LONDON — Bruce Webb first came to London’s Raindance Film Festival some 17 years ago with a series of shorts named “Orgasm Raygun,” “Green Monkey” and “Don’t Walk” — the latter he remembers indelibly after a snafu with the projection ratio made the crew and boom clearly visible. “This was my first introduction to seeing a director have a meltdown,” he laughs. After making his directing debut with 2009’s “The Be All and End All,” Webb returns to the festival this year with a teen-oriented drama that he describes as “a teen thriller — ‘The Usual Suspects’ meets ‘Romeo and Juliet.'” Featuring newcomers Jackson Bews and India Eisley, Webb’s film not only adapts Shakespeare’s play for the digital age, it also reunites the stars of Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 screen version: Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting.
Is “Social Suicide” a script you developed yourself?
Yes and no. The script came to me and I did do several drafts in pre-production with the writer/producer Janet to cut the dialogue down and bring out more sympathy with the romantic leads. It was the fastest turnaround from script to screen I have ever been involved with, as the producer — rightly — thinks this is a story of the moment. Our biggest problems were that the film is set in about five different time zones and from many people’s point of view, so it was a real challenge to make this entertaining and physically work. We shot on four different formats in the end.
What appealed to you about this story?
I’m always looking for stories with a heart, and there was something about the idea of Romeo and Juliet that has always appealed to me — to love someone so much you would end your life to be with them. Trying to cross this with a modern-day teenage romance, which often take place online, seemed like a challenge. And it was! [Laughs] I also thought it could be done on a small budget, which looking back now was perhaps a bit naive.
What was the first step you took in getting financing?
The script came with finance attached so the process was a bit back to front. Instead of developing the script and looking for finance, we had to develop the script after the finance was found — or most of it had been found.
How did you approach the casting?
Emily Tilelli did the casting. She is brilliant. She did “Nina Forever” for us [which Webb line-produced] and I asked her if she would come on board with this film. We had only a few weeks to find cast, and she did an amazing job. Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting came through an idea the producer had, and India — who is Olivia’s daughter — came through that process too. I wanted Neve Mcintosh in the film from the start.
It’s been several years since your feature debut. Has the industry changed in that time, and if so, how?
It seems like it has completely changed in so many ways. There is now so much product because of the digital revolution and desk-top editing. The way a film is promoted now relies so much on social media.
The film deals explicitly with issues of social media. Do you see the film as a cautionary tale in any way, or simply a reflection of the modern age?
That’s a good question, and it could be seen as both, depending on how old you are. A parent in their forties or fifties could see it as cautionary. For 12-13-year-olds who’ve seen it, it’s just a reflection of life. In fact, possibly because of our 12A target rating, it could well be more innocent than the things young people are actually exposed to. At the end of the day, social media has simply replaced notes and phone calls, which our generation used to use to gossip, chat, get dates and annoy people with. What has changed is imagery — we used to have use Polaroids to do anything risky with a picture — these days, video and photographs are instant and instantly shared. This is what has changed, and how those pictures are interpreted can change your life forever. There are daily news items about normal kids killing themselves over pictures online.
What are your hopes for the film?
As with any low-budget film, just to get it watched and for it to affect people’s lives in a positive way — although I’m concerned about its effect on young people, as it has some very raw scenes in it. Europe has this brilliant young people’s festival network that we are already plugged into, which is great news for the movie. It will find its market, but we don’t know where yet — which is very exciting and a bit daunting as well.
What’s next for you?
A film called “Lobster” starring Jakob Cedergren (“Submarino”), which I have written myself and I have been developing for the last five or six years. It’s a tough film about female-on-male abuse and a man’s exit from that relationship. Though it seems like a hard sell, it has sexy, funny and very beautiful scenes in it too. I cannot explain how much I want to make this film — it’s part of my blood at the moment.
“Social Suicide” has its world premiere at the Raindance Film Festival on Thursday Oct. 1 at 6.30 P.M.