Monday, 28 February 2011

Paul Williams and 'The Furred Man'

A while ago I was lucky enough to catch Paul William’s multi-award winning horror comedy ‘The Furred Man’ and was mightily impressed. It has a refreshingly original and very funny premise and with a confident visual style, excellent production design, acting and special effects I’m not surprised it’s done so well at a number of festivals. I recently had a chat with Paul Williams about the film.

How did you get started in filmmaking?
I’ve always loved film. I can still remember queuing outside the cinema to see ET – running down the aisle to grab an ice cream during the interval. I think the ’80s, when I grew up, were a golden time for film. I was inspired, I wanted to create those worlds too. I always had this burning passion in the back of my brain to make films and luckily when I first got behind the camera at the tender age of 15, technology was becoming cheaper and you could actually do it. Of course it’s nothing like we have now – I shot on Hi-8 tapes and edited on a VHS attached to another VHS, but this reminded me of what is was like to be a kid – creating something out of nothing and letting your imagination run wild. I have my art teacher, Mr Denham, in school to thank for setting me off down the path I’m still travelling. He let me make films as GCSE art projects – gave me the freedom to do what I wanted. So with a cheap camera and some gullible friends I started to make films.
So what is ‘The Furred Man’ about?
It’s literally about a furred man – a man dressed up in a furry costume. This man is Max Naughton and he’s being questioned about two grisly murders that have happened on his campsite. His costume is covered in blood, he was found unconscious by the bodies and the first words he uttered when he came too was “It’s my fault! Oh god I killed them!” But Max swears he’s innocent – swears he can explain…

How did the idea come about?
‘The Furred Man’ is ultimately about consequence. I always hate in horror films when our plucky hero is faced with a horde of vampires/werewolves/zombies and stakes/shots/beheads said vampires/werewolves/zombies and is left with a pile of human corpses. The audience cheer and the credits roll. But hang on. The town our hero just saved is now littered with dead bodies. What is our hero going to say to the police when they arrive? “You don’t understand officer, these people where vampires/werewolves/zombies just minutes ago!” I don’t think that would stand up in court. So I took this idea, started at the end, and worked my way backwards. This is how ‘The Furred Man’ came about.

Describe your writing process?
I’m not much of a planner when it comes to the script. I like to see where the story and characters take me. I usually obsess about an idea for months, jointing down notes in a little black book I take with me everywhere. This book becomes my bible when I start writing the script – referring back to it for ideas and lines of dialogue. But I always feel that my writing I very organic. I like writing myself into corners because it really makes you think ‘OK, how would this character react to this moment?’ I then feel like the story has a life of its own and is almost writing itself. That sounds weird, like I’m channelling some muse. I just think and think and think about an idea until I just need to get it out of my head and onto paper, and once the story starts it hopefully flows out. Sometime good, sometime bad – but that’s where the second draft comes in.

How do you prepare to direct a film?
‘Story is king’ is the mantra we have here at Evil Hypnotist Productions (EHP). We redraft and redraft and redraft until the script is perfect, because if that isn’t right then the films going to fail before you’ve even started. It’s one of the luxuries of being a writer/director that as the director I can demand the writer does as many drafts as I want. I also bring on the EHP family early on to help me mould the film. My producer and composer Paul Terry (PT) is always there from the first seed of an idea and he helps guide my crazy ideas into a workable script. It’s very important to surround yourself with people you trust deeply, people that are not afraid of telling you when something is shit, or not working. ‘Yes’ men get you nowhere. ‘Yes’ men get you ‘Episode I: The Phantom Menace’.

What format was the film shot on and was this a creative or financial choice?
We shot ‘The Furred Man’ on HDV. This was our first film on HD. We knew we wanted to shoot on a high definition format, but were unsure as to which one to go for. Our first AD and technical guru Henrik Kolind guided us through this minefield and we settled on HDV because it was close to what we were used to filming on (DV) and fitted our limited budget.

What was its budget and how did you raise the finance?
The budget was very small and completely self-financed and came in at around £5,000. Before starting on ‘The Furred Man’ we’d spent a good year and a half trying to raise finance for our second feature project. With that film put on the backburner PT and I decided to switch focus for a year to a smaller project we could turn around ourselves. We knew we wanted it to be more challenging than our previous projects in as far as adding special effects and action – we wanted the short to be a calling card for everything EHP could do.

