Your new movie Monstrous
Disunion - in a few words, what is it about?
It's about the EU referendum in 2016 and how a divided family
deal with the oncoming 'pigocalypse' during a family meal.
question: Why pigs?
Haha, well we wanted to make something
where characters who were the most fanatical were literally transforming
into something monstrous. Sam and I went through a load of different ideas
of what they could be. We ended up landing on pigs for multiple reasons,
the representation of greed and capitalism itself. It also conjured up
images from Orwell's Animal Farm, which really spoke to that aspect of
fake revolution that was coming from the Brexiteers. We also were playing
off the phrase “pig-headed” and it helped quite a lot that after the
writing of this the term “gammon” started being used for angry right
wing white men.
Your personal thoughts about Brexit,
and the route it has taken since you've made Monstrous
When the referendum was announced I was
really on the fence to be honest. I feel like the EU is a really
complicated issue, and boiling it down to this good or bad framing was
really unhealthy for the debate. Ultimately the EU is and always has been
a very boring institute dealing with trade and European relations more
than anything else. As the campaigns on either side built, it was obvious
that the Brexiteers were simply using the campaign as a vehicle to peddle
racism and a nostalgia for a time that never really existed. In the end I
voted remain to no effect. In hindsight it was kind of obvious, one side
was vaguely painting this hopeful image of change and the other was
calling for things to stay the same. Since the referendum the
“pig-headedness” of either side fermented and the divisions just got
worse. In my opinion something like the EU is way too complex to ask the
public to vote on, it is not a single issue decision, and it was stupid to
call a referendum in the first place. The whole thing has been about
aesthetics and been used to move the government further to the right.
(Other) sources of inspiration while
We were thinking of outbreak films a lot,
and so the obvious one really is Night of the
Living Dead, playing with
the idea of paranoia and the power dynamics in that situation. We divided
the characters into clear sides to create this us and them-attitude. We
were also looking at the way that news infiltrates our lives and shapes
our opinions, particularly in Pete and his far-right wing conspiracy
theory videos. Despite all these influences and inspirations being quite
serious we still wanted to make something fun and absurd.
What can you tell us about your
co-writer Sam Mason-Bell [Sam
Mason-Bell interview - click here], and what was your
Sam and I have been writing together
for almost a decade now. So once we have an idea we find it quite easy to
run with it. The writing process was really collaborative, and we agreed
on the most part, although we had our moments. As all writers do we can
break into bitter argument over some minor aspect but we will either argue
it out, or failing that find a compromise. If one of us isn't happy with
something we usually agree that there's a reason for that and so we can
probably find something better.
This isn't the first time you've
worked with Sam Mason-Bell - so what can you tell us about your previous
collaborations, and how did you first meet even?
I met Sam
when I was studying Drama at uni. He was producing and directing a film
called the Wasters. A few friends were in lead roles in the film, and I
came on as a glorified extra really. After that I acted in a few more
films with bigger roles and became a part of the team. I really wanted to
direct, but having only really worked in theatre, I needed more experience
in the other aspects of filmmaking. I learnt to use the camera making
night club promo videos and by doing film challenges. I also worked with
Sam on editing and really developed my skills by trial and error.
Eventually I shot The Animals for Sam. It took a year to shoot and
you can tell the earlier stuff from the later because I got slowly better
as it went on. After that I was Sam's go-to DOP (Lonely
Killer, Fixer, Decline and Senseless). But we also worked together on two
comedy web series, The Making Of, which I shot and co-wrote with Sam, and
Right Here Right Now, which I played the main character in. The spirit of
collaboration on our sets is really what makes them work and enjoyable.
What can you tell us about your film's approach to both satire and horror?
jokingly referred to Monstrous Disunion
as a sledge-hammer horror satire,
it's not subtle on the surface. I think it's important now more than ever
not to allow satire to be misunderstood especially when creating
characters with racist or bigoted views, so I really wanted to slap the
audience in the face with the message of the film. I think the funnier
moments are the more subtle ones though and I really wanted to take the
piss out of every side of the argument. In some ways I wanted to build
more horror out of the conversations and the social awkwardness of
disagreeing so vehemently at the dinner table, that when they finally
start turning into pigs its kind of a relief that you won't hear them talk
about Brexit again.
of course also have to talk about the pig make-up in Monstrous
Disunion, and to what extent were you involved in their creation
When Sam and I came up with the idea of
creating pig monsters we decided straight away we wanted to keep their
human features as much as possible, which is why we used make-up instead
of masks. We didn't want to create something too soft or unrelatable, so we
were looking at Nosferatu style vampires and then applying the pig imagery
to that, like the snout and ears. These were all just rough ideas that we
explained to Katy Johnson and Charlie Griffin who really managed to get
exactly what we were looking for. Somewhere in between terrifying and
Do talk about your overall directorial
approach to your story at hand!
