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FrightFest Glasgow Interview: Tiago Teixeira for CUSTOM

Updated: Mar 2

Hex work

Welcome to forbidden territory. You are beyond risk... teetering on an abyss as you delve into the shocking and strange experiences of Jasper and Harriet, played by Rowan Polonski and Abigail Hardingham. Having hit rock bottom with their arthouse pornography they encounter ‘The Audience’ — a mysterious client offering a life-changing investment to perform horrific rituals on videotape — all the while pulled into a much, much darker realm... if that was at all possible.

The debut feature of Brazilian-born Tiago Teixeira, Custom is an uncomfortable chamber (piece) that explores the boundaries between death and sex... reality and fantasy. As an award-winning writer and director based in London — having worked with producers Rodrigo Teixeira, Tubal Schelling and HBO Latin America — Tiago has directed a number of short films that have already garnered attention at numerous festivals. These include the London Short Film Festival, Encounters, Aesthetica, and genre favourites Frightfest, Abertoir, Fantaspoa, and many others. Taking time out to discuss Custom, his short films were as good a place to start as any…

Exploring a selection of your shorter works to date — “A Quiet Room in Walthamstow” (2017), “Dog Skin” (2019), “Acorde” (2020) — there is already a distinct mode of working and telling a story; that mood and atmosphere appear crucial devices. Is it safe to say you tend to choose this over a more solid narrative and that you are not afraid to allow the audience to fill in the blanks?

CUSTOM (2024) director Tiago Teixeira

Yes, definitely. I’m very interested in some films’ atmosphere and their mysterious quality. My short films were a way of experimenting with it and learning how to create a particular mood and sustain it. I love filling in the blanks when a film is deliberately opaque. It feels like you’re being invited into being part of the film and building some part of the narrative in your head. The shorts were intended for people with similar tastes.

What was at the forefront of making this film, in terms of what you wanted to achieve as a filmmaker?

I wanted to create a cohesive world with its atmosphere and personality, but also to work with a more traditional narrative as a director. As a screenwriter, I’ve worked with conventional narratives in the past, but my films as a director have always been more open-ended and abstract. Custom is the most straightforward film I’ve ever done. The elements to put it together are all there, not always in the dialogue, but sometimes in the background. Therefore, production design was important. I wanted to make a film I would love as a viewer.

Tempting fate. Protagonists Harriet (Abigail Hardingham) and Jasper (Rowan Polonski)

Female lead, Abigail Hardingham, had a very specific set of parameters when they came on board, hence their additional credit as an associate producer. Could you elaborate further on how important it was to them in terms of people’s perceptions of sex (work) and art?

There’s a quote from Paul Schrader that I really like. It says that a film script is an invitation for people to collaborate with you. When I met Abigail, we quickly realised we had a similar view on how the sex work aspect had to be depicted in the film and what the character’s goals were. We didn’t want it to be an anti-sex film or a morality tale; we didn’t want to be judgemental of the characters. They’re looking for something, and sex is part of this journey; it’s part of what they are and what they create.

The film is full of mood and wears its influences on its sleeve. How much of this was somewhat of a comfort blanket to ease you into making a feature… the familiarity for horror aficionados?

Because this was my first feature — and because I wasn’t working with a studio with a board that needed to be satisfied with the film I was delivering — I decided to pack Custom with references to my favourite movies because I wanted to be in a world I felt familiar with. Andy Edwards, my producer, was happy with it as well. There’s some Cronenberg, Lynch, Carpenter, some Grandrieux. It really is a homage to my favourite artists… so it’s definitely a comfort blanket. It felt very cosy.

Strange meditations.

Aside from the likes of Videodrome, which other films were discussed as a shorthand in terms of mood, atmosphere, colour palette etc.

There were a couple of films that I always had on the back of my mind; they’re pretty easy to identify in Custom. Videodrome, of course, but also Crash, Lost Highway and a bit of John Carpenter’s “Cigarette Burns” from the Masters of Horror TV series. I didn’t want to make a pastiche; I just wanted to work with references from films that I loved. In terms of sound, Lynch was a big reference, but also Kiyoshi Kurosawa, mainly in his film Cure. I’ve also looked into John Maybury’s Love is the Devil and those ideas of creating a film that is playing inside someone’s head; the paranoia of the film playing out that is supposed to be claustrophobic and strange… you never know what will happen next.

The palette and composition came to life after many discussions with my cinematographer, Philipp Morozov. We share a love for strange, dark, terribly depressing movies and kept adding more images to this mood board that became a bit of a monster. Ultimately, we managed to trim it down and figure out what style we were going for.

The use of and depiction of sex in the film is played out much like a strip tease, in that, (despite the subject matter), it holds back for the majority of the film. This is obviously intentional?

Yes, the sex scenes were always thought of as set pieces in the film; they are supposed to change the status quo for the characters. They each have a symbolic meaning and move the characters in different directions. Sex is essential for the characters, and it’s part of their creative expression, so we wanted to make every sex scene count and make it an essential part of their journey.

What would you like audiences to take away from the film?

After spending so much time on the project, I have no idea what anyone will think. At this stage, it’s impossible for me to take a step back and look at what the film has become. What I can say is that I couldn’t be happier with Custom, and so lucky I managed to work with so many talented people. I just hope audiences enjoy it as much as I do as a viewer.

Custom has its World premiere at FrightFest on Saturday 9th March. Book your tickets now. Find (and decipher) more information about the film over at the official site and follow Tiago via Instagram.


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