“None of us knew quite how crazy the tides were.” Simon Rumley Interview, ‘Crowhurst’ (THN)

Out to own on DVD/Blu-ray is Crowhurst, the true life story of British sailor Donald Crowhurst. His decision to take part in a round-the-world yacht race in 1968 had catastrophic consequences, as Donald found himself quite literally out of his depth. His boat was found but its occupant was never seen again.

Justin Salinger plays the title role in this unusual and powerful drama, which found itself competing against another Crowhurst picture, The Mercy with Colin Firth.

Simon Rumley is the acclaimed and innovative director who battled strong currents to tell Crowhurst’s tale in his own unique way. Producing the film was Nicolas Roeg (Don’t Look NowPerformance), a trailblazer in his own right who had attempted his own version years before.

We caught up with Simon to talk about depicting this sea-bound mystery…

THN: What brought you to the project?

Simon Rumley: I was offered the project. At that point, I hadn’t heard of Donald Crowhurst, but I did some research and read the script and it was one of those things where you think “Is this really true?” It really was one of those stranger than fiction moments. And the story I felt had a lot of themes I’d dealt with in the past.

As much as anything I liked the idea of the guy being British and having what I suppose you would call arrogance in one respect and confidence in another. I thought there was a way of investigating national characteristics and our national traits.

And also the subject of isolation and loneliness. He was essentially a good guy but he makes all these terrible mistakes which have an impact on him and his family. I thought it would make a fascinating film investigating someone’s psyche.

Water is famously difficult to shoot on. How did you find working with it?

Yeah! Pretty much what everyone said it was going to be, to be honest. Initially, we were going to do 2 days at sea, and I said: “Look we should at least try 3.” Then that somehow went up to 4. We shot for 4 days and at the end, we didn’t have an opening scene or a closing scene. So we had to do 2 more days and then the motorboat we had to have for insurance purposes broke down on the final day.

We were also shooting in the Bristol Channel… none of us knew quite how crazy the tides were. It turned out it has the second strongest tides of anywhere in the world. We could only sail at certain times or we’d be f***ed. We would set up a shot, get ready to shoot it and then the captain would be like “We’ve got to turn around or we’ll crash!” And we’d just spent the last half hour setting everything up.

The other thing with the Bristol Channel is there’s land on either side, so the first morning was pretty much useless. We tried to film it so there was no land in the background but 99% of the time there was land. It proved quite challenging! While it’s not true to say the script went out the window, we tried to get as much of it as we could, but some scenes were lost.

Interestingly that gave the film an intensity because we had lots of cutaways and mini-sequences of Donald looking into the distance. We shot as much footage as we could, so even if we didn’t have the script we had enough to replace what we missed with something else. It was an enjoyable experience oddly. As a director, it was the time I had to think most on my feet really.

Nicolas Roeg is the executive producer, and he wanted to film the story himself years ago. How much of a creative influence did he have, or did he let you go your own way with it?

Mike (Michael Riley, producer) already knew him. He’s one of my favourite directors, if not my favourite, and we thought he should come aboard. We went out to a pub a couple of times, he read the script. We had some fairly lengthy discussions, which would kind of go in and out of the script and sometimes he would bring up one of his own films.

Having him certainly changed the film to a degree, because the film was written linearly, and the combination of having him on board and what I was talking about before, shooting more than what we had in the script… when we were in the edit Mike said “I want to make this as Roegian as possible. Try and do what Nic would do.” Certainly having someone encouraging me to go in non-linear fashion, to go a bit crazy and all that stuff, definitely shaped the film and obviously having Nic in the background was the main reason behind that. All of that encouraged me in the edit.

I hadn’t seen any of his films for a while and was thinking “What if he asks me about them?”. Before we met I watched some of his films and then the one he did mention was one I hadn’t rewatched, Castaway (1986). As he pointed out, it’s different of course, but had the same theme of self-imposed exile and was about a man losing his marbles.

There’s an unexpected amount of singing in the film! Where did that come from?

I’m a big music fan, films aside, and I suppose going back to what I was saying about it being a film with a quintessentially British character to it… I wanted to have a shorthand about a sense of British pride and duty. For Queen and Country. I thought it was a way of getting that emotion across.

We knew that The Mercy was in production at the same time. There was no way we were going to match the glossiness of their film, so we went the opposite way. I thought it would give it a unique character and make it different.

There was also something in Magnolia, where three-quarters of the way through all the characters sing. I guess that’s something that stayed with me. The songs are a manifestation of Donald’s isolation and loneliness.

This interview first appeared on THN.

