Friday, May 12, 2017

INTERVIEW - SHAUN ROBERT SMITH - BROKEN'S DIRECTOR

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When I decided to build this blog, I did it based on two firm ideas and convictions and there were, first, learn as much as I can either be reading (Investigating) or through interviews I could do to those great persons who allowed me make it to them. One of those persons is Shaun Robert Smith who allowed me have a nice talk with him and he could told me about his life, career and wishes. According IMDB he has made Three movies but just like he told me "In the eyes of the industry, Broken is my feature film debut" speaking about his last film "BROKEN" which went out this may 8 onto VOD and DVD formats. Shaun besides to be director is a prosthetics make-up artist. He has been involved in many independent productions including This Is England (2006), The Devil's Dosh (2011) and The Hooligan Factory (2014).

In 2007 Smith wrote & directed THE SOLDIER (2007) a story of Nazi test experimentation during WW2. The original idea for the award winning short film was written back in 1998 as a student film titled AOL TO HORROR (1998) a short wartime horror film set during the Vietnam conflict about the effects of chemical warfare. He later penned the sequel, THE TWITCHING DEAD (2000) - a post apocalyptic sequel.

EFF: Shaun thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. When and how did you realize you wanted to be a writer & director or be involved into film industry?

SRS: From an early age I was always intrigued when my Dad would break out the family cine camera, I remember watching him using the camera and filming our family holidays and special occasions. I was always excited to see the results projected onto a wall from his Bolex projector. I think I have my eldest brother to thank for my love of film, more specifically - horror. He would let me watch all the great 70’s horror’s when my Mum wasn’t looking. I remember watching John Carpenter’s ‘The Fog’ and thinking to myself “Holy crap, this is incredible. I’ve got to be a part of this!” A few days later I wrote about it in my journal at school, I must’ve been about 7 or 8 at the time, later that day my parents were hauled in and shaken down by the headmaster, but this moment steered me on a particular filmic path. Along with my younger brother, I used to film stuff, trailers for films that didn’t exist, short films and random scenes – it was epic!

Through my love of horror I trained as a prosthetics Make-up artist at the local college, the films I made with my brother started turning in to horror films bursting with gory scenes and special effects, but what I really had a passion for was writing and directing. I felt in control and I was able to create whole worlds and a vast array of characters, it was pure escapism.
Shaun Robert Smith

EFF: Where are you from Shaun?

SRS: I grew up in a small town in the UK called Stamford, located at the most southern tip of Lincolnshire. The town is so picturesque and cinematic, it’s perfect for filmmaking and a cinematographer’s wet dream. However, I’m not sure the residents were particularly happy when I littered the streets with Zombies and all kinds of creatures. I made the local newspaper on a few occasions, which in a town like Stamford, once you have made the Mercury you have arrived! I left town for the bright lights of the city when I was 21 but still visit family when I can.

EFF: "Broken" was your last film, you directed and co-written it alongside Craig Conway. How did start the story developing, why did you decide to make this film?

SRS: “Broken” started life as a short film called “The Myth of Hopelessness” based on my experiences as a carer. During this time I worked in many different sectors of the care industry, mental health, brain injury, geriatric care and spinal cord injury. It was working with the latter that inspired me to write this particular script.

I was hired by an agency to work with people with spinal cord injuries and assist them to lead an independent life within the setting of their own homes. No amount of training can prepare you for the job; you are essentially a cook, a cleaner, a psychiatrist, friend, parent, gardener, judge, juror and executioner! I would hear dreadful stories from my colleagues, situations they have been in and past clients they have worked for. The whole experience just screamed out to be produced as a film, of course we have used artistic licence to beef out the story, but the fact remains, the care industry is in need of a facelift and the carer’s need support too. 
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EFF:  How did you go about pitching this movie?

SRS: As soon as I finished the short film script, I called upon a few actors who I worked with on a previous film, they agreed to be a part of the short film. We all got together to shoot a few interviews for a Kickstarter campaign to raise a bit of cash, parts of these original interviews can be seen in the special features on the recent release of the Broken DVD. At the end of the day we were sitting in a bar having a chat, Craig was trying to convince me to turn the short into a feature. Initially I wasn’t interested in trying to raise financing for a feature, it becomes a different beast, a separate entity that makes you bleed from every orifice! I had spent many years trying to raise financing for another feature called ‘The 4th Reich’. I think my words to Craig were... “Go out and find the money, if you do, come back and we’ll talk!” Luckily, Craig was so passionate about the project, he pitched it to Kirsty Bell at Goldfinch Entertainment and they agreed to finance it – that was 52 hours after I had spoken to him!

