Following the recent release of Brit-chiller PANIC BUTTON, filmmaker Chris Crow is about to delight genre fans again with his incoming shocker DEVILíS BRIDGE but still found time to chat with Stu Willis about his workÖ
Stu: Thanks for the opportunity to interview you. I recently saw PANIC BUTTON and thought it was a thoroughly entertaining film. Can I begin by asking how you got into the business of filmmaking? Whatís your background?
Chris: Itís a long, boring story. Iím essentially self taught, my background professionally was as a digital and photographic illustrator. However I always made shorts, Iíd write, direct, edit, soundmix, grade, compose Ė basically Iíd do everything for no money. People really liked what I did and I began to merge my photoshop work with video and after effects for commissioned work and the drama strain became something else, I began to get money to make shorts. I always aimed at feature films though, that obsession came from seeing The Empire Strikes Back as a very young kid.
Stu: Is it right that DEVILíS BRIDGE was your directorial debut, but PANIC BUTTON ended up being released first? If so, how did that come about?
Chris: Again another long boring story. Essentially DB had no post money, we literally ran with the shooting budget. I cut the film, and in the end graded it, did all VFX , titles and mastering. We had a deal with a post house for picture finishing, but they fucked us around and ultimately did a terrible job so I had to finish the film. So I was juggling finishing PB with the great post guys we were working with and then working all night finishing DB. We delivered both at the same time. PB is with Showbox and DB is with EOne, so both distributors have different schedules. DB will be released early next year.
Stu: Speaking a little more about DEVILíS BRIDGE, the premise on paper sounds like a well-used one. Youíre credited as writer-director. Could you explain how the plot developed and how you gave events a fresh spin for the screen?
Chris: It is well used, but it was something I wanted to apply to Britain. I thought that the notion of City meeting Country could work very well on our dark little Island particularly as we have a history of clashing nations, deep rooted tribal hatreds. The idea actually took hold when I was about 20. I was staying in a very remote village in North Wales with friends. I got to know this great bloke who was a local farmer, he had been involved with the burning of cottages and also claimed to have been out to Ireland to learn how to make bombs with the IRA. He backed away from all of it, saying that he was young and angry at the time, but it was a great story. The Tony Martin case acted like a catalyst, but Iíd already spent years making mental notes about other such stories. Bizarrely a number of the more outrageous ideas in DB are actually based on true stories and incidents.
I wanted Bill to be very human, a genuine psychopath, but somebody who believes his actions are justified. These are the people that scare me. Heís isolated, hateful, terrified of the World outside and his resentment and bitterness eventually lead to a self implosion.
Stu: Is it fair to say DELIVERANCE and THE HILLS HAVE EYES are two sources of inspiration for the film?
Chris: Deliverance yes, Southern Comfort , even The League Of Gentlemen. The Hills Have Eyes no, not consciously anyway.
Stu: I understand the film is to enjoy its premiere at the forthcoming Abertoir festival.
Stu: I imagine the logistics of filming low budget horror films in the south of Wales these days are pretty nightmarish in themselves. Have you come up against problems, budgetary or otherwise, that you can discuss? And, more importantly, how did you resolve them?
Chris: I donít think you have to be in South Wales for a low budget to be nightmarish! Theyíre tough wherever. They cause loads of problems, no money causes so many implications, but you have to get creative, you have to work around them. I try and use as much honesty in the characterisation as possible, as much style, tension, make it as real as possible. Then I donít feel the lower budget is as apparent.
Stu: With PANIC BUTTON, the action centres around the very timely issue of social networks and paranoia over identity theft, Big Brother watching etc. Can you speak a little about your personal thoughts on such topics?
Chris: I think itís a scary World. People use and abuse whatever technology is too hand for good and bad. The problem I think with the internet is the anonymity that people have, or feel they have, it leads some to indulge the inherent darkness, perversity, cruelty thatís within them with the safety of their anonymity. I also feel the addiction people have to FB, twitter etc is frightening. Whatís it doing to genuine human contact and interaction? Where will we be in ten years?
Stu: You worked on the screenplay for PANIC BUTTON alongside Frazer Lee, John Shackleton and David Sillitoe. How did this meeting of minds come together?
Chris: It was great, I was shown an early draft of the script as a potential director and I loved the story, so it worked very well.
Stu: Four people working on one screenplay: that must have its fair share of pros and cons?
