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Interview With Paul Davis Director Of The Body
By James Whittington, Monday 26th August 2013
The world premiere of The Body has just finished at the Empire. We spoke to Paul Davis about this fabulous short and his plans for the future.
HC: Where did the idea for The Body come from?
PD: The Body was originally a screenplay written by my Producer Paul Fischer, based on an idea by film maker Mary Kerr (director of acclaimed documentary Radioman – also produced by Fischer). I was sent the script around September last year at the recommendation of Axelle Carolyn, who thought the story would be right up my alley after Him Indoors. The idea of a murderer using the cover of Halloween to transport his latest victim by dragging it through the street REALLY tickled me. I thought it was a wonderful concept and there was definitely something in this that we could do. The original script, however, while very good, I just thought was too ambitious for a short film. Fischer agreed to let me do a pass on the script, that I largely kept the same up until the third act. That’s all that I really drastically changed. Just gave the movie a real punch in the gut for its climax.
HC: Once again you’ve expertly mixed horror and humour perfectly, how long did it take to get the balance just right?
PD: Well, most of that was already there courtesy of Paul’s original script. All I really did was exaggerate it a little bit. As with any production that is blending comedy with horror, more often than not it’s how the performers deliver the material. In every aspect I was adamant to every department that this not be treated as a comedy. It’s shot like a horror film, it’s scored as a horror film and the actors play it deadly serious – and that’s why it’s funny. Alfie Allen’s character as the murderer was always interesting to me because he is playing the role as someone who’s just doing his job – yet those around him just think he’s ‘in character’ for his Halloween costume – which he totally plays up to and exaggerates – and Alfie nailed it. He played the part exactly how I wanted him to do it. There’s a lovely moment in the film where he’s ‘off the clock’ and no longer working and his personality does a complete one-eighty. I really think he did a wonderful job in this – as did the entire cast.
HC: How did you go about casting the short?
PD: The old fashioned way, honestly. Originally I imagined the characters being a lot older. Mid-to late thirties, and the first person I actually spoke to about the lead role was Mark Gatiss – who I’d met via Reece Shearsmith after showing him Him Indoors. Mark was interested but sadly the week we were scheduled to shoot was his last week on a West End play. Looking at other actors, I stumbled upon a photo of Alfie Allen in a suit and was just captivated by his look. In the nicest possible way, he looked like he could be psychotic. So from there he was really the only person we wanted – meaning the ages of all of the other characters then dropped to mid to late twenties. The character of Maggie wasn’t a difficult one for me. I’ve loved Hannah Tointon in everything I’ve seen her in (Tom Shankland’s The Children and The Inbetweeners) to name a few. It was when I saw her in an episode of the E4 comedy show The Midnight Beast that I knew we had to get her for Maggie. Not only is she absolutely adorable, but also she had a wonderful energy that was necessary for the character. The idea was that Maggie lives in her own world. Everything is great, everything is wonderful, live now, ask questions later. Plus, when you see her on screen, you can’t help but look at her – making the scene in which she meets Alfie all the more compelling because even he is completely drawn to her beauty. The supporting cast really is an eclectic mix of people I’ve worked with before and those I’ve wanted to work with for a while now. Christian Brassington (Hummingbird) is another alumni of John Landis’ Burke & Hare, and more specifically, he’s in the scene in which I was having my leg hacked off by Tim Curry – just watching. Not doing anything to help the poor screaming sod on the table. So this was my chance to get my revenge – in the loveliest possible way. I always recalled Chris from the day was shot that scene and he is just as lovely and brilliant as I remembered. FrightFest favourite Jack Gordon (Panic Button) was actually the very last person we cast for the movie. We already had another actor lined up, who then pulled out literally four days before we started shooting. The actor’s agent then mentioned Jack’s name, to which I immediately threw a Judd Nelson/Breakfast Club fist pump to the sky as I actually adored Jack in Sean Hogan’s The Devil's Business. So I really consider what happened there a blessing in disguise, as he was just perfect for the role.
HC: What sort of budget did you have?
