I recently got the chance to talk to director Reg Traviss about his new film ‘Screwed’. Here, Reg talks about the film, what it was like working with James D’Arcy and Noel Clarke and what his favourite films and directors are…
Hey Reg. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me. Of course, we‘re here to talk about your new film ‘Screwed’ which is in cinemas right now. From what I understand the film is semi-biographical in nature and is based on Ronnie Thompson‘s book of the same name – what made you want to tell this story?
I really liked the originality of it, basically that it was a prison story but from the perspective of the guards rather than of the prisoners. I don’t know of any other British prison film that has told this kind of story. Of course it’s also a true story and one that is quite unusual for a variety of reasons. So it was all of that combined that made me want to take it on.
As a director, what angle were you going for when you were approached with the script?
I had already read the book, but after reading the script I wanted to create a sense of what I could only term as ‘cinematic-realism’. That concept felt most appropriate for the story and setting. My vision for the film is that it should feel realistic at all times, even very momentarily like a docudrama, but, would also always have a cinematic edge. I decided to shoot wide-screen and we used a 75mm Primo, one of the widest lens that Panavision owns, and then shot many parts of the film hand-held and on Stedicam which I believed would go some way to helping me create the dual-sense I wanted. I also thought it was important to create a claustrophobic feeling and I didn’t want the viewer to forget that our characters were confined within the prison walls – so I often opted to shoot from behind foreground bars or grills, however, I wanted this look to remain palatable, and I think the wide-screen format also helped to achieve this.
How would you say the film is different from other dramas released this year?
It’s the only British film I know of this year that is based on a bestselling book, and it is the only ‘prison film’ I know of – guess that makes it different from the other releases at the moment.
Has being involved in the production of the film changed your own stance on prisons and convicts?
No, but it has made me think of prison officers in a different light.
The film stars James D’Arcy, Kate Magowan and Noel Clarke – what was it like working with them?
It was great working with them, none of us had worked together previously and it was a really good experience. It was exciting for me as director being that each of them has an excellent body of work behind them – different kinds of films but of equally high calibre. They were all quite easy to direct and I think that had a lot to do with the prep we did but moreover their level of professionalism as actors and the fact they were all suited to the roles – that may sound a bit obvious but it really is how it was.
Let’s talk a bit about you Reg. What made you want to get into the directing chair in the first place?
I had always written short stories and plays and was also a keen photographer, drawer and painter. They were the main things I did while being a school-kid and in my teenage years. Filmmaking for me was a way of fusing these mediums and I think it was a natural progression as I could then take these forms to another stage of realisation. I spent two years studying theatre and then knew that filmmaking was what I definitely wanted to do. Like most people I have always loved movies and as far back as I can remember I had always analysed films and tried to work out the process of filmmaking. In the early 1980s a video shop opened in my neighbourhood and I was really taken in by it and would spend hours in there looking at the video-box covers. I think films are a very special art form.
What advice would you give to people wanting to pursue a career in film directing?
I think the most important thing is to make a short film or even a few short films if possible. It’s the best way to learn and refine your craft and of course you then have something to showcase. In parallel the filmmaker should seek some kind of employment within the industry itself whilst making shorts, in order to learn about the business and make contacts. Ideally that employment would be working for a producer, but it could be in any other area of the business as well.
What films have inspired you as a director? Do you have any favourites?
Well, up until my late teens I was quite inspired by British realism – films such as “Scum”, “The Firm”, “Made In Britain”, and the more cinematic “Quadrophenia”, “McVicar”, “Get Carter”, “The Long Good Friday”, “The Hit” and then the Hammer Horror kind of films, as well as the works of Dennis Potter. “Once Upon A Time In America” was a huge inspiration on me also from a young age. Then as I got a bit older I became more interested in films like “A Clockwork Orange”, “Cross Of Iron”, “The Getaway”, “The Godfather”, “The Trial” and “Nineteen Eighty-Four”. One of my parents is an Italian speaker so I had always seen non-English language films and as I got into my late teens, early twenties I think I became a bit inspired by ‘foreign’ films too, such as “Il Conformista” and “Europa Europa” to name a few. I don’t know if there is a progressive pattern to any of this and I don’t have any one specific favourite film.
What does a Reg Traviss day usually consist of?
It all depends on what stage I am at with the project I’m working on. A day could consist of; waking up at 5am, shooting an inspired re-creation of the March 1945 Battle of Lauban with hundreds of extras and crew, tanks, explosions and at least three different languages being spoken on set. Or, it could consist of getting up at a normal hour, feeding my cat, walking around town all day in the rain pitching an idea to distributors, topping myself up with coffee and writing for hours in the evening, then watching a bit of TV with my girlfriend late at night.
What’s coming up for you in 2011?
I’ve got a couple of things in the pipeline but it’s too early to say which one will be greenlit first.
Thanks for the interview!