WeHeartHorror: It’s been a short while since we’ve reviewed Blackwood. Could you give us an update on how the film is doing?
Adam Wimpenny: We’re in the process now of trying to get the distribution going and get the film out there. That’s the next step with it, because the (London Film) Festival was a month or two ago. It was a great festival actually, because I never really spent much time paying attention to the London Film Festival and I think it sort of passed me by, but it was a really big event and it had a really good programme of stuff on. It was quite good from our point of view as it got all the filmmakers really involved when you got there. The opening and closing night of the festival, there were quite a lot of opportunities where you could meet other filmmakers. Those whose films were on at the festival, got quite involved, and they sort of got everybody into rooms together so you could rub shoulders with other filmmakers. It was good; it was quite a good operation really, so from my point of view, playing in Leicester Square, that was quite a big deal.
It was about a 500-seated theatre - it was quite sizable, and we did a Q&A with the cast there – but it was quite funny from my point of view because I could make a TV show which might get seen by five, ten million people on a Saturday night and you don’t give it a second thought. You just deliver the tape and that’s the end of it, but then suddenly if you’re sitting there watching it with 500 people, it’s terrifying. It’s such a weird thing, because you’ve got people around you, and you sort of become sensitive to everybody’s reactions. I always find that every viewing is slightly different – it’s almost like theatre really. You go to the theatre and you have some nights where it’s electric, and other nights where it’s more subdued. I thought that was interesting, seeing how the film plays in different venues, from place to place - but I enjoyed it. It was good.
WHH: People may be familiar with some of your cast in Blackwood, from the television.
AW: Other than a couple of people, I’ve worked with most of the cast before, so from our point of view, because we knew it was going to be such an intense shoot, and we didn’t have lots of money, you needed to work with people who were going to be fun to work with and embrace the process of going a bit guerilla and going a bit ‘no frills’. I enjoyed having people like Paul Kaye and Russell Tovey and Ed on speed-dial when you could get them involved. It all happened very quickly from talking about making the film – we were talking for a year or two at this point and then one day we did have the money, and then it was like “Ok, right well we’ve got a month to pull it all together and then try and shoot it”.
So, even though you’re in limbo waiting for the film to happen, when someone gives you the green light, you feel like you’re coming from behind. So, there’s this crazy, mad panic to find the locations and throw ourselves into it and get the cast together and so I went on a bit of a fishing expedition to try and get people on the project that I’d worked with before. Russell and Paul said they’d “read the script tonight”, and came back and said they’d do it.
With Paul Kaye, I’ve done comedy shows with him before, but this was quite a different thing, in terms of the roles he’s been playing recently – he’s been in Game of Thrones, and he’s been playing a couple of more straight roles. I’d not seen him in a while, but when I called him up, I said, “I’d like to try and rough you up a bit. Make you look at bit more like a wilderness man, as Father Patrick.” He said, “That’s great, because I’ve got this crazy long hair at the moment and the beard”. As I said, he’d been in Game of Thrones and been getting relative work, almost being recast in different things where people never really considered before - The “Crazy Wilderness Man” look. He’s doing all sorts of interesting stuff at the moment, so I think he’s moving away from comedy.
WHH: He’s moving away from Dennis Pennis!
AW: (laughs) Yes, I think he’s been trying to run away from him for a long time! It’s quite bizarre, because if you meet Paul, he’s such a big softie, a very warm family man. These characters that he can play ends up being like really out-there, outlandish types.
We did a series called Strutter. It’s a crazy show where he plays an off-the-wall New York Jewish lawyer that was based on Sean Penn’s character in Carlito’s Way. It’s just so extreme. It’s just one of those things that I couldn’t quite believe what we were doing. I think we got in the Guinness Book of World Records for the TV show with the most swear words in a half-hour episode. We actually did it deliberately, because we wanted to get in the record book, but it had something like 270 swear words in a 20-minute MTV show…which was pretty excessive! (laughs).
WHH: That is a concentrated amount of swearing in a short time!
