Exclusive Interview With Jonathan Glendening Director Of 13Hrs
By James Whittington, Saturday 10th March 2012

Jonathan GlendeningDuring March the Horror Channel is celebrating the very best of British horror cinema with a season of movies called Heritage Of Horror. One of the films showing is Jonathan Glendening's celebrated creature feature 13hrs which is getting its UK television premiere.

Here Jonathan chats about his career so far and what his future cinematic plans are.

HC: Did you always want to be in the film industry?

JG: Other kids at school wanted to be firemen or spacemen but I pretty much always knew that I wanted to be a director. I remember being in a nativity play aged about 8 and I was playing a Roman Soldier, and I told all the other kids to do the "Ave" Roman salute of punching their tin-foil breastplates - but on stage I was so busy checking they did what I had directed I forgot to do it myself! I think that interest had started when I was five as I saw Jaws about three times on its initial theatrical run in the Curzon in Eastbourne. I always knew that Ben Gardner's head was going to pop out of the hull but it "got me" every time - and that started my interest in film, but it wasn't until Raiders Of The Lost Ark when I was 11, when I saw its "making of" which was like a self-contained film school that I thought I could do this. I borrowed a super-8mm camera and my mate and I went into the garden and shot Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back with our toy figures - running time three minutes, totally out of focus, complete with laser blasts painted on with nail-varnish frame by frame. It was awful, but obviously as a delusional eleven year old I thought it was brilliant, so I made another and another, until I ended up doing it for a living.

HC: How did you get your first big break?

JG: Big breaks come in many forms and I think the first big break I actually got was when one of my super-8mm movies as a kid got seen by Andrew Brown, a producer at Euston Films. He saw my super 8mm vampire movie Call Of Darkness which was my Media Studies O level project, (A grade), and he said from that, that I had "an instinctive ability to tell a story in pictures". He then put me up for a runner job on a Euston Films TV series called Capital City, the production manager Ron Purdie hired me and I spent a year at Elstree studios as the Production Office runner. I call that my big break as that year enabled me to learn exactly how a big TV series got made, what every department does. I befriended the cast, the crew and learnt the nuts and bolts of how it was all put together, skills that I took with me onto every job I've ever done. Then years later Ron Purdie was one of the producers on my B-Movie homage movie S.N.U.B! So to me, just getting the runner job was my big-break.

HC: How did 13Hrs come together and what attracted you to the project?

JG: At art college, using my newly acquired production skills I produced a B/W drama called Lean On Me written and directed by Adam Phillips - which went onto win a few student film awards. Anyway, a few years later Adam wrote 13Hrs as a spec script, which I loved although at the time I thought he had written to be made by us in his parents house - a delusion which I kept until filming proved that it was a good job we were making this as a proper movie. The first thing that attracted me was the claustrophobic tension, kids trapped in the attic as 'something' tries to kill them - and then the second thing was the thought that we could actually achieve something scary and tense on a low budget... and shoot it in Adam's parents house, but I was wrong about that last bit. Anyway, I went to the A.F.M (American Film Market) in 2008 with a few scripts in my bag and 13Hrs was one of them - but on my very first day in Santa Monica I got a phone call from England. It was producer Nick Napier-Bell asking me if I wanted to make a movie for him! He had just seen S.N.U.B! and had been impressed enough to just ring and ask me if I had any projects that might be suitable for his company, fortunately for me, top of the pile of suitable projects was 13Hrs.

HC: Did you have much say in the casting?

JG: 13Hrs was a great experience in everyway for a director and the producers gave me the complete freedom to get on and make the movie without producer interference - they gave me as much support as the budget could support. So indeed, casting was very much directorially led and I'm pleased to say, that although the producers obviously had their favourites to aid sales, I was left to audition and cast actors on merit rather than their name. Isabella, Gemma, Joshua and Tom all put in cracking auditions and were all cast on merit. If you get the casting right, your work on set becomes so much easier and this was a great team. The producers did have their say in casting and brought in John Lynch, and the sadly missed Simon MacCorkindale - but I'm not exactly going to complain about two such top actors joining the movie am I?

HC: The movie is very tense, did this create any sort of atmosphere on set?

JG: Movies are just pretend, so there is no real need for an atmosphere but you do need to set the scene for concentration. I was always having to remind the young cast before a take, "Your mum's dead, your brother's dead" (a list that got longer and longer as filming progressed)... to stop them from having a little bit too much fun and remind them to concentrate on the 'moment', which they all did admirably. Josh was especially good and trying to build up his energy for a take and I think his dedication rubbed off on the others too. I had a great cast, a great crew and supportive producers who let me get on with it, the best 18 days I've ever had.

HC: The effects are quite excellent, did you have much of a budget to play with?

JG: Any kudos for the effects has to go to the mighty John Schoonraad at Lifecast, Elstree. Obviously the fear is it’ll just look like a 'bloke in a suit' but he and his team pulled off miracles for us. They usually need a six week lead-in time to make the monster suits, but as we were low-budget we could only give him three, hence I only had the 'monster' available to me for the last few days of filming - but he delivered and it looked fantastic. Despite our low budget, John really delivered for us. Although that does illustrate some of the problems in low budget film making, we only had access to the 'house' for the first five days of filming and its very cinematic ballroom where the climax takes place – so on day five of the shoot I had to film all the shots in the finale that don't feature the 'monster' (ie left to right) - and then two weeks later on the last day of filming I actually had the 'monster' available so I had to shoot all the climax shots of it (i.e. right to left) in a set made to look like the ballroom! Brain-wrenchingly difficult, but with a great DP (Jordon Cushing), production designer (Will Randall) and a great monster - we pulled it off.

