Filmmaker Tom Byrne on Reanimated: What’s it like to crowdfund the end of the world?

tom byrne familiar stranger films lovecraft herbert west gareth henry reanimated kickstarter support indie film crowdfunding advice crowdfund tips inspiration ideas help

One of the first things we asked ourselves was can we do this? And more importantly, can we do this well? We looked at our resources, skill sets and experience and the answer was yes, we had a lot to work with. If we ended up cutting a few effects or shocks here and there the story was solid enough to shine through. Which is great, but not good enough.

Because then you have to always have to ask how can we make this better? Which is a much scarier question, because the answer is almost always about the budget. With more funds we could do everything we wanted to when we first talked about this freaky idea. Not that much more, comparatively speaking, but just enough for us to reach even further. We’ve also factored in a bit of contingency into the budget too, which allows us to focus on the terrors on screen, rather than the terrors of running out of money because something goes wrong.

So, this is a good one! Tom has been a friend of mine for a few years now, and he’s currently working on a short film – an adaptation of one of Lovecraft’s Herbert West stories. That, to me, sounded pretty interesting, so we had a bit of a chat about that – about why Lovecraft’s work still resonates today, the challenges of realising the infamous Miskatonic University in 2019, and, most interestingly of all, what crowdfunding a movie is really like on a practical level.

Hopefully Tom will be able to raise the funds to make Reanimatedif you’d like to donate to the kickstarter, here’s a link.

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Interviews Index

 

Screenwriter Luke Davies on Beautiful Boy, masculinity, and ‘manipulative’ filmmaking

beautiful boy luke davies screenwriter interview steve carrell timothee chalamet nic sheff david sheff writer script interview luke davies felix van groeningen oscars

Well, all film, including good film, is manipulative. The word has negative connotations when what it means, I think, is that ‘manipulation’ has an agenda that is deceptive and buried. Ultimately, I can support and I live with this film because the agenda is not deceptive. The books are incredibly moving and I can vouch for the fact, as an ex-addict myself, I vouch for their authenticity and their power. And as an ex-addict, or let’s say an addict who is 29 years clean and sober, I believe in the message of the film, which is not even hitting you on the head with a hammer, but which to me says there are no clearcut, black and white answers, but that love is at the centre of the answer and that there’s no guarantee that your loved one will survive the traumatic chaos of addiction.

We can’t hold your hand, but we can show [a story with] the kind of message that is you keep showing up no matter what. As filmmakers, what we tried to do was to not be morally judgmental, to not make one of those movies that is hitting you on the head with a hammer. Ultimately, yes, all films are manipulative, but I prefer the gentle flow of Beautiful Boy, which tells the story, much of which is very distressing, and gets to a point of ambiguous resolution with father and son scene at the end.

First interview I’ve done in quite some time, this! I didn’t realise it’d been so long, actually – about six months since I spoke to Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn about A Quiet Place – but it’s a good one to come back with, I think. I’m really pleased with this piece; it goes a lot deeper, I think, than a lot of previous interviews I’ve done, and hopefully sets a new standard to try and reach in future.

In theory, I’ll have a review of Beautiful Boy up on the site in a few days time – I, admittedly, wasn’t a massive fan of the film. (That said, though, it’ll be interesting to watch the film again with this interview in mind – I wonder how much it’ll influence my opinion?)

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Interviews Index

Film Review | Brexit: The Uncivil War (2019)

brexit uncivil war benedict cumberbatch dominic cummings james graham toby haynes channel 4 hbo vote leave take back control film review

Everyone knows who won. But not everyone knows how.

Perhaps somewhat ironically, Brexit: The Uncivil War is a film caught between two contrary instincts, unable to quite work out what it wants to be or what it wants to do.

On one level, Brexit is trying to be a character study, an attempt to shine a light on Dominic Cummings – a man most of the film’s audience is unlikely to be aware of. At the same time, though, the film also wants to be a process story ahead of anything else, delving into the idiosyncrasies of a political campaign of near unprecedented significance. It wouldn’t be impossible to be both, of course, but ultimately Brexit is neither – there’s a certain tension borne of this, as the film struggles to find an identity, leaving a rapidly forming sense that none of the major figures involved were quite on the same page throughout.