Chris: Pros yes, cons no, not really. It was a good process. As I say when I came on board the script was a fair few drafts in and already very strong. I think that John and David had worked up a treatment initially, then Frazer got on board and developed it into a full screenplay. I think those guys worked and worked it for about a year before I ever read it. When I came on board did a few passes with my directors head on, Iím fairly obsessed with real characters, real dialogue and real situations, so I just tried to strip out exposition in the dialogue and making these guys as fully fleshed as possible. I wanted the situation to feel as real as possible and also wanted to push the psychological over the gore. The guys were great about letting the new boy get involved too. I think all four of us had only the best for the film in mind, and getting the script as tight as possible. When I first read it, the story leapt of the page, I just wanted to flesh out the reality of it all.
Stu: Stylistically, I felt PANIC BUTTON owed something to the likes of ALIEN and perhaps even 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. Would you agree with these observations? If not, could you offer some insight into what influenced the filmís style?
Chris: Well I love both films and obviously theyíre massively inspiring, but neither were an immediate or at least conscious influence on PB. The way I constructed the film visually seemed like the best approach to the material and the location, I knew that I wanted to start off with a slowly moving camera, slight push ins, small pans and go in very tight, get really personal, get in the casts faces. I only used big wide shots (once the world was established) to make a point, to suggest detachment, weirdly to show the personal pressure on the characters in the cabin. Then as the situation got worse I wanted to bring in my beloved had held, fast cut, frenetic camera. I wanted the grade to start of naturalistically and slowly degrade until youíre left with dark, desaturated footage that looks more like surveillance imagery. It was important to make the audience a voyeur here.
Stu: I also felt the film was very "British". I hope you know what I mean, as itís difficult to further articulate? Itís meant in a complimentary manner.
Chris: Iím British, I want to make British films. I love British films because they feel so ĎBritishí. Weíre downbeat miserable bastards on the whole, we complain about the weather, complain about everything. ĎGloomyí is how I think Iíd describe many of our films.
Stu: Two films into your career and youíve already worked with some impressive cast names (Joseph Millson; Michael Jibson). How does a relative unknown gain the respect of established actors Ė is it something thatís posed problems for you at any juncture?
Chris: I blackmail them. No, on DB I was lucky enough to have a great cast, people seemed to respond to the script well and we all got on during initial phone chats. Iíd like to think that Iím an actors director, I trust those guys, I want to work with them, improvise, see what we get. So it was only ever a joy, never a problem. Joshua, Joseph, Michael, Gary and David gave their all on DB. What I loved about their ethic on that film was that they knew we had no money, so they wanted to give as much to the project as they possibly could. Iím very lucky, on both films Iíve had the pleasure of working with a great cast.
Stu: Atmosphere versus gore? Whatís your stance in terms of the horror you want to create?
Chris: Iím not a huge fan of gore, leave that to peoples imagination, suggest it, our imagination will always be more horrible than an effect. Human darkness, dread, tension, claustrophobia and hopelessness Ė theyíre much stronger for me.
Stu: Now that PANIC BUTTON is available on UK DVD and DEVILíS BRIDGE is getting its premiere at Abertoir, are you working on any fresh projects that you can share with us?
Chris: Iím taking to a few Producers about other projects, thereís one that I canít talk about yet. Then we (The DB Posse) are developing a dark Revisionist Western / Samurai film that plays out in post Norman conquest Britain. A kind of Medieval ĎHeart Of Darknessí. Iím also developing a dark, dystopian, near future Sci-Fi.
Stu: What are your thoughts on the UK genre scene in general, and specifically how you fit into it?
Chris: If Iím honest, I donít want to be considered a genre film maker. Both DB and PB are more horror/thrillers than horror or thriller alone. Thereís a lot happening in Britain at the moment, which is great, it seems to be buzzing at the moment. I think a lot of people have done what we tried with DB, got of their arses and made something happen with nothing. PB showed at Frightfest this year and is was great to see so many UK films play.
Stu: Whatís your long-term goal as a filmmaker? What would be the dream film to make?
Chris: Iíve got one more low budget film in me, then Iíd like to do bigger budget British films. It would be nice to pay the mortgage occasionally ;-) Iím not mentioning my dream film as I canít believe nobody has made it yet! All Iíll say is that it is a British comic book character and a no brainer commercially and thematically in the present climate. Itís raising the money thatís the problem as always.
Stu: Thanks for your time Chris, and best of luck with the films Ė and your career. I look forward to what you do next!
Chris: Many thanks!
Special thanks to Chris Crow and Louise at Showbox Media Group