AW: Yes. It was ridiculous! But they are all experiences, aren’t they. And Russell as well – he’s done lots of comedy, but he’s a very good straight actor as well. So, I think it’s quite interesting when you see people against type, just doing something different.
WHH: That’s one of the things that struck me when I was watching Blackwood. Paul and Russell are known for playing a particular type of character. Just seeing the type of character Russell was playing - One particular scene where Father Patrick was trying to calm him down - he was so distressed. My reaction was, “Wow. I wasn’t expecting this kind of performance!” You have an image in your mind of the kind of roles a particular actor plays, and it has an even bigger impact when you see a different type of performance being played out.
AW: Yes. I think it’s good that when you’re making smaller films like this, you can give the actor something different to do, more attractive to them, because they’re certainly not doing it for financial reward (Laughs). It’s got to be interesting in a different way to them.
WHH: What else can you tell us about the film?
AW: I told you a little bit about how the whole thing came together at the beginning, and just how we got into making the whole film in December early last year. It was a concentrated five-week shoot period. There was an interesting episode where we got buried in snow at the last week of production. It was quite bad. One of the final scenes of the film, we had all the snow come in, and it actually worked really well for the production. When I woke up that morning, I thought it would actually be a continuity disaster and that it wasn’t going to work, but it really bought a slightly different quality to the film. It worked in our favour, but the day after that it went from no snow to about two feet of snow in about an hour and a half.
We were shooting on the Surrey hills, with our trucks of equipment and no provisions for extreme weather. The whole country got buried in snow. We had to abandon the set and sit it out for a week. We had spent a lot of money by this point and were thinking, “Well, if we can’t shoot anymore of this film, can we survive with what we’ve already got?” and the answer was “No.” Luckily, we got our final week of shooting done. It’s that sort of thing that when you’re making an independent film, you can’t foresee these things and can’t give yourself weather cover that I guess you can if you were working with a Studio. There would always be some sort of contingency plan.
WHH: Going back to what you were saying about sitting the extreme weather out for a week and the cast being happy to accommodate -this is a credit to indie productions that everyone makes the necessary adjustments to make sure that the project goes ahead. You can imagine that with a studio production, it would be a case of just throwing more money at it.
AW: Yes. Even things such as reshoots, it’s quite common that you would get to the edit and see if anything is missing, go back, and shoot it. You don’t really have the luxury of that with an indie production. In many respects, it’s very freeing as well. Making independent films, you haven’t really got anybody looking over your shoulder, and you can stand by your own decisions, because there is very little bureaucracy in doing something like that. So, from that point of view, it was great. It’s really nice just saying, “This is our film, and we’ll do it on our own terms.”
WHH: You chose some gorgeous locations. Those beautiful shots of the hills; the house. People assume that because a film has a smaller budget, that it would be a lesser quality film. You certainly couldn’t tell this with Blackwood – it’s well-made, and doesn’t indicate the budget that it had for its production.
AW: I think that when you’re making these smaller budget films, you can’t compete with all the spectacle of big CGI movies and things like that. But I do think that if you’ve got the time before you enter production, to find interesting locations and spend a bit of time thinking about what you want to achieve. I always enjoy storyboarding everything I do and putting the film on paper as much as possible. I always start by trying to find the right location. To be honest, everything that I’ve done in the past, I only really commit to doing it once I’ve become excited by a location. Not all films are totally dependent on it, but I think films like Blackwood, or even the short film I did – Roar – are. With Roar, it was only ever going to work if we found a little key cutters that was the right size to film in and kind of felt right. We spent about a year looking for the right place, and we found it down in Carnaby Street. When we finally found it, I got excited and said, “Right, we must finally make this film.”
