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Terms of Love: A Nottingham Filmmaker’s Powerful Depiction of Domestic Violence

16 January 16 words: Jake Leonard
An interview with writer/director Carol Savage about her short film - plus the film in question for you to view

Could you briefly sum up the plot of Terms of Love?
The film is about a student called Jess who has been at university for about a year when she meets an older man called Dan and falls in love. Everything seems to going fine but he starts to act as if he is jealous. Dan starts becoming abusive – emotional abuse to begin with. He starts with little things like criticising her friends and isolating her so that everything in her life revolves around him – he hires her to keep the books for his business, he stops her going out with her mates, he moves her out of her uni accommodation and into a house with him. And then things begin to get worse.

This was your first film project. How did it all come together?
Well I’d been writing little things here and there for about twenty years but never really did anything with any of it. I started off by trying to write a novel but I just found it too hard to be honest and I eventually found my medium in writing scripts. I used to work in a refuge for women who were victims of domestic abuse. I found the whole thing so fascinating and I wanted to do something to make people wake up and support the women, so  I started working on a script called Refuge about the lives of the women living there, creating my own stories but ones that resembled the kinds of situations I was hearing. I really wanted to get that off the ground but being outside of the industry and having never made a film before, it wasn’t easy. I got in touch with Donna [Sawyer] from Bang! Productions [a Nottingham-based film production company] and she suggested that I make a short film first. I’d never done a short before but it was a good chance to look at the women in Refuge and write about their back stories. I wrote six shorts in the end and then we picked the best one to make into a film and that was Terms of Love. After that, we managed to raise £1000 - and I put in the rest – and we were able to make the short. Donna got us in touch with the actors and we got a professional crew and then we started putting it all together.

What was the shoot like?
I loved it. It was a week of shooting in different places all over Nottingham -  in local pubs in which we got locals involved as extras; my friend’s big, rambling house in Radford doubled up for the student residences; and we used our garden for the barbeque scene. And the crew were lovely. Really supportive and hard-working and they knew how important the film was so they took it very seriously. I wanted to make sure that there was some beauty in the film as well – I wanted it to look professional – and we had a brilliant Director of Photography, Roger [Knott-Fayle, a frequent collaborator of Nottingham-based filmmaker Jeanie Finlay] so he did a great job. 

Do you consider yourself a local filmmaker?
I do love Nottingham. I grew up here and I feel strongly about local issues. I couldn’t stand up at public meetings or debates or that sort of thing, but I think I can get my politics across in my films. That’s how I like to do it. And I love the Nottingham dialect and the way of life and it doesn’t make it onto the screen much so it would be nice to get it out there. Extraordinary things happening to ordinary people. That’s what I like to see in films.

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The subject matter of Terms of Love is very sensitive. How did you prepare your actors for this?
I was very specific about how the actors should play the characters because I knew how women and their partners acted in these situations and I wanted it to be truthful. We did have very good actors, though, and Holly [Lucas, who plays Jess and previously starred in Channel 4’s The Mill] was really keen on research and she’s an excellent actress. She did some domestic violence training and learnt about the signs of abuse and how people react to it and she just got it spot on. It’s difficult because we were trying to cram a lot into a short amount of time – thirty minutes isn’t much – and so the process of abuse in the film would probably take years in real life but obviously we had to try and make it happen more quickly so that the audience could see it. But it is all accurate so I hope people don’t think it’s an unrealistic development of abuse. I wanted to show the tactics that abusers use – criticising women’s clothes, checking their text messages and answering for them, threatening them verbally as well as physically – because it is very premeditated and quite shocking really. People blame the woman and ask ‘why does she stay with him?’ and it’s just because it’s easier. We never think about what it’s like to be in that situation and we should do. We should be helping the women, not blaming them. Why is the man abusing the woman he’s supposed to love? Why doesn’t he stop? That’s what we should be asking. When I was growing up it was thought that what goes on behind closed doors stays there; this mant that people wouldn’t talk about it or help women. It’s only really recently we’ve started taking it seriously but there’s still a long way to go. 

You also made a documentary alongside the film...
Yes, 1 in 4. Men in the industry have been criticising us for having a female lead character in a story about domestic violence and focusing the documentary on the fact that victims are largely women rather than men. It does happen to men and that’s wrong but it is actually largely men who commit the abuse rather than suffer it. There are a lot of men out there who are very understanding and supportive and I hope the films don’t offend them or make them feel like their not part of the fight because men and women need to stand together on this and I hope they do.

The government have recently announced a £3.5 million initiative to support victims of domestic abuse and Nottingham City Council is to receive £100,000 of this. What do you think about this?
It’s not enough. And the government have also been closing down refuge centre and reducing the number of outreach workers and they’re absolutely essential for when the women actually leave the refuge. What we really need is education. There’s a Nottingham-based agency called Equation, who I worked with myself until recently, who focus on prevention and they do this by going into schools and teaching children about healthy attitudes to relationships and gender equality – asking questions like ‘who should look after the kids’, ‘who goes to work?’, ‘who does the washing up?’. All this has a bearing on domestic abuse because if we change those attitudes about male superiority and what rights men have over women, there’ll be less gender inequality and less domestic abuse.

What do you want people to take away from the film?
Beyond supporting victims of domestic abuse and spreading awareness of it, I want more women in the film industry. I want women to get involved in making films about important subjects. I didn’t send out my scripts for years because I felt intimidated by getting into a man’s industry. Now, I’ve got loads of films ready to go and I’m going to do everything I can to make that happen. But I’m 64 years old and I’m starting my career. Younger women should go out and do it. Do it now. When I was growing up it was never expected that I would go into higher education or anything like that. I was very good at English but it was expected that I would set up home rather than go into a career. Things have changed a lot now but it’s still there. Those attitudes are still there. And I want them to change. 

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