Screenwriter James Graham, clearly, is most interested in Dominic Cummings – not a huge surprise, given Cummings is apparently the sort of brash genius that so often fascinates writers. Whether Cummings genuinely falls prey to every cliché-ridden convention of the brusque political operative, speaking only in self-consciously lofty references and aphorisms is another question: it’s difficult to tell whether this an accurate account of Cummings’ real-life eccentricities or an artifice on Graham’s part. If the latter, it’s worthy of quite the eye-roll; if the former, then it’s easier to understand why Graham was quite so fascinated by Cummings, but does rather leave the impression that Graham bought into Cummings’ own hype, which is… another problem, to say the least.

That said, though, Graham isn’t helped by Cumberbatch’s visible lack of interest in Cummings. If 2018 held the best performance of Cumberbatch’s career in Patrick Melrose, then Brexit: The Uncivil War is unfortunately a sure example of one of his weakest. In Patrick Melrose, Cumberbatch carved out a space within his established milieu of isolated eccentrics, injecting it with a bracing vulnerability that elevated the performance far above the rest of his filmography. In Brexit: The Uncivil War, Cumberbatch does almost entirely the opposite – he’s sleepwalking through the film, coasting on a reputation for playing irreverent geniuses earned on Sherlock. (There’s reasonable critique to make, on that grounds, that Cumberbatch brings too much baggage to the role – simply by putting him on screen in this role, there’s an implicit suggestion that Cummings is a Sherlock-esque figure.) Cummings, here, is a caricature of ‘a Benedict Cumberbatch role’ – so of course the character study fails. It doesn’t matter what Graham was trying to achieve if Cumberbatch doesn’t show up.

Absent its star, Brexit renders Cummings a cipher around which the Leave campaign as a whole can be – not ‘interrogated’, that suggests a far robust and uncompromising look at events than the film offered – viewed. In that sense, Brexit does reasonably well, finding flair in the mundanities of the campaign trail from focus groups to slogans. It isn’t quite as good as, say, the average episode of The West Wing, but it works – an extended look at the subtleties that set “take control” apart from “take back control” makes for one of the film’s better sequences, for example. Similarly effective is Brexit: The Uncivil War’s look at how the Leave campaign relied on developing social media targeting – which is to say, it works, but it’s nowhere near as good an articulation of the concept as when it formed the fourth act plot twist of an episode of The Good Fight.

brexit uncivil war benedict cumberbatch dominic cummings boris johnson richard goulding michael gove oliver maltman nhs bus 350 million take back control james graham toby haynes channel 4 hbo

Again, though, it doesn’t quite land – a result, most likely, of the fact that the process story was never meant to be the main focus of the script, merely inadvertently accentuated by the vagaries of Cumberbatch’s performance. In turn, it leaves Brexit: The Uncivil War as a drama divided, a film at war with itself – it’s no surprise that film doesn’t have the impact it could’ve. (Director Toby Haynes, who might have been able to stitch the two instincts together, instead offers a third – the equivalent of “well, let’s just be a bit like Norway”. Haynes tries to emphasise the absurdity of it all, presumably angling to satirise right-wing pomposity – but instead directs with a certain baroque pretension, another element that fails to cohere.)

In the end, this adaptation prompts much the same question as the real-life source material: why bother?

Not even three years on from the vote, accusations that Brexit: The Uncivil War has come too soon hold an obvious weight. 2019 is too early for Brexit to have been historicised; indeed, it’s still a palpable part of the present, if the events of this week are any indicator. In the time between Brexit’s Channel 4 debut and this review being written, Theresa May’s prospective deal suffered an unprecedented defeat in parliament; what will happen in the time between writing and publishing the review remains to be seen, let alone in the time between publishing the review and Brexit’s nominal 29th March scheduling.

