Taking place against the snowy vistas of the Scottish Highlands, Lost at Christmas is the second feature film from writer and director Ryan Hendrick. After both suffering personal setbacks and missing the last train back to Glasgow, Rob and Jen find themselves isolated together for a Christmas adventure. I was lucky enough to chat with lead actor Kenny Boyle about this festive, feel-good film…
In a male dominated industry, filmmaker Sarah Gavron flies the flag for female-led cinema. Her works tells important stories from a women’s perspective, and her latest feature is no different. Rocks is a high school coming-of-age drama set in the hustle and bustle of East London. The story follows the path of Shola (Bukky Bakray) after she and her little brother are abandoned by their struggling mother.
I watched it at Glasgow Film Festival earlier this year (you can read my review here) and grabbed the opportunity to ask Gavron some questions…
Irish crime family thriller Calm With Horses marks the directorial debut of Nick Rowland. It tells the story of ex-boxer turned mob enforcer Douglas ‘Arm’ Armstrong played by rising star Cosmo Jarvis. Caught between his loyalty to the Devers family and his responsibilities as a father, he is faced with an impossible dilemma that will have life-changing consequences.
At Glasgow Film Festival, I was lucky enough to sit down with the director Nick Rowland to discuss the film…
Calm With Horses is of course adapted from a short story by Colin Barrett. How did you come across the source material?
I first read the collection of short stories when I was still at film school, and I had been writing short film scripts…and they were terrible. I was trying to read people who actually knew how to do short form storytelling better. Young Skins is amazing and Calm With Horses is like the sort of centrepiece of the collection. It was about 70 pages, so it felt like a good-sized story to develop into a taut movie.
Best known for his work in front of the camera, acclaimed Danish actor Ulrich Thomsen has moved behind the scenes to write and direct his second feature Gutterbee. The offbeat indie plot follows ex-con Mike (Antony Starr) and ex-pat Edward (Ewen Bremner) on their mission to open a German sausage restaurant in small-town America. They encounter conflict from narrow-minded businessman Jimmy (W. Earl Brown) who is very much against the gentrification of what he sees as his land.
I had the chance to chat with Ulrich Thomsen about this very unusual project…
First of all, how did the idea for Gutterbee first come about?
The idea is from quite some time ago when I stumbled upon the history of the sausage. Some years ago, there was a 50th anniversary for these little hotdog stalls that we have on every corner in Copenhagen, and a journalist had been writing about the history of the sausage. What’s interesting about the film is that it’s all based on fact, and all the sausage trivia in it is actually true. I thought would be interesting to tell a story about bigotry, homophobia, and religious stupidity but around the history of the sausage where nothing has changed in 2,000 years. The movie is essentially about identity. Every country has its sausage.
Indie director Gerard Johnson’s latest movie is Muscle, a psychological thriller starring Cavan Clerkin and Craig Fairbrass. The plot follows out-of-shape salesman Simon who meets an intimidating personal trainer at his local gym. After its premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, I caught up with Gerard to discuss the film…
How did the London premiere go?
It was great! It was my first time having a film at London. I’m from London so it was nice that I finally got to play a film there. My previous two Tony and Hyena both premiered in Edinburgh, so it was lovely to premiere in London with Muscle. The three screenings went well and generated great word of mouth buzz, so it was everything I wanted from the festival really.
Where did the inspiration come from for Simon’s story?
Well I’ve been going to gyms all my life really, from the spit-and-sawdust ones to the more modern lifestyle ones. I’ve had this idea for a while of a personal trainer taking over someone’s life, and it remained a two-page treatment idea for years. Recently, in seeing how gym culture has exploded, it made me think that we’ve never really had a film about gym culture. Obviously, there was Pumping Iron, which is an amazing gym-based documentary but that’s more about Arnold Schwarzenegger himself. Nowadays, everyone is more health conscious and knows about nutrition, carbs, good fats etc. so it feels like a good time to shine a light on that world in the cinema.
