NFTS students were treated to a preview of Peter Strickland’s latest film, In Fabric, followed by a Q&A with the award-winning writer-director.  In Fabric follows the life of a cursed dress as it moves from person to person, leaving a trail of devastation.  Time Out praised the film as “Enveloping you in its vintage folds, Peter Strickland's hypnotic horror film turns fashion into a death sentence.”  The cast includes Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Gwendoline Christie, Hayley Squires, Julian Barratt and Steve Oram.  The film is produced by Andy Starke of Rook Films.

In Fabric is Peter’s fourth feature, following the acclaimed Katalin Varga, Berberian Sound Studio and The Duke of Burgundy.  Sandra Hebron, NFTS Head of Screen Arts, hosting the Q&A, began by asking Peter about his inspiration for In Fabric. “You’re just aware of death when you go into a second hand shop.  This shirt I’m wearing right now is second hand, I don’t know who its owner was before me.  You’re just aware of the continuation of clothing – that it’s going to outlive us.  It’s not just an object, it’s an object in connection with humans.  It’s the power of a dead person’s clothing – how you’re haunted by it when you can’t bring yourself to throw it away.” Peter explained.  Continuing, “I wanted to find the unfamiliar in the familiar.  I grew up in Reading and from living abroad so much, Reading became exotic to me.  I was looking at Reading from an outsiders’ point of view.  I wanted to embrace what I had thought was prosaic by looking at it differently.  And I was influenced by M R James, and I wanted to move that type of ghost story into a department store setting.”

Peter Strickland with NFTS students

Sandra asked about the ambiguity of the period in which the film is set – 1993, but layered with a feeling of the 1970s.  Peter said, “I liked that department stores have their own logic about time.  They’re a mish-mash of Victorian, Edwardian, 1950s, 1970s and beyond.  The reason to set it in 1993 was so as to be able to have the mysteries of dating pre-Tinder.”

Still from In Fabric

Discussing how he works with music Peter, told students “When I write I need music to get me going, but then I find I’m glued to it and it’s really hard to unglue myself.  It was the first time I had worked with a musician before I had an idea of what I wanted, but it worked really well.  I was a big fan of composer Tim Gane’s band Stereolab from the nineties.  He gave me ideas – one a sort of drone noise, which developed into sounding more and more like a fire alarm and that informed the script.  I tried to give him as much space as possible and I just try to talk about mood.”

Asked about the delicate tone of the film and the balance of style, Peter revealed: “I had a scale of 1 to 10 – with 1 being Social Realist, 10 being totally wacky.  We were never at 1 and never at 10, but say the ‘kitchen sink’ scenes are at 2, the bank is at 5 and the department store at 8.  I could use that scale talking to the actors as well, to feed into where to pitch their performances.”  Adding, “Sometimes in genre you just don’t care enough about the characters, so I very much tried to write it as a straight drama.”

Peter Strickland with Sandra Hebron

Discussing some of the striking language used conversationally in the film, particularly in the scenes between bank staff played by Steve Oram and Julian Barratt, Peter said “It only hit me how euphemistic the English language is after I’d lived away for a while.  I remember once seeing a job in a job centre for a night shift shelf stacker advertised as ‘Twilight Replenishment Operative’ – I didn’t apply for it.  That was that sort of thing I was trying to bring to the script.” 

One of the students asked about the choice to shift protagonist part way through and Peter revealed “I had originally written six characters – but it was way too long!  So I cut it down to two.  You need to have more than one person’s story, because it is the story of the dress as it moves from person to person.  And the dress needs to win – even though it shouldn’t!”

Still from In Fabric

The students admired the poster designed by Julian House and asked if there’d been any resistance to the design. Peter acknowledged that initially there’d been a little apprehension about it, as the norm is to have actors on a poster, “But Curzon were great about it!  I’m really pleased with Julian’s poster design; it gives the mood of the film and shows you can convey the spirit of the film without needing to feature the film’s actors.”

Asked about the practicality of animating the dress Peter revealed “It was really basic!  We used wire and wind machines.  I think the music gets us out of jail somewhat and makes it much more atmospheric.  My favourite bits are where we see it moving back and forth inside the wardrobe and when it’s undulating in the air.”

Sandra asked about how the dress itself was ‘cast’ – if Peter had a specific style in mind for it.  “It wasn’t fully formed – all the credit for the dress is to Jo Thompson, the costume designer, and her team.  All I could say to her was that there was a way I wanted the dress to move – like an amoeba or a jellyfish, which led her to suggest chiffon or silk.  But the style is all down to her.”

Peter advised students “I would recommend building relationships with each other and also with actors, so that you can support each other and continue working together.  For me filmmaking is constantly being open to spontaneity.  Being very rigid with planning and then open to spontaneity – it’s a tricky balance!”

In Fabric is released by Curzon Artificial Eye on 28th June