That isn’t to say, though, that Brexit shouldn’t have bothered because they don’t know how it’ll end. Rather, while the broader ramifications of the event are still ongoing – and while the campaign at the heart of the film is still subject to ongoing criminal investigation – there’s argument to be made that a fictionalised narrative is irresponsible filmmaking. By virtue of being the first major attempt to tackle Brexit on film, Brexit: The Uncivil War is also going to be – for a time, at least – the definitive account of that campaign. What James Graham and company emphasise – and, more crucially, what they omit – is going to have a greater hand in shaping public understanding of the Brexit campaign than any news report or documentary. Looking beyond their depiction of Cummings, there’s little sense that there was any awareness of this responsibility behind the scenes. Arron Banks and Nigel Farage are blustering and foolish, not insidious and dangerous; Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are trepidant and cautious, not self-serving and morally negligent; the Leave campaign’s illegal overspending is little more than a footnote. Maybe waiting a few more years would’ve stopped them getting it wrong, maybe it wouldn’t, but the mistakes would likely have mattered a little bit less.

Ultimately, if Brexit: The Uncivil War was meant to hold a mirror up to society, it is instead a far better reflection of James Graham’s interest – and Benedict Cumberbatch’s apparent disinterest – in one man, rather than offering any meaningful commentary on the state of a nation.

5/10

Related:

Who is America? Who cares?

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Film Index

On Bond 26, the next James Bond, and how to save the franchise

james bond daniel craig danny boyle next bond 25 woman black riz ahmed idris elba gillian anderson denis villeneuve steve mcqueen noah hawley andrea arnold sj clarkson bart layton yann demange

So, James Bond.

Bond is probably the franchise I care about least – the only one I’ve ever seen was Skyfall, which was entertaining enough, but hasn’t really prompted me to search out any of the others – but have the strongest opinions on. Though I suppose that’s strong opinions on what would actually get me to care about the franchise.

Anyway. Bond is in the news again at the moment because Danny Boyle has left Bond 25 under a cloud of creative differences, meaning that what is presumably going to be Daniel Craig’s last film as the infamous spy has been delayed further, and probably won’t be very good. This I am not, admittedly, especially interested in – I figure all that’s going to happen is the film comes out a year or so later, directed by a rising star who’s talented, but not so experienced that they have the clout to disagree with the studio, and still feel beholden enough to an opportunity like this that they wouldn’t walk away when higher ups start to interfere.

No, what I’m interested in again is Bond 26, and how the franchise is going to be refreshed and rebooted once again – I suspect that there are a lot of conversations about that going on behind closed doors anyway. It’s something I wrote about a few years ago, kicking around a couple of ideas for a potentially interesting way of approaching the first film in a new Bond series, but thinking about it again lately, I’m not really convinced that idea is quite radical enough.

So, let’s backtrack a second. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the Craig era, with all its grim realism, was at least in part a response to Austin Powers, right? After Mike Meyers did the parody version, they couldn’t quite get away with another Bond film that was quite so over the top, hence moving in the other direction.

The question then becomes, I think, what is the next Bond era going to be a response to? Well, it’ll be stuff like Jason Bourne or John Wick, but particularly it’ll be a response to Mission Impossible: the big, successful action thrillers of the past few years, the ones that have cornered the genre and defined expectations for that type of film. The obvious response to that, you might think, is for Bond to try and go bigger and better – to get the next leading man to do even more dangerous stunts than Tom Cruise, to have even better fight choreography than John Wick, whatever.

I’m not convinced that’s the right approach, though. If we accept the premise that other franchise have perfected the action thriller genre, then surely Bond shouldn’t be trying to play that game anymore. There’s a need, I think, to look at what James Bond as a franchise can do uniquely, playing upon all the interesting resonances the character has as a cultural icon, a genuinely weighty part of the zeitgeist.

What’d interest me personally is if, over the next decade or so, James Bond isn’t presented as one linear narrative, but instead a much more creator-driven anthology of one-off instalments. Start developing a series of individual films, at a range of different budgets, with different lead actors and different directors. The franchise as it stands currently hasn’t had much to do with the character of Bond from the Ian Fleming’s books for a while now; it’s time to embrace the fact that Bond is an archetype more than anything else now, an idea that’s so big and influential and famous, such that getting different actors and directors to offer their own take on the character would be rewarding in the same way that having different Hamlets is rewarding.

