Monday, 17 February 2014

Kieran Evans: Bafta Winner

Last night, Kieran Evans won a BAFTA for Most Outstanding Debut by a British Director, Producer or Writer for his work on the critically acclaimed Kelly + Victor a love story based on the original novel by Niall Griffiths set in Liverpool and featuring two stand out turns by Antonio Campbell-Hughes and Julian Morris. Evans adapted the book into the screenplay for which he directed the film also.

The young director afforded me the chance to answer some questions about the gestation of the film, and from the answers I hope you get a sense of how intelligent and thoughtful an artist he is.

Kieran Evans

What drew you to the original source material?
Ten years ago, I'd just finished work on Finisterre, a film about London that I'd made with my friend Paul Kelly. Janine Marmot, (producer of Kelly+Victor) had seen it at the onedotzero Festival and had seen some of my promos and short film work and approached me to see if I was interested in moving in to features. Which I was! We talked a lot about the type of films I liked and what I wanted to make and Janine advised me to look for subjects with a twist or stories with a Welsh angle. So I went off for a few months to research some ideas and search out some stories that might appeal. I was a big fan of Niall's first two novels Grits and Sheepshagger and had been talking to BBC Wales about making a short film about him so I got hold of his number and got in touch. We met up and got on really well, so much so we skipped on the film about him and started working on an original short film idea called 'Wanderlust'. Whilst we were developing it, Niall gave me an advance copy of his new novel Kelly + Victor to take on holiday with. Due to the subject matter, it was hardly a light holiday read but over the course of that week, the writing was so vivid and the characters drawn so well that i slowly got immersed in the story. I must have read it at least three times, each time being drawn more and more in to who Kelly + Victor were and why they did what they did. Images started flying around in my head and i just couldn't stop thinking about it so as soon as i got back to London, I phoned Janine to say i may have found the story I wanted to tell. She read it the next day and thankfully felt the same way about it...and so the journey began...

Did Niall Griffiths offer any input into your screenplay?
Niall and myself initially worked on breaking down the novel  in to a workable framework, creating a list of golden rules we agreed must be retained from the novel when we adapted and what we felt we could jettison. Once we had these elements in place, we began work on the first draft of the script together. We spent a lot of time on that first draft, partly just working out a system that worked for us both but after five months we had something resembling a first draft.
There was then quite a lot of work to be done on the second draft and Niall's availability became a problem as he needed to start writing his next novel. So we agreed I would take up the reins and carry on with developing and writing the script alone whilst Niall continued in a more advisory role, essentially becoming my script supervisor. Every step of the way, Niall was around and about so I could bounce ideas off him and run various sections of the script past him. 

Was it always an intention to use Liverpool as a character in the film- showing the light/dark side of a city in comparison to the light/dark of the story? 
One of the golden rules that Niall and myself drew up at the start of the scripting process was that the film could not be set anywhere other than Liverpool as the book was obviously set there. Over the years there were a few funding opportunities offered if we shifted the story to another city but there was something in the character and atmosphere of Liverpool that gave it that extra special something and so we stuck to our guns. Liverpool itself has this incredible rich cultural and trading history and was a real trading powerhouse in Victorian times, second only to London with wealthy philanthropists building museums and parks in giving something back to the city. Sadly over time, the city has slipped from its position of power and status in to a tragic crumbling state, punished by successive Tory governments to a point that it's a shell of its former glorious self.

So what you have now is an uneasy friction between outlandish office and apartment developments down by the regenerated Albert Dock area and some of the most deprived council estates and dilapidated housing conditions within ten minutes walk of those steel spires. Confronted with all that informed me so much of what to focus on and where to point the camera. But what people also don't seem to realise is how close to nature Liverpool is. You've got incredible swathes of coastline and marshland hugging its edges. Across the Mersey you have the ferry terminals and crumbling docks of The Wirral on one side and huge tracts of mud flats that provides a sanctuary for birds and wildlife on the other. It's all these incredible opposites that provided so much inspiration and ideas for how to capture Liverpool. That and the amazing local knowledge of location manager Tom Harnick.

How much rehearsal time did you spend with Antonia and Julian?
We spent about a week to ten days rehearsing up in Liverpool prior to shooting. That helped a lot due to the intense shooting schedule we were faced with. What was great was seeing the chemistry between them grow and develop over this period and really start to build the characters of Kelly + Victor.

Both put in brave performances, how much praise do you have for them?
I have such huge respect for Antonia and Julian and their commitment to the film. They were incredibly focussed, driven and passionate collaborators to be honest. We worked day in, day out on their roles and their approach to scenes. It was an incredibly rewarding experience as a director and made the job so much easier.

The sex scenes at times are difficult to watch. How much of your role as director was in the editing suite, for example, the scarring scene when we see Victor screaming and yet you use the soundtrack for effect?
I started my career in film as a trainee editor on a number of features and witnessed first hand how films can come alive in the edit suite. For me, everything comes together in the edit and it's the most exciting part of the process when ideas finally get realised and sequences really start to sing. It's especially so when you start playing with the soundtrack and start putting music and fx up against picture. Two film-makers I greatly admire are David Lynch and Nic Roeg who have always used sound as part of the storytelling process and they certainly influenced me and my thinking when approaching how to frame the story with sound in certain parts of Kelly + Victor. 

