Adam Mason first hit the horror scene with 2000's THE 13TH SIGN, an ambitious if not altogether successful attempt at British horror on a budget. The film had its share of detractors, who were vociferous in their cynicism when Mason's next film was announced. That film was BROKEN - co-written by Simon Boyes. It became an instant hit here at SGM following an extremely well received premiere at the Dead By Dawn festival.
Easily one of the strongest homegrown efforts of the last decade, BROKEN demonstrated that horror could be expertly effective even when filmed with limited means and under troublesome conditions. The film was dark, bleak and unapologetically nihilistic - just like all the best horror films are. After that, Mason and Boyes continued their successful working relationship with 2006's THE DEVIL'S CHAIR. This was poorly marketed and consequently failed to capture the genre crowd's imagination en masse.
Bruised but unbowed, the pair then set about making BLOOD RIVER. And what a ferocious film it is, as Stu Willis found as he checked out ahead of kicking back with filmmaker Adam Mason to discuss the film and his career changes since moving Stateside in our exclusive SGM interview…
Stu: Firstly, congratulations on the film. It's a fantastic piece of cinema, very gruelling but beautiful at the same time. Very impressive.
Adam: Why thank you.
Stu: Okay, what doors did "Broken" open for you? Can you talk us through how things developed since that film's distribution, your subsequent move to America etc?
Adam: Well - I'd done a few things before Broken, and struggled for countless years trying to get various projects off the ground. Its so tough there (in the UK) - just impossible really. I think there's so much creative talent there, but the waters are teaming with sharks - these desperate wannabe producer types constantly on the hustle. Consequently the UK is like a dank pond full of fucking parasites when it comes to film production. Trying to make a movie in the UK feels like getting bullied at school in a lot of ways.
So I struggled through that for years - run ins with the likes of Screen Norfolk or whatever the fuck they're called (Screen Inbred)- organizations like that who are manned with the kind of retards who couldn't actually get employed in any other field, the kind of people who wear muscle tops and try to put on plays in village art centres. Put it this way - you don't meet a lot of cunts like that in Hollywood. I learnt years ago that successful film people don't work in Norfolk.
Anyway - as I'm sure you can tell -my experiences there made me pretty angry - the constant run around, the constant rejection. People in some obscure position of power letting everyone around them know about it. The hardest thing about making movies in the UK is trying to not let your self worth get destroyed because there are literally an army of people actively trying to stop people from achieving anything.
The main problem is that film in the UK is run as a charity not a business - so any kind of lucid decision making is out of the window before you even start. I grew up loving Hollywood movies. So sue me. The problem with being British is that its way too fucking close to mainland Europe. Everyone thinks they've got to be arthouse. And in the UK - pretty much everyone outside of Mike Leigh fails. Or wins, if you get off making films than no one sees. Anyway - I'm sounding bitter. And you're right - I am.
So - after a period of years, I just got fed up and decided to make my own film - and financed it off a heap of music videos I produced and directed (I made almost 90 in a four year period). That way I could hire my crew from those videos and get them to work a day here, two days there and so on. And so - over a long and brutal two year period - we shot the movie.
It was relentless and gruelling - and we almost abandoned it a million times, but ultimately it got finished.
Then I met Patrick Ewald in Cannes and everything started rolling. It's definitely true that 'if you build it they will come' - I'd always had this blind hope that if I did something half decent, and didn't give up, it would lead somewhere. And it did.
Stu: "The Devil's Chair" was, I feel, undersold in the UK. Reflecting on it's production and marketing, were you satisfied with the film or do you see it more as a learning curve now? If so, what lessons did it teach you?
Adam: Erm. Yeah well when I made it I thought it was so mental that it was going to be hard to sell… then we got into Toronto and for a little while I thought we had a good chance to make an impact. Then it got buried. Haha.
Don't know why I'm laughing. Sometimes you have to laugh at how fucked up everything is. You live and learn. I thought the campaign they did was ridiculous. The first time I saw the cover artwork I thought it was a bad joke. Especially seeing as we had really amazing artwork already done… But the less said about that the better!
I'm happy to go on record slagging off parasitic producers from the UK , but I'll give Sony a miss. They can actually have an effect on my career.