Get Chris Nolan to do a black and white, 1960s Bond starring Tom Hardy. Have Riz Ahmed to star in a globetrotting thriller that engages with Bond’s colonial legacy. Do a low budget, psychological thriller that leans in on the espionage angle and asks, if ‘James Bond’ really is a code name, who is the man behind 007? Offer the series to people like Steve McQueen, Lynne Ramsay, Noah Hawley, Andrea Arnold, Kathryn Bigelow or Denis Villeneuve; cast people like Idris Elba, Gillian Anderson, Emily Blunt, Tom Hiddleston, Thandie Newton or David Oyelowo.

Artistically and creatively, it’s the best choice for the Bond franchise moving forward – the chance to do something genuinely new and interesting with a film series that’s perhaps starting to spin its wheels a little bit. It’s a chance to refresh the character, to attract big stars who might not want to be attached to an ongoing series for years, and tell stories that only James Bond could.

(It’ll never happen, of course, but after the second James Norton Bond movie you’ll kinda wish it did.)

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | General Film Index

Erik Aadahl & Ethan Van der Ryn on the sound design of A Quiet Place, how they hope it influences other filmmakers, and more

Erik Aadahl Ethan Van der Ryn a quiet place sound designers interview jon krasinski emily blunt noah jupe millicent simmonds silent sonic envelope perspective

I think that the biggest takeaway is that sometimes it can be more powerful and more engaging to play less sound, and have the sound be more focused, than to play a lot of music, a lot of sound effects, a lot of dialogue. Sometimes doing the opposite can actually create a more engaging and powerful experience.

With a lot of blockbusters, there’s been this kind of race to the edge of the cliff sonically with ‘how much louder can everyone get?’ and going bigger and bigger and louder. What happens is there’s kind of this numbing effect to that much volume and I think audiences kind of start to tune out from it – so using negative space in A Quiet Place actually made people tune in. I’ll be excited to see how other filmmakers kind of see that and say “hey, you can have a blockbuster that does something totally different with sound”.

One of the things I did with this one, which is something I always enjoy reading in interviews myself, is ask Erik and Ethan what they thought of some other recent films, specifically which ones they felt had impressive sound design themselves.

It’s not something you always get an opportunity to do – understandably, since, you know, the point of these interviews is to talk about whatever they’re promoting – but it’s often the question that yields the most interesting answer, because it you get to hear what these professionals think of the work of other artists, and how they engage with that work.

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Interviews Index

With Solo struggling and a Boba Fett movie on the horizon, what does Jon Favreau’s Star Wars TV show need to be to survive?

Solo A Star Wars Story Box Office jon favreau star wars tv show disney direct connect streaming service endor alden ehrenreich kathleen kennedy boba fett james mangold

One possibility why it wasn’t so successful, though, is that Solo simply didn’t quite push the envelope enough to capture audience attention. Up to a point, that seems like the intention; in comparing the main saga to the anthology movies, it seems that they’re deliberately intended to counterbalance one another – that Solo is, in effect, the more traditional movie designed for people who didn’t like the more experimental The Last Jedi. A Boba Fett movie, and indeed the planned Obi-Wan Kenobi movie, seem to follow broadly the same thinking. However, if audiences have rejected Solo for being too traditional, and not offering enough new ideas, it’s possible this approach isn’t quite going to work.

If we’re assuming that the reason, or part of the reason, Solo has struggled (and it is, in fairness, an assumption) is because of a relative lack of new ideas, then this is one of the first important steps for Jon Favreau’s Star Wars TV shows to make to succeed.

I wrote this a day or two after watching Solo, a film which I enjoyed rather more than I expected to. (Mainly on the strength of Alden Ehrenreich’s performance, actually; I thought the story was often less than inspired, and the direction occasionally dire, but Ehrenreich was just so charming a lead he rescued the entire film. I wish he’d been Han Solo in a much better film, really.)

Anyway, following Solo and the Boba Fett announcement (which is now a little more in limbo, I guess), I started thinking about Jon Favreau’s Star Wars TV show, which I am desperately hoping will be something entirely new. Not even necessarily new in general, just new in terms of Star Wars at least.

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Star Wars Index

Michael James Shaw on Avengers: Infinity War, his character Corvus Glaive, and more

michael james shaw avengers infinity war corvus glaive marvel interview

Part of the trick of playing a villain is finding the love in the character’s journey, and not playing ‘evil’, you know? With Corvus, there’s a strong connection to Proxima, but also he betrayed his people to work with Thanos. I created my own little history about why he’s looking for redemption with Thanos, and searching for retribution through his work with him. I find it kinda helpful to create that backstory.

