The Brit genre film market is managing to survive in the face of financial adversity with upcoming filmmakers still managing to bring their vision to the screen, with talents such as Andrew Barker and his film A RECKONING showing that budget shouldn’t be a hurdle to good quality atmospheric genre movies. In his latest Spotlight interview, Stu Willis kicks back with filmmaker Andrew Barker to discuss his career, love for film and more…
Stu: Hi Andrew, what’s your background as a filmmaker?
Andrew: Very little background really, other than being a lifelong film fan. I’ve made a few short films over the years, but nothing to write home about. The desire to make a feature however goes back to my teenage years – I grew up in the 80s, so I was very much a child of the Spielberg/Lucas generation, nothing wrong with that, but in the late 80s, early 90s, I discovered other kinds of filmmakers – filmmakers who did it themselves: everyone from Sam Raimi, to Hal Hartley, to John waters, to Spike Lee with She’s Gotta Have It - filmmakers who just picked up a camera and just went and did it. Around 1992 I saw Nick Gomez’s Laws of Gravity, and that really showed me that anyone with enough desire and ambition can go out and do it. It just took me another 16 years or so to figure out how!
Stu: A RECKONING looks incredible, much more so than the apparent budget of £15,000.00 would imply. How was your budget apportioned, and what processes were undertaken to make the film so visually ravishing?
Andrew: That estimation of the budget is kind of rough – what we actually shot the film on was a lot, lot lower than that – we just pulled in favours for the most part. The only process for making the film ‘visually ravishing’ as you very kindly put it was the location itself – I’ve always been attracted to decay; I love anything manmade being left to rot and return to nature. When I discovered the location - which was an abandoned RAF Base just outside Nottingham - I knew I’d found the place I wanted to make a film. The seeds of the story idea came after finding the location – I just tried to wrap a story around this incredible place I’d found…
We were also incredibly lucky with the snow.
As a little aside, the location has actually been used in a film before – Shane Meadows’ This is England. There’s a scene where the kids are smashing windows – that was shot there.
Stu: The concept of straw people was excellent: simple, but extremely effective. Could you speak a little about how this notion came about?
Andrew: I wrote the story in 2008 over a couple of evenings. I was just trying to write something I could film myself for very little money, which is why there is only one character for the most part, and most of his dialogue is narrated – just makes my life easier!
I can’t really remember what my thought process was when writing it. The straw people just arrived on the page I guess – I thought it was pretty cool, and got me out of casting loads of other actors!
Stu: Could you discuss the themes of A RECKONING a little? The tagline "Isolation breeds ghosts" is of course a great starting point, but can you expand on the issues your screenplay is tackling?
Andrew: It’s difficult to analyse your own work – but looking back on earlier short stories and short films I’ve written, I’ve noticed a lot of it has been about madness in some form or another – which is either interesting or worrying. I’m not sure which!
But I guess ultimately it’s about death – a subject rarely discussed in day-to-day life, for good reason I suppose, but I think I just wanted to address it in some fashion.
Stu: Leslie Simpson is a real find – his performance is outstanding. How did he come to be involved in the production? Did he audition for the role, or was it tailored for him?
Andrew: When I was writing, I was consciously designing it to be made on pretty much No Budget – and at that point I was just going to cast one of my friends – which would have been terrible - then the script got sent to Les, whom I’d met before after I interviewed him for an online magazine I used to write for, and he said wanted to do it. After that the game was raised somewhat.
Stu: What inspired you to choose to shoot the film in Nottingham and Middlesbrough? And, how did you manage to get such a sense of desolation in both locations?
Andrew: The location came first, before the idea, before a page was written – I based the entire tale around that location. I guess it was the first character I cast.
Stu: Did you encounter any resistance from locals or their councils?
Andrew: No, none. We were very lucky.
Stu: You shot the film during one of the most severe British winters in history. Can you talk a little about the troubles this posed?
Andrew: The snow caused problems with our equipment – the cameras mainly. One or two of the tapes dropped frames and Adam krajczynski, my partner-in-crime in this adventure, and I had to cut around certain things – but other than that, apart from the relentless cold, we were ok. The crew were wonderful and we just got on with it; I guess because we had to.
