Simon Rumley came to prominence in 2006 when his sinister chiller The Living And The Dead played at FrightFest. Raw and truly original it captivated the audience with its sombre tone and top drawer cast. He returned to FrightFest this year with his latest movie, another hard-hitting dramatic piece called Red, White & Blue so we decided to chat to him about his work and where the idea for the movie came from.
HC: You were last at FrightFest with your film The Living And The Dead, do you think you've changed as a director since then?
SR: Well that's an interesting question since although people seem to think I'm quite prolific, I didn't direct anything during this period. I did a lot of travelling and a reasonable amount of writing. With each directing job you naturally amass more experience and more confidence but I guess I've changed more as a person than a director although I'd be hard-pushed to say in exactly what way. A lot of people think being a director is the coolest job and I'd agree and everyone thinks that on set and in the movies everyone answers to the director which is also true to a point but what people forget is that the director is really subservient to the script. So although The Living And The Dead is completely stylistically different to Red, White & Blue, that's because the scripts are and I suppose it comes more from my desire to continue to try to do something different with each film…
HC: What inspired you to make Red, White & Blue?
SR: With my travels with The Living And The Dead, I met a lot of people who said the film was more horrific than any horror film they'd ever seen but that it wasn't a horror film and I liked that contradiction. So, for Red White & Blue, I sat down with a specific desire to do exactly the same thing, and in this case, it involved distilling the conceit of what a typical horror film is (in my opinion, a murderer chasing a victim, trying to kill them) and then trying to recreate that in a fashion that hadn't been seen in the horror milieu before; a subversion of the genre in a way.
HC: It’s a very bleak, raw film, with a lot of hand held shots, were you aiming to make this as real as possible? Meaning at the start we seem to be voyeuristically watching Erica, is this the effect you were after?
SR: Yes, it is really. Many people have commented on how violent the film is but in reality, it's nowhere near as violent as most Hollywood films today. The reason it seems violent however is because I've tried to invest screen time in getting to know, understand and empathise with the characters so when they do get hurt, it seems much worse than if it was your average film with no or little character development. The first half of the film is much more in an indie/slacker kind of style and so yeah, we see Erica doing the most mundane kind of things like reading a book and eating some sweets or playing chess; every day life kind of things to reinforce that she's a 'real' character before all the awful stuff starts to happen!
HC: How did you go about casting the movie?
SR: Well Noah we got on board at the beginning of pre-production which was great; he was the first person we went to for the Nate character and it was really exciting to meet him and for him to decide he wanted to come on board. Marc Senter I'd seen in a film called The Lost which I liked a lot and thought his performance was excellent. It had a combination reality with brutality and charisma so I figured Mark would respond to the role and do a great job which he did on both accounts. For Erica's role, we had a lot tougher job trying to get the right girl! I spoke to a few slightly better known actresses on the phone but they all, ultimately, declined the role which in the end was a good thing because they were in their late 20s and in reality too old for the part. We also tried to cast this in Texas but that was a non-starter from the beginning. Two weeks before we were due to start filming we still had no lead and one of our Execs suggested we do some open casting in LA so this is what happened. We saw about 40 girls (via internet since we were in Austin at the time) and Amanda was pretty much the only girl who seemed right for the role and had the acting ability. I flew in for a day and saw our 'top 5' girls and Amanda won hands down. I think we flew her out on the Wednesday and started filming on the Saturday so it was all pretty tight...but in the end worth it
HC: Noah Taylor does stand out here, did he stay in character at all and how did he prepare for the role?
SR: Indeed, and he just won best actor at Fantasia which is a great achievement. Noah didn't stay in character (luckily for him and for us); he's very much a natural actor and can really turn the emotion on and off like a tap I think. In terms of his preparation for the role, I know he listened to a guy called Alex Jones who has his own radio station in Austin, Texas - he's political theorist/talk show kinda guy I think. I know he also mentioned the books of Jim Thompson to me a few times. I think he grew his hair and his beard a bit longer too! To be quite honest, I don't really know what he did but however he did it, he did it very well!
HC: It’s an emotionally strong film; did the atmosphere on set reflect this?
SR: Thanks! The atmosphere was usually if not always a great one so not really no. To be quite honest we were shooting so quickly that everyone had to concentrate so hard on what we were doing that there was little time to get too involved in the emotional context of the film. That said, there were some scenes where everyone was a lot more respectful of the subject matter and what the actors were going through - the family torture scene for example and all the stuff with Amanda (who plays Erica) when she was tied up, there was a discernibly different atmosphere...
HC: The subject seems to about mortality and what we do with our lives, is this right?
SR: Yes this is correct. Of course it's about many things - love, loss, friendship, sex, violence, terror etc. In many ways, more than anything, this film is a tragedy because the ultimate outcome that all these characters suffer is an unnecessary one and could have been avoided if treated in a different manner. In this respect, the film is about the futility of violence more than anything
HC: So what other projects are you working on at the moment?
SR: Well the first thing I'm doing is a radio play for US producer/director/actor Larry Fessenden and Glenn McQuaid (who had I Sell The Dead play at last year's Frightfest) for their Beyond The Pale series which will be coming out on iTunes and Amazon as podcasts around Halloween I believe. My segment is called British And Proud and is about an ex-public school boy type who marries a girl from Sudan and then meets her family in Africa and inevitably gets more than he bargained for... I'm also quite close to making a film in China at the moment - in Shanghai and rural China so that's very exciting. It's called Stranger and I've been describing it as Duel meets Lost In Translation - it's more of a chase movie/thriller than a horror film but it is about a regular guy confronting his own mortality. Apart from that there's one film I'm attached in the US to direct called Crime Scenes which is about a bunch of people who've all been victims of violent crimes and how they come together to sort their lives out. It's a fantastic script by a guy called TS Faull who wrote Grim Love and I've been developing it with him for the last year and I think we're just about to send it out. If you imagine Paul Haggis' Crash written by Chuck Palahniuk you'll have a vague idea about it and in my opinion it will be in the same kind of cult classic territory as Usual Suspects, Fight Club, Memento, Pulp Fiction etc. So yeah, pretty excited about this!
HC: Simon Rumley, thank you very much