Adam Wimpenny is making his feature-film directorial debut with suspense/thriller Blackwood; a movie that was part of the BFI London Film Festival programme.
We caught up with Wimpenny during the festival to chat about the film, what drew him to this genre and what is on the horizon.
- Blackwood is the new film, so can you tell me a little about it?
Blackwood is a supernatural thriller: I would say that it is a new tale on the classic English ghost story. It is a story about a young university professor to a large countryside house to make a fresh start and rebuild his relationship with his wife and child: he has been an absent husband and father.
Not long after he has moved into this house, he starts having visions of this young boy and suspects that something sinister has happened in this house. As he begins his investigation and digs deeper and deeper his world starts to unravel.
- There is something quite old-fashioned about this film - which is something that we have seen a lot of with the likes of Woman in Black and The Conjuring. These movies are not relying on CGI trickery and blood, guts and gore, so why do you think horror films are returning to that?
A couple of years ago there was an appetite for movies such as Saw and Hostel, where this is this torture porn element. They really tried to push the boundaries of taste and tried to be as gratuitous of possible: I would say that is a different kind of horror all together.
I think there is this return to character-driven ghost stories like the supernatural films of the seventies and eighties. We kept on referencing movies such as Don't Look Now, The Shining and Rosemary's Baby: they are very character-driven pieces where the characters are flawed, and they are difficult environments to be in. In the end, they become mood pieces.
Audiences have been seeing ghost stories of years, but if you can subvert it and do something slightly different and playing against audience's expectations, then you can create something new.
- Where did this project start for you? And what was it about the script that appealed to you?
I work with a writer and a producer, and we have a company together and have been developing scripts for a while. When we set to make a first feature film we thought 'what sort of genre and what sort of film would work very well given the limitations of our budget?'
We have always enjoyed suspense, tension and thrillers. I don't think that we set out to make a horror film: if people come to it expecting a horror film, they may be a little disappointed as it is not horrific. If they approach it as a moody ghost story and thriller, then they will see something that they recognise there.
We liked the idea that you could set everything in one location and have a small ensemble cast and make it more character driven.
Rather than having the characters as plot devices to support the scares, the audience might find the characters interesting, and even if you removed the ghost story element their stories would still be interesting.
- When making a film like this the location/house is always the key. So where did you shoot? And how long did it take you to find that location?
We spent a lot of time looking for our location. We didn't have the luxury of taking over a property and doing a lot to it: the house existed as we used it. We went up and down the country to the likes of Yorkshire and the Cotswolds, visiting all of these different houses.
We found that they were too homely, and it was going to be difficult to take everything out, or they were too derelict and we wouldn't be able to make it inviting enough for a family to move into.
I found this place on the internet and I thought it looked very interesting as it is suitably gothic and yet I could believe that someone might find it charming enough to move into.
- This movie marks your feature-length directorial debut so how have you found the move into the director's chair?
It has been a big challenge. It have always wanted to do a feature film: my background has very much been in television for the past thirteen years. A few years ago, we made a conscious decision to make a film, and so I started making more short films and developed a script. It has been quite an experience.
Filmmaking is never easy .You go into each day having maybe spent weeks thinking about certain scenes and how you would like to execute it; in reality, on the day you might only have twenty minutes to do the scene. So the time pressures is very hard.
We were also battling the elements such as snow, and we had to shut down production because all the production vehicles got stuck in the snow. It was always touch and go as to whether we would get the film finished after that.
I feel well equipped to make a future film. I think it is a minor miracle that films ever get made.
- Can you talk a bit about the casting process? In particular, what were you looking for in the central character of Ben?
Ben is an unconventional protagonist and is not someone who fits the mould. He is someone who is obsessive, has old-fashioned morals and principles and these drive the story. We wanted somebody who was going to have a warmth to them, but also a believable dark edge to them as well.
I had worked with Ed Stoppard the year before when our production company had produced a West End play that he was in; when we were thinking about who to cast Ed came to mind. Ed is a very charming man and very entertaining - at the same time I have seen him play these dark roles as well.
With Russell Tovey and Paul Kaye, who play the antagonists in the back, they come from a comedy background and in this film, they are playing quite malevolent characters. I liked the idea that the audience wouldn't quite know what to make of them.
- How have you been finding the response to the film so far?
It is interesting; it is definitely a Marmite film. When we set out to make this film, we knew that there was an easy version of the film and a difficult version. We set out to make something that is a little experimental with a great group of actors.
Generally, it has been good. I think people do like the fact that it nods back to films of the seventies and has a slightly more old-fashioned sensibility and generates the scares from mood and tension rather than something more explicit.
- The film was part of the London Festival line-up, so how exciting was it to be part of that as a British director and a first-time filmmaker?
To actually be part of this festival is a huge milestone. I have always wanted to make a feature film, and I have been coming to Leicester Square for years to watch all the big movies.
To have your film premiere at a festival that has so much international attention: that is great for us as there is a lot of exposure. Hopefully, it might help us get the next film made as well.
- Finally, what is next for you?
We have been developing a film called The Mandrake Experiment, which is a conspiracy thriller. It is a modern-day film set in London, but it nods back to conspiracy thrillers of the past such as the The Ipcress File.
Tagged in BFI London Film Festival