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Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

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Dominic Savage


Bafta-award-winning Dominic Savage is renowned for his improvisational style, and last year he directed the critically acclaimed Freefall. Dominic talks about his collaboration with co-writer Simon Stephens, what inspired him to write Dive and the insights that helped him create central characters Lindsey and Robert.

"The issue of teenage pregnancy was the initial starting point for the films, and this came from the fact that in Britain we have the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe. The themes were teenage pregnancy versus ambition at a young age.

"The setting was important as well. The seaside town in Dive is very much like the town that I came from, Margate in Kent. It was a lovely place, and you felt the world revolved around it back then, but a lot of people I knew wanted to escape, as did I, and most never quite did.

"One of the big reasons for this was that many of them had kids at a young age. I knew a lot of those people. The idea of being a father as a teenager was scary for me because it would have inhibited any plans I had in life. That's where the story came from and one that I completely identified with coming from that background.

"Dive is about important and big decisions made in life at a young age. Wanting to get away and do something with one's life, but also getting involved with someone and then making a life with them. Those two things that pull at each other. We were really captivated by that.

"But we also really wanted to show what it's like to love at that age, proper true love with all its realities and difficulties, because in the end Dive is a love story as well."

From deciding on a central theme Dominic had to create believable characters, he outlines what stood out for him from the research he conducted in order to create Robert and Lindsey.

"The research started, and my co-writer Simon Stephens and I talked to young people – from aged 12 upwards – about their perspectives and attitudes today. Not in Margate but from a similar town. We spoke to young people about what they wanted in life, what they felt about sex, about having a family, ambition and their futures.

"It was very revealing. One of the more striking things was how quite a number of the boys wanted to stay in their home town, had little ambition, and were interested in settling down as quickly as possible and having a family of their own. The reasons given were that they wanted to replicate the life that they had growing up there, so good had it been for them.

"They were more interested in lifestyle and way of life, and continuing that, than any thoughts of career or achievement.

"A lot more girls however, were interested in getting away from that place and properly achieving something and doing something with their lives. Many of them had already had sex and were having sexual experiences with different partners.

"It was important that Lindsey and Robert were shown as people who have complex feelings and who genuinely care about each other. I think that's unusual to show the true emotional side of teenage life. Most films don't go for that; they go for the stereotypes, the headlines. We wanted to get beyond that and show young people in a mature way, an insightful way, to show young people who are dealing with mature feelings and big life decisions.

"Dive is a chance to show properly that there is a lot more to teenagers, more complexity to them and we don't always see that."

Once the characters were drawn casting was vital. Dominic explains how they found Jack O'Connell and Aisling Loftus.

"It was really important to choose very carefully. To choose young people that I knew were going to come on a particular and personal journey with me.

"The casting process therefore was quite rigorous. But as with all of my films, as soon as I have an instinct for someone and I feel that it's going to work and I'm connecting with that person whatever age they are, then I know I've found the right one.

"There's a huge amount of trust involved between the actors and me. If I show my trust in them, then they trust me, and trust in what I'm trying to do. So I look for actors who I know that this is possible with, actors that are in tune with me, and what I want to achieve.

"Many actors who I have worked with before say that I take a lot of care with the actor and their performance. I think this is true."

Dominic outlines what it was like working in a different way and with Simon Stephens.

"Working with Simon Stephens was brilliant, because we really pushed each other. It was a great collaborative partnership. We have similar sensibilities, similar life philosophies, and obsessions. That is why we worked well together. He cares deeply about the characters that he writes and so do I.

"And it was a really invigorating process. The difference between writing the script and improvising is obviously that you lay down so much more before you get to the set. I do like the idea of more control over dialogue, and we poured over every word that we wrote. I'm always open, however, to different ideas or changes that occur when you come to shoot. Because the dialogue that you've written might not quite fit with that scene, or mood, or a scene doesn't quite work in this new context, so you change things.

"When you write in a room together it's great but actually it's different when you're there on location. That's what I love about filmmaking: it's a process in itself which is constantly changing.

"I think Dive is quite minimal, I quite like that it's not overly wordy and there are lots of feelings that aren't expressed purely through dialogue.

"The silences in Dive were equally as important as the words; there is a lot of awkwardness as well as meaning in a silence. That's the beauty of film, it can convey emotion without explanation."

For Dominic the backdrop for Dive was imperative and Skegness was the perfect location, as he explains:

"The setting was vital, absolutely vital. I actually looked into Margate originally, but it was too close to me in a way and I thought I would feel personally overwhelmed by filming there.

"Then, as it happened, the casting took me in a place where both Aisling and Jack are from, the East Midlands. So it kind of made sense, to look for a seaside resort that they would naturally go to or come from.

"It turned out to be a great setting as well, because there's a very natural peace to it, a kind of remote quality, a beauty, but also a smallness. And the need for Lindsey to escape that smallness is understandable. It all worked."

Lindsey's ambition as a diver is her driving force, Dominic outlines why diving is the sport she excels in and why he wanted Lindsey's pregnancy to be joyful.

"Early mornings and the individuality of diving, it's the most obvious and perfect individual sport. The time it takes, and dedication to get one dive right and yet the margin of error is so slight. It's also the idea that the dive is like life, taking a leap of faith. The courage involved. Showing the difference between those that will take a chance in life, and those that won't. The perfect dive, is like getting life perfect; really hard, almost impossible. It can also resemble falling. That's easier to do!

"The other thing is that with kids that do sport, it takes them away from normal life. When Lindsey moves away from diving and decides to get involved with her friends, she experiences life as a teenager for the first time. I thought this was very interesting.

"The idea was to celebrate the idea of having a baby. It's not a scandal, it's a wonderful thing and Lindsey shows that with her decision to keep the baby, and when she does she finds that her ambition returns.

"In the end it's showing that both are possible, you can have a baby and you can achieve your dreams. That's what the end suggests, the relationship could work out, but certainly she's doing her thing, being herself, and she has her baby."

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