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Interview With Simon Rumley Director Of Johnny Frank Garrett's Last Word
By James Whittington, Sunday 28th August 2016
Today sees the European premier of Simon Rumley's latest movie Johnny Frank Garrett's Last Word. Simon is a regular at FrightFest and his work is always very creative and guaranteed to have the audiences debating their content. This makes him one of the most exciting directors working at the moment. Here he chats about this latest project.
HC: Is this the first movie you've directed that's not been written by yourself and if so did you find it restrictive in any way?
SR: I actually directed a short called The Handyman with Greta Scaachi. The script had won a screenwriting competition so was really great. Subsequently I also directed Crowhurst which wasn't initially written by me but I worked with the producer to come up with a script that everyone was happy with and on that I got an 'additional material' writing credit. With Johnny Frank Garrett, given that this was a 'Hollywood' film, things work differently over there and as a director I was brought on board to visualise the film the producers wanted to make. This was restrictive in as much as I would have, given carte blanche, treated the subject matter differently but that wasn't what I was hired to do and I knew that from the offset. Ultimately I was allowed final cut which in these situations is relatively unusual.
HC: You can tell it's a Simon Rumley movie by your use of colours and sound, were you tempted to add any more of your traditional style to it?
SR: Thanks! Well, as above, I was allowed final cut so, given the script, this is the best that I think I could have done with it. A lot of what is considered my 'traditional style' comes from how I write scenes and how I write a whole script so without having the luxury of writing this particular script, some of what would be considered my style is inevitably missing. I very much write to shoot and shoot to cut and although we do drop scenes in the edit, my scripts are usually very lean and there’s also a structural consideration which has an element of non-linearity.
HC: One of the stand-out performances is from young Dodge Prince; did he read for the role?
SR: Yeah, Dodge was amazing! Our casting director Karen Hallford held auditions in Shreveport and Austin for kids and I think Karen had seen him first and then brought him back and he did a reading which blew both of us away. He’s the loveliest kid, very bright, mature for his age and asked a lot of pertinent questions and really humbled some of the other actors; he's a complete natural and actually, can be seen next in the remake of The Magnificent Seven which I'm excited to watch. He comes from a very tight and loving family and I think he's an actor who could go all the way if he wanted to. Hopefully I'll get to work with him again some time.
HC: How do you look after a young actor when working on a movie with a dark theme like this?
SR: One of Dodge's parents was on set all the time and, as above, they're very grounded and nice people. I'm pretty sure they read the script first and went through the themes with him in an intelligent way. One has to be sensitive that these little people don't necessarily have the same stamina as adults or the same ability to concentrate so I always make sure they're OK and happy to continue whatever scene they're doing but Dodge was a real trooper and was always happy to do more, always wanted to get it to the point that I was happy. There's a lot of misconception about director's getting good performances from their actors but more than anything, this comes from the casting process and, with the producer and casting director, being able to spot that spark or that ability that will make that actor work for that role better than any other actor is the most important thing.
HC: What are the major differences of shooting a movie in the USA as compared to the UK?
SR: Well I've shot three features in the US now. What I like about shooting there is that lunch is usually shorter and you shoot for another hour or hour and a half a day which means you can get a lot more done in a shorter period than you can in the UK. I've often heard it said that the crews in the UK are the best in the world but I've found the crews in the US to be just as good.
HC: Though it states it's based on a true story how much is actual fact?
SR: The whole story about the juror and his family is fictionalised but everything around that is completely true; all the facts, the deaths etc, etc. There's only one death which is slightly fabricated and that's the teacher's although she did commit suicide.
HC: Do you believe people can be cursed?
SR: Not really, but that said, I'd preferred not to be cursed myself!
HC: You're a FrightFest regular; do you get nervous when your movies play at this festival?
SR: Yep, this is the 5th film I've shown in 10 years, staring with The Living And The Dead in 2006 so this will be a 10th year anniversary! FrightFest is always a slightly weird experience for me because I always find myself apologising that the film I'm presenting isn't an 'obvious' horror film, and actually, isn't really a horror film at all! I'd describe most of my films more as extreme dramas than horror films and although Johnny Frank Garrett isn't extreme in any really way, I'd describe is more as a thriller with supernatural overtones than an out and out horror film; I think it's creepy rather than scary.
HC: So what projects are you working on at the moment?
SR: I've got a couple of features that I'm completing at the moment; one is Crowhurst - based on the real life story of Donald Crowhurst who entered a race to sail around the world non stop in 1968 and ended up cheating. It's a very sad story about the flip side of the British Empire and for all the success stories that we're fed this is one of failure and misguidedness. It features a tour de force performance from Justin Salinger. The other is a thriller called Fashionista which stars Amanda Fuller who was the lead in Red White & Blue. It has a great cast which also includes Ethan Embry (Cheap Thrills), Eric Balfour (Texas Chainsaw Massacre), Alex Essoe (Starry Eyes) and Devin Bonnee (Johnny Frank Garret's Last Word). It's set in Austin, Texas and is a non-linear story about a woman's fashion fetishism and how that adversely affects her life. I'd like to think it's quite an unusual/unique film and am looking forward to getting it out there...
HC: Simon Rumley, thank you very much
SR: Thanks and my pleasure!
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