As I’m talking to you, I’m also watching Ancient Aliens on the History Channel – there’s a history that may not be in the history books, but of what it means to be an alien. [It’s] outside our normal viewpoint, just to have a different level of consciousness. That opened up my imagination about what their world could possibly be like, and how they communicate on multiple levels – whether it be through actual English, or through clicking, or whatever. It just let me go wild – there were no limitations in terms of how he moved and how he expressed himself, you know?

My interview with Michael James Shaw! We spoke about Avengers, Constantine, and his upcoming show Blood and Treasure.

There are no spoilers for Infinity War in the interview, or very very light spoilers if you want to go in completely blind. I’d not seen the film myself when we conducted the interview – it actually hadn’t even been released yet. There was a still a week or two to go if I remember correctly.

What was interesting about this interview, actually, was that when I conducted it Michael’s identity as the actor playing Corvus was still being kept secret – to the point that, when it was being arranged, I wasn’t actually initially told it was going to be him. At first, he was just referred to as the Corvus Glaive actor (admittedly I had a hunch it was going to be Michael, because one of the things they did tell me was that the actor had previously been in Constantine, and Michael struck me as most likely of the cast to be Corvus).

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Interviews Index

Doug Hemphill and Ron Bartlett on the sound of Blade Runner 2049, their creative process and more

doug hemphill ron bartlett blade runner 2049 sound mixer design editing denis villeneuve

When we work on a film, and Ron can speak on this, we’re always responding to the audience in the moment, as you do when you watch a movie as audiences do. We were marinated, so to speak, in the original Blade Runner but each thing was new. We approached each day, each scene, as a new thing.

Another interview I was very pleased with here – Doug Hemphill and Ron Bartlett, sound mixers on Blade Runner 2049. Very funny guys, they have some good jokes in here.

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Interviews Index

Mark Mangini on Blade Runner 2049, the importance of sound design, and more

mark mangini blade runner 2049 sound editing mixing design denis villeneuve hanna barbera interview

I think another interesting metaphor, which maybe the public could more easily understand – they may not understand what a cinematographer does – but sounds are to sound designers as words are to a writer. A writer uses as their simplest tool, words, to build sentences to build paragraphs to build chapters to build scenes to build scripts. Every single word in the screenplay or a novel is chosen for a reason. There’s no misplaced word. There’s no word that isn’t there for a reason. Writers sweat over words like sound designers sweat over sound.

In that regard, we choose our palette of sounds and the order of those sounds and the way that it presents it to the audience; in the same way that the writer chooses their words and builds them to coherent sentences and lines of dialogue and soliloquies, so too does the sound designer with sound. I think that might be a helpful way of understanding the kind of effort that goes into creating the soundtrack to a movie.

One of my favourite interviews I’ve ever done, this. I spoke to Mark (pictured here at 19, working for Hanna Barbera) for around an hour, I think it would have been, and I had a great time. He said some genuinely interesting things about his creative process and way of working that I think are going to stay with me for a long time – I’m not especially musically inclined, but a lot of what he said rang true with me, and I’m going to want to steal some of his ideas for a long time to come.

But that aside, Mark was just really lovely to talk to – it’s always nice to listen to someone who’s enthusiastic and passionate about their work, and that’s something that was especially true of Mark. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed conducting it!

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Interviews Index

Film Review | Agatha Christie’s Crooked House (2017)

agatha christie crooked house glenn close gillian anderson amanda abbington terrence stamp max irons review

What’s notable about Crooked House amongst Christie’s oeuvre, however, is that the story has never been adapted for the screen – until now. This means that all the hallmarks and idiosyncrasies that define Christie’s work, the ones that we’ve become so familiar with, here feel slightly different. The stately home, the eccentric family, the mystery and intrigue – it all feels slightly subverted here, in fresh and unexpected ways. Indeed, the way the case unfolds is difficult to anticipate, keeping the audience in suspense to the last possible moment.

Here is a film review. A film review written by me, no less! Admittedly that’s probably exactly what you’ve come to expect on this here website of mine, but hey, sometimes it’s good to be specific.

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | General Movies Index