Stu: I understand spirits were kept high during these difficult times by cast and crew members doing Arnold Schwarzenegger impressions. Will be privy to any of these on any future DVD release?
Andrew: My editor/DOP/ and co-producer Adam krajczynski can do the single best Arnie impression I’ve heard in person. It was as if Schwarzenegger was on the set with us. In fact, in the remake I want to cast old Arnold. What?
Stu: You composed the film’s atmospheric score. What’s the thought process of developing a soundtrack to complement such harrowing drama?
Andrew: I composed the music with Rhys Morris and Nick Alexander. Rhys and I go way back. I’ve known him since we were about nine years old. When we were teenagers, we were in a few bands together. Rhys is an absolutely incredible guitar player and can pretty much play anything in any style. Nick is also a great musician. It took us a while to put that score together, but I think it works in the film. I guess we were just going for bittersweet sorrow.
Stu: You also acted as writer, director and producer on A RECKONING. Was this is a "control" thing for you, or more of a necessity?
Andrew: It’s just I was the only one who would do it! I didn’t really want to act as a producer, but it fast became apparent that I’d have it, and it’s a job I still seem to be doing. On this level of filmmaking, it seems you just have to do all these jobs because you can’t afford to hire anyone else to do them, and very few people I’ve met have the drive to do something like this for no money.
Stu: Watching the film again, it was hard to think of a cinematic reference point. Could you discuss your influences?
Andrew: I’m influenced by everything. For this project, influences were as diverse as Daniel Defoe to George Romero to John Huston. Terrence Malick was a major influence on the tone and style, and Richard Matheson was also a huge influence. I Am Legend is one of my favourite novels.
Stu: Have you watched the film publicly? If so, how have you found reactions to be?
Andrew: There have been very few public screenings. Really, I’ve only been at one myself, which was for the crew, which went ok. There have been a few other screenings here and there, but for the most part I just hear what people think of it second hand. The reviews so far have been wonderful, so that’s very encouraging.
Stu: How’s it going, finding distribution for the film? It deserves to be widely seen.
Andrew: It seems getting this film out in the world has proved far more difficult than actually making the damn thing, but that said, things seems to be moving now in the right direction. I hope…. It remains to be seen.
Seems though that most of the support and interest in this film has been coming from the states – we’ve had very little here in the UK, which is interesting…
Stu: If overseas distributors were keen but asked that you (a) edit the length, and (b) retitle the film – are those things you’d be willing to contemplate? If you had to retitle it, do you have any other titles in mind?
Andrew: Good question – I’ve never really thought about it before. My first thought is that I probably wouldn’t change anything – it is what it is, you know – but who knows.
Stu: What’s your view on today’s British genre scene, from an insider’s perspective?
Andrew: I don’t know. I don’t watch as much as I used to, and I’m certainly not an insider, not by a long yard. I do seem to groan inwardly every time I hear someone else is making a zombie film…. In fact, my love for horror films isn’t anywhere near what it used to be. To be honest, I don’t really know enough of what’s going on in the British genre scene to say much else I’m afraid.
Stu: What’s next? Do you have any other productions currently in the pipeline?
Andrew: There are a couple of things brewing. I’ve written segments for an old-fashioned portmanteau film that is being directed by Michael Spiby, who worked on A Reckoning, and I’ve co-written something with author David Flint, which will mark his directional debut – we’re hoping that will lens before the year’s out, fingers crossed.
As for me, I’ve not got any plans to direct anything anytime soon. I’ve been writing still, stories mainly – I wrote a children’s book earlier in the year, and am currently at work on a novel. Writing is the work that fuels me really. I would like to make another film down the line though. Hopefully once A Reckoning finally sees the light of day, someone will throw me a few quid to make another one!
Stu: Thanks again for your time. Best of luck with the film.
Andrew: Thank you.
For more information on A RECKONING check out the official site here .
Special thanks to Andrew Barker.