We have an international reputation rather than a London
reputation. There are still
millions of people that have never heard of us which is why we’ll always give
time to blogs and newspapers.
Whether 10 people are going to read or 10,000 people are going to read
it, I want to tell them who we are and then hopefully that way, they’ll come to
the website which has about 400 films on it now and from that they’ll find out
more about the festival. Again, we
try to put on films which are a bit more interesting or a little bit
challenging, or sometimes we like to put on things which will never get
distribution here – no one’s ever going to pick it because they just don’t know
how to sell it.

We’ve got a film called Beyond The Black Rainbow which is at Tribeca right now for its international
premier before coming straight to us. It’s fabulous, it opens in 1983 – the
aesthetic is somewhere between THX, Rollerball. The pace
of that, lots of long, lingering scenes, is very art and frame based. It’s a real basic fairy tale but I
can’t see how anyone would put that out unless it shows at all these festivals
and everybody really likes it.

You Are Here, that’s
another one. It’ s a little bit
like Synecdoche. It’s a little bit like…what’s that
other film with scenes shot out of sequence?


Yeah, Memento. It’s a bit like that without any
of the violence but it’s kind of disjointed. At first it just looks like a really badly made documentary. It’s a little bit like Zodiac.

There are less and less places that you can see this kind of
cinema. If you were living in Morecambe,
you’re never going to see this stuff.
If all you’ve got is a 16-screen Apollo, they’re never going to show
films like that. Even with us
being in one of their London branches, they’ve not toured it outside of London. I don’t think Pig or Die You Zombie Bastards would really fit in a mainstream cinema although
those kinds of people are also our audience.

You’re far more likely to see these kinds of films at
somewhere like The Roxy – somewhere which is mixing entertainment on the screen
with a bar and atmosphere rather than a multiplex.

What’s the achievement that you’ve been most proud of in
10 years of the festival?

Of late, the 48 Hour Film Challenge has been one of the
things that I’ve been really pleased about. It’s not an original idea, it’s not
our idea. I think it started off in the States. They run it across a lot of
different parts of America – then a guy heard about it and set one up here. I thought it was a great idea and set up
the national 48 Hour Film Challenge. We had four venues simultaneously set up
on the same day and 468 films were made in one weekend.

Three or four years ago, we decided to add a new element to
the festival and so I decided to add a 48 Hour Film Challenge to it.

What exactly’s involved in that?

You have to make a complete five minute film in 48
hours. You come to the venue on
the Saturday morning. We give you
the title of the film that you’re going to make, we give you some dialogue that
one of the characters has to say and we give you a list of props that have to
be in the film. You’ve got two
days to write it, edit it, add music to it and bring it back here on a DVD.

The first year we had about 50 or 60 films made which is
phenomenal for the first competition which had no prizes at all. But we did have John Landis as the head
of jury. So we had about 50 teams
turn out and one of them was Gareth Edwards who made a film called Factory
– it just floated to the top, it was
by far the best film of the bunch.
And Vertigo saw that film and said in two days with no budget you made
that film, have you thought about making a feature? Can we make a film with you? He tried pitching it, it didn’t quite work but he had some
other ideas, one of which turned out to be Monsters.

So he wrote the script, they gave him a budget and shipped
him, Colin the editor and the two actors out to Mexico for three weeks. Pretty much everyone who’s in the film
is doing improv and so he shot the whole thing effectively guerrilla-style,
editing almost on the fly. Scoot
and Whitney, the two actors, ended up getting married and Monsters was critically acclaimed – the soundtrack is up for
an Ivor Novello.

Is he still in touch?

Oh yeah, he’s on the jury this year and he went round to
Vertigo before us and said that they should offer a feature development deal as
a prize which is what they’ve done this year. The winning team will get to sit in a room with Vertigo and
go through the same process that Gareth did.

And Gareth on the morning of the challenge texted us and
said, “Anyone that looks really good, smash the camera!” [Laughs] and I
challenged him – I’ll give you the scoop on this – I’ve got Gareth Edwards,
Mick Garris and Vincenzo Natali to do the challenge next year – a Celebrity 48
Film Challenge next year. I’m
still waiting to hear back from a few others including Darrabont, John Landis
and Edgar Wright. I’ve got to
email Joe Dante today.

Well Vincenzo Natali would be familiar with making films
on a tight budget as he did Cube

He was great actually because last year we had Splice (photo below) as our opening night film and Warners had just bought
it to release in the States and basically said, right that’s it, no more
festivals and Vincenzo said, no I want it in this one. Optimum said that they couldn’t do it
and he pushed it and pushed it until eventually I got an email saying we could
show it.

He got in touch because he saw a poster from our fourth
festival which was a hand that had a thumbs up but it had two thumbs. It was
really disconcerting and he thought that went well with Splice.

What are you going to go as for the Sci-Fi London

I’m going as a festival director! Although I have got a Ghostbusters outfit and a giant cookie costume from Shrek

I could talk about the festival forever. It’s grown, I couldn’t do it without
all this lot [indicates the gathering crowd of Sci-Fi London staff filling up
the Apollo]. It’s not just my
festival anymore.

At what point did it cease to become your festival?

Probably day two of the first year!

How many people can you expect to attend?

We’ll have about 4,000 people across all age groups. We’ve got kids screenings. We’ve got Escape To Witch Mountain which is a 1975 Disney Film and John Hough, the
director lives round the corner.
He said he’d come and introduce it but I’ve asked him to do a Q&A
instead after the film. My seven year old wants to interview him and she wants
to get a microphone, so she can get children in the audience to ask him
questions, so I thought why not?

Sci-Fi London runs from 23 April to the 2 May 2011. Visit for more details.

Marcia Degia - Publisher

Marcia Degia, who has worked in the media industry for more than 20 years, is the Publishing Editor of KOL Social Magazine. See website:

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