So Craig became the producer and we started developing the script, and boy what a journey, one of the most exciting and joyous of my life. Sitting on the balcony of Craig’s apartment at 3am drinking copious amounts of coffee and eating crap, it was brilliant. I would write and Craig would give me notes and we hammered out the story, we even acted out scenes!

EFF: What was the biggest challenge you faced during this ‘Broken’?

SRS: Every inch of a low budget indie film is a huge challenge, it’s so tough out there. I mentioned I spent many years trying to raise finance for ‘The 4th Reich’. For a long period of time I was in pre-production and managed to travel to a few European countries scouting locations, meeting with production companies and visiting film studios – it was very appealing, for a while I was forced into the spotlight. It was on ‘The 4th Reich’ where I first met Craig, we were introduced by none other than Sean Pertwee, who I had cast as a lead. I cast Craig in one of the supporting roles after watching him in a short film called ‘Romans 12:20’ (one of the best short films I have ever seen). He is such a versatile actor and genuine human being, I just knew we’d end up working together, we kept in touch and worked on a few bits and bobs over the years.

With Broken, Craig managed to secure the funding very quickly. In the space of 10 weeks we had raised finance, developed the short script into a feature, prepped and shot the film! The whole experience was exhilarating! I think the most difficult part was hiring and keeping the crew, because we were such a low budget film we had to remain flexible with them. On a few occasions we’d lose crew members to bigger productions but we managed to maintain full capacity throughout. Craig is a likeable fellow so we had enough people wanting to work with us!

The other challenge of course is always time versus budget, we only had 17 days to shoot the entire film, so prioritising certain scenes and changing the script to adapt the workflow is an eye-opener. We had an editor – Michael Pentney, on location cutting together a rough assembly as we were shooting, this was key to the success of the film. Not only did we see the story coming together but we were able to make important decisions about the script, what was working and what wasn’t. At the end of every week we screened footage for the crew, just to show them exactly where all of their hard work was going. 
 Broken (2016)

EFF: What message did you want to portray to the audience?

SRS: The material is controversial, that’s for sure, so we had to tell the story in a sympathetic way but also in a way that would entertain the audience. We still managed to capture the monotony of the daily routine, Broken is a tough watch, a slow burner as some might say but it works and there is a satisfying conclusion. As a writer and director I never want to shy away from the truth, my experiences allowed me to portray the daily routines of both John and Evie, there are scenes dealing with excrement, urine, drugs, violence and personal care. These had to be dealt with in a sympathetic manner, but at the same time showing the audience exactly what has to be done. Usually in a film, things like this are sugar coated, not in Broken, we show everything. We were also aware that we had to steer well clear of and cliché’s. Something I am proud of is I have had quite a few actual carer’s contact me or tell me after a screening that Broken is the most accurate depiction of care work they have ever seen, which for me is hugely satisfying, the whole experience of making Broken was very cathartic for me.
Shaun Robert Smith

EFF: Based on your filmography, this is your third feature film, but we can say that this is your first big movie. You had a great cast crew, how did you manage this important aspect of the film? How did you engage the principal and non principal actors to the project?

SRS: In the eyes of the industry, Broken is my feature film debut. I had built such a great team for ‘The 4th Reich’ I wanted to reward their loyalty, Craig who plays ‘Dougie’ as well as being co-writer and producer, Mel Raido who plays the lead John, Patrick Toomey who plays the Case Manager Edward and my composers Sid Barnhoorn and Dan Dolby, make-up whizz Kristyan Mallet had all been part of that journey. The characters John, Dougie and Edward were all written with them in mind. I was lucky that they all wanted to be a part of the short film. This posed the question “Who was going to play Evie” Craig had previously worked with an actress called Morjana Alaoui on another film and he always vowed to work with her again. I knew of her from her knock-out performance in the French classic, ‘Martyrs’ it remains one of my favourite films. Morjana also brought a personal link to the film, she had previously cared for a disabled family member, so she was almost pre-packaged as Evie. I always wanted to work with Mel, he had ‘self-taped’ an audition for ‘The 4th Reich’. The audition was so impressive and researched, for an actor to insert that level of detail in an audition clearly has a hunger for the role, I knew from that moment I could work with Mel.