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The Hound Of The Baskervilles DVD Review (The Hollywood News)

SH HOB

One of the best things about having a modern day Sherlock is it introduces people to previous incarnations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s definitive detective. So with a new remastering of The Hound Of The Baskervilles arriving to own, why not give Benedict Cumberbatch the slip for eighty minutes and spend some time in the company of dapper deerstalker-wearer Basil Rathbone?

Accompanied by Nigel Bruce‘s Doctor Watson he set the template for the twentieth century take on Baker Street’s most famous resident, popularizing the character as a master of mystery, his faithful yet bumbling companion tagging along in his wake. Baskervilles remains arguably the best-known Holmes story – somewhat curiously as it’s an atypical adventure in many ways, having more in common with a ghost story than a tale of fiendish deduction. Nevertheless, 20th Century Fox chose this as Rathbone’s debut, a decision that nudged the actor’s career into movie legend. Three quarters of a century on however, does the opening instalment endure…?

It does, and for one very important reason, which like a pontificating Holmes I’ll save for later. First off, the yarn itself, which the Cumberbatch series made a rather convoluted stab at adapting a few years ago. When Sir Charles Baskerville is found face down at his Dartmoor pile, the death resurrects rumours of a monstrous canine who roamed the countryside, supposedly wiping out generations of the family. Holmes and Watson are paid a visit by medical man Mortimer (an entertainingly arch performance by Lionel Atwill, one of many), who fears for Sir Charles’ heir Sir Henry (the baby-faced and top-billed Richard Greene). Watson travels with Sir Henry to the Gothic gloom of Baskerville Hall to investigate, his pipe-puffing friend seemingly taking a back seat. Or does he? Cue an array of forebodingly-lit faces, varying accents and enough fog to choke the Albert Hall.

The production fills the soundstage with untamed moorland, which looks marvellous even by today’s standards. Hilariously the opening proclaims there is “no district more dismal than that vast expanse of primitive wasteland”, perhaps the biggest geographical insult in filmic history, only added to by the natives opting for Scottish accents. Some handsome street sets and model work complete the visual splendour. The supernatural elements of the story are accentuated here, with a scene involving a seance and references to the ancient presence of druidic stones.

By far the most successful part of the action is that which other adaptations have struggled with: the title creature itself. Saddling themselves with what is essentially a larger than average dog, previous movies have failed to create a memorable monster. Helmer Sidney Lanfield selects an animal that’s convincingly fearsome without being silly, the climactic skirmish between the hound and Sir Henry being particularly well-staged.

I’m maybe going to annoy some purists by saying I’m not the greatest fan of Rathone. To me he comes across like a gameshow host more than a Master Detective, though the famous disguise sequence is a treat. Bruce forms a pleasing contrast to later, hard-eged interpretations of Watson from actors such as Ian Hart and Martin Freeman.

Extras-wise, StudioCanal have laid on a lavish spread of talking head for aficionados. Author Michael B Druxman delivers a potted history of Rathbone’s colourful career and no less an authority than Sir Christopher Frayling gives us his thoughts on Holmes in a meaty forty-five minute dissection.

The conclusion is brisk and possesses a stiffer upper lip than a deceased Baskerville, though a pointed drugs reference at the end may well surprise. This rollicking re-release shows there’s life in the old dog yet.

This review first appeared on THN.

All Wool Be Revealed! Interview With ‘Shaun The Sheep Movie’ Directors (The Hollywood News)

Richard-Starzak-Mark-Burton-Shaun-The-Sheep-MovieShaun The Sheep Movie is about to be released on DVD and Blu-ray after a baa-rilliant reception on the big screen. In many ways the original farm heroes saga, its story follows Shaun and the gang as they head into the big city to rescue their gibberish-speaking custodian, the Farmer.

The film was praised for its echoing of old school slapstick comedy and hopes are high for a follow up. So while the gears of the studios whirr in contemplation over that, we sat down with writer/directors Richard Starzak and Mark Burton for a good old bleat…

Shaun-The-Sheep-Movie-2Shaun The Sheep on TV is only a few minutes long. How did you go about expanding the concept to feature length?

Richard: That was the big challenge. That’s why I think me and Mark work as well together. Mark’s had much experience of writing feature scripts and we had to find a story that could sustain that long. We had to dig deeper into the characters, a lot deeper than we do in the series. The series could be quite surface, you know, one of the episodes could be just the characters getting stuck together with a tube of glue. We had to think of a bigger story for this…

You needed a bigger tube of glue almost.

Mark: Massive tube of glue!

Richard: A tube of emotional glue…

Mark: The other thing was taking characters out of their comfort zone, take them into a few worlds, so we took them into the big city.

I use this word in inverted commas, but what was an “average” day like on the set?

