I recently got the chance to talk to Martin Gooch about his new film, ‘Death’. Here, Martin talks about how the idea came about in the first place, and which films have influenced him as a director…
Hey Martin. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me. Of course we‘re here to talk to you about your new film ‘Death’ – coming out soon.
You wrote, produced and directed the feature – how did the idea come about in the first place? How easy was it to put into production?
I’d been trying to get a feature film off the ground for a long time, but as we all know to do anything decent you need some money, even if it’s just a few thousands pounds. I’d been trying to locate finance since 1997, specifically for a feature I wrote called ‘Were-Pig’, because the easiest and most successful genre to make a low-budget movie is comedy horror or horror/comedy. Where people do not mind if the sets/acting/effects are a bit crap.
But I STILL couldn’t find any funding, so in the end I sat down and thought, what DO I have access to, what can I get for free, who do I know etc? And once I had a list of all that I started to think about what I could make a feature film about. I remembered visiting a stately home when I was about 14 and I was positive I saw a ghost and that was the genesis for the movie.
It was very very very hard to get the movie going. I set a deadline of the 31st of December 2010 and I said we had to have at least £3000 in the bank to start the film. And at 10am on the 31st there was £0 in the bank. I was all ready to cancel the movie, as has happened so many times before – but I finally got paid from a job I did in September (after threats of legal action) and just before 5pm money arrived.
The film production worked because so much was done in the lead up to and in pre-production. The secret to low-budget, or really any film making is PLAN PLAN PLAN. We still spent almost three weeks in the production office with three or four of us there everyday trying to sort everything out, and looking back, another week would have been really good.
How would you say the film is different and unique? What tricks as a director did you try to throw in?
I spent a long time trying to think of a story that no one else was doing. Everybody is either doing low-budget gritty realism, about housing estates, drugs, gangs and all that or everyone is doing zombies and horror, so I thought what genre is completely under used at a low-budget level – and I came to mystery. How many low-budget mysteries are there? None, (as far as I can see). It is a classic structure three act movie with a happy ever after, but I like to think that the subject matter has not been done before, and there are certainly no low budgets films of this level with this level of star.
As a director – I come from 15 years in the camera department – I started as a Clapper Loader, and as a result have very strong views of where a camera should be in a scene. I think the ‘tricks’ I bring are very considered and thought out blocking, of actors and crew – creating the scene with sensible camera positions and motivated moves. There is so much to do to shoot a 100 minute movie in 14 days (most movies have a MINIMUM of 6 weeks – quite often 36 days), we had to know what we were doing everyday and there was no-time for “Well, what are we doing now? What shall we shoot next?” – we had to know. This is where so many films fall down. Not having a schedule and not sticking to it.
How has the reception been to the film so far?
Well we are still in the edit – so difficult to gauge – but the people who have seen it so far have been impressed not only that we have achieved such a high level of production value with such a microscopic budget, but that we have made a film that is really quite beautiful. I hope that once all the music and sound is in place people will feel the emotional connection of the movie too – as after all it’s something that’s rather important to all of us!
The film stars Leslie Phillips, Paul Freeman, Emily Booth, Brooke Burfitt and Sarah Jayne Dunn – what was it like working with the cast and crew?
Virtually everyone on the film was either an old friend or colleague who I had worked with before, someone who got in touch with me because they wanted to work with me, or one of my film making students, so there was a great ‘spirit – de-corps’. Everyone wanted to be there.
There were no difficult crew or cast, everyone had a lot of fun (I hope), and everyone learnt a lot. A lot of the crew had never been on a ‘proper’ film set, and had only done student films, so it really was a bit step up and a huge education for people.
Leslie Phillips – is brilliant, it’s the third time we’ve worked on a movie and he is just so much fun and so full of enthusiasm for film making. I know the cast were quite in awe of him.
Paul Freeman – is just a genius, he commands interest – as soon as he is on set you want to hear what he has to say. He listens to what you have to say as a director, which is fascinating as so many actors much lower down in ability, will argue every note you give them!
Sarah Jayne Dunn – who I met whilst directing ‘Doctors’ and then again on ‘Hollyoaks’ is just brilliant to work with, funny, polite, knows her ability as an actor – stage craft etc and you can trust her to get on with it, which is a huge relief.
My crew was extremely hard-working, and I don’t think I ever heard a grumpy word the entire shoot. I hope they all had a good time.
Let’s talk a bit about you Martin. What made you want to get into the producing and directing chair in the first place?
Producing is a necessary evil – I have produced a great deal of short films, music promos, virals, and now a feature film, because I couldn’t find anyone else who wanted to do it! It’s certainly not the fun part of movie making, but if you want to stay in control of a project and indeed have a project in the first place then it is essential to be able to produce.
As for directing, I’ve always wanted to make movies since I was about 5 and saw ‘The Rescuers’ – and then when I saw James Bond’s ‘For Your Eyes Only’, I knew that this was what I wanted to do. But growing up in a family that had no media/film connections in the days before the internet meant this was going to be very hard – and in the end I went to the USA when I was 19 to be an archaeologist, as I could find no way into the film and TV industry and had not done well enough at A levels to get in to Oxford etc.
But after a bit I came back and did my degree in film making, and became a runner! I could have cut 4 years out and just become a runner in the first place! I love to create – I paint, draw, write and make movies – it is incredibly satisfying to have an idea, see it grow and form and have other people come along and build this nothing into something. That is why I go through all the endless s*it to get things done!
What advice would you give to people wanting to pursue a career in writing, producing and directing?
Go and do it. There is no other advice. It will be hard, most people will tell you – you are wasting your time and you’re an idiot, but if you are good and you carry on then you will get there. Unfortunately we are in an industry where ‘who you know’ is 100% the most important thing – so you must go and meet people, because without them, nothing will ever happen.
Sad but true.
What films have inspired you as an artist? Do you have any favourites?
When I was a kid I was completely into anything Terry Gilliam did – (‘Jabberwocky’, ‘Time Bandits’, ‘Brazil’, ‘Munchausen’), also Peter Greenaway’s ‘A Draftsman’s Contract’, Ridley Scott, (‘Alien’ and ‘Blade Runner’) and Steven Spielberg (‘Close Encounters’, ‘Raiders Of The Lost Ark’, ‘Jurassic Park’)! We didn’t have a VHS player – so I only saw movies in the cinema and only saw the big films. So I was a bit of a fan of the blockbusters, but also films like ‘Dragon Slayer’ – were hugely influential (I was 8 when I first saw it). If you watch them now – they have aged somewhat badly!
‘Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life’ – was a major influence – as there was so much going on – it was a bit patchy in places but certain sketches were just mind-blowing.
What does a Martin Gooch day usually consist of?
I spend all day, every day trying to finish off movies, get movies going and trying to find that elusive £.
Most days I try to spend at least two hours writing, as it is the only way to get stuff done – to date I have 14 completed feature screenplays – one a year every year, all in different genres, and have almost finished my first novel which is about a man who works in a cinema.
What has been the most interesting piece of local / national news you’ve heard in the last month?
Quite a left field question there – but I think the fact that scientists believe that it may be possible to travel faster than the speed of light – thus breaking the theory of relativity, is pretty cool. All the science fiction fans must be standing around saying “told you so.” It suddenly makes all that far-fetched fiction seem slightly closer.
What’s coming up for you in 2011?
Hopefully the release and distribution of ‘Death’ and continued adventures in the land of film making.
Thanks for the interview!