Broken is a very character driven story, which allowed me to explore their emotions and build a believable relationship between the two principal characters. If either John or Evie were unbelievable at any point during the film, the whole film would be a disaster. Thankfully I was able to work closely with Mel and Morjana to fully explore their characters. 

I wrote a brief history for each character, where they’re from, who their parents were, what schools they attended etc. These were presented to the actors and it allowed them delve deep into their characters. They both used this information to create a foundation for their characters, but they were both keen on adapting the brief to introduce certain elements, little nuances that made the characters believable. I remember one particular day where Craig had a gruelling scene as Dougie, he really had to reach into the darkest depths of his soul to find the right mentality to portray Dougie, and it affected him in a big way.

EFF: As a director and personally too, what has changed before and after this film?

SRS: With Broken, I have now seen a production through to release, I have realised certain pitfalls along the way. As a director I have become more knowledgeable about how a film is treated post completion. I definitely matured as a filmmaker during the production of Broken, working closely with Craig allowed me to have an insight into producing and how a film is put together from scratch. All I can tell you is that it's not easy, in the slightest. It has been a long road to the completion of my first feature, even though I have been in and out of the industry for almost 20 years! Broken has set the bar for my future projects, everyone that worked on Broken is proud of their achievements (I think). Many crew members stepped up to the plate on the production and have now progressed further in their careers. 

                                                                                       
EFF: What was the most difficult stage from the film? Pre, post, shooting?

SRS: The whole production was difficult, especially with time. There was so much more we could’ve shot. Ultimately I think this is why the film turned out the way it did, if we had more time we would’ve gone way over the top, there were a few scenes in the script we didn’t shoot, I’m relieved we didn’t because they would’ve taken the film too far. Instead what we have is a drama that turns into a psychological thriller, a film where the performances drive the story.

The most frustrating part of production was post-production, it took way longer than it should. We sat in a state of limbo for some time due to various logistical problems, we hit picture lock in September 2015, but we actually didn’t complete post-production until June/July 2016. However, in this industry, this is a common occurrence.

EFF:  What films inspired you to make this film, is there any reference to other movies?

SRS: I don’t think there are any particular films that inspired me to make this film, it’s a very unique film, but in terms of atmosphere, style and look I drew inspiration from Stanley Kubrick, Dario Argento and more. We had a very small space to shoot the film, just one location. So we needed to keep the story interesting and flowing, this was achieved with lighting, camera movement and most importantly – the score. Through the score we succeeded in giving the film a heartbeat, and also bringing the house to life. I hired two composers for that reason. I am a firm believer that a great score takes a film from being great to a cinematic masterpiece. 

Siddhartha Barnhoorn was hired to give the film an emotional spine, a heartbeat. He also achieved giving John & Evie’s relationship a theme, so you can identify with their stories and to give the story hope. This theme is weaved throughout the film at different tempos depending on the mental state of the characters.

Dan Dolby was hired to give the film its dark edge, to bring the house to life, to bring the characters torment into the story, the two scores complement each other incredibly well, unravelling the plot in small dark portions, leaving the audience wondering which way will the story turn.
 The twitching Dead (200)
 The 4th Reich
The Soldier (2007)

EFF: Any anecdotes to tell us from the sets of your films? Good or bad.


SRS: I used to churn out all sorts of films, just to showcase my make-up skills etc. There was one production, ‘The Forgotten Ground’ another zombie epic. This film was absolutely covered in blood, it had throat slashing, stabbings, decapitations, and people having limbs ripped off. It was an absolute blood bath! It was mostly awful but these films made me the filmmaker I am today. I remember one day in particular, it was a scene at the beginning of the film where two lovers are walking in the woods, they decide to stop to have a romantic ‘moment’, but unlucky for them an escaped convict slaughters them both. The spilt blood from the male seeps into the earth, this somehow resurrects an entire township that was murdered and buried some hundred years before. It turns out the blood from a virgin will bring back the dead!

We had just finished and all wrapped for lunch, on our return we noticed a commotion surrounding the patch of woodland. We arrived at a crime scene, a number of police vehicles and scientific support unit had cordoned off the area and were testing the blood and guts we had spread everywhere. The officers saw the funny side, but it helps to contact the correct police station before you start shooting, especially something so graphic.

EFF: Are you a horror fan? What horror movies do you like the most?

