Your new movie Devil's
Tower - in a few words, what is it about?
Tower is about a girl getting thrown out of the frying pan into
the fire! She escapes a brutal life at home, but ends up in a haunted flat
block where people are being killed and controlled by a malevolent spirit.
did the project fall together in the first place?
I’d worked with Adam J. Marsh (writer) on several short films and we
decided it was time to work on a feature. We were inspired by recent news
stories about people dying in their apartments in heavily populated
buildings, but remaining undiscovered for years, sat in front of their TV
sets. Adam had been wanting to explore the idea of a haunting in a modern
setting rather than a gothic mansion and it just grew quite organically
Once we’d got the script together, Adam and the producer of the film,
Dominic Burns were drinking together (read: off their faces) and Dom
suggested he produce one of Adam’s scripts. He saw several of my shorts
written by Adam at a festival, and the rest is history.
can you tell us about your Devil's
Tower's writer Adam J. Marsh, and what was your collaboration
Adam’s a great writer to work with. He’s full of
ideas and was as excited about the film as I was. We both came to the
script with bags of thoughts and suggestions and spent a long time seeing
which ideas worked and which didn’t, where the film’s moral compass
was, how to get exposition across and so on. Adam was definitely the
writer – I don’t take a co-writer credit – my input would be after
each draft was completed. I’d love some elements and tear others apart,
we’d argue lots and then talk about how to fix the problems. Rinse and
What can you tell us about your directorial
approach to your story at hand? And since this is your first feature - how
does compare directing a feature length movie to making shorts?
I thought directing a feature would be about eight times the effort of
making a ten minute short. That adds up, right? But I couldn’t have been
more wrong, the time, heartache and drive needed was exponentially more
than any short film I’ve ever worked on. There were times when the
pressure felt strong enough to break me!
There were other big differences too: when I direct a short film, I can
do whatever I want – I’m just aiming for festivals. But with a
feature, you’re using other people’s money and suddenly you need to
make a film that works not for festival audiences, but the wider public.
It means that you have to fight a lot harder for any risky or
experimental elements you want in the film. With a short, I’d direct it,
edit it and submit it to festivals. With a feature, there’s so much
riding on getting a distributor attached: if it doesn’t sell, it means
it’s a failure. I had to learn about the process of selling a movie and
take it to Cannes with Dom the producer to show it to distributors and
sales agents. It’s a complex world to learn about.
The film’s audience pay the same ticket price to see a tiny
independent next-to-no-budget horror as they do to see the latest in the Bond
franchise with more than 2,000 times the budget (no exaggeration). It
meant I had to think very differently about how to make the film
interesting and enjoyable to people who are used to seeing a lot more
money go into a film.
My approach to directing was to keep a keen eye on the flow of the
story, making each scene bring a new emotion and a new goal for the cast.
Roxanne Pallett and Jason Mewes, Devil's
Tower has two pretty high profile leads - so what was it like to
work with them, and how did you get them even?
Jason was surprisingly easy to get actually. I’d never tried casting
a name actor before. When we approached his agent, Jason said he was
interested, we negotiated a deal and suddenly we had him attached to the
film! I love Kevin Smith’s films and Jay is so full of energy on screen,
we knew he’d be great and we wanted to see him in a different role to
He was fantastic fun on set, too – limitless energy, always excited
to try different things out and really focussed on the part. I think
he’s a great actor and he could take on far more roles than comedy if he
wanted to – although comedy is one hell of a challenge.
Roxanne we auditioned for a smaller part but we were so impressed that
we offered her the lead role. She was utterly committed to the character
from start to finish, always going the extra mile and taking a beating in
the process. Sarah is a complex part to play and Roxanne was just a
you tell us about the rest of your key cast, and why exactly these people?
We auditioned all the roles and saw so many faces. Eddie Webber was
perfect for the caretaker and I defy anyone to deliver ‘bugger off’ in
a more caring way than he does in the movie!
Jessica Jane Stafford was an important role to cast as she really has
to lift the film’s sadder moments: her character is just so airy and
funny and we needed someone who could totally let go and throw herself
into the part. Jessica’s a great actress and I can’t wait to see what
she does next in her career.
Frances Ruffelle turned up to the first audition just to tell us she
didn’t have time to audition for the part of Sarah’s mother and then
left! It was such a shock to hear that in an audition that Dom was
intrigued and we asked her back for the next round, where she was amazing.
Frankie is just a wonderful person and immensely talented – she’s a
fantastic singer, too.
think one of the key assets of Devil's
Tower is its location - so how did you find it, and what were the
advantages and challenges filming there?
The key location was something that nearly destroyed the movie! We
started the shoot in the perfect location, which was a bank’s
headquarters which had an unused wing that looked seriously creepy. They
also had some houses on site we could shoot in, a rooftop and a load of
other spaces. We built sets in there and kept our camera gear inside
overnight because it was so secure.
On day 4, we arrived and found that we were locked out. It transpired
that a member of crew (quite an important one – soon to be fired) had
conned security into giving him a security card to gain access into the
rest of the building and had stolen a car load of computer kit! They
wouldn’t let us back in to finish the film, or even get our kit back.
Eventually – and Jason Mewes was in an aeroplane heading toward us at
this moment – we convinced them to let us in for long enough to grab our
kit, props, costumes and some of the sets.
It was an 18 day shoot, so we had to scramble to find a new location to
shoot in and managed to convince a warehouse owner to let us use his space
to build a set which we had to do overnight. Some of the scenes we had to
shoot facing in one direction down the corridor only because the other
side hadn’t been built yet!