William Nicholson is a respected and prolific screenwriter, having penned the scripts for Gladiator, Les Misérables, Shadowlands, and many others. His latest film is divorce drama Hope Gap which he has written and directed. It’s a very personal piece as it is based on his own life and adapted from his Tony award-nominated play Retreat from Moscow.
The story tracks the separation of husband Edward (Bill Nighy) from wife Grace (Annette Bening) after almost thirty years of marriage. With their son Connor (Josh O’Connor) somewhat caught in the crossfire, the narrative illustrates how the split impacts on the family and explores the repercussions of the breakup. The film celebrated its UK Premiere at the London Film Festival, and I was fortunate enough to chat with Nicholson about the project…
What were the biggest challenges in adapting the theatrical dialogue in your play for the cinema?
In an interesting way, the biggest challenge was to not ditch the dialogue! A lot of people think that you can’t have a film where people give long speeches. I don’t agree. A film is yet another form of exposing people to emotional drama. There are some films that are wall-to-wall talk and they’re amazing…films like Before Sunrise for example. The key thing for me was NOT to say, ‘I must open it up’. I should have faith in my words.
Having said that, the film gave me so much opportunity to give echoes of other images which I put an awful lot of work into. It sounds silly but there’s a shot of a train going by and I spent about a day trying to find the angle for the train to cross. I wanted the screen to be a little bit empty, a little bit lonely, and to have a sense of ‘the end of the line’ because that was in this emotion of the story. I’ve been able to compose every frame! I can’t do that in the theatre because the audience composes the frame. For me, that was a gift.
With the story being autobiographical of your youth, how come it’s taken so long to make it to the big screen?
I was waiting for my parents to die…I think in some ways it would’ve been hard for them to see the film. My mother certainly was very conflicted. Not that she wouldn’t have wanted me to do it, but she kept thinking that my version of what my father did was the truth. It might be the truth, but I don’t know! He didn’t talk too much, so I’ve invented my version of why he did what he did. Now that they’re not here anymore, I’m free to invent.
The other reason it’s taken so long is that I’ve been afraid of directing for a long time. I finally thought ‘If I don’t do this, I’ll just be dead’ so I might as well get on with it. I realised that I’m surrounded by experts and my job as a director is to know what I want, but I don’t know how to get it. The cinematographer, the set designer, the editor. These people know how to get it, so I need to get them to make it for me…and they do! Here I am at my advanced age and I feel like I’m starting a new career. It’s amazing.
The original play was titled Retreat from Moscow. What was the story behind the name change to Hope Gap?
Retreat from Moscow was always problematic because everybody thought it was about Napoleon. It was a metaphorical title, but I thought for the film I had to do something else. Because I grew up in Seaford, I thought I’d make it there…so when I was visiting, I saw the Hope Gap which is a real place, and I thought that was perfect. Nobody else wanted Hope Gap actually. My production colleagues thought it was ugly and horrible. It might be puzzling but it’s memorable and I like it…so I hung on and now it just seems so natural. I’m thrilled with the title!
You have such wonderful actors for the film. Did you always have them in mind at the beginning of the project?
Bill Nighy, yes! I didn’t even know Josh O’Connor existed! I was casting and meeting people and by golly, do I know he exists now! He is going to be a big star. He’s wonderful. Annette was much harder to cast. I was originally looking at English actors, but my production company were telling me I needed a big name. A name big enough to get the money…so we looked into the Americans! We approached Annette and it was quite a process. She wasn’t sure about me but then why would she be sure? I might be a well-known screenwriter but I’m not a famous director and actors care about that. Thankfully, she eventually said yes and here we are!
Hope Gap will be in UK cinemas from 28th August 2020
Schemers is the first feature-length movie to be made in Dundee, and follows the adventurous early years of music producer David McLean. Ahead of its premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, I was fortunate to sit down with writer/director McLean and leading actor Conor Berry to chat about their film.
What triggered the project and why did you decide to make it now?