The only lesson I've learnt recently is 'don't ever get your hopes up'. The amount of crushing disappointment I've endured in the past five years is enough to kill a man. But that's fine. I'm still doing better than I ever dreamed I would growing up, so everything is just a bonus at this stage.
Stu: Was "The Devil's Chair" the film where you first met Andrew Howard? Can you talk a little about your first meeting with him, first impressions and what you got from that initial working relationship?
Adam: Well I'd actually known Andrew since I was at film school back in '97. Although I doubt he remembered me. Our paths had crossed a bunch of times over the year. I remember seeing him in a short film one of my best mates directed at film school - and thinking 'that guy is fucking amazing'. Then I saw him in Shooters and made it a priority to work with him one day.
Stu: In-between "The Devil's Chair" and "Blood River", you worked on the TV drama "Lucky Chance". Can you tell our readers a little more about this? About the series itself, and how it played a role in your personal development?
Adam: It was just something I was offered. It came out of nowhere and I enjoyed doing it immensely. But it wasn't my script, or anything like what I've done before. In reality it was more like a commercial for a new Dodge motor than anything else.
It was fun just being able to focus on the visuals, and it introduced me to this absolutely incredible DP, a fantastic costume designer… a few people I really really enjoyed working with. Plus I actually got paid decently, which was a first!
Stu: Your relocation to Los Angeles is, understandably, career-motivated. Now you're over there, you're a small fish in a much bigger pond. But, can you elaborate on the opportunities that the location presents to you?
Adam: Well - the difference between living and working in Hollywood and living and working in a small village in Cambridgeshire (where I used to live) is, obviously - huge.
Broken got me a manager, got me signed to CAA (the most powerful talent rep in the world), got me my 01 Visa. Got me the money to make The Devils Chair.
As for being over here in LA - the reality is that Hollywood isn't so big. After three years of being here I've made some proper contacts… people I met when I first moved are now studio execs and so on.
It an exciting time. I'm not thrilled about the state of independent cinema (it's dying) - but I am excited about making the jump to the studio world.
What's that? Selling out you say? Fuck you…
Stu: What is your working relationship with Epic Films? And, for those unfamiliar with them, can you fill us in a little on who they are and what their aims are?
Adam: Epic was set up by Patrick and Shaked - who were the guys who first saw and sold Broken, and got me to do the Devils Chair.. They set up their own company and the first movie we did together was Blood River.. Then we shot Luster a year ago or whatever.
They are great guys and seem to be doing really really well. And they deserve to be!
Patrick's the guy who first discovered me and everything that's happened has come as a result of that…. and I'll never forget that!
Stu: "Blood River" is a stunningly photographed film, filled with traumatic violence and deep religious undertones. In some ways it reminded me of "Dust Devil" - but was different, and much better. What were your influences when considering the look and feel of the film?
Adam: Well Dust Devil was a huge influence. To put it mildly….. And I certainly wouldn't consider Blood River to be 'much better' - but I'm very, very flattered you think so.
I actually initially wanted to shoot Blood River in the ghost town where Stanley filmed the end of Dust Devil. I've been there - its up in the middle (well on the coast) of Namibia in this mad place called Kolmanskop… Anyone whose got an adventurous streak - I couldn't recommend it enough. Easily one of the most amazing places I've ever been.
I'm a bit fed up with people thinking it's a religious movie, cause I'm not religious at all! I pretty much hate the idea of religion. You could say I am anti-religion generally. So it feels very strange to have people calling something I made a piece of religious propaganda! (which I read the other day!)
To be honest the film was born out of a very dark, soul searching period of my life. I can sum up my experience with religion pretty well with an anecdote from that time : I was living in London, and was more miserable than I had ever been, before or since. Absolutely at the bottom. Bunch of fucking shit going on - a nightmare unfolding in front of me. And I remember walking around the streets at night, trying to clear my head or whatever - and I got this idea into my brain that I was going to walk to this church I'd seen before in west London, walk in, sit in a pew, say a prayer.. feel a hand on my shoulder and it would be this elderly vicar who was going to look me in the eye and tell me that everything was going to be ok…. I'd suddenly be filled with the spirit of God and everything would be ok again… I figured that you're supposed to see God from the bottom, or that's what I'd heard - So - with that in mind - I walked through the torrential rain… eventually got to the church…. Only to find it all locked up with the lights off!
I tried to get in and as I was rattling the front door the pigs drove up and started screaming at me then tried to arrest me for breaking into the church.
