Director David Barker and Star Ella Scott Lynch Talk PIMPED!
David Barker’s debut feature, the dark and twisted psychosexual thriller PIMPED, has already been gaining word-of-mouth buzz since its world premiere at London’s Fright Fest in August. Audiences are clearly responding to the Aussie thriller’s compelling lead performances, confidence to lean into some dark and uncomfortable themes, as well as its complete narrative unpredictability.
That buzz translated into PIMPED’s Australian Premiere at this year’s Monster Fest VII: The Homecoming, featuring a Q&A with director David Barker and star Ella Scott Lynch, quickly selling out. Don’t panic though as we’ve got an Encore Screening on Sunday November 25th with Q&A by director David Barker and writer Lou Mentor but don’t wait to grab a ticket as this session is likely to sell out ahead of time too!
PIMPED is a taut and intense psychosexual thriller concerning a conflicted woman who is wronged by two men in a sick and twisted game. It’s also one of those films that’s hard to discuss– or even describe – without giving away a discovery that would best be made on the big screen. To give us an understanding of this twisty and darkly provocative film, Cult of Monster’s David Churack sat down with director David Barker and star Ella Scott Lynch to talk sexual violence in film, embracing moral ambiguity and what the film has to say about female identity!
PIMPED is billed as a ‘psychosexual thriller’: what should audiences expect from it?
DAVID: A tense, atmospheric tale, where toxic masculinity meets conflicted feminine power; It’s a crazy fucked-up showdown.
ELLA: It is not a safe night in the theatre. The film deals with some pretty confronting questions about sexuality, nihilism, violence and pleasure. It hopefully provokes some interesting discussions after about all these things.
The film feels very timely as it grapples with questions of consent and sexual violence. What about these themes appealed to you?
DAVID: The violence is both physical and emotional. The physical lends itself to the visual medium, both real and as metaphor. The psychological, the annihilation of trust, the emotional heart of the story, in some perverse way, is within the hearts of all of us.
ELLA: I think there are some dangerous themes running through it. After I first read the script I was initially concerned because I was worried about the message we were leaving with the audience and what responsibility we had to ensure they ‘took it in the right way’? Obviously there is no way to control that and I think it is honouring your audience to come to their own conclusions but I would be lying if I said that didn’t worry me initially.
Revenge exacts some very ugly results. I worried that some people would enjoy seeing a woman seeking risk and pleasure get her ‘comeuppance’, but on closer inspection, after several reads and after a lot of talking the ideas through with David I decided that by not presenting a complete moral lesson in the film there is room for an audience to examine a lot of their own darker tendencies.
These are human frailties that we all confront in relationship with another person and as a part of our own private inner worlds that we choose to either suppress or do battle with. Sometimes to our obvious detriment. But sometimes things go unpunished and we push on maybe eternally repeating the same mistake and maybe moving to a new level of consciousness and growth. A lot of the social questions around consent and sexual assault that have come up in the media in recent months reveal we still create such a sense of shame around some of these things that most men just don’t grapple with in the same way.
A major aspect of the film was its sheer unpredictability: how did you maintain such a surprising narrative?
DAVID: The beauty of film is that you create a world where characters live and play, but you don’t show it all. What’s brought into the frame, the simple tricks, what is excluded from the frame, the openings, these all make room for decisions to be made that are unexpected. If you’re not creating twists and turns, if you’re not looking for ways to manipulate the audience, exploiting their expectations, you’re not creating a thriller.
The main characters are all, to varying degrees, morally compromised as the film progresses. What was the value of maintaining this moral ambiguity?
DAVID: Possibly, the only real value, outside of wanting viewers to work for their own meaning to some extent, is in reflecting what goes on in our own minds everyday. We’re all morally compromised.
ELLA: I feel very strongly like most actors that we shouldn’t be too objective or sit in judgement of the characters we play. Somehow you want to sidle up to them and sit near them and listen closely, rather than forensically dismember them. I like to leave a little mystery there to allow your dreams to fill your subconscious. David and I both talked a lot about that we didn’t want this to become a moralizing film that said anything like ‘a woman who takes sexual risks will be punished’. In fact, I remember us both expressing our mutual dislike of children’s cartoons that stray too far into moralizing: it seems like the more original ones have something more fluid going on.
I was challenged by the vengeance plot line that sees Sarah take back some of her power and control by injuring others and I guess that is where I drew the line strongly between myself and her. I don’t philosophically believe in ‘an eye for an eye’ but I remember having many talks with David about this and how Sarah thinks she is doing what she has to do to protect her life.
I did think a lot about mental illness in the research earlier on, I read a bit about psychopathy, borderline personality disorder and some things in that area. The split or schism can be interpreted in several different ways but I think there are parts of all of us and things we may all have felt from time to time when we see ourselves from a distance behaving in a way we may not recognize and that can be traumatic to those we love and ourselves.
Can you talk about your experience collaborating with each other and fellow star Benedict Samuel?
DAVID: It was an intense experience. A first film, and these actors have done so much. They are true professionals and we all went to dark places together. But I was blessed by some unseen magical force – they saw something in the script worthy of their energy, commitment and extraordinary talent.