Dave – Well it’s been a work in progress for a good few years…I’ve always fancied being a writer. I’d wrote the original script in 10 days but that was four years ago. Pals say to me ‘why don’t you do it? You’ve got loads of stories’ so when the band I manage (Placebo) had a bit of downtime, I thought this is the time to do it. We got the script, we got the money, and we just made it. We thought we’d make it about the early years because there was a good soundtrack for that time. It was a good period. It was exciting.
Indie filmmaker Drew Denny’s latest feature is short crime thriller Momster, which stars Amanda Plummer (Pulp Fiction) and Brianna Hildebrand (Deadpool) as a mother and daughter on the wrong side of the law. I’ve been lucky enough to ask Denny about this project on the week of its premiere at Tribeca Film Festival…
Ewan McGregor’s movie career really kicked off in Edinburgh in the nineties, as it provided the setting for his work with director Danny Boyle on both Shallow Grave and Trainspotting. Since then, he has gone onto appear in Star Wars, Moulin Rouge!, Big Fish and many more, cementing his place as one of our finest exports. He returns to the capital to present family drama American Pastoral, adapted from Philip Roth’s award-winning novel of the same name. Directing for the first time as well as playing the leading role of Seymour ‘Swede’ Levov, he took to the red carpet at Edinburgh’s Filmhouse, and I was fortunate enough to attend.
Amidst the premiere buzz, he spoke passionately about the project to which he has been attached to for a number of years as an actor, but described directing as ‘a different ball game’ and an ‘incredible opportunity’. Because of the big budget and star-studded cast, he mentions that it feels like somebody’s second feature and excitedly states that he’d love to go back a step to make his ‘first’ film, possibly a small indie romance that would unfold in contemporary Scotland. As he gets moved along the packed media line by his entourage, I receive a signal that there is time for two questions only. I greet him and we shake hands, and I ask the following…
Being both director and leading actor in American Pastoral, how did your acting process change without having someone else there to offer direction and guidance?
“I think I really had to trust my instincts as I always do as an actor. In terms of doing takes on myself, I would just trust the feeling that I usually have when I’ve got it. You know, when you’re doing a series of takes I suppose you’re aiming for something or a certain feeling, and when I felt like I had that I would move on. When it starts to feel real, that is when its at its best.”
Which director that you’ve worked with has had the biggest influence on you as a filmmaker?
“It’s difficult to say! I think all of them do. There are lots of directors I’ve worked with that teach you what not to do, and then there’s those that teach you what to do! The truth is that I could mention three names of directors that I’ve loved working with, and they all work in entirely different ways. There’s no correct way to do it. It’s very much about who they are and their characters. I directed just the way I like to be directed, I suppose. I do believe that filmmaking is a collaboration, and I loved collaborating with the actors and the crew on American Pastoral.”
American Pastoral opens nationwide on Friday 11th November.
In 21st century cinema, British acting talent doesn’t come much more talented than Stephen Graham, the Liverpudlian known mostly for his hard-man roles across film and television, both in home-grown projects and in the US. His breakthrough role was in Guy Ritchie’s ensemble black comedy Snatch in which he starred alongside Jason Statham and Brad Pitt. Two years later, he was in the States working with Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York.
Since then, he has been perhaps most associated with playing sociopathic skinhead Combo in Shane Meadows’ This Is England and portraying the notorious Chicago gangster Al Capone in HBO series Boardwalk Empire. His other notable credits include Public Enemies, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Pirates of the Caribbean.
His latest part sees him play reclusive security guard Robert in Michael Lennox’s directorial debut A Patch of Fog which is screening at the 2016 Edinburgh International Film Festival. Instead of following the rules and prosecuting, he blackmails the thief in return for friendship. I caught up with Stephen Graham to discuss the new film as well as his impressive back-catalogue of work.
We’re introduced in Edinburgh’s Caledonian hotel and as he orders a water with honey, he switches chairs a couple of times to get comfortable, apologising for looking like a ‘right goldilocks’. He’s far from that, and after I ruffle through my notes and hit record, this is what happened…