I recently got the chance to talk to director John Langridge about his new film, ‘Four’. Here, John talks about how the idea came about in the first place and which films have inspired him as a director…
(John Langridge (M) pictured with Craig Conway and Sean Pertwee).
Hey John. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me. Of course we‘re here to talk to you about your new film, ‘Four’.
You directed and edited the feature – how did the idea come about in the first place?
After doing a couple of shorts, I’d been trying to get various feature projects off the ground for a few years and finally decided to just go with a small cast in one location that would be easy to make with equipment we could scrounge together. I remembered this script ‘Four’ by a friend of mine, Paul Chronnell that he wrote years ago. We dusted it off and I gave it to Raiomond Mirza, the producer and he said, ‘Sure, Nina and I will fund the whole thing – but let’s make it a proper film with known actors and a decent budget – as long as I get a say in the final cut’. After all that struggle, everything just suddenly opened up. It happens that way sometimes I suppose.
The script went through about another 10 drafts with Paul, Raiomond and myself all having an input while spending about six months on the casting and a further three months finding the right location. We shot in February for twenty-one nights in an old abandoned paper mill in Taplow, near Staines and another three days in central London. Then I spent about seven months cutting it all together at home before handing it over to Raiomond for a final pass.
How would you say the film is different from other thrillers released this year? What tricks as a director did you try to throw in?
I’d say ‘Four’ is different as it is, almost exclusively, a character driven film. My mantra for the shoot, was always ‘just let the actors act.’ We didn’t have a lot of time. In fact it was a race to get all the coverage we needed, as it was five to six dialogue heavy pages a day. I had to rely on basic set-ups for the majority of the scenes, interspersed with interesting visual cues for scene transitions and key, pivotal changes of beat – or ‘tent pole moments’ as we referred to them. Adrian Brown, our DOP, not only lit the space beautifully so it almost became a ‘fifth character’, but also pre-lit each set for the full 360 degrees, which really sped things up. Like all low-budget films, you have to try to make the best with what you have. Budgetary limitations aside however, I’m extremely proud of the finished film and of the cast and crew that helped make it. It has scenes in it that I wouldn’t do any other way even if I’d had unlimited resources. I suppose low-budgets and impossible schedules can make you think on your feet, they test you as a film maker.
How has the reception been to the film so far?
For such a low-budget film we have had an unprecedented amount of coverage. On television, radio and in the press. Due in no small part to our executive producer Nina Wadia who worked tirelessly to promote the film literally everywhere. The reviews have been great. Mark Kermode was particularly kind to us, describing ‘Four’ as ‘A solid four hander with a strong visual style’. Obviously you should always take reviews – good or bad – with a pinch of salt but it’s nice to get a validation from a critic whose opinion really matters to you.
The film stars Martin Compston, Craig Conway, Sean Pertwee and Kierston Wareing – what was it like working with the cast and crew?
They responded to the challenge brilliantly. Particularly Sean Pertwee who is just an astonishing actor. He’s mentioned in interviews that he came in at the last minute. That’s true, quite literally, we had already begun shooting when he came on board as another actor had dropped out a week in – leaving us well and truly in the shit. I think Sean read the script for the first time on Tuesday and was on set by Thursday ready to re-shoot everything we’d just done and with no time for preparation whatsoever other than learning the lines. Which was a feat in itself. It’s in situations like that that you can really see an actor’s instinct kick in. What they’re really made of. It’s exhilarating, scary but exhilarating to watch. Not a dice I’d be too happy to roll again as it could so very easily have gone horribly wrong but Sean was there 100% from the first moment. I have nothing but immense admiration for him as an artist. He’s a top bloke too, and totally generous as an actor – even when he’s not on camera. It’s ironic really because he was actually my original choice for the Detective, about a year before we filmed it and I remember everyone saying ‘you’ll never get him.’
Craig Conway was a real find. Again, he came in very late – about a week before we shot. I remember the casting director, Kelly Hendry, suggesting him and Raiomond and I thinking, ‘What? That psycho from ‘Doomsday’? For the cuckolded, out-of-his depth-Husband? Are you out of your mind?’ But she kept coming back with him, he’d read the script and loved it and really wanted to do it etc… So eventually I said to Raiomond, ‘Look, if he wants it so badly and he’s so sure he can do it, then let’s give it to him’. Big lesson, and I think one I’m going to carry with me – if someone wants something badly enough, a part, a job on the crew or whatever, then chances are they’re going to go that extra mile for you. Craig was an absolute delight to direct, and an extremely intelligent actor. Full of energy, ideas and most importantly, he’s absolutely fearless. I remember saying to him just before a pivotal close-up: ‘I want to see the love the Husband has for his wife in your eyes.’ And it’s there. The pain, the fact that after all the terrible things he’s done (and is planning to do, with the Detective’s help) he still loves her – and it’s tearing him apart. Angry, vengeful, hurt, broken and raw – in the space of about ten seconds. Sublime acting.
I remember Martin Compston, who plays the Lover being incredibly focused. He had the hardest job I think, spending the majority of the film getting the shit kicked out of him. It must be no fun playing low status, especially when you’re tied to a chair night after night in uncomfortable prosthetics and sub-zero temperatures while your co-stars take turns to scream in your face. He couldn’t move either, as he was actually as roped in as he looks. I think we sorted out a quick release for him by the end but to start with we had this protocol worked out for lifting him and the chair out as one should anything catch fire. Every time we cut, runners would rush up and throw blankets over him and put these portable heaters next to his chair but he must have been freezing. He never let it get to him though – or if he did, he didn’t let it show. Like the others, he has certainly his share of ‘moments’ in the finished film.