Richard: Me and Mark got together at 8 in the morning, and we’d go through all the shots we’d be shooting that day with our production team. Make sure everyone knows what’s happening… and then we’d go onto the studio floor, see the progress of the shots. We treat the animators like actors, so we brief them on the set, tell them what we want. We want to know what the character’s thinking. We go through all the detail when everything’s set up and lit, like a live action shoot. But at the same time we’re also having to deal with music, with editing, any other story issues that come up… the day lasts from 8 till 8 at night.

Mark: And weekends as well.

Richard: And a few weekends. So it’s a very intense time really.

Mark: It’s not really a 9 – 5 job. You’re very involved and engaged in everything. Like all directors we’ll say we’re power mad and trying to keep an eye on all aspects of the film, right up to the marketing really.

Omid-DjaliliMoving onto the cast, you’ve got a lot of comedians in the film, notably Omid Djalili. What dynamic did they bring?

Richard: Omid was great because he’s a comedy star, he’s been in some Hollywood movies… and we wanted him to grunt and make some noises!

Mark: He rose to the challenge because he got the point, which was that it’s not really about the dialogue in that sense, it’s about non-verbal communication. So he brought a lot to the character of the baddie, Trumper. He was totally up for it, and not just in terms of being funny. He’d have that range where he’d go from these very small little verbal things we could use, right up to big, Omid-type screaming. But he could bring a level of subtlety to it.

Shaun-The-Sheep-Movie-Trumper-Omid-DjaliliThat’s what he brought, and I think John Sparkes (Absolutely) – who obviously works on the series – and Justin Fletcher (Mr Tumble)… they kind of rose to the challenge. Like a big Hollywood movie we were were going to take these characters’ emotions very seriously, so the comedy worked and the emotion worked… we stretched them out. It was a slightly bizarre process sometimes as you can imagine, but ultimately it was quite a rewarding and illuminating one.

Talking of dramatic intrigue, how did Nick Park’s cameo appearance come about?

Richard: The joke came about first I think. We had the idea of the bird spotter, the twitcher, getting revealed and attacked by the birds he’s spying on. He’s a bit of a voyeur. Then we remembered that Nick Park’s a very keen bird spotter.

Mark: He had a great sense of humour about it.

Nick-ParkAnimation gives you more free rein than in reality, but was there anything you wanted to do that you couldn’t achieve?

Richard: The story went through lots of iterations, but it was quite meticulously-planned so we knew what we’d be doing…

Mark: There’s a little bit of begging and bartering that goes on. Obviously we’ve got a production crew working to tight deadlines. So sometimes when we’d want to do a shot at the end, maybe we weren’t quite happy with it, or if we wanted to see more characters… to be fair, what’s great about the Aardman team is that they’ve done it for so long they can accommodate that. It was very rare you’d get told “no”! A bit of chin stroking sometimes, a bit of “hmm”. But they always try to facilitate the directors.

Richard: What was interesting with the city was that the size of the sets, and the size of the shots, were kind of prescribed by the physical size of the space. We were in this crazy warehouse down on the outskirts of Bristol, where the production is done. And sometimes the camera would hit the ceiling! That’s as far as it goes. It’s like, you want to get a nice, big, swooping top shot and we literally hit the sky, so that’s it. But that’s okay, you kind of work into that…

Why do you prefer working with stop motion animation? I like it, but it seems quite laborious compared to CGI…

Richard: I don’t know whether it is any more laborious. I think you have to go through all the same processes as other forms of animation. I just love the way it feels, the way you engage with it. It’s visceral, you go down on the sets, you’ve got real sets, real props, real lighting cameramen up ladders… it’s great, like doing live action very slowly. I think the audience likes to know that the things are real. The exhibitions are very popular as well, we’ve got one in France at the moment and it’s very successful. People love to see that stuff.

Mark: I think the audience gets more out of that. I mean, we love CGI, don’t get us wrong, you can press a button and have huge crowds and great big swooping shots of giant cities and everything, and you can’t do that in stop-motion, you’ve got to think about it another way. But that can also be quite empowering!

What are the pair of you working on next? Shaun The Sheep was a spin off from Wallace & Gromit – are there any characters in the movie you think could have their own spin off…?

Richard: Slip the dog has proved to be very popular…

Mark: It would be nice to do some more Shaun The Sheeps, if possible.

Richard: There could well be a sequel. We’re planning for it just in case! The signs are good, I’m currently working on a Shaun The Sheep half hour, called The Farmer’s Llamas, which I’m overseeing. That’s going to be out at Christmas and will be fairly global…

Mark: You may know Nick Park’s working on a new movie. I think he’s unveiling it at Cannes.

This turned out to be Early Man, a prehistoric tale and another collaboration with StudioCanal. Here’s the teaser poster…

Early-Man-Aardman-Animations-Nick-Park

This interview appeared on The Hollywood News.