I tend to like a bit of a
theatrical style, small casts in small locations. I feel that sometimes
bringing a big subject down into these small dynamics lets you have a
bigger discussion. The characters are all representative of different
political views, and what happens to them is also representative of how
that viewpoint played out in the referendum discourse. What happens in
each scene was written but the dialogue was improvised and so my direction
was mostly focused on getting the actors to know their characters, and how
their characters might think and react.
What can you tell us
Disunion's cast, and why exactly these people?
cast were wonderful to work with. I've worked with Martin Payne (Mark
Baker) [Martin W. Payne
interview - click here] numerous times and his attention to detail is always spot on and he
perfectly captured the character. I'd not worked with Jeanette Evans (Anne
Baker) before but she had the perfect look for the character and honestly
ended up knowing the character better than I did. Connor Mellish (Pete
Baker) had a bit part in Fixer and just had the perfect look for the
character, even though he is nothing like Pete, he really pulled off that
snarling smug character. Alexandra Robertshaw had worked with Trash Arts
several times, and so we knew that she would be able to get across this
quiet uncomfortable character. Jessamie Waldon-Day had worked on a short
film with us and we just felt immediately that she would work for Maddie.
Ryan Carter has been working with us for years and originally the part was
going to be someone else, but after a last minute drop-out Ryan stepped up
to play Mikey and despite the short notice he gave a fantastically
reserved performance, which is exactly what I wanted from the character. I
think in terms of casting one of the only things I was really looking for
universally was people who were relatively like minded, I didn't want any
real political debates on set.
few words about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
all worked together very collaboratively and we had a lot of fun. After a
number of HB Films and
collaborations, I knew that having HB Films
producing would really mean I could focus on the film itself and
directing. I really can't remember a lot of it because I was constantly
running around setting things up and trying to work out what the hell I
was doing half the time. We shot over two weekends, at first we'd planned
to shoot over one weekend, but after one of our actors was ill we had to
extend the shoot. Fortunately the location was free again and we managed
to finish the film. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and in some ways I
wish the shoot had been longer simply so I could have actually taken in
$64-question of course, where can Monstrous
Disunion be seen?
Disunion is out on the 1st of January from Darkside Releasing
Anything you can tell us about
audience and critical reception of Monstrous
We haven't received too much response
from the film yet but it will be live streaming on the 2nd of January on Without
Your Head. So I guess we'll see.
Any future projects you'd like to
I have recently started working on a web series
called My Horror Stories. It's a very basic set up of one
actor telling a horror story in front of a black back drop. The story has
been built out of a discussion between me and the actor about what fear
means to them, their phobias and their ideas. Each story is really
different, and terrifying in their own ways. You can see all of these on
the Trash Arts
YouTube channel, where there will be monthly new
releases (Covid permitting).
What got you into filmmaking to begin with, and
did you receive any formal training on the subject?
always loved film and TV and started acting in an amateur theatre group
when I was 9. Before that I'd wanted to be an author. So story telling was
always high on my agenda. I actually did a joint degree of Drama and
Media, although I was much more focused on the creative sides of the
degree and only really attended my media classes for the editing course.
As I was finishing university I got involved with Trash Arts,
opened up a different creative outlet to me. I think ultimately it was my
interest in directing and writing, and my experience in amateur theatre
that lead me to making low budget indie films. It's that same idea of
creating something out of nothing or very little that really made me feel
at home in film.
it comes to filmmaking, you have worked in numerous jobs both in front of
and behind the camera - so why is that, what do you enjoy the most, and
honestly, what could you do without?
I think if you're trying
to learn a craft you need to have an understanding of every aspect of it.
Really my favourite aspects of film making are writing and acting,
although I tend to avoid writing for myself as an actor, but I love every
job I have done on film sets and in post. The one I would say I'm not very
good at is producing simply because I'm terrible at scheduling!
How would you
describe yourself as a director?
Collaborative. I'm really
not one of those directors that wants everything their way, I get wanting
that stamp of ownership, but I think that things work out better when
you're open to different ideas and have trust in the people you're working
with. I think a good director is supposed to draw on the actors and crews
talent around them and help bring that out.
Filmmakers who inspire
Artistically I'm inspired by absurdism, playing with
narrative format and power dynamics. I love the work of David Lynch,
Charlie Kaufman, Wes Anderson, Robert Eggers, Ari Aster, Jordan Peele,
Darren Aronofsky, George A. Romero, Sam Rami, Wes Craven and a load of
others. I'm really inspired most by seeing low budget work achieving much
bigger things from peers like Mike Peter Reed, Tom Lee Rutter [Thomas
Lee Rutter interview - click here], Jessica Hunt [Jessica
Hunt interview - click here], or older low budget film makers
like Michael J. Murphy.
Your favourite movies?
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
really have so many, but if I was to pick one I'd have to say Snowpiercer.
... and of
course, films you really deplore?
There's nothing I really
go out of my way to hate on. I watch what I enjoy and most films have
something in them that is interesting or inspiring. But I'm not a fan of
Tarantino, something about the delivery of the dialogue always irritates
website, social media, whatever else?
for the interview!