Kierston Wareing as the Wife was the first person cast. She got the script in August and, after a meeting with Raiomond and I, said yes immediately. I remember her being completely up for everything, which was just as well as the very first thing we shot of hers was the sex scene between her and Martin. Talk about in at the deep end: ‘Hi Kierston, welcome to the set. Now get your kit off’. Again, being tied to a chair didn’t faze her in the slightest, or being thrown against walls or any of the other nasty stuff we put her through. Jennifer Harty, the make up designer, made her look a complete state by the end. Hair, blood and streaked makeup everywhere. She loved it.
We asked a lot of our cast and crew – twenty-one consecutive nights in a freezing, abandoned paper-mill for little or no money and, without exception, they delivered. I remember the food being pretty awesome though so that might have had something to do with it. I’ve mentioned the DOP Adrian Brown earlier and it was great to have another set of (very talented) eyes as, I had up till now lit and shot pretty much everything myself. Richard Lynn, the First AD was an absolute godsend. Nina brought him over from ‘Eastenders’ and I don’t think we would have come anywhere near getting the schedule without his expert guiding hand. Even though we were working at breakneck speed I never felt rushed. He always made sure I had the time I needed.
Let’s talk a bit about you John. What made you want to get into the directing chair in the first place?
Even though I was an actor and then a writer before becoming a director, I always knew I eventually wanted to ‘sit in the chair’. I’m of that generation that saw ‘Star Wars’ when it first came out and it’s my most vivid memory from childhood. Not just of the film but the whole experience; queuing with my parents round the block at the Odeon in Brighton through two screenings until we finally got in. Could you imagine that now? TWO screenings? And I had the best seat in the house. Literally. About two-thirds back and right in the centre. Lights go down, you get the little BBFC title card with the name of the film on it and then you’re in to the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare. Silence for a heartbeat then, I think, the best opening title in the history of cinema – ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…’ Anyway, that’s what made me want to become a film director. That and watching ‘Citizen Kane’ when I was 17. George Lucas and Orson Welles – how unoriginal!
What advice would you give to people wanting to pursue a career in the industry?
Never, ever give up and you’ll get there eventually, even if it takes you years. And don’t sit there and wait for it to land in your lap because it won’t. Not that my opinion counts for anything but I’d say the best thing you can do is scrape together everything you need to shoot a movie and just get out there and do it, especially these days when you can shoot a movie on a 5D. If you have access to some professional equipment then great, but if not, do it anyway. Shoot it on an I-Phone if you have to but just keep shooting, cutting and practicing. I think Elliot Grove at Raindance had it just right when he said something along the lines of: ‘Your first feature is the one you can fund in three months’. Spot on. Don’t wait. Oh, and get some decent mics – you can get away with some slightly dodgy camera work as an ‘artistic choice’ but bad sound is bad sound.
What films have inspired you as an artist? Do you have any favourites?
I’m a big Sam Peckinpah fan. ‘The Wild Bunch’, ‘Cross Of Iron’ and ‘Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid’ – those films had such an influence on me growing up and as a film-maker now both in terms of my writing and visual style. I love all the late seventies/early eighties stuff too; ‘The Thing’, ‘Alien’, ‘Blade Runner’, ‘Southern Comfort’, ‘The Last House On The Left’, ‘Poltergeist’ – everything I wasn’t technically old enough to watch at the time but I still managed to get my hands on it. Thank God for independent video rental stores. Our local one didn’t give a monkeys – they’d let you have anything.
If you could have a dinner with three guests – (living or dead), who would you choose and why?
Orson Welles, Bill Hicks and Stephen Fry. There’s nothing I like better than great conversation over dinner and you’d certainly get it with those three.
What has been the most interesting piece of local/national news you’ve heard in the last month?
I’d have to say the worldwide ‘Occupy’ movement, and in particular the ‘Occupy Stock Exchange’ site at St. Paul’s Cathedral. I was just reading about the Corporation of London’s heavy-handed use of private security firms to evict protestors who were just paying their respects inside during Remembrance Sunday. Now I’m not religious myself but I’m fairly sure which side of the argument Jesus would be on. That’s irony on a very base level right there. Theresa May’s response has been very telling too: ‘The police and the church and the Corporation of London need to work together to clear the protest as soon as possible.’ Do they? Whatever happened to our democratic right to peaceful protest? I think people are sick to death of being robbed blind of their future and rightly so.
What’s coming up for you in 2012?
I’ve got a couple of projects on the go, both from scripts I’ve written myself, ‘Kingdom Of Rain’ and ‘Firelight’. ‘Kingdom Of Rain’ we’re describing as ‘a modern western set in Wales’. It tells the story of Cerys, who’s fighting to save her farm from the attentions of a local land-owner, after the death of her brother in the opening scene. A friend of her brother turns up and offers to help, but we find soon enough that she didn’t know her brother as well as she thought she did. Or the sort of people he’d got mixed up with. I can’t say too much without giving away some important twists but it’s a nasty little slow-burning thriller. Very Peckinpah. We’ve already got quite an exciting cast attached though again, at this stage I can’t say too much.
‘Firelight’ is a back-to-basics creature horror set on the Canadian/American border which has got quite an eighties vibe to it. A gang of bank robbers, on the run after a bloody shoot out, come across an abandoned research station deep in the forest while trying to cross into Canada. Pretty soon they’re all getting horribly picked off by something in the dark. I felt, while I was writing it, that the ‘big three’ – zombies, vampires and werewolves have been done to death recently so I decided to delve right into Native American folklore – something that’s always fascinated me anyway – to come up with a creature that’s never been really been done before. An artist mate of mine, Matt Warneford, has come up with some pretty spectacular concept art for it so it’s all shaping up nicely. I’d quite like to shoot it in 3D actually; I think it’d suit the story and genre very well.
Ultimately, it’s just a question of which gets the old greenlight first.
Thanks for the interview!