I recently got the chance to talk to director Martyn Pick about his new film, ‘The Haunting Of Harry Payne’. Here, Martyn talks about what it was like working with the cast and crew on-set and which films have inspired him as an director…
Hey Martyn. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me about your new film, ‘The Haunting Of Harry Payne’.
What’s the general plotline surrounding the film?
Without giving the plot away my most concise description is that a gangster is literally haunted by his past. An original concept and a brave endeavour!
You directed the film – how did the idea come about in the first place?
I was approached after John’s script had been fleshed out at an early draft stage. For me it was an opportunity to cut my teeth on directing live-action long form.
My debut feature film was the futuristic CGI thriller ‘Ultramarines: A Warhammer 40,000 Movie’. This used facial capture of actors such as Terence Stamp, John Hurt and Sean Pertwee combined with CGI and matte paintings. In the past I had made shorts with a very distinctive personal look such as ‘Plaza’ where live-action was ripped apart by animation for Channel 4 animation – (http://vimeo.com/3490196) and ‘Meat And Electricity’ – (http://vimeo.com/4299305). For FilmFour I directed an 8 minute pure live action film called ‘Green’ - (http://vimeo.com/4295896) which had little dialogue and for which I created an extensive storyboard. This was almost an exercise in pure visual storytelling like silent cinema. And in 2008 I was commissioned by Film London and the London Development Agency to make an authored short film about London to be premiered at the Beijng Olympics. This used a technique I have developed of painting directly into live-action digitally.
‘The Haunting of Harry Payne’ was a opportunuty that came my way to take my live-action into long form.
I have always been a fan of the horror genre. In a way it links to my interest in romantic painting – (Turner, Gericault, John Martin) as so much horror mythology (Frankenstein, Dracula) came out of that movement. My digital artwork has a strong influence from this sense of the sublime you find in these paintings and I like to try to inhabit the ground between that and contemporary blockbuster films. In terms of cinema I love the low-budget independent horror of the Seventies like ‘Dawn Of The Dead’, ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’, ‘Shivers’ because it is so raw and intense. Its like great early stripped down punk rock like a Stooges or MC5 album. I also really like the way you can feel the social disturbance of the era (permissive culture, civil rights, conflict between far left and right-wing politics) in the savage traumatic tone of these films. Modern horror films like ‘Let The Right One In’ with their cool art house European style are very innovative and inspiring too.
How hard was it to put the film into production? What tricks as a director did you try to throw in?
It’s a low-budget film so resources are scarce. Nevertheless I was impressed by the scale and professionalism of the crew. But with restricted money there is little room for manoeuvre so my strategy was to workshop the script with actors which helped with casting and suggesting rewrites. And most crucially I spent a working week storyboarding the whole film so that there was a plan every time we started a new scene. My speed at drawing developed through working through the fast expressionist flow of my fine art animation. This critically gives a basic spine to any shoot and holds it together.
What’s the reception been like to the film so far?
I would say that the film is building up a healthy buzz of anticipation online.
The film stars Neil Maskell, Tony Scannell, P.H. Moriarty, Katy Manning, Graham Cole and Anouska Mond – what was it like working with the cast and crew on-set? Any good anecdotes?
They are all great strong actors. Tony Scannell brought a lot of weathered authenticity and dignified emotion to the role. Without giving the plot away, in one wordless scene Tony has just met a mentally ill loved one and has had to maintain an upbeat front. Once on his own, as he sits in his car in his own private space, he breaks down and gently sobs. Without any dialogue this conveyed so much. Pure cinema.
P.H. Moriarty is a legend, effortlessly conveying authority and menace. Katy has a very remarkable and original character arc which is both moving and vividly dramatic. Graham Cole found wry humour in his role and created great chemistry with Fliss Walton who playing his sidekick who equally brought precision and wit to her part. Neil Maskell is a superb actor and highly convincing. Anouska Mond was extremely committed to her craft and has great cinematic presence.
Let’s talk a bit about you Martyn. What made you want to get into the industry in the first place?
I always loved film but when I started at college I was going to be a painter. I was good at drawing at school and used this to get into art college – (I still produce a lot of artwork which shows the undiluted core of my style and sell and exhibit my work: http://animateprojectsobserver.com/apo/2012/04/martyn-pick-new-work-on-display-at-prime-focus/)
Animation seemed an unexplored territory at this time because it was so associated with Disney but there were so many possibilities in terms of different artistic influences you could bring to it. And my approach was fine art with wild expressionistic charcoal animation with early films like ‘Taboo Of Dirt’ – (http://vimeo.com/5204243).
I found myself as animator, director and producer on promos and short films with this specific style like these sequences for STV: http://vimeo.com/4095197. When I broke into commercials I got bigger budgets and began being able to delegate. And this meant I got used to directing crews. Realising that you have to keep on developing I began incorporating CGI and live action into the mix of my work as in these commercials: ADM – (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2u3mkuduGSA) and EURO 2004 – (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrPQbpzhfQ0). With my directing skills developed I began to work on drama – ‘Green’ and learned how to deal with actors.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to pursue a career in the industry?
If you want to be a director it’s about creating a consistent voice and conveying the story or the concept. It does not matter about the length or scale of the production. ‘South Park’ is well conceived and directed and so is ‘Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes’. So use whatever you can get your hands on and create a coherent thought through story or idea.
What films and TV series have inspired you as a director? Any favourites?
I’m an obsessive film fan and have been since I was a kid. Broadly I like strong visual storytelling and also directors who manage to successfully marry the personal and artistic with the commercial genre form. Top directors are: Sergio Leone, Peckinpah, Cimino, John Ford, Von Sternberg, Kurosawa, Dario Argento, Romero, Tobe Hooper, Aaronofsky, Nicolas Winding Refn.
My favourite films are ‘The Wild Bunch’, ‘Seven Samurai’, ‘Once Upon A Time In The West’, ‘300’, ‘The Wages Of Fear’, ‘The Warriors’, ‘Dawn Of The Dead’, ‘Heaven’s Gate’, ‘The Wrestler’ and ‘Drive’.
For bigger list of my favourite check out the list I wrote for an online survey a few years ago:
If you could have dinner with three guests – (living or dead), who would you choose and why?
Karl Marx to get everything in perspective about the mess we are in and where it is leading. A wise man. I think he would see the bigger picture and it would be good to get a sense of our place in the inexorable flow of history. Peter Cook for a good dirty laugh. Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols because his US radio show Jonesy’s Jukebox was so damn funny.
What’s coming up for you in 2012?
Well between commercial projects one thing I aim to do is push to finish ‘Harry Payne’. I am developing an exciting CGI/live-action feature with a top producer. And I am attached to several other live action feature projects in development. My direction to make commercial films using my striking artistic stamp. Check out updates on my site http://www.martynpick.com, Twitter: @martynpick and blog – http://martynpick.blogspot.co.uk/.
Thanks for the interview!