Your new movie Shadows
of a Stranger - in a few words, what is it about?
The film is about a struggling private investigator who is presented
with a mysterious job: to bring a missing man home by Christmas. To do
this he enlists the help of a reclusive young psychic and the two of them
go on a cat and mouse pursuit to track down this missing man, something
that leads them further and further into peril!
did the project fall together in the first place?
been working with my friend Chris Clark [Chris
Clark interview - click here] on a couple of feature film
projects with another filmmaker. Unfortunately things weren’t going so
well with them and the wheels were falling off, so we were feeling very
down and frustrated with everything. For some reason I decided to show
Chris a script that I had been working on – it was something I’d
written way back in around 2002 and had tried to sell to film producers.
It was intended to be a big budget production with A-list stars, but Chris
really liked the script and came up with a plan whereby we could make the
film ourselves, and that was by shooting everything on blue screen. That
way we could create a stylized environment in post-production which made
sense seeing as the film was set in a big city rather than the fens and
fields of sugar beet that we had around us in Lincolnshire! Somehow things
fell into place nicely – it felt like the universe really wanted this
film to be made as people came to us, crew members, actors, plus one guy
came to us with an extremely important element: a place for us to set up a
blue screen studio where we could film it all! There were many ups and
downs along the way: tragically our lead actor passed away as we were
building the first studio, and then we were kicked out of our studio space
just as we were finishing building the blue screen. But it all worked out
in the end as our friend found another place to build a new studio and it
was way better than the first studio. So by a lot of belief and
perseverance we eventually got there, filming the bulk of the film in the
summer of 2010 and then spending many years afterwards creating the
post-production effects and filming endless pickups.
What were your sources of inspiration when writing Shadows
of a Stranger? And in what way could you identify with either of
At the time I remember I was reading a
lot of Dean Koontz books, but I also had a big interest (and still do) in
the powers of the human mind, and psychic abilities, so I was reading a
lot about that subject. I think the dynamic between the two main
characters Xander and David was born out of my circumstances at the time.
Back in 2002 I was still fresh out of university starting my first job,
wet behind the ears. I was taken under someone’s wing, a guy who ran his
own business. We got on really well which I always found odd as he was so
completely workaholic and down-to-earth whereas I was quite the opposite
– rather shy and head in the clouds. It was like we balanced each other
out, which is essentially what happens to the characters in the film.
Xander comes out of his shell and ‘walks abroad among his fellow men’
and David stops and realises there was more to the world than his worldly
mind could perceive.
Do talk about Shadows
of a Stranger's approach to the thriller genre for a bit!
of my all-time favourite films is Se7en. I remember seeing that film and
thinking that that was exactly the sort of film I would want to make. So
that was definitely an inspiration when I was writing and making it, where
characters who are essentially good people are brought down into the
darker realms of humanity. It’s not all about catching the bad guy,
it’s also about the psychological journey that our heroes are dragged
along on, about recognizing the shadow in themselves, recognizing that
capacity for evil is there inside them as well.
filmed Shadows of a
Stranger mostly in front of a blue screen, using quite a bit of
CGI - why, and could you talk us through the process of filming that way
for a bit? And how did it influence you as director?
The reason for the blue screen approach was just to enable the whole
thing to happen in the first place. We didn’t have the budget or
resources to do it out in the ‘real world’. It meant that I had to
explain the surroundings a lot to the actors – I remember, for example,
showing Colin Baker photos on the internet of the big mansion that his
character lives in (we later went and photographed this very mansion for
It probably helped with scenes such as the office scenes where we had
physical furniture on the blue screen – something for the actors to
mentally latch on to and anchor themselves in this imaginary environment.
From a directorial point of view, as you know, Chris and I shared duties.
Chris would focus on the technical side of things whereas I focused on
directing the performances out of the actors. When you’re in a stark,
featureless blue screen studio I think it was quite conducive to the tone
of the film in a lot of ways, in that there was more inner focus rather
than being distracted and influenced by the environment. There’s a
natural bleakness and melancholia to the blue screen which matched up with
the film well.
the experience gathered from Shadows
of a Stranger, would you ever shoot another movie that way?
I suppose I should never say never, but really it was something that
felt right for that particular project and at that point in our lives, but
I just feel like it’s a t-shirt I’ve got now.
can you tell us about your overall directorial approach to your story at
In terms of the performances, I tried to go for quiet
and brooding and subtle, trying to keep it under the surface rather than
having a load of showy, shouty stuff. When you’re creating your own
environments in post-production you can really think about the
mise-en-scene side of things and get things really precise in the detail.
