BSFA Interview: Max R Lincoln for RHYME OR DIE
The British Short Film Awards 2023
Written by Alex Moran and directed by Max R Lincoln during the last weekend of the third UK lockdown in a closed-down club in East London, “Rhyme or Die” is a severe illustration of the cutthroat nature of the creative industries as five kidnapped strangers are forced to rhyme to their captor’s funky beats… or die. Lincoln chats further on his influences...
This feels like Cube meets Charlie Brooker. What was the main inspiration for the film?
I love Charlie Brooker and Cube, but our film was more inspired by Battle Royale, which was also used as my tonal benchmark. I loved how it used humour to soften the nastier sides of the film. When we shot the film, it was during the last weekend of the third UK lockdown, so the cast needed to be at least 2m apart. I loved how, in The Circle (2015), they found a narrative reason to stop the ‘contestants’ from escaping. I wanted to create a homage to that by our ‘contestants’ being choaked remotely if they left their spot-lit zones, which were only a couple of metres apart.
It's a great little chamber piece with a neat hook. How important has it been to make a film that focuses on a single setting?
We had initially talked about secret societies and hidden cameras to expand the world. Who's watching, why, and has this happened before? But these ideas just slowed the pacing down and pulled us out of the narrative. So, it felt essential to keep the exposition to a minimum, and sp that meant using a single location. I also loved the idea of them being trapped in a large, cavernous room; the contrast of the empty space and how claustrophobic they feel within their spotlights.
I'm assuming the white overlord character, Dynamo, is intentional? There is something almost religious and god-like about her.
I never thought of her as a white overlord, really. The idea behind this antogonist was that she was an overachiever who snapped. Now, she believes that she can help others reach their full potential, but only via her twisted and murderous game. My main references for her were prom moviesglitter, sparkles, and colourful soft lighting. Think of the prom night in Carrie but before the blood. She was above the rest, so it was physically evident that they stood no chance of getting to her before she killed them.
Which filmmakers have influenced you and are there any particular films that influenced this one?
My influences have varied over the years, but while making this, the films of Jonathan Glazer and Julia Ducournau were very much at the forefront of my mind. Regarding specific films, (as already mentioned) the tone and look of Battle Royale, along with the high-contrast lighting of the yellow chamber in Blade Runner 2049. Lastly, the framing in John Frankenheimer’s Seconds from 1966.
What are you expecting audiences to take away from your short film?
I love films with nasty endings... and this one is no exception. One player survives by believing in themselves, but to do so, they must take another player's life. As creatives and filmmakers we often compete against our peers for smaller and smaller prizes or funds. It can be challenging when the work is personal, and failure can feel like a creative death. At that point, the project either dies or needs to be transformed into something new. Also, it’s a super fun concept. While I am a terrible rhymer, I hope that it inspires others to have a go.