PD: I’m not entirely sure on numbers, but I definitely had a bit more time and money on this one, than I did on Him Indoors. Fischer and I had a great Producer/Director relationship in which I told him exactly what I needed to achieve the shots I wanted to do – and if there was anything I couldn’t have, I had enough time and notice to do something a little more cost effective without compromising the intention of the shot. The main thing for me was making sure I had my choice of several key crewmembers to make this work. First up was my Director of Photography on Him Indoors, Eben Bolter – who for my money is one of the best up and coming cinematographers in the UK today. We have a very solid working and personal relationship and really gel on set. We’re both quick thinkers and problem solvers so if ever something wasn’t working, between the two of us we’d immediately have a solution that worked much better. He certainly brings out the best in me and I hope I do the same with him. I know we’re itching to do a feature together so, that’s always a good sign. Also back for more is my composer Osymyso. His score on Him Indoors was beautiful and I had every faith that he would deliver the goods once again on The Body. Having lived with the editing of the movie for several months and knowing every aspect of the movie back to front, then seeing it with Osymyso’s score was a completely different experience. He really breathed life into the film and I personally think he’s bettered the work he did on Him Indoors by a country mile. Especially the kicking track he did for the end credits. We were originally going to license a selection of pop tracks to put in the movie, but once we heard what Osymyso did, we kept all of his work in its entirety.
HC: Did shooting at night cause any problems?
PD: Well when you shoot entirely on location you’re always up against the elements. We had one where we lost half of the night to heavy rain – but we knew the forecast and were lucky to shoot all of the key moments before a single drop of rain appeared. The whole shoot was a very different experience for me – from that of Him Indoors (a short shot in two days in one location). On the first day, for example, we were shooting a party sequence with a crew of maybe fifty/sixty people and seventy extras. I’d never done anything on that scale before but I absolutely thrived on it. It felt like we were making a feature. Shooting in the middle of Bermondsey High Street with a dead body prop was interesting though. All everyone wanted to do was touch it, hence how the body got his nickname… Pat.
HC: Am I right in thinking that the opening shot is homage to the original Halloween movie?
PD: You know, it was never intended to be and actually did not think of it in that way until you brought it up. I guess unconsciously it could be – although it’s not really a POV shot. In the script it was described as a montage of shots rather than one long take. Originally we were going crane up from the street and hide a cut through the curtains, but once we saw the location and the balcony it had, I knew right there that we could do this in one shot. Also, there was a downstairs bathroom that we were originally going to use, but it was Eben who suggested the steadicam ascend the stairs. I think we managed five takes in all on that opening. The flat we filmed in had a speakers in the ceiling of every room, so we were able to play Swan Lake throughout the flat so that Rob, the Steadicam operator could really time his movement and hit his mark at the end of the shot.
HC: They film seems to be sprinkled with movie references, do you enjoy placing such things?
PD: To be honest I’d refer to them as Easter eggs rather than references. All of the little nuggets sprinkled throughout The Body are done so in a manor that doesn’t alienate anybody that may not get it. For example, in the script, the music in the opening shot was simply described as ‘Classical Music’. I specifically chose that section of Swan Lake as a nod of respect to the Universal Horror movies of the nineteen-thirties that opened with the same piece (Murders In The Rue Morgue, The Mummy and Dracula among those). So if people pick up on that, great, but it doesn’t make a lick of difference to the story if they don’t. And it’s not just horror too. I even threw in a nod to the first two Cannonball Run movies! So yeah, the Easter eggs are for the fans. The movie is for everybody.
HC: The Body will be your third premiere at FrightFest, do you still get the same sort of nerves before your stuff is shown?
PD: Oh God yes. I’d forgotten last yeah just how nerve racking it is – and I still won’t be prepared come August 26th at 3.30pm! To be honest though, nothing beats having your work played on that huge screen at the Empire to the FrightFest crowd. We even turned down a HUGE film festival across the Atlantic to make sure that the world premier was at FrightFest. It’s no contest for me. Wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m very proud of the movie and everyone who worked on it. I just hope the audience enjoy it.
HC: So what are you working on at the moment?
PD: I’m afraid I’ll have to be vague on this one. I have two features in development at the moment; both are in writing stages at the moment. One is another production with Producer Paul Fischer and the other is a feature I’m co-writing with Stef Hutchinson – who Halloween fans will know as the director of the Halloween: 25-Years Of Terror documentary and a lot of the graphic novels. Both projects are horror movies; both very exciting and hopefully I’ll get to share more info soon.
HC: Paul Davis, thank you very much.
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