Filmmaker Question & Answer
by Phillip Wilcox "Our Movie Demon"
As Dysmorphia was your first short film, was there always the thought from the beginning to bring something different, in terms of psychological and also emotional, to your film?
-AS: I never really considered it that way to be honest. I didn’t have much in the way of an agenda, other than “I want to have a crack at making a short film”. In fact, I hadn’t even imagined it would be as gory and traumatic as it wound up being. You don’t really notice these things when you’re shooting. You are just making sure that you get each and every shot you need. It’s only when you come to the edit that you start to see exactly what it is that you’ve really made.
That can make or break a project. In the case of Dysmorphia, it turned out that we had made a far more intense and troubling film than we had really realised at the time but no, it was never a conscious decision to go down that road. My only thought was to do an interesting short about a very real medical condition and end it on a punchline.
How do you yourself approach directing, and do you approach directing each film differently?
-AS: It’s a difficult question to answer as I feel like I am still in the very early stages of being a film-maker and still feel like I have so much to learn. I think you have to view each project differently and approach it with a new outlook. For me, I have tried to show a consistent visual development across my 4 projects to date and that is just one of the myriad of things that need to be considered when looking at a new project. You can’t approach it the same every time and that too, is something that I have taken onboard, particularly with Remnant.
Directing is wonderful and I consider myself extremely lucky to have been able to have even made Dysmorphia let alone everything that has happened since.
Split was the first short horror film that I had seen that had such incredible visual make up effects - How time consuming was that process?
-AS: Haha. Oh man. It’s a pretty time-consuming process, for sure, and a labour intensive one too. I love it though. Seeing something I have written come to life like that is one of the joys of filmmaking to me. The actual prep and build took a few months with Austin having to visit Grant Mason’s workshop several times to have parts of his body cast for the various pieces. He had a really bad time under the head cast as I recall.
Grant was really instrumental on Split. I had envisioned something far more skeletal for the final stage, I guess what would have been the next logical step, but that would have potentially involved Austin losing his performance under the make-up. We wanted to retain that. I have Grant to thank for that suggestion.
Time-wise, it played a pretty massive part on set too. The entire shoot was dictated by the FX. Given the extensive make-up and length of time required for changing make-up pieces around was a huge time drain. In the end, for the final stage make-up, Austin was in make-up for the best part of 8 hours. That made foor some nervous glances at the schedule for the rest of the shoot.
To you, what is Split about?
- AS: Well, when you boil it down, Split is really an allegorical tale about the destructive, corrosive nature of guilt. It’s also a morality tale, a warning to not be a douchebag. Aside from that stuff, I think it’s a pretty simple story, and a relatable one. It’s an everyday, humdrum occurrence. Most of us have been in a relationship that has ended acrimoniously and have been left to focus and obsess on our own culpability in the relationship ending.
In the case of Split, it’s just accented with some pretty strong body horror
5. In your own words, what was INK about?
- INK is also influenced by my own experiences, to a certain extent. It stems from a time in my life where I was unemployed and really wanting some fresh tattoos. Unfortunately, cheap tattoos aren’t good and good tattoos aren’t cheap.
One day I found myself wondering how a man, with no money could get decent tattoos. Next thing I knew, I hit on stealing them. Now, obviously I haven’t done that and now work in a tattoo studio, so getting inked isn’t an issue.
In the writing and the creation of the story, I wanted to create a sympathetic villain. Someone who lacks a little bit of guidance in their life and someone who has been allowed to obsess, unchecked. That was also the reason that I didn’t actually show him killing or skinning anyone, if he actually does kill them, as I felt it would make it far harder to like him.
6. No matter what genre you explore, whether it be horror or sci-fi, there's always a heavily influenced psychological element to each story - Has exploring characters psychologically always been something that's interested you?
- Yeah, I think so. I am far more interested in the human creature than anything else. Ghosts, vampires, werewolves don’t interest me. People interest me and people scare me. I like broken characters.
7. What is the story of Redacted about?
- Redacted is a story that is about the destructive nature of humanity in the face of something unique and new. We study. We prod. We destroy. That’s really it in a nutshell but this time, set against a slightly sci-fi/fantasy background. It’s going to be interesting. I can’t wait for an almost entirely exterior shoot. That will be a huge challenge in Scotland.
8. Which film has taken its toll on you the most?
- Mentally, the ongoing pre-production of Redacted. It has been so difficult and challenging. It has been a logistical hurricane but has taught me a lot about the way the business is run and funded, particularly in my home country. Shoot wise, it has to be Remnant. We had a lot of stumbles over the shoot and a lot of mountains to climb, with technical issues, location problems and more, but we climbed it and shot it and I am genuinely very proud with what we have.
Out of all the films you've written and directed, which character do you identify with the most?
-AS: I think it’s a bit of them all, to be honest. Even Claire from Remnant. Like the character in Dysmorphia, I have felt lonely and unhappy in my skin at times in my life. With Split, I relate to that feeling of emptiness in the aftermath of a relationship break-up. In the case of Ink, I have obsessed about tattoos and that pain/pleasure thing that accompanies body modifications is something that always interests me and is now part of my day-to-day life. Like Claire in Remnant, I have felt that loss of control. Where nights become days and nothing feels real anymore.
They say that a writer should write about what they know. I know myself. I know who I am and what kind of person I am and try to inject just a little bit of those neuroses, obsessions and of myself into everything, even in a small way. The characters are all a reflection on parts of me.
Can you tell us a little about your next film, Remnant, and what it's about?
-AS: Yeah, of course. I’m really excited about Remnant and the opportunity to make it came along at just the right time. It’s a bit of a change of pace for me, in that it’s practically gore-free. That’s not to say there isn’t some disturbing stuff in there. I just haven’t relied so heavily on the red stuff. It is the story of a girl called Claire who is having trouble sleeping. Her nights are plagued by nightmares and she finds herself waking in strange places with no recollection of how she got there.
As things progress and her mental state gradually deteriorates, she starts to realise that the reasons behind her problems have been with her since she was born.
We have been really lucky to have the cast and crew we have. They were all amazing. It was refreshing to me to make a female-centric protagonist and to work with a lead actor as strong as Lucy Goldie. She is utterly fearless and has the most incredible scream I have ever heard. Truly blood-curdling. She had to scream a lot.
I am also immensely honoured to have had Nicholas Vince (Hellraiser’s Chatterer Cenobite, Nightbreed’s Kinski) on set for a day, playing Claire’s boss, Ian. I am a huge Hellraiser fan and Nick and I had talked about working on something for a while so having him there meant a lot to me.
We just announced the World Premiere of Remnant, which will take place at Celluloid Screams Horror Film Festival 2015 in Sheffield, UK on October 23rd. I’m very excited and, obviously terrified. Not least of all because we are paired with the hugely anticipated Austrian film, Goodnight Mommy. I think it’s a good pairing. No pressure.
I really hope people like it, despite the lack of gore. I think it will be a pleasant surprise.
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