Originally commissioned by and published on Film4 Online
With Film4-backed short Shagbands now available to watch on Film4 on All4, we sat down with writer and director Luna Carmoon to find out more about the memories, mythology and mood boards that went into its making. By Nicole Davis.
Early on in our Zoom conversation, filmmaker Luna Carmoon admits a predilection — a fetish if you will — for collecting images. “I do a lot of image research jobs for people…Anyone will say I’ve got the most disgusting desktop.” As we discuss the process behind making her second short film Shagbands, which recently premiered at the BFI’s London Film Festival and can now be seen on Film4 on All4, the cultural references come in spades.
It occurred to me that the best way to frame this interview might be through those images, a sort of annotated scrapbook on how this fierce, surreal and visceral short came to life.
On the personal inspiration for the film
“Everything I write is based on real life.” One of the film’s most intense and claustrophobic scenes sees Frankie Box’s Mona folded up into a mattress, which actually happened to Luna growing up. Or as Luna describes it, “he sandwiched me up in the mattress and sat on me until I passed out.”
She describes the process of mining her own memories for material as “booky” and a bit “like trauma therapy”; a way to exorcise past experiences. “I think if it’s not that personal, why are you making the film?”
Set over one sizzling summer, during which four schoolgirls face strange sexual awakenings, Shagbands is very much a film made from blood, sweat and tears. The house that provided the location for some of the more intense scenes in the film was eerily similar to the one Luna had encountered in the past. “During one scene I was crying behind the monitor…I lived that.”
On the concept of shag bands
A strange playground phenomenon, like conkers or Pokémon trading cards, only laced with a perverse undertone, shag bands were essentially ‘sex bracelets’. As Hannah Ewens describes for Vice…
They looked cheap, they didn’t match what you were wearing and there was nothing cool about them whatsoever. But they did have a non-aesthetic purpose: if someone snapped one off your wrist, it meant you had to shag them. Except you were probably 12, so no one was actually getting shagged.
For Luna the shag bands represented an odd “fake sexual vocality” that arose in this prepubescent phase, where innocence and adolescence start to chafe against one another. “I remember my mum buying me boob tubes.” She laughs about the memory of one falling down in a Sainsburys car park.
To Luna, the shag bands were “like a mythological law.” She was particularly interested in the assault cases that happened in their wake and the fact that boys would wear them as “a badge of honour.”
“It’s so weird that there was a physical object that embodies what it means to be policed and objectified as a young teenage girl.”
There was one point where older actors were considered to play the four schoolgirls, but Luna was determined to have them look around thirteen or fourteen to emphasise the brimming sense of danger.
On styling the early 00s
Luna cites her older sister as inspiration for the trends and fascinations of the early noughties. “She was super emo, but into UK garage and house…I used to snog her Pete Wentz poster until it got soggy.” She even sourced a Page 3 calendar from the era to adorn the walls of one character’s bedroom.
Luna delved back into a personal blog she has kept since the age of 11, unearthing images of “scene girls like Kiki Kannibal” who was famous for her raccoon tails.
“At the same time, I didn’t want it to be too over the top.” Luna praises Philippa Lowthorpe’s harrowing TV miniseries Three Girls for its on point encapsulation of the era. “She really captured how we dressed. It was so subtle, but so fantastic.”
On her creative process
Luna admits that her ideas come thick and fast, but that getting words on a page is more of a slow burn. “Usually I incubate something for a year”, hoarding materials and pictures and references until eventually it coagulates into something she’s willing to share with her producer Loran Dunn.
On her visual references
A self-described “mad freak” for images, Luna puts together slides for each Head of Department that serve as the basis for what she wants the film to look and feel like. She sent her lighting designer stills from Haley Wollens’ work, a stylist known for blending the ethereal with the provocative.
Boys Don’t Cry, the 1999 film for which Hilary Swank won her first Oscar, was likewise “a massive reference for lighting and colour. It’s got one of the most superb colour palettes and the lighting is just mental.”
Another useful reference in terms of how the film should sound was Mike Leigh’s Life is Sweet. Luna was keen to portray her South London dialect accurately, like the fast-paced back and forths between Claire Skinner’s Natalie and Jane Horrocks’ Nicola. “Me and my sister are just like them. I do a really good impression.”
Really good is an understatement.
On what she learnt from making Shagbands…
Luna is steadfast about the fact that filmmaking should be inclusive. “You have to make opportunities for other people and open doors for them. I wouldn’t be in the industry if it wasn’t for shortFLIX (an initiative run by Creative England to give underrepresented talent the chance to make their first film).”
It sounds idealistic, but Luna wants each set of hers to feel like a family; a safe space to explore the weird and the wild. “I want every movie I make to feel like a school trip.” I start to sense that it might be Luna’s audience that has a lot to learn from her.