Simon Horrocks is a British director who was responsible for shooting 2010's Third Contact on a shoe string budget of four thousand pounds using camcorders and a small cast of wonderful actors. Horrocks had previously worked as a movie composer and then ironically worked in a cinema before a veritable epiphany led him to start work on Third Contact.

Prior to this Horrocks shot the short film Quantum Suicide, in which science is considered against the backdrop of suicide and the inevitability of death. Third Contact was a project that died and was then reborn as Horrocks obtained the funding required to get his picture into cinemas with a first screening at the British Film Institute’s IMAX cinema on 2nd September 2013. Horrocks is now attempting to roll the picture out on a nationwide basis.

Simon, how did this project take shape, from the initial idea to its story development?

The idea started with a different script, which I worked on a for a year, before getting some interest at the now disbanded UK Film Council. After I wasn't able to find anyone who wanted to move the project forward, I resolved to write another script using the idea but this time with the idea that I would shoot the film myself, without funding.

I spent six months or so writing the screenplay, getting feedback from a filmmaker friend who I worked with at the cinema. After about three or four drafts, I felt we were ready to go with it. Just before we started filming, I decided to shoot a short explaining the concept of Quantum Suicide, using nothing but a Coolpix stills camera and some old gear from my music studio to create a lab. It took a day to shoot and edit. The short ended up winning the audience for Best Scifi at the RATMA short film festival.

At the beginning of 2010, I cast the parts we needed to start and we got going.

You had previously worked as a composer and in a cinema, how did these previous experiences affect the developmental process involved with Third Contact?

I'm not sure working as a composer helped the development. Working in a cinema certainly had a big effect. This was a lot to do with having a day job for the first time in 20 years, but also working at the South Bank, for the BFI as well, meant I was surrounded by creative people and a creative environment.

Going into work, there was always artworks, film festivals or exhibitions being set up which helps you to feel part of something. I would see that and think to myself 'hey they are doing amazing stuff, why shouldn't I?'

I was there for some high profile premieres as well, like The Dark Knight or Star Trek, which again makes everything seem like it’s not so far out of reach. You realise these people are just like you and there's no reason why you can't have a go yourself.

Also, the mysterious 'Film In The Make' project which got a lot of us making films and ultimately lead me to directing a short with some work friends.

In Quantum Suicide I got the sense that you were combining the world of science with the thematic elements of the metaphysical and spiritual world. Were these themes that informed the short film and were these themes something that you wanted to be present in Third Contact?

The Quantum Suicide idea was something which I thought about for a while. It changed my ideas on mortality, and how your own death is not relevant to you, because you are not around to experience it. I thought this was something new, but it turns out it was an idea that’s been around since at least the Ancient Greek philosophers.

The film deals with ideas such as memory, loss, grief, madness, depression and obsession. These themes are woven with the 'science' of the story which, as with any science fiction, are used as tools to explore narrative ideas which explore the human condition.

The movie has a small cast and a tiny budget. Was the movie making process more intimate because of these factors and how did this effect the movie making process?

I always approached the limitations of the production as a positive thing. I tried to spend as much time as possible think about how to best tell the story, and create a cinematic experience with what we had to hand. Our production was probably a little larger in scope than some past zero-budget productions, such as Clerks or Pi - we shot in Waterloo Station, the IMAX, a soon-to-be-demolished warehouse and various locations around London.

There's definitely and intimacy and spontaneity when filming on such a small scale, that you might struggle to achieve with a big crew. Everything takes hours to set up and the process is slow, actors can get tired and bored. The way we were filming, set ups were generally much quicker.

The movie deals with emotional angst and seems to hint at the parasitic nature of sad memories. With these ideas in mind would you describe the movie as a melodramatic piece, and if so would you view a melodramatic interpretation of the movie in a pejorative sense?

I wouldn't say its only sad memories which can haunt you. I think this is a movie trope which we have got used to, that people are tormented by some kind of tragic event. But actually, in this film, our main character is mostly tormented by happy memories. That's where loss really hurts.

I think the film is too much of a mystery and a puzzle to be melodramatic.

You stripped the original cut of the movie down from ninety five minutes to eighty five minutes, was the editing process difficult and why were the cuts made?

Everything is difficult, as it should be. I had 30 hours or more of material to cut into about 90 minutes. Once you have two years shooting, editing, scoring and sound designing, its hard to have a perspective. You get tired of watching it. So it was good to take a break then show it to an audience in Germany, as it helped me get some distance.

I just felt there was room to tighten the film. Some things were repetitive. Also I found the music was a little over-cooked. One danger when you are tired of watching a scene is to feel it needs music to help it. It’s an insecurity. I realised some scenes didn't need music to make them exciting, they worked better without.

I also found that because I had so much footage, I was tempted to use every angle, and therefore I was cutting too much. So during the last edit, I allowed some shots to go for longer, which created more space for the acting and for the audience not to be disturbed by constant cutting.

In a world dominated by big budget pictures, this movie points toward the universality of cinema in terms of the fact that that you have made a movie on a limited budget and it has found an audience. Was it quite liberating to be part of a naturally organic process?

The whole process has been liberating, but in the sense of liberating your own mind from the notion that to make a full length film you need some kind of approval, mostly from people who have no real creative ideas themselves.

When you ask yourself why you are seeking approval from people who have a very limited idea of what a film is and you realise these are the last people on Earth you should be seeking approval from, that is very liberating.

You can just go out and make the film you want, and if you believe you have made a worthy film, you are most likely to find an audience who agrees with you. It won't be easy, but then making a film and distributing it within the industry isn't easy either.

How can our readers get involved with the movie?

At the moment we are running some 'cinema on demand' campaigns to fund shows of the film in the UK. We have been pretty successful so far, with shows in London, Bristol, Norwich and Oxford. With Sheffield and Newcastle still to reach their targets.

If you fancy coming along to a show (plus director's Q&A), more info can be found here

Thanks to Simon for granting 24 Frames this interview.