The approach I had for the scarring scene was very much an idea I had on set. As we prepped to shoot the scene, I just felt that we didn't really need to see Kellys actions or focus too much on what she was physically doing to Victor. My gut instinct told me it was more a case of seeing Victors physical reaction and the pain he was experiencing so I made a conscious decision to build the scene around a low angle on Julian's face as he writhed and bucked around in pain on the living room floor. What I thought might make it more powerful was if his screams slowly slip away in the mix so we can see what's happening but can't exactly hear it. Almost making it feel quite voyeuristic, as if we the audience were hearing his screams through an adjacent wall or from another room. We played around with a few treatments and ideas with Steve Fanagan the sound designer, working through a number of approaches and experiments on the sequence until we arrived at what we felt sounded right.  There was a lot of subtle changes to the mix that made a huge difference to how the scene played out. I remember spending an hour just playing with loads of sub frequencies and low end passes to get that dulled, distant treatment we wanted for Victors screaming. If it was hard to watch, it was harder to get it to sound right but we all knew when we had got it just right with that scene.. When we played it back in the dubbing suite to the producers, there was a rather large collective intake of breath at the end followed by a very long silence. I think that said it all. 

Can you comment on the role of funding from Film Agency Wales and Irish Film Board? 
Myself and Janine started work on developing Kelly + Victor over nine years ago and over that time we went through a number of changes in the films development funding. Luckily we had a quite few supporters of the project at Film Agency Wales who stuck with us through thick and thin and got us to the point of production funding. It was then that the Irish Film Board also came on board and provided the other half of the financing. The film would never have been made without the support from both of those funding bodies. We were extremely lucky to have a group of people who believed in the project and committed to making it the way we wanted. 

How has your life changed since the theatrical release?
Having a film released theatrically certainly gives you opportunities to get yourself out there and promote your work. Its a great calling card especially in the States and certainly does open doors to finally meet with people rather than just continually knock on them.
Other than that, nothing much has changed yet to be honest. There lots of exciting discussions and possible opportunities on the horizon with new film projects but for now I'm just carrying on trying to make the type of films I want to make and work with people I admire. If I can do that, I'll be happy.

Were you happy with the critical response to the film?
When I set out to make a feature, I wanted to tell a story that could move and startle the viewer. With the subject matter and areas we were exploring in Kelly + Victor, I always knew the film would divide people and their opinions so I was pretty certain some people would dislike  or reject the premise of the film. On the other hand I was also very confident that some people would really empathise with the story and be moved by it.  I think deep down, what I really wanted the film to do was connect with an audience and I think it has. Some of the reviews have been incredible and the response from people who've gone to see it has been wonderful. It's a film that's definitely touched a nerve. I'm not sure what else 

Were you surprised by your Bafta nomination for Outstanding Debut?
To put it bluntly....yes! It's a wonderful feeling to be nominated, especially when I think about how long its taken to get the film to the screen. For me the nomination is recognition for everyone who supported the film over the years and helped bring Kelly + Victor to the screen. Without them, I wouldn't be here now. 

What are you working on currently?
I've got two fiction and one documentary features lined up that are all in advanced stages of development which is very exciting. I can't talk too much about any of them due to usual contractual gubbins. The documentary is something I've been developing for over a year and revolves around leftfield electronic music and an artist I greatly admire. It's a real passion project and it's something I've been dying to make for a long time. Both fiction features are completely different in tone, style and subject matter to K+V. One is an adaptation of a wonderful book that I came across just as I finished shooting Kelly+Victor. I chased the option for quite some time and roped in quite a few people to help get it to the development stage so fingers crossed we're now in a position to move forward with it. It's an exciting step up, touching on meta-physical and supernatural themes but still very much character and story driven. The second is based on a tragic true event and centres around an inspirational character. The subject is very close to my heart as it's got a strong Welsh element to it. It's a very different challenge due to the decade when these events occurred and the location where most of the film is set but again the characters are so well drawn and story definitely needs to be told, I couldn't help but fall in love with the script. That's about all i can say for now. Fingers crossed 2014 is a green light type of year!

Kelly + Victor is out now on DVD from Viva Verve pictures

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Penthouse North

 View Penthouse North 3D DVD small.jpg in slide show

Out on DVD from 3rd February, Penthouse North is a slicker than usual B-movie film that tells the story of a blind woman who does not know the truth about her boyfriend and how they can afford such a great penthouse apartment in New York City.

The action takes place over one New Years Eve night and our heroine played with great finesse by he beautiful Michelle Monaghan (Mission Impossible 3 and Source Code) as Sara, a war photographer coming to terms with the loss of her vision.  On NYE in NYC she runs some errands, comes home and realises there is an intruder in her home, Chad (Barry Sloane).  Her ailment obviously makes her unaware until she comes across her dead boyfriend; this is a wonderful scene as she walks round the prone body and only comes aware of his fate when she slips in a pool of his blood.

Sara overcomes Chad and escapes her building and when seeking help she encounters the charming Hollander played by Michael Keaton (who appears in Robocop out this Friday). However, after a brief period of calm we realise Chad and Hollander are in cahoots.

Exposition allows the criminals to explain they are after cash and diamonds, meaning they trash the place and hope the disposable boyfriend had told Sara where the money is situated in the flat.  The film then descends into a cat and mouse game between the blind girl and the two criminals.  We get the criminals descend into madness as they try to one-up each other.

The discovery of the diamonds is handled with great aplomb in one of the few original moments of the film.  That is he unfortunate nature of the screenplay, try as the capable actors do to elevate their one-dimensional characters.

However, due to the vulnerability of Sara you sense no harm will come onto her from Hollander.  The films conclusion harkens back to the days of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.. as the heroine gets the rewards and the spoils.

Whilst this is a B movie, it is a gripping serviceable affair and seeing Keaton on the screen is always a pleasure.

Penthouse North is out on DVD from Image Entertainment now for £12.99 on DVD and £15.99 Blu-Ray