Female Intuitions

David Stuart Snell is a British filmmaker who made his short film debut with 2017’s Intransit. He now follows this with his first feature, By Light of Desert Night. Set in the Nevada desert, this thriller follows three friends (Lara Pictet, Meghan Carrasquillo, Alexandra Bokova) on a bachelorette camping trip that takes a series of unexpected and violent turns.

ASFF: What was your initial starting point for By Light of Desert Night?
DSS: It started when I read an article by a woman journalist, who was laughing at the idea of men’s locker room chat. She said if only men knew that women’s locker room chat is just as raw…and I liked the idea of that. From that, I started to scribble together one scene where the girls were discussing a conquest from the night before. I started to build a short film around that, and it eventually grew into a feature-length script.

ASFF: You’d already made a short, Intransit. Did that help create a path towards your feature?
DSS: Well, I shot that for £500 on the English coast. A lot of favours were called in. I submitted it to a bunch of festivals, and it won at a short film festival in Nevada, where we eventually shot By Light of Desert Night. This is why short films are so important to make…we then had a relationship with the Nevada Film Commission. They were super-helpful.

ASFF: The story shifts genres. Did you enjoy playing with form?
DSS: Yeah…I hate knowing how a film is going to go from the minute I start watching it. There’s nothing more disappointing. So when I was writing it, I didn’t necessarily know how it was going to end. Right up until the end, I was considering different endings for the film. I love the idea that you don’t know where it’s going to go. I also really liked writing the girls’ characters. I didn’t want them to be weak or victims. I don’t take any pleasure in writing roles like that. The influences in my life, female-wise, have always been very strong. I’ve got a very strong mother, a very strong sister. I’ve got lots of female friends, who are doing all kinds of things.

ASFF: How did you set about casting it?
I cast this myself via Backstage in L.A. I put up an advert and said what I was looking for. I actually had over 4000 people apply to audition for it. I looked at every single one of those applications – because if they’d taken the time to apply, the least I could do was look at their pictures or video. So I went through all of it, and short-listed and short-listed. It was bittersweet – you see all these great people, but there are so many looking for work.

ASFF: How difficult was it shooting in the desert?
DSS: Deserts are horrible to shoot in! Or let me re-phrase that – deserts are horrible to shoot in with no money! It’s super-hot. You don’t have lots of luxury vehicles with air-con to escape to. I didn’t sit down, on any day of the shoot on set, because there weren’t enough chairs! It was all hands on deck. We had a very small group of very gung-ho crewmembers, who really brought their A-Game and were happy to do it…but it was tough. But what I will say is, it’s so beautiful and so cinematic. If you have any love of westerns – which I do – it’s all that terrain and it does feel amazing to shoot somewhere as special as that.

By Light of Desert Night is available to stream from 25 May. For more details, click here.

James Mottram