Interview conducted by Keri O'Shea
It's always a treat to encounter an absolute gem of a film whilst at a horror festival and such was my experience at last year's Abertoir Film Festival in Wales. That film was Resurrecting the Street Walker, a gritty mockumentary-style film in which an earnest young intern, James, finds an incomplete 'video nasty' - 'The Street Walker' - in his company's archives, and succumbs to an obsession with its completion. I reviewed the film after the festival and now it's a privilege to speak with the writer, director and producer (phew!) Ozgur Uyanik.
Keri: First off, thank you very much for speaking with us. I really enjoyed the film and it's gratifying to see that it's had a DVD release. Have you been pleased with responses to the film so far?
Ozgur: The response from audiences and critics like yourself after several festival screenings has been very encouraging in that we seem to have reached many horror fans who have found the film to be different and compelling enough to warrant their attention. Audiences it seems also have enjoyed the film's multi-layered approach to the genre of the faux-documentary crossed with horror and the performances have been extremely well received. I am therefore very pleased with the reception so far and now that the DVD has hit the shelves I am looking forward to seeing how it fares out there.
Keri: Resurrecting the Street Walker is your first feature-length film but you worked in various capacities in the industry for some years before that. Could you tell us a little about your background?
Ozgur: I started working in the British film industry as an unpaid runner just over ten years ago. It was a relatively prolific production company and competition to get an internship there was pretty fierce so once in I decided that I would do my utmost to stay in and try to get promoted. When the original three week internship ended I had a stroke of luck because the in-house runner wanted to work on set so he left the company and I took his place. This new position offered a further opportunity to rise within the company and so I made sure I was working harder than anybody else. A year or so later after learning how to write script reports amongst all the fetching and tea-making I was offered the job of development assistant when the incumbent moved on. Of course I took the job and meanwhile kept making short films and planning the first feature film.
Keri: Let's talk about the background to Resurrecting the Street Walker itself: what was your inspiration to write this screenplay, and how long was it before you were able to get the project in development?
Ozgur: This is how it happened: in 2000 I was in a dank basement somewhere in Soho given the task of fishing out some old contract files about "The Crying Game" or some other movie when I came across cans of 35mm film stacked up in there. Amongst the titles were films like "Scandal" and "Mona Lisa". One was called "Dark Blood" which I later asked about in the office and was told that that was the film during which River Phoenix died in 1993 so the film had been abandoned and for various legal reasons has never seen the light of day. I stored this information away and several years later it popped back in to my head when myself and my producing partner Ian Prior were trying to find a feature film to produce together. I said, what if I had found "Dark Blood" and then decided to try and finish the incomplete film, what would have happened? It was almost an immediate decision to make that discovered artifact a horror film and then we decided to make it a faux-documentary inspired by films such as Werner Herzog's "Grizzly Man". Since I was going to write and direct it with Ian acting as development producer we could start straight away to develop the project after that.
Keri: How did your own experiences as a runner impact upon your writing?
Ozgur: Aside from the "Dark Blood" experience I outlined above, the characters were informed by experiences I and some other people I knew had as interns (unpaid runners) so it is all based on reality. For example, one particular friend of mine tried really hard to make his mark but had to give up on his dream to work in the film industry because he wasn't being paid a living wage and he simply could not survive. It was heartbreaking for him. So it was a combination of observation and my own experiences that kick started the writing and then of course copious amounts of fabrication.
Keri: Tell us about the challenges of writing such a multilayered film (featuring 'video nasty' footage, Marcus's footage and the overarching documentary footage). How difficult did you find it to keep rein of the film's structure? In what order did you shoot the different parts of the film?
Ozgur: We shot in phases beginning with "The Street Walker" because I wanted to have that as a prop so to speak when we were shooting the other phases to help the actors to engage with the lost and forgotten horror film and I re-wrote draft after draft in between these phases depending on how it was all panning out. The interview section, fly-on-the-wall footage and the video diaries were all shot months apart and the script changed enormously from phase to phase as I edited what had been shot and allowed the film to take the reins as it were and inform each new draft whilst keeping a keen eye on the overall structure which had been fixed very early on.