HC: Are you a fan of werewolf movies?

JG: Well, having made two I guess so. The trouble with the traditional werewolf is that once it has transformed it is just an animal, and that is sort of the end of its story. So werewolf pictures have to be more about the people around the transformee. In fact, in 13Hrs we kind of tried to get away from calling it a 'werewolf' it was just a creature terrorising the kids and they had no idea what it was... and the revelation it was a werewolf is hopefully a goose-bump moment, but the trouble is that by selling the film as a "werewolf" movie instantly gives the audience the fore-knowledge to ruin that moment. Audiences seem to love the movie when they 'don't know', and when they know in advance in just invites picking the werewolf scab and how we tried to change it, a furless, white skinned werewolf, ridiculous! We wanted the representation of the werewolf to be like it was a disease, hence the blue veined white skin look... a diseased human transformed. So we tried to do something new in our own little way... but to get back to the question, yes I like Werewolf movies, - The Howling, Company Of Wolves and An American Werewolf In London being my favourite; my DVD of AAWIL is signed by Jenny Agutter, "Beware the moon, keep to the road"!

HC: 13Hrs was premiered at FrightFest, were you nervous?

JG: I was terrified! The Empire is a huge screen, 1200 seats and to see so many expectant horror fans waiting to see your movie is nerve-wracking. However, the horror community is very warm and some 'particular' moments in the film got such a fantastic creaction, I couldn't have been happier.

HC: It got quite a positive reception as I recall, did any of the attendees come and speak to you?

JG: So many people came up to talk about the movie it was really exciting. People really seemed to be taken with what we did with our "creature" and how we seemed to be doing something deeper than just a monster flick. Obviously, it is a monster flick but people really seemed to be interested in the characters and the simmering tensions between them in this broken family that manifested itself as the creature. When people buy into what you are doing it really gives you a boost! I even signed a poster for one guy, which apart from pretty much being my first autograph was great as I hadn’t even seen the poster until that moment!

HC: The movie is getting its UK TV premiere on the Horror Channel, how do you feel about that?

JG: It's an honour to have the film on the Horror Channel as it's in such great company! It's very exciting as I’m so proud of so much in it, I don’t want to choose favourites but I love Peter Gadiot's performance in the movie, it's wonderfully skewed and I love it and I hope that will find a wider audience that will love it too! Then again, I love Isabella's intensity and Gemma’s grandstand scene. I love the music by Ed Bradshaw and Jordan Cushing's cinematography - so to be able to present a film I'm proud of to an audience that will appreciate what we were aiming for is an honour.

HC: It's part of the Heritage Of Horror season. Do you have a favourite classic horror film?

JG: I loved The Wicker Man, it has such a sense of doom and isolation as well as a great performances by Christopher Lee and Edward Woodward. It takes you on an unsettling journey, and I don't think you ever doubt that it will end badly, but its addictive viewing.

HC: You're next movie is the wonderfully titled Strippers Vs Werewolves, how did that project come together?

JG: The producer actually saw 13Hrs at the Frightfest screening and asked me if I'd like to make a film for him. SvW had a fun original script by Pat Higgins and after the darkness and serious tone of 13Hrs I thought a grind-house romp might be fun. Also, if you're offered the chance to direct Stephen Berkoff, Sarah Douglas, Barbara Nedeljakova, Ali Bastian, and Robert Englund... you're not going to say "No" are you?

HC: What was it like working with screen legend Robert Englund?

JG: He's an absolute gentleman and fully aware of his impact on people and he really seemed to enjoy himself. It was actually his birthday when we filmed but he was like a gift to me! His gravelly voice, his steely eyes and sheer intensity behind the eyes made shooting his scenes my personal favourites, especially as he had such delectable dialogue by Pat Higgins and Phil Barron to chew on. David Meadows (the Cinematographer) and myself really worked on the look for his scene too, which I hope pays dividends in the final film. Robert was a first class professional and I’d love to have the opportunity to work with him again and really get our teeth into something.

HC: You're a writer, director and editor, do you have a favourite role?

JG: Writing is more satisfying for the God-complex as you're not at the whim of producers, cast or the budget - you just write a story the best it can be, so it's the purest form of your work, before all the compromises of the budget and on-set constraints kick in. Editing, is like that too, as for a brief period of time, you forget the pain of making the film, and all the compromises you've had to endure and momentarily you have complete control to try shape the film to vaguely like what you had in mind, usually - but disappointingly not always - for at least one cut of a movie. Editing is an extension of directing really, so I see it as a vital part of the process for the director and I love it as that is where you see the story come together as a movie. Directing is my favourite, as it's the most rewarding as getting through a shoot is physically gruelling, and mentally challenging on a daily basis as you try to fight the daily logistics and complications that film-making throws at you. You're constantly striving for the 'best' whilst having to deal with the hand you're dealt but when it works, it's so very satisfying.

HC: So what's your next project?

JG: It don’t think it'll feature a werewolf! I've now made a romantic comedy, a straight horror, and a grindhouse movie so I'm really considering my choices. In the past couple of years I've had a few screenplays commissioned and I'm really working hard developing one of the true-life dramas at the moment. I’ve also been asked to direct another project by Adam Phillips (13hrs writer) but that's early days yet, although we were at Pinewood a week or so ago looking at the stages to shoot on which was very exciting.

HC: Jonathan Glendening thank you very much

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