With Blackwood, we needed to find a house that had a lot of character to it, and would work as a house for a ghost story. At the same time, it needed to be passable that a family really could move in there, and wasn’t an out-and-out terrify old creepy house, but equally somewhere that was not too cosy and needed a lot of work done to it. I was looking around a lot to find the right property, and eventually we found this place down in Surrey. It’s an amazing old property, because people have been living there for a long, long time, and the guy who actually owns it, had lived in that house since he was eight-years old. It was quite a grand house at the time, and the lawns were neatly manicured, but eventually, it was just all very run-down and had gone to seed a bit. It was perfect from our point of view, because it was exactly what we wanted.
We wanted to make it seem quite remote, and we didn’t want to place the film too much and be specific about where it was shot. That was down in Surrey, but then we went up to Wales and shot some of the country vistas out in the Brecon Beacons. I think that especially at wintertime, the English countryside has a lot of striking open vistas that I think work well with telling ghost stories. I just thought it would be fun making a British ghost story, because it’s one of those things where a lot of supernatural ghost stories shot in America show clear blue skies and locations that are used, and the one thing we’ve got in abundance in the UK, is characterful old houses and big stormy skies! (laughs).
WHH: Big grey, stormy skies - we’ve got as much as you can handle in the UK! Yes, as you mention, with the British winter, there’s that look about it. All the dead leaves being swept around; the bare trees. It all adds to the character and sets that mood.
AW: Yes. I like the fact that we got to shoot it at wintertime because there were early conversations where we were going to shoot it in the summer. I don’t think that it would have worked in the summer, because when we go into the forests and it’s all very green, everything is more pastural and it’s not really going to work. I did like the fact that by the time we got to shoot in the woods, and did all the big, wide-open shots, everything was dead and all the leaves were on the floor. All those colours as well – I loved all the brown colours of all the leaves on the ground. It all seemed to work better with the story.
WHH: One thing that we enjoyed from watching the film - and this was mentioned in the review – was that you didn’t follow the trend of creating CGI effects/creatures and shoehorning these in the film at the expense of the narrative or atmosphere. It was organically made.
AW: I really enjoyed your review, and I thought it really nailed what we were trying to do with it, because I do like a lot of those films from the 70s - the psychological thrillers where there are paranormal elements to them - and a lot of it is just about mood and atmosphere, and sound design, and alluding to stuff, rather than trying to show too much. There’s something really satisfying about creating that sort of creepy atmosphere and piecing it all together, when something becomes more than the sum of its parts. You shoot something in a particular way, then the production designer comes in and adds something to it, then you get to the edit and start working on the sound design, then before you know it, you’ve got something that will hopefully get under the skin.
WHH: Having said that, we should make it clear to our readers that Blackwood isn’t a hard-hitting horror film like Sinister or The Conjuring. It’s a lot more subtle than that.
AW: It’s not in that sense, no. It’s more of a ghost story, or supernatural thriller. It will always come under the umbrella of horror, but not in the sense like the films you mention, which are a bit more shocking. You just have to make sure that it’s not mis-marketed and set up the wrong expectations. It’s been good getting it out there and getting the feedback from people.
WHH: It’s probably down to the fact that as a British film, it’s more understated than a film by James Wan, for example.
AW: They are all different things, aren’t they? We’re working on some projects at the moment, that are much more “horror” films, almost as a reaction to saying, “Ok, it would be fun to make a horror film where the shackles are off.” It would be fun to make something that is a bit more “out there” and a bit more in people’s faces, but here we tried to do something that was a little more restrained. It worked well with the characters as well, and the slightly British sensibility of everyone being uptight and repressed and nobody quite talking about what’s on their mind, which sort of works for the frosty atmosphere throughout the film. Slightly uptight characters that aren’t communicating properly and it becomes their undoing, really.
Exclusive Interview: Adam Wimpenny
By Andreas Charalambous - 11th December 2013
We recently reviewed– a supernatural thriller from award-winning British TV director, . His first foray into the realms of the feature-length film has allowed Wimpenny to bring some leading British acting talent along for company. Starring Paul Kaye, Russell Tovey, Ed Stoppard and Sophia Myles – amongst others – this is an atmospheric and haunting film that we enjoyed watching.