Keri: James Powell's performance (as his namesake lead character James) really was superb; he was sympathetic throughout as a man who didn't want to give up his dream of making a living in a creative industry, whatever the cost. Could you tell us a little about casting the character and James's involvement with the project?
Ozgur: We cast the main characters ourselves for budgetary reasons and saw many, many young actors coming out of or still in drama school. We wanted unknown faces and someone who could pull off the naturalism we needed. We found that actor in James Powell. He came in and did it and there was James R. Parker! The fact that he had the same name made it a bit spooky but I had no hesitation when I saw James audition and we improvised a few scenes and saw that he was immensely good at that too. He's a fantastic talent and serious-minded about his work and that's what we needed for this project because it was going to be a long haul.
Keri: The 'Street Walker' footage within Resurrecting the Street Walker is quite grisly stuff, and it references the idea of the 'snuff film'. What influenced the visual style and content of your 'Street Walker' footage?
Ozgur: "Man Bites Dog" and "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" directly influenced the look of the film. I wanted it to be visually gritty and the monochrome helped with that. It also makes the film ambiguous enough that you could imagine the character of James believing that it was a snuff movie. If it had been too slick then it would never have realistically awakened in James the suspicion that someone died during the making of it, I felt. The content was straight out of the video nasty era with female victims being knocked off by some crazy guy in sick ways and very little explanation as to why. There are some deleted scenes of "The Street Walker" on the DVD that might give some clues as to what makes the killer tick but it's never clear although I had to write the story for that film so we could pick out the bits we needed to shoot so there's a whole lot of narrative in "The Street Walker" that we haven't shot...
Keri: As this was your first feature and you wrote, produced (alongside Ian Prior) and directed the film, it must have been a pretty steep learning curve! If you could go back to the start of the process and give yourself any advice, what would it be?
Ozgur: The combined experience of developing features and making short films for many years had already given me enough knowledge about the process that I was confident enough to take on the project. However, one piece of advice I would have liked to have given myself is to not try to save a couple of hundred quid by buying a refurbished MacBook Pro! Since I cut the whole film on that laptop I could have done without over a dozen trips to the Genius Bar to have it fixed. That was stress I could have done without. I love my computer now of course-- we've been through so much together!
Keri: When you discussed the film at Abertoir, you mentioned that you didn't feel that you'd necessarily directed a 'horror film' with Resurrecting the Street Walker, although of course there are elements of horror in there. What are the pros and cons, do you think, of potentially being known as a 'horror director'?
Ozgur: I didn't want to upset true horror fans by claiming that I had made a horror film when I knew that it was a cross-genre film that may be, strictly speaking, did not belong entirely in the horror genre. However, there's absolutely nothing wrong with being known as a 'horror director' in my opinion. One is thankful for being able to direct at all and it would be silly for me to suggest that I don't want to be pigeon-holed in the horror genre or anything because the genre is a fantastic one and has a very broad range of content from "The Shining" and "Repulsion" to "The Descent" and "Bikini Girls on Ice"-- something for everyone!
Keri: What films and which directors would you say have influenced you so far?
Ozgur: This is always a tough one to answer because I tend to forget which films I've seen and the ones that influenced me the most enter my sub-conscious very quickly and then stay there, their titles and directors forgotten. But there are some famous directors whose films have inspired me like Roman Polanski, Martin Scorcese, Hal Ashby, Alfred Hitchcock, Sam Fuller, Werner Herzog, Akira Kurosawa, Stanley Kubrick and Bernardo Bertolucci to name just a few. The French and American New Waves have been particularly inspirational to me, that period in the seventies when some truly awesome films were being made like "The Exorcist", "Apocalypse Now", "Taxi Driver", ["A Bout de Souffle"] and "Chinatown".
Keri: One last question: what are your plans for the future, and do you have any other projects lined up?
Ozgur: I have a few screenplays in development and a couple that I would like to get in to production sometime early next year I would hope. One is a thriller set in the UK, I have a horror film in the pipeline too as well as a tragi-comic drama based on my experiences during and after I did my Turkish national service.
Keri: Many thanks Ozgur, and all the very best of luck for the future!
Special thanks to Ozgur, Kaleidoscope and Organic