For the building’s stairs, we went to a pay & display car park
and shot there, and for the exteriors of the tower we filmed an empty
hospital building. The other locations were shot around Derby wherever we
could find to shoot at zero notice. The lift was made from scratch by the
production design team!
The bank had let us use the locations for free and suddenly we found
ourselves having to pay for all the locations we needed, and having to buy
materials to make the sets and so on, so besides wasting four days of the
18 day shoot with a lot of the footage having to be scrapped as it
didn’t match the new location, it also cost our entire post production
budget to resolve.
The fact the film was completed at all is a testament to the production
team, who somehow managed to keep things moving while this was all going
What can you
tell us about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
shoot, after being thrown out of the key location, was manic. A whirlwind.
Because of the time lost with having to reshoot so much from the previous
location, it went from an ambitious schedule to an insane one and the cast
and crew all had to pull together to make it happen. The atmosphere on set
was great fun, though. We all knew we were fighting against the clock to
get the film completed and although it was utterly exhausting, we all
laughed our way through it.
few words about critical and audience reception of your movie so far?
been great actually. It’s been brilliant for me to read reviews by
people who love the film, and people who really get it – who can see
where it’s coming from and what it’s aiming for. There have been
people who hate it, which is fair enough – every film out there has
someone who hates it – but the reaction has been hugely positive and
I’ve seen it with audiences at several screenings now and felt
incredibly proud because of their reactions.
future projects you'd like to share?
It’s too early to
say anything specific, but I’ve two scripts I’m pushing at the moment.
One is a fantastic horror comedy which I laugh my way through every time I
read it. The other is a supernatural horror; I really want to nail that
slow build of tension throughout a film and leave the audience petrified.
What got you into
filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on
I saved up for a beaten up camcorder when I
was around 11 and used to make loads of films and animations with my
friends which I’d edit in-camera. When I went to university, it was to
study photography and creative writing, but there was a mix-up (the course
had been cancelled… but they forgot to tell anyone!) and I ended up on
the film making degree instead, which I got a first class honours for. The
degree was very much aimed at making people into film artists, who would
get films shown in galleries instead of cinemas. Really I learned about
the process of making films after University on set as a VT operator and
camera assistant on feature films and adverts, and as a director of my own
films or directing photography on other people’s shorts, which I still
love to do.
What can you tell us about your filmwork
prior to Devil's Tower?
started out as a film artist, making poetry film which was always somehow
set in a gothic fantasy world which felt like horror but didn’t play out
like a horror film. All my films so far have made it into film festivals
and I’ve always travelled wherever I could to introduce them. Seeing my
films with audiences, I started to want to make films that would have a
wider appeal but still carry my ideas of beauty, or my cinematic voice. My
films have always remained experimental, but have slowly become more and
through your filmography, one can't help but notice you never stray too
far from horror - a genre at all dear to you, and why (not)?
As an audience member, I’ve always loved watching horror. I love
being scared and I love the massive range within the horror genre. When
you mention horror to someone who’s put off by the idea, they probably
think of slasher movies or torture porn as it’s had a lot of press and
that’s about it. But the genre is absolutely massive and carries some
real masterpieces. I also think that horror travels well: I love horror
films from every continent and love learning about a country’s culture
from the fears represented on screen.
As a filmmaker, the world of horror and dark fantasy is just the
closest representation on screen I can make of my inner thoughts. I think
we all live in a different world in our heads, and all my thoughts play
out in the worlds I put on screen.
would you describe yourself as a director?
The way I work
changes with each film as I learn more. I prefer to work collaboratively
with the cast and crew to get the best out of them and I run a pretty
friendly set. Some people direct like a dictator and that’s cool if they
get a good film out of it, but what I love about film is the whole being
bigger than the sum of its parts, and for me that means creating an
atmosphere where each person can really invest themselves in their role
and feel free to suggest a way to make things better.
who inspire you?
Right now, any filmmaker who has managed
to complete a feature film is inspiring. I never knew how hard it was and
the energy and dedication needed to bring something of that scale to
completion is phenomenal, so I applaud anyone who’s managed it and come
out alive at the other end.
Your favourite movies?
This changes daily! There’s just so many! This week I’m enjoying
Lotte Reiniger’s films, last week it was Shaun
of the Dead, Christmas Evil and Alien.
I love my modern and classic movies – 70’s and 80’s British horror
and giallo, I’m a huge fan of Robert Wise’s The
Haunting and I adore Todd Browning’s Freaks.
Ringu scared the shit
out of me at a time when I thought horror films had lost their power to
frighten me, so it will always hold a special place in my heart, and The
Crow was one of the movies that made me want to direct.
The Conjuring was a really strong horror, brilliantly paced, and
What We Do in the
Shadows was a pitch perfect horror comedy.
and of course, films you really deplore?
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
Right now it’s
just films that waste money for the sake of it. I can’t stand it when
the camera flies through a city and across a lake in 3D, through a window
and then just shows some people having a conversation. If there’s a
reason to be flashy, that’s fine – I thought Edge
of Tomorrow was great – but it really bugs me when I see the
entire budget of Devil's
Tower blown in a couple of seconds of pointless showing off. Maybe
I’d feel differently if I had those kinds of budgets to work with
instead, but I hope not.
movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?
I’m on Twitter
- @owentooth - and Facebook. I’m actually setting up a YouTube channel
at the moment so that should be up and running with some cool content in
the near future.
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for the interview!