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Interview With Adam Mason Director Of Hangman
By James W, Wednesday 16th September 2015
FrightFest is but a distant memory but tonight at 9pm we take a look at this amazing event in a 30 minute special. One of my favourite movies from FrightFest 2015 was Hangman from Adam Mason. We chatted to Adam about Hangman and where the initial concept for this unnerving movie came from.
HC: Last time we spoke we chatted about the superb Blood River, what have you been up to since then?
AM: The short version is that I got married and had two kids. The longer version would be that I moved to Los Angeles off the back of The Devils Chair in early 2007, made Blood River and have been here ever since. I didn't really intend to stay, but sort of fell in love with the place and have an American wife and two kids now. Looking back, Blood River got really screwed around in its distribution and was heartbreaking. I made a film called Luster immediately after which really wasn't very good and was pretty much career suicide... I should have stuck with horror, but my ego expanded and I thought I could do other things, which that movie proves pretty well I can't! Then the economy and DVD market both crashed at the exact same time and I found myself in a sh*t situation that looking back now was quite scary. But I'd brought it on myself.
Luckily for me - my writing partner Simon Boyes had moved over to LA at about the same time, and unlike me - his ambition had always been to write huge Hollywood movies. I'd always been more in love with the idea of being this edgy underground struggling artist... But thanks to Simon and his drive, we found ourselves going up for, and then getting more and more high profile writing jobs.
We got a mentorship in Studio writing from this wonderful guy called Wayne Rice - who produced Valentines Day and New Years Eve amongst many others.. And he really taught us how that world works... Which is nothing at all like the independent film business. We specced a few huge action movies, then got a great manager and ultimately signed to WME. The first job we got was writing a remake of Warlock for Lionsgate. Then we just kept on going from there really. Shortly after we heard that Joe Johnston was going to direct one of our scripts for Universal. Since then we've been working for a whole host of people who are about as big as it gets really.
I kept directing movies in the mean time, but with little success. Which was fine with me, I just saw it as my hobby by this stage. I made a really vile experimental movie called Pig, which was a feature film done almost entirely in one single take. I ended up not releasing it, and just giving away for free to anyone who wants it. Then I made a movie called Junkie, which is my favorite thing I've directed I think, but no one really saw it unfortunately.
By that stage Id lost all taste for engaging with the lower level film industry. There's a lot of sharks out there and the seven or eight features I've directed were all soured by bad experiences that had nothing to do with the actual making of the movies. I decided I'd really rather not do it anymore than deal with all the bullshit. I guess you could say I was burnt out. But really my life made that really rather unexpected turn when Simon took charge and decided that we were going to become big time screenwriters. And I'm very glad he did, as we've achieved things that I never dreamed I'd be involved in. Al Pacino and Anthony Hopkins just starred in a movie we wrote! Stuff like that. It's pretty mad. And I love every minute of it.
HC: Where did the idea for Hangman come from?
AM: It was a few years ago, not long after I decided I was sick of directing and didn't want to do it anymore. I'd just had my first kid - my little girl Daisy, and I remember my wife Elizabeth and I had one of those baby monitors set up that's got night vision on it. I was watching TV in our sitting room and my wife was in the bedroom, feeding Daisy in the dark as she put her to sleep. And I kept glancing at this baby monitor and thinking 'well this is creepy isn't it!'. At the same time Simon and I had been working with Jason Blums’ company quite a bit, first on the Joe Johnston movie, and then on a film we wrote with Rob Cohen that didn't get made (yet). So we were quite savvy with that whole world at the time. I'd been thinking about how flawed the concept of found footage inherently was, mainly because in those movies, as soon as the shit hits the fan you roll your eyes - as in reality you know that no one is going to keep filming when their life is in danger. The baby monitor incident gave me the idea that the way to overcome that fundamental hurdle with found footage was to put the camera in the hands of the antagonist. A pretty simple conceit, but no one had done it yet. So I started talking to Simon about it, and the bones for Hangman were laid.
I'd also become pretty good friends with with actor Jeremy Sisto over the years, who I very much admired. I loved working with him on a short film I made with him, and I also directed a music video for him (he's a very talented musician). So I texted him one day to ask if he wanted to do the feature with Simon and I and he pretty much said yes right away. The movie was pretty much put together from that point by Jeremy, Simon and myself. Jeremy recently produced a much bigger movie called Break Point, so is very savvy at the whole production side of things. It was a really great collaboration between the three of us. I'd even go as far as describing the whole experience as 'fun' - which isn't something I'd say about my other movies overall.
HC: Did you know from the start you’d have a small budget?
AM: Originally we had an investor lined up for a couple of hundred grand. But he dropped out a couple of weeks before we were due to start filming. I didn't care, I've been messed around so many times in the past it doesn't really phase me anymore. But I'd made Junkie for about 30k... And Pig was about a dollar fifty... So I met up with Jeremy and Simon and made an impassioned plea about how we could still do the movie for around $20k. Jeremy pretty much immediately said he'd invest the money himself, because he's a legend like that - and we were back on track.