I ran off, wondering where that left my relationship with God…. From that point on I figured if there is a God, he doesn't give a shit about me.
I actually saw Blood River at a festival in Idaho recently - for the first time in more than a year, and it stuck me as being over long and a bit preachy. I'm not really sure where that preaching came from, as it was supposed to be more an angry film about guilt and consequence, coming from a hypocritical old testament place of vengeance, an eye for an eye kind of thing.
I wish I'd taken most of that stuff out in hindsight, especially any allusion to Jesus, who certainly doesn't have any place in Blood River…
Anyway - you live and learn I guess. When I make my movies, they come from somewhere internally I don't feel like I have very much control over, a completely instinctive place.
Hence a lot of the time when I look back at my movies I feel pretty disconnected from them. It's all very strange and hard to explain.
Stu: You write with Simon Boyes on your feature films. Can you speak a little about how this process works? Does one tend to come up with the plot, and then the other with the dialogue? And do you always get to win any disagreements the pair of you may have, given that you're the director?
Adam: It's a great collaboration. Usually I'll come up with the core idea then we spend months (sometimes years) fleshing it out… Then we write the draft together. Sometimes draft after draft. In the case of Blood River there were several completely different drafts. It's interesting to see how it evolved over time.
Stu: "Blood River" felt a little like something Stephen King would've written as a novella in the 80s. I mean that in a good way. Does King influence the pair of you as writers? If not, where do you draw your inspiration from?
I like old school King. The Stand is one of my fav books, as are the Bachman books. I am reasonably sure Simon hates him with a passion. You'd have to ask him though. I find him very long winded these days, but don't doubt he was a huge influence on me. I grew up reading Salem's Lot and Carrie as a 9 year old.
I think as a way into dark literature, there's none better when you're a teenager. But as someone now in my mid thirties - I don't read him much anymore.
Stu: Your approach to horror is commendably serious. In this age when too many people are turning to tongue-in-cheek gore to "apologise" for being horror filmmakers (Sam Raimi etc), it's refreshing to see someone who directs their terror scenes as truly upsetting and unsettling. "Broken" proved that, and the latter half of "Blood River" really delivers some killer blows in this respect. Is this something you're conscious of?
Adam: I suppose so. Every time I'm writing or directing that kind of stuff it feels very cathartic... In never see myself in the role of the bad guy, always the victim, so I'm always trying to get across how it feels to have violence inflicted upon you.
I get a strange feeling of having expressed myself when people watch something like the end of the Devils Chair, or feel sick after Blood River or Broken.. That's something I keep repeating over and over. Part of its to do with expressing my desire for other people to know how it feels, the other is a powerful desire to do strong work that challenges audiences.
Stu: I'd like to ask a question about the ending of "Blood River", but don't want it to be a spoiler. Feel free to avoid answering this if you feel it's going to give too much away. But, I'd like to ask whether you see it as a happy ending or not? I ask because, given the themes, I found it enjoyably ambiguous - but would like to know what the creators' interpretation was.
Adam: Well - Its pretty dark isn't it however you look at it.
I didn't really want to talk about the end of Blood River, but looking at feedback on IMDB and stuff - most people are so fucking stupid maybe I need to go on record spelling it out. I do think it's a real shame that entertainment - movies in particular - have become so lowest common denominator that if you don't do something that edits like a music video and ties up everything so neatly and simply that even Jordan could understand it…
Cause - believe it or not - I didn't make Blood River for Jordan to enjoy. Anyway - I digress again…
I always intended the film to work partially as a commentary on modern day America - with Clark representing capitalist America, Summer representing idealist America and Joseph representing the truth. So you had bad balanced out by naive - with reality watching…
Consequently I don't think Summer is much more innocent than Clark in some ways, because - as Joseph says at the end 'your sin is apathy' - meaning that deep down she knew all along, but chose not to think about it or do anything…. Which is the reason she shoots him ultimately, because in her reality it's not a huge leap from hearing Clark has done something unforgivable, to believing it.
As for what Clark has done - I suppose there's some implications as to what it is (the kid), but he certainly never killed Benny. Benny is not in the trunk of the car. And Clark is not guilty of only one thing. He has been lying since he was a kid - so the implication is that the list is rather long.