SRS: I am a huge horror fan, I always have been. I don’t think I can name a single favourite but I’ll name a few. Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’, Fulci’s ‘The Beyond’, von Trier’s ‘Antichrist’ Wise’s ‘The Haunting’, Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’, Hooper’s ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ and billions more. I have a wide admiration for the genre, and its sub-genres, horror is what built this industry, and built Hollywood, sometimes that is forgotten. Horror is the one true consistent genre and continues to thrive. I always thought my first feature would be a horror, but Broken isn’t really a horror, in a general sense, it’s more of a psychological thriller, but for the most part it plays out a social drama. I guess it’s a ‘real life’ horror, this kind of story is happening, behind closed doors, in nursing homes and even hospitals. Broken makes you think, and that’s what frightens people.

EFF: What directors have inspired you on your directing style?

SRS: Of course as you grow up you tend to favour certain directors and I like to think I have my own style, but I grew up watching Scorsese, De Palma, Mann, Fulci, Argento, Deodato Romero, Carpenter, Kubrick, all play a part in my style, subconsciously or consciously. Before we started shooting Broken, Craig and I managed to watch Kubrick’s 35th anniversary screening of ‘The Shining’, this was the first time I had seen it on the big screen and helped us get in the mood! We wanted to pay homage to Kubrick so we asked the production designer Boadicea Shouls to find us some wallpaper for John’s bedroom that represented the carpet of the Overlook Hotel, she absolutely nailed it – Watch the film and see for yourselves!
 Shaun Robert Smith

EFF: What equipment, cameras did you use for ‘Broken’?

SRS: The Arri Amira, a wonderful camera – we only had one camera for the shoot. At this point I need to mention our Director of Photography Kyle Heslop, during the lead up to prep I had a few conversations with Kyle over the phone. He instantly understood the style and look I wanted to achieve, it’s very reassuring to know that your DOP has your back and can second guess you, especially on this level of film. Kyle is incredibly professional and skilled at his craft, he has a long and successful career ahead of him.

EFF: What advice would you give for those wannabe filmmakers who want to shoot their first film?

SRS: Be persistent, be ambitious, be visual, do what you do best. If you are pitching a film, throw everything visual at the company or individual you are pitching to, design the film, shoot scenes and teasers for the film, storyboard the film, research your subject, make it difficult for them to say no.

We are in an age where anybody can pick up a camera and call themselves a filmmaker, what is going to make the investors notice you? Are they confident investing their cash in you? It’s not glamorous and for the most part it doesn’t pay well, but telling a story through the visual medium is incredibly rewarding, taking a project from script to screen is addictive and a dream. I’ve had this dream since I was a young lad and I knew I wanted it. Follow your dreams and don’t give up. It’s a fickle and frustrating business so you will need the support and understanding of those closest to you as well as a shed load of patience.

EFF:  And now if somebody gives you the chance to make a horror remake, what would you choose and why?

SRS: Oh crikey, okay, here we go... I’m not a huge fan of remakes or reboots or whatever you want to call them. I think they are slowly killing off the industry - remakes and superhero movies. The studios are less likely to invest in fresh ideas when they know they can make a quick buck or two with re-hashing an old horror or re-booting Spiderman for the umpteenth time!

I understand the need to re-introduce an old idea to a new generation, but f**k me, do we have to remake EVERYTHING? I have about fifty story ideas scrawled on bits of paper on my desk, all of them are fresh ideas and original. There have only been a couple of decent remakes in recent times, but I guess if you put a gun to my head and ask “What horror remake would you like to do asshole?” I’d probably say I’d like to revisit Robert Wise’s ‘The Haunting’ and do it justice, the original is a fantastic film and is probably one of the only films that truly scared me. I’d make it the most terrifying piece of cinema ever!

I’m not dead against remakes but whatever happens, you can’t please everybody, there are the diehard fans that will want you to stick to the original material and there will be fans that want you to try something new. Rant over.

EFF:  What is new with your career?

SRS: I have a few scripts I am working on with Craig, including ‘The 4th Reich’ but as I write these answers to you, I am procrastinating from a personal script I am writing, something very dark and disturbing and I need to get in the right headspace. The only way I can do this is listen to a few of Dan Dolby’s new albums ‘People’s Temple’, ‘K-141’ or ‘Morning Star’  they are dark, very dark but perfect for what I need, he is an incredible talent and gets under your skin. Depending on the scene, I listen to soundtracks to engulf me in the world I’m creating.
Thanks for the interview and thanks to everyone who took their time to read it.
Shaun Robert Smith


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