Describe the casting process?
EHP has been making films now for nearly 11 years and the best thing about that is the relationships you form from project to project. I wrote the part of Max for the actor Daniel Carter-Hope. He’s been involved with EHP since our low budget feature ‘The Wake’. That was more of a dramatic role and Dan is very much a comedy actor so I wanted to do his talents justice by writing him a comedy role. Plus, I got to throw him around the set a lot during the action sequences which was highly rewarding. The two police officers are played by Chris Courtenay and Martin Durrant. Chris is another EHP regular and an amazing actor – he always morphs into whatever role we throw at him, be it a love sick dentist or a serial killer obsessed tour guide. Martin was recommended by Chris, whom had worked with before, and after a meeting him for a coffee I thought he was perfect for the role of Landon. The most important role of Arlene was harder to find. Originally, we wanted an older woman, someone in their 50s. Most of the cast was in place but we still hadn’t found our Arlene. We went to a comedy night of Strong & Wrong (a comedy act starring our lead Dan). After the performance we were having a drink with Dan in the pub and this little woman came up behind Dan and gave him a congratulatory squeeze. In that moment I saw Arlene – this little woman was perfect – and looked great next to Dan. Once she was gone I asked Dan is she happened to be an actress and to our luck she was! Her name was Bronya Deustch and we arranged a meeting and the rest is history.

Are you a director who likes to rehearse a lot before shooting?
Vital. Filmmaking is all about planning. You don’t want to turn up on set with the actors and the crew not knowing what the hell they’re supposed to be doing. Plus rehearsals are a great time to redraft. Actors breathe life into these characters you’ve only heard in your head. You start to change certain words to better suit the actor interpretation of the character. You block out movement. You get to see you film acted out in front of you. When you’re on set you are up against the clock, madly trying to get as much quality work in the can as possible. When you’re in the rehearsal room you have the time to try different things and find the best way to tell the story.

What approaches do you employ when working with actors?
Telling them to stick to the script! No, I think you have to be there as a guide, a sign on the path making sure they head in the right direction, but not there as a big road block saying ‘DO IT MY WAY OUR ELSE!’ The thing I love about filmmaking is that it’s a collaborative art form. Everyone will have an idea on how best to tell the story – it is my job as the director to act as a filter for those ideas. Some we’ll use, some we won’t, but they’ll all make the film better.

Did you storyboard/shot list every shot in pre-production?
For ‘The Furred Man’ yes. Like rehearsals, storyboards are a cheap way of seeing your film. The great thing about storyboards is that you start to get a feeling of pace and style. And from the boards you can start to plan what equipment you’ll need on each day. Plus we had the added stress of special effects – we knew these shots would have to be planned out meticulously and I think the final result of all this planning really shows on screen.

How and why did you decide on the visual style you employed for your film?
Two words: Eugen Gritschneder. Eugen is my director of photography and another vital part of the EHP family. One of the main ideas PT and I came up with during pre-production was the idea of the circle of light in the interrogation room. They’d be a pool of light in the middle of the room were the table and characters would sit and then the light would fade out into almost black at the edges of the room. This worked for the mood of the short and also the budget, hiding the limitations of our location. We came up with the idea, but Eugen made it actually happen and made it look beautiful. We have worked with Eugen since ‘The Wake’ and I can’t imagine working with another DP.

How long was the shoot?
We shot for six days – each day being roughly 12 hours.

Paul Williams
Which part of the production did you find most enjoyable?
All of it! From the moment PT and I came up with the title and turned to each other and said ‘we have to make this film’, to the last bits of the mix. We were lucky enough with this project to have a full post-production schedule, something we’d done ourselves on previous projects. We worked with an amazing sound team Cristina Aragón, Michael Koderisch and Ben Fewster who did all the foley, editing and mixing on the film. This just adds that extra sheen of professionalism to the project. Also working with the amazing effects wizard Jon Moore in creating the incredible ‘beast’ in the film. You’ve got to love every bit, because when you start writing you’re looking at a couple of years of your life spent making the film a reality.

What lessons, if any, did you learn?
This has been the best experience making a film I’ve had so far and we will never go back to trying to do everything ourselves. And the lesson you always learn is to give yourself more time – which you never have!

Where has the film been screened so far?
The biggest reward for all the time and effort the 24 people who helped make this film is how it is now being received. To date we have been accepted into 12 international film festivals and won 2 awards – and we’re not even half way through our festival campaign.

Future plans for the film?
More festival and more screenings. We want this film to be seen, and the festival circuit has an annual turnover, so we will continue to send the film out to festivals till late 2011 and then look at DVD release and making it available online.

What’s next for you?
As I’ve said one of the reasons for making ‘The Furred Man’ was to act as a calling card for what we at EHP can do. We can handle story. We can handle special effects. We can handle action. We can handle Daniel Carter-Hope. Off the back of the success of the film we want to get a financed feature project off the ground. I’m in the middle of one of the best parts now which is writing the first draft. The ideas are flowing and this one, like ‘The Furred Man’, will have teeth…

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