In some ways it's a happy ending in the sense that Summer's son obviously isn't dead - so by giving back the photograph with the face in tact Joseph is communicating that to her.
But I'd say the chances of Summer walking out of that graveyard are slim. So its not really an unhappy nor a happy ending - just one that parodies real life. In my perfect world - the audience fills in all those blanks themselves, and makes their own ending.
Stu: Great casting in "Blood River", by the way. Can you talk a little about the three leads and how they each impressed you?
Adam: Well Andrew just blew me away on Devils Chair and became like a brother figure to me in the years that have followed it. We moved to America together and went through a lot of real life changing bullshit - so that has created a thick as thieves bond between us. I've got a ridiculous amount of respect for the guy so casting him was a no brainer - after all… Simon and I wrote the part for him…
As for Tess and Ian - I talk quite a lot about casting them on the 'making of' that will hopefully be on the dvd of Blood River. All there really is to say about that is that they were both the best people that I saw for the job - and I saw a lot!
Stu: When are we likely to see "Blood River" on commercial release?
Adam: Fuck knows.
Stu: Can you speak a little about "Luster", your latest film? I understand Holly Valance is in it?!
Adam: Yeah Luster's cool. Been an interesting experience (meaning another nightmare of sorts) and one that is coming to a close as we speak.
I am very happy with it… It's much more ambitious than my other stuff I'd say - It features some really great performances, amazing music by Martin Grech again. Its more of a comedy than my other movies, but still has a solidly dark heart.
I'm interested to see what people think of it. I've literally just finished, so am in that phase of unattaching myself from it right now.
It's a funny feeling when you've finished something and yet no ones seen it yet. All I know is that it's the film I set out to make… and I'm very proud of it.
And yes - Holly is in the film. I'd like to work with her again in the future. I think she's great.
I've made another film since then that is a bit of a secret but I have a feeling will totally eclipse all my other work. Its something Andrew and I shot about six months ago in secret and is going to cause quite a stir….. so keep an eye out for that.
Stu: Away from the films, what's life like living in LA? Have you met anyone famous? Any of your idols? And is it really as vacuous as people make it out to be? What do you like most about it, and least?
Adam: LA is cool. It's a good place to live.. Obviously great weather, great food. Pretty cheap. The atmosphere is cosmopolitan which I like a lot.
But then the downside is that it's like being in the belly of the beast. I go up and down with it - sometimes I love it, others I hate it, and that changes back and forth daily. I'm not sure I'd say I'm here for good. Its one of the worst places I can think of to bring up kids (although plenty of my friends here do, and the kids seem fine!).
As for famous people - they're always about. At first it was really cool spotting celebs, meeting them… But after the fifteenth time you've seen Paris Hilton staggering about some terrible nightclub looking smug, you become a bit worn down by it all.
Famous people, in my experience, are like normal people, only much worse. And I hate most people. So go figure.
Stu: Finally, I'll ask the usual question: have you seen any other films during your travels/appearances at film festivals etc that you can recommend to our readers?
Adam: Not that I can think of. I saw Tony the other day. Thought that was pretty good, though not amazing. I absolutely loved Triangle. I am obsessed with everything Gasper Noe makes. Want to see Enter the Void more than anything right now. Simon Rumley is a great British director who I'm surprised isn't doing bigger things (tho that may be his choice).
That's about it. I find films fucking boring these days. Same with music. I think the internet is killing the experience of everything. There's no thrill left to anything. No feeling of ownership through discovery. The value of most art has completely fallen away to nothing through over exposure.
There used to be such a mythos to movies. Good horror movies, for example - used to feel dangerous. These days I feel more threatened by Eastenders than I do by Saw 9.
That time is sadly over. I'm sure the video game revolution which is just around the corner will give the kids something new though. Until then I'll be watching Irreversible on repeat and geeking out to Nick Cave.
Stu: Cheers for your time Adam. It's great to see a home-grown talent go on to bigger and better things, and I wish you all the best for the future. "Broken" was one of the best British horror films of the last decade, and "Blood River" is already a strong contender for my favourite film of this year. I look forward to others discovering it.
Adam: Mate - that means a hell of a lot. The stuff I make takes a bit of a kicking so it's always a pleasure to meet people who gets it. Anyone who ever runs across me at a festival or whatever - come and say hello. I'll buy you a drink.
Special thanks to Adam Mason