HC: Was it hard casting the movie?
AM: No not at all. Jeremy knows so many great actors from the 20 plus years he's been in this game, so most of them came through him. I'd met Kate Ashfield socially a few years previously, and had always been a big fan of hers. Originally we assumed we'd cast an American actress, but we also wanted the film to feel completely real, and a lot of actresses in LA don't exactly feel real. Kate was perfect for it, and I was thrilled when she said she'd do it. Jeremy had worked with the kids... And getting them was a real coup. Same with Amy Smart who I'd been a big fan of for years. Eric Michael Cole had been in a music video I directed for Chino Moreno's band Palms, and I thought he was an extraordinary actor. He has known Jeremy for twenty plus years so it was very much like a family experience. It all came together very easily and naturally. There were no idiots involved at all on this movie... And that made everything a pleasure.
HC: It’s incredibly claustrophobic and exceptionally dark, what was the atmosphere like on set?
AM: It was fun actually. The house was rigged with eight of these Handicam cameras that were very quick and easy to take up and down... So we divided the shoot between scenes set upstairs and scenes set downstairs. Then we'd set up the cameras and just start shooting. Sometimes we'd roll for more than an hour and do forty or fifty takes of a scene. It was a wonderful way of working actually because it was ALL about the actors and nothing to do with the camera... Which is the opposite of how it usually is, in my experience anyway. It meant we could try a million different things, and just keep going until we all thought we'd got it. If one of the actors wanted to try something, they could. I loved every minute of it. It never felt rushed, even thought it was only twelve days.
HC: The acting is exceptionally natural and at times seems improvised, was this the case at all?
AM: It was actually all very tightly scripted. I'm not saying there weren't elements of improv in there because I'm sure there were, but generally we stuck close to the script. We had to really because we were shooting ten plus pages a day!
HC: It seems incredibly technical; were there any issues when shooting?
AM: No not at all. Simon, Jeremy and myself talked about the camera set up for months. It kind of lived or died on where the intruder decided to position his cameras. So there was a lot of back and forth about how tech savvy he should be. In the end it was all just about practicality. He had the amount of cameras he would need to cover every room, and every angle. He'd have wide angle adapters because he'd want to see everything. He'd need to be able to zoom in. He'd need night vision. In the end we just had to think like him to figure it out.
HC: The lack of traditional score adds to the organic horror to the movie, were you ever tempted to add one?
AM: Yes actually - we talked a lot about how as it’s his movie he could have done anything he wanted with the footage. So we tried the score thing but dumped the idea almost immediately. The reality is that the intruder wasn't making his own horror movie. He was just documenting the lives of this family. The horror score would have given him a point of view that wasn't right for him, and would've ultimately cheapened what we were trying to achieve, although it would have really helped make it scary and certainly boosted the jump scares. Kate bought on this incredible sound designer called Julian Slater, whose done all of Edgar wrights movies. He did a wonderful job with the sound and elevated the whole movie massively. Also, I had met this guy over here in LA who'd scored this wonderful short called Yellow - that played at FrightFest actually, which I thought was genius. He sent me some of his music after we met and there was this one track called My Moon on there which I fell in love with. It's his Goodbye Horses basically, and I listened to it relentlessly throughout writing the movie, and shooting it. By the time we got into post I'd already decided that that song was going to be our score. And it is - that one song is our entire score and to me it says absolutely everything about the intruder, if people listen to the lyrics.
HC: What do you think drives the “Hangman” of the film as he’s a sort of enigma in the film, little, if anything is given away about him?
AM: He just wants to be loved. He's obviously a very disturbed person but I don't think his initial motivations are violent or sexual at all. He just wants to be a part of the family... That's why he chooses them and not, say a house full of porn models. He wants to watch them to feel part of them, but then as his feelings of isolation from them increase - so his psychosis starts to rise. I see Hangman as a twisted love story really.
HC: How nervous do you get when you movies are shown at festivals?
AM: I was very nervous about SXSW because that was a very big deal and honour for us to premiere there. And apart from that I absolutely hate watching my films with an audience. It's excruciating... Everything I don't like gets magnified a million times and ultimately I just feel like a total loser by the end. It's a loathsome experience.
HC: How difficult is it to get projects funded these days?
AM: It's a total nightmare. I can't be bothered to even try anymore. I'm just going to keep writing until I'm able to position myself for directing a studio movie with a script people want as the bait. I feel like it's a waste of time trying to play the independent game these days, although maybe that will change with what's happening with VOD. Whilst I love directing more than anything, it takes a couple of years to make a movie - and with two kids now, and an life outside of dreaming about making films, I feel like I have better things to do with my time.
HC: What are you working on at the moment?
AM: Simon and I wrote scripts for Paramount and Relativity recently which we are hoping get made. We have a couple of TV shows which are looking pretty good. That is probably the holy grail financially, and I feel like all the interesting stuff is coming out of television these days. Aside from that we have loads of stuff going on, most of which I can't really talk about unfortunately.
HC: Adam Mason, thank you very much.
AM: You are very welcome.
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