ELLA: David, Benedict and I had the good fortune to have a fairly long rehearsal period together we spent about a week locked in a dance studio in Surry hills thrashing it all out. We pulled the script apart together examining all the issues it brought up for us. David was incredibly inclusive with us and our ideas. We all disagreed occasionally but that was very important because some of the things we were discussing were so provocative it required us all to be very clear on what we were doing.
In order to go to some of the darker places it is imperative to have safety and trust between actors and directors when dealing with nudity and violence (and we are seeing some of that play out in the media now of course). I felt incredibly well looked after in that regard. There was a caring atmosphere on set at all times and I was most appreciative of that – it means the risks you take shooting it are able to happen because of regard for the story we are telling and the bodies and minds of the performers.
Most of the film was shot in this beautiful crazy house in Rose Bay by the water and we were all sealed off in this funny bubble for the shoot. It was a way of working I had never experienced before – it really did feel like a fucked up little family in a way. If anything I just found it hard to go home sometimes at the end of some of the days because we were all in this strange, dark suspended world we had created. Then we were all dismissed for the day back to reality with some crazy ideas in our heads. Going home to a 1-year-old and putting that hat on after some of the more confronting shoot days was surreal to say the least.
PIMPED also seems to interrogate femininity or a ‘female identity’, Did this theme feel particularly apt to you Ella, given this is a return to the screen for you following the birth of your daughter?
ELLA: A few days before I was offered the role I came across a kind of protest in the park near us that were some university students discussing how to take back the hero’s journey and make it the heroine’s journey? And how indoctrinated we have all been in a male artistic and literary world. They were interviewing people randomly about it and it did get me thinking that it is remarkable how much of the time as a female actor we are auditioning for roles that are not propelling the action forward in a series or film and are much of the time concerned with who they are in relationship with.
It IS changing thank god and the more women who write for film, TV and theatre the more we will see these stories of female identity taking centre stage. I think some people still believe only women would be interested in watching those stories but I think that is also changing. The Madonna/whore conundrum was a fascinating one too that after childbirth a lot of my female friends and I discussed.
I never felt more powerful and vulnerable following the birth of my daughter. It is such a violent shock to your whole psyche. I relished the chance to play such a strong character in this film after such a positively shattering experience, even if a lot of people may find some of her motivations and actions deplorable. Yes something terrible happens TO her, but she has agency.
For a feature debut, PIMPED has such a distinct visual style and confidence. What were your main influences on it, David?
DAVID: I came to film through photography. I love working with cameras and design, and worked very closely with Josh the DOP and Bethany the Production Designer. We spent a bucket load of time together talking about tone and feel. How the darkness moved from an ally of intimacy, to an accomplice of violence. Colours underpinned emotion. The reds in the bar, like some sort of purgatory. The dirty warmth of the greens has this sordid beauty. The house – oh my god that fucking beautiful house!
You also use music sparingly here, but you include some very striking choices. How did you select the songs to include?
DAVID: They chose me. It’s weird, Peaches came to me as we were making the film. And in post, similarly, Methyl Ethel presented themselves. It might sound ridiculous, but I simply said yes to them. What’s probably more interesting, is the score that Pete Jones created. It’s like he dressed the story in just the right clothes, the right balance of a brooding, tense underbelly. Like it was conjured up from somewhere deep, dank and dark below the house itself. And then it breaks free in some sort of exhaled primal scream.
Finally – what future projects can we look forward to from you both?
DAVID: THE SECOND COMING. It’s about a drug dealer who thinks he’s Jesus Christ. Based on Andrew Masterson’s crime novel of the same name.
ELLA: At the moment I am filming a new series for Foxtel/Sky called UPRIGHT which is filming in South Australia and West Australia. It is created by Chris Taylor (of the Chaser) and stars Tim Minchin in the lead role who also is one of the writers and producers on it. They are calling it a ‘dramedy’ – and it will of course have a ridiculously beautiful Minchin written soundtrack.
PIMPED will have its SOLD OUT Australian Premiere at MONSTER FEST VII: THE HOMECOMING with a Q&A by director David Barker and star Ella Scott Lynch on Saturday 24th November at 8:00pm. There will also be an Encore Screening on Sunday 25th November at 12:15pm featuring a Q&A with director David Barker.
MONSTER FEST VII: THE HOMECOMING runs from Thursday November 22nd to Sunday November 25th at Cinema Nova!
Opening Night Film Ticket (includes complimentary drink on arrival)
Single Session Tickets
Adult – $20.50
Student/Concession/ Health Care Card – $16.00
Senior – $15.50
Pension – $13.00
Under 15 – $13.00
Privilege Club Member – $17.00
Privilege Club Concession – $14.00
Get the most out of the Monster Fest experience and save with these festival passes:
VIP Passes (12 films) $150
The VIP Pass gets you all-access to all Monster Fest screenings from Thursday November 22nd to Sunday the 25th.
Mini-Pass (5 Film Passes) $70
The 5 Film Multi-Pass may be used for any Monster Fest film sessions from Friday November 23rd to Sunday the 25th EXCLUDING Opening Night and the All-Night Marathon.
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When you purchase a pass you will receive a barcode number which shows up on your booking receipt. This number can be used online or in person to book sessions in advance or during the festival. If for any reason you do not receive a number/barcode, please contact 9347 5331.
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