Exclusive Interview With Director Chris Smith
By James Whittington, Sunday 30th January 2011

Chris Smith By Julie Edwards 2Chris Smith is one of the most exciting directors around at the moment. His CV includes the movies Creep, Severence, Triangle and Black Death and he recently hosted his own Director's Night event on Horror. We decided to pose some questions to this multi talented man to discover where his ideas come from and what he thinks of the current state horror cinema is in today. (Photo credit: Julie Edwards)

HC: You came to prominence with Creep, a movie you also wrote. Where did the idea come from?

CS: I think the core of the idea came in my teens when I first saw American Werewolf In London. During the famous underground scene I remember thinking why hasn’t anyone made a horror entirely set in the London Underground. So when I started thinking about writing a horror it was the first thought that came to mind.

HC: It’s a very dark and raw piece of cinema, what was the atmosphere like on set?

CS: I wanted the film to feel darky and edgy. Most of the video nasties that I loved had a raw feeling, a punk spirit that made them cult. I wanted this spirit in Creep. In terms of on set atmosphere, with the exception of the scenes starring Sean Harris, there was mostly a jolly mood on set. Sean, who I think is amazing in the film, wanted to keep the mood around him as dark and serious as possible to create a feeling of dread around his character. This was a great plan because everything got a little more nervy when Sean was around.

HC: You followed this up with the slightly lighter Severance. Why did you choose this as your follow up movie?

CS: I actually planned to make Triangle after Creep but then was given the chance to make Severance. I really liked the James Moran's script and wanted to try my hand at horror comedy. I approached Severance with a very clear mandate to make the characters act in a believable way so they're not just acting out funny scenes to serve the comedy. Sure they can be big characters in ridiculous situations but they must not do or say things that are not believable and true to their character. For me the best comedy comes from the truth of the situation. Also with horror, if you don't believe the situation it's not scary.

HC: I saw Severance at FrightFest 2006 where the crowd really did “get it”. Were you surprised by the vastly positive and enthusiastic reaction the film received?

CS: I'm immensely proud that Severance became so popular but I wasn’t surprised to be honest. I don’t want that sound arrogant but we had a good sense on set that we were making something good. Also when you complete a shoot, you watch the film in a long rough cut form and you immediately get a sense of the movie you’ve made. When we watched Severance we laughed our asses off and could see straight away that the group of actors had a lovely vibe together and that the warmth we had on set had translated to the screen. I have watched first cuts of my films and not felt that way, but there was something immediately likeable about Severance.

HC: Your next movie, Triangle is a totally different piece playing heavily on psychological terror. Was this to prove you were more than just a director of horror movies?

CS: I never think someone is ‘just a director of horror movies’ because making a good horror movie is difficult. A film like Triangle is even more so because the film is doing so many strange and disruptive things narratively but yet because it's a horror, it still has to scare, entertain and generally speaking, be over and done within 90 minutes. The main reason I made it was simply because I became obsessed with the idea of making a circular narrative. I loved the film La Jettee and I think this my homage to it. I wrote the first draft in two months in 2004 and it was pretty much exactly the first two thirds of the film that you see on the screen. However the final third was the tricky bit and that took me another 18 months to solve because I didn’t want any loopholes. I knew that if you were gonna twist the audience I better have it worked out, at least in my head, otherwise it’s bullsh*t. I’m glad to say I haven’t read a single purported loophole on the net that can’t be discredited if they were to just look a little harder at the film.

HC: Black Death from last year is an incredibly authentic looking piece of historical horror, that must have been a tough shoot?

CS: It was only a tough shoot in the sense of the small amount of time we had to shoot it. It was actually a joy to make. Sean Bean, Eddie and the rest of the cast were just amazing. We shot the film in order and so it was like we were all on the road together, just like in the story. As each of the guys got killed, we said our goodbyes, and then carry on travelling up the river. The final shot you see in the movie is pretty much the final shot of the schedule

HC: You once again worked with Andy Nyman and Tim McInnery in this movie, what is it about these actors that you like as a director?

CS: I’ve always been lucky enough to be surrounded by great actors, most of whom I intend to work with again. In this film I knew that both Andy and Tim would bring something extra to the roles they were playing. Tim’s part was originally quite small and I wanted to increase it to make him a Machiavellian side kick to Carice’s witch. I called Tim, asked if he would do the part on the proviso that we expand it. Tim said yes, made some very clear and intelligent notes on the script, I was open to those adjustments and that’s how Hob came to be. The same was pretty much true of Andy. Also both of them are very good at thinking up scenes and moments during the shoot. Me and Andy came up with the p*ssing scene in Black Death 5 minutes before we shot it because my editor thought we needed to put Eddie under some threat early on. But this praise doesn't just apply to Tim and Andy, as I said I've been blessed with many great actors.

HC: What is your opinion on horror cinema at the moment? Is it in good health?

CS: I think horror is in great shape when you compare it to where it was fifteen years ago. Horror is no longer considered to be a cheap end DVD thing, it now commands both commercial and critical successes. Black Swan is essentially a DARIO ARGENTO horror movie. Indeed I think there are more interesting genre films being made than dramas at the moment. Long may it continue.

HC: Which writers and directors around at the moment excite you as a writer/director yourself?

CS: Wow there are so many who inspire me and excite me but off the top of my head (and working regularly today) I would say Chan-wook Park, Aaron Sorkin, Abbas Kiarostami, Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Terence Malick, David Lynch, The Coen Brothers, Paul Thomas Anderson, Michael Haneke, Takeshi Kitano, Gasper Noe, Lars Von Trier, Takashi Miike, David Fincher, Woody Allen, Terry Gilliam who have I left out... Oh yes, the creators, writers and directors of Mad Men and of course the amazing Larry David.

HC: So what projects are you working on at the moment?

CS: I'm working on a horror film, a kid’s film and Film Noir but who knows what's around the corner.

HC: Chris Smith, thank you very much.

I would just like to take this opportunity to thank Chris for taking time out to do this piece and Greg Day at Clout Communications for getting the questions to Chris on my behalf, cheers Greg!

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