Filmmaker Q&A Damon Rickard
by Phillip Wilcox "Our Movie Demon"
When did your love for cinema begin, and what made you want to make movies?
My dad was the reason I fell in love with film. When I was 7 he brought home a Betamax video player along with Jaws, Dirty Harry and Creepshow. These films were my introduction to the home video world. Creepshow freaked me out and, with the exception of sneakily watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I didn’t watch another horror film until I was 10 which was John Carpenter’s The Thing. That was when I fell in love with horror films. And it being in the 80’s in England it was during the era of the Video Nasties which made watching some of these the envy of your friends. However I was already taken with movies as a whole. We had Star Wars recorded and my brother and I would watch it every day after coming home from school, sometimes twice. That and, ahem, Police Academy.
We had a cinema just across the road from us and it was a stunning interior. It used to be an old theatre and they turned the balcony into the seating area and then from almost ceiling floor was the screen. It was huge. Far bigger than some screens today. But they kept it the decor as it was. If you Google the Rembrandt or ABC cinema Ewell then you should be able to find some pictures of it. I’d even go see films on my own there, ET and The Golden Child being ones. The whole experience of lining up to see the newest films, the confectionary kiosk, the intervals and the people that sold ice cream in the screens. It made it an event. Weirdly the only film I didn’t get into because I didn’t get into the queue early enough was Short Circuit 2.
But with it also being the advent of the video movies were becoming a staple of my everyday life. We had numbered tapes with films on that never got taped over. Things like The Omen, Halloween, The Longest Day, They Died with Their Boots On. That was tape number one, it was my dad’s favorite film I was just enthralled with it all and the pure joy, horror, excitement, tears and laughter that films could bring. Sorry, long answer to a simple question. I just get passionate talking about it!
What are some of your all-time favorite films or that have made the most impact on you, and why?
Well as mentioned above The Thing. As that was where my horror love started. Star Wars was a huge part of my childhood and provide true escapism and characters I wanted to be. True Romance has been a massive influence on me too. I was 18 when I saw it at the cinema and I had never seen anything like it. The action style directing from Tony Scott mashed up with Tarantino’s dialogue which just dripped off the tongue and one scene genuinely sent goosebumps down my spine. I just fell in love with it then and there. In the things I’ve written that is probably the one which is either quoted, referenced or inspired me more than anything. I want to make a dialogue driven film at some point. Aaron Sorkin, David Mamet and Tarantino have written some of my favorite scripts. The Untouchables and Glengarry Glenn Ross, both Mamet, are two of my favorite films and are almost a pinnacle for me to try and reach in terms of the linguistics side. It’s almost poetry at times.
DCP:Who or What inspires you as an artist?
So far I’ve used things from my life and just exaggerated them to create a narrative. Long term, I want to try everything. I have had so much influence in the films I have watched over the years that I would like to be at point where my influences and style from one film to the next can’t be predicted. And so far I hope I’ve managed to do that.
I've enjoyed your past films, including your latest picture "Dissociative" - Where did the ideas for these little stories stem from?
The Package was inspired by an incident I saw, for Dissociative, mental illness is something very close to my heart. It was actually a script I wanted to write for "ABCs of Death 2: M is for…" competition, but never got round to filming it. It was a lot more gratuitous at that point but it fit the style of that particular anthology. It then just sat as I wasn’t really ready to make something gratuitous for the sake of it. Not saying that is a bad thing to do as I’m as big a fan of it as anyone, it just didn’t feel right for me at the time. Then I saw Katie Bonham’s Mindless and the mental illness side to the story really hit home with me. You also had Scott Lyus’ Silently Within Your Shadow and I realized that I could actually make my script work in another way and deliver something brutal yet meaningful, to me at least.
And even The Tour was filmed at a house where I had done an overnight ghost vigil a few years earlier
Was there anything more challenging (or more fun) about the making of "Dissociative”?
This was actually filmed as part of three shorts I made over the course of two days. With The Tour and The Package we had great locations, fantastic kit and large crews with a sensational cinematographer in Richard Bell. On The Tour I also had Alex Mathieson showing me the ropes. So I wanted to know if I stripped it all back, small crew, limited kit and little to no money, could I still make a decent short film. And I also wanted to push myself. So I wrote three things, all very different, using the same crew and in two, the same cast, and did them back to back. It was a fantastic but tough weekend. Guy Pearson was my Director of Photography and was amazing. His knowledge of color, space, light and sound is exceptional. And for the budget we had, Paul While and Victoria Hayward did an amazing job with the makeup and prosthetics. It was also challenging doing nudity for the first time. Thankfully Amanda Hunt was an absolute star and made the whole process really easy.
I was lucky that even though we stripped it back, my cousin Eric Elick, still came on board to do the score. And once again he knocked it out of the park.
What are some things you've learned as a filmmaker that you apply to each film you make?
The biggest learning I have had is that as director you are not the most important person in the room. Without you the crew can still make a film. Without the crew, you’re stuffed. So I don’t pretend to be the most knowledgeable person in the room. You need to respect your cast and crew to the max. Make them want to work with you again. And if you find good people, cling onto them as much as you can.
Also, no matter how much time you think you have, it is never enough! You’ll always end up cutting things, not getting the shots you want, rushing something so it’s not as good. So be prepared. Make the cuts where you know you can lose stuff without effecting the story. Lose the shots that don’t impact the finished film. As long as you know what shots you need, what shots you want, and what shots are just purely for show then you can do this.
Lastly don’t ever forget a favor. People aren’t making money in independent short filmmaking and most people will be doing stuff for you for free. Out of the goodness of their hearts. Make it a fun experience for them and when it comes to reciprocation then remember what someone has done for you.
What is one thing about yourself that most people would be surprised to know about you?
The one that I like to tell is that my dad was the first person to produce and release a Bob Marley record in England. He used to go out to Jamaica and sign up artists to his record label, Rio Records. He produced one called Dancing Shoes by The Wailers. Not a bad discovery if you ask me.
Can you talk about any upcoming projects you may have in the works?
DR:There’s a few things in the works actually. I’m writing a couple of features, one is telling the fuller story of The Package and one is a ghost, demon, revenge romance story. I’ve also written a zombie script but might be going back to the drawing board with it. I want it to have a unique hook to it.
I’ve done a couple more shorts which I can’t talk too much about and am attached to two features to direct. Again unfortunately the stages they are at I can’t really go into anything. One is an anthology and the other is a script which wasn’t really like anything I had read before. Very dark humor. I mean very dark. One that if the funding is found and we make it that even if people don’t like it they won’t forget it in a hurry!