You can convey so much there.
What can you tell us about
your cast, and why exactly these people?
I think our cast
was weirdly different in that you have all these recognisable faces (or
voices) popping up, mixed with actors from independent films, mixed with
actors we sourced from our local town. We knew for the main actors we had
to have people from our home town of Sleaford – Chris [Chris
Clark interview - click here] was always set to
play Xander. David was going to be played by a professional actor I’d
befriended and who lived near me, James Aubrey. He wasn’t doing so well
though and right before we were about to start filming he passed away.
Fortunately we’d had some successful audition sessions so we were able
to look back at who we’d seen and found our lead there, which is when
Ian Mude stepped in. He was originally set to play one of the policemen in
the opening scene so after his ‘promotion’ we then had to recast this
policeman – our co-producer Kit Tinsley got his brother to do that one
in the end! I actually think our cast was one of the best aspects of the
film. It was something we spent a lot of time on – even when we had the
problem of recasting our lead. I think we got a really strong group of
actors together and they all fit into their roles really well.
A few words
about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
the bulk of the production over the summer of 2010 and for me it was a
really great time. I’d worked out the schedule, and I made sure that we
could go at a pace that would suit us all, so generally it was relaxed.
There were inevitable tensions sometimes, and some days were really hot in
that barn. I remember remarking at the time to Ian that we seemed a right
bunch of rag tag scallywags and perhaps we were somewhat a bunch of
filmmaking misfits (no more so than myself I hasten to add!). Ultimately
it seemed we didn’t even fit in with ourselves, but I hope that everyone
enjoyed the ride.
you can tell us about critical and audience reception of Shadows
of a Stranger yet?
I think the picture is still emerging on that one. But if I combine
what we’ve seen already with my hunches, I would say that I think a
certain amount of people find it really unusual, perhaps to the extent
that they don’t really know what to make of it. Some people evidently
think it’s total trash. Reassuringly there are some people who ‘get
it’ though. I think people with a film brain understand the film, and
understand what must have been involved to get it made and they appreciate
what we’ve achieved – we’ve seen this in the critical reviews. So really we’ve had the whole spectrum of reactions. By putting it on
Amazon we realise we’ve essentially entered it into the great sea of
choice alongside ‘proper’ industry produce, and I do wonder if the
audience is watching far enough into the credits to see that there isn’t
some massive long list of visual effects artists but just two people.
I guess I’m looking forward to a bit more critical engagement with
the film from audiences. We live in an on-demand age where people form
quick opinions and need to be instantly hooked – the pop music industry,
for example, is totally geared up that way, and maybe audiences are
conditioned to get hooked on movies by painting-by-numbers trailers
featuring heartbeat sound effects, someone screaming, an explosion,
someone saying something about ‘being at war’ etc… We don’t have
the benefit of a global advertising campaign and publicists getting us on
TV shows or influential people telling you it’s good so you must like it
too. We’re kind of hitting audiences cold and, like I say, maybe they
don’t know what to think. I probably wouldn’t either, not without
watching it again – it’s more likely they’ll be onto the next thing
though rather than taking time to reflect on it, in this ‘infinite
content’ world. Shadows
of a Stranger probably doesn’t give that instant hit like
the latest single from Little Mix or the latest superhero film might.
We’ve gone our own way on this one, so if you’re looking for a high
octane, ultimate in CG special effects flick, something that goes bigger
and better with its visuals of destruction, always trying to outdo the
last big thing, then Shadows
of a Stranger is not the film for you.
Any future projects you'd
like to share?
To prove we’ve moved away from the blue screen, we’ve now started
work on our next production, which is a horror film called Video Nazi.
It’s completely different from Shadows
of a Stranger – a comedy horror, with maybe a
lot of shocks and outrageous stuff along the way. It did start off as a
semi-intelligent straight-laced horror, but we decided to take all the
intelligence out of it and go out and out ridiculous. Sorry to add to the
dumbing down of civilisation but I’ve come to the conclusion that
we’re screwed anyway.
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
Your/your movie's website, Facebook,
We have a whole bunch of places for our adoring fans to connect with /
Anything else you're dying to mention and
I have merely forgotten to ask?
Thanks for the