LATEST | FEATURES | INTERVIEWS | NEWS | FRIGHTFEST | REVIEWS Interview with James Moran, writer of Tower Block
By James Whittington, Monday 25th November 2019
Writer James Moran is about to do what few other writers have done in the past, the Horror Channel Triple! He is one of the few creatives who has had three of his movies play on the channel; Cockneys Vs Zombies, Severance and now Tower Block which is playing on November 29th. So, we decided to chat to this talented chap about this superior thriller and the rest of his career.
HC: Your first movie, Severance is a huge favourite with Horror Channel viewers, were you ever tempted to pen a sequel?
JM: Thank you, I'm really glad that people can still discover it with every new screening. Everybody wanted to do a sequel, we actually had several meetings about it. Nothing came of it, they carried on with someone else, but that was about 10 years ago, so I don't know what's happening now, if anything. Maybe the moment has gone - but hey, it took 54 years to get a Mary Poppins sequel, so maybe Severance 2 will be out in 2060...
HC: What impact on your life did the success of Severance have?
JM: It completely changed my life. Going from a FrightFest audience member to having my first movie premiere AT FrightFest, and stepping out of the audience and onto the stage to take part in the QandA was a moment I'll never, ever forget. I could literally see people in the audience recognise me from hanging out in the bar, they had no idea I'd made a movie, and their jaws just dropped when I got up. It was SO surreal. And then stepping off stage, someone asked me to sign their brochure, at first, I didn't realise what they were asking. After that, I was in the industry, and other jobs started happening. Although not at first - the first 6 months, I didn't get a single offer of anything! It's just random, as always.
HC: You went on to write for many of the top TV shows running at the time, which was the standout for you?
JM: It's been my lifelong dream to write for Doctor Who, so that has to be the biggest moment of all the TV work. And that was my second TV job, so where do you go from there?! It was amazing, everything I'd dreamed of and more, and it still feels wonderful to have been part of that universe.
HC: Where did the idea for Tower Block come from?
JM: I was watching a movie - at FrightFest, ironically - called All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, which is great and you should all see it if you haven't. There's a moment in that where the characters are running to the front door to escape, and I suddenly thought "Oh no, what if the killer's outside, hiding, and just starts shooting at them to stop them getting out?" That didn't happen in the movie, but the thought stuck in my head for days, and gradually I realised there was something to it as a complete movie in itself. I brainstormed it for a while, worked out why somebody would be using a sniper rifle to terrorise people, why not just kill them, and then it all came together pretty fast. I've since thanked the producer of Mandy Lane for the inspiration!
HC: Did you write with a cast in mind and did the script change much as you wrote it?
JM: I had no idea who the cast would be but was having trouble finding Kurtis' voice (played by Jack O'Connell eventually). So, to help myself keep his voice and phrasing separate from the others, I imagined Michael Smiley in the role, because he's got a very distinctive voice and accent that I love. It really helped find his character, and some things he said. Obviously, Jack brought his own voice to the lines, but lots of them worked in exactly the same way, so it must have worked. The script stayed mostly the same right up until before shooting, apart from losing a few characters when the directors came on board - they rightly said that we didn't need them, and they were easy to delete, which usually means you should delete them. The first bullet scene was exactly the same from rough draft to filming, I remember when I first wrote it, and imagined how the FrightFest audience might react. I got to see them react when it premiered there in 2012. I'm forever tied to FrightFest, they must be bored of me now...
HC: Though set in a large building its incredibly claustrophobic, did you work closely with the directors to get your vision across?
JM: We had lots of meetings about what I was going for. I always called it my dark, 70s John Carpenter movie, and my agent at the time jokingly called it Assault on Tower Block 13... They knew exactly what vibe I was aiming for, and were on the same page right from the start. I had made myself a playlist of music while writing, and sent them a copy - only to discover that in their rough cut of the opening sequence, they'd used one of the same songs, before they knew I had! So we were definitely in the same headspace from day one.
HC: It's horror at its most raw, an urban tale that could, to a point, actually happen, do you think that's what makes it so powerful?
JM: I always try to write things that I believe, even if the initial thing that starts the story probably wouldn't happen. My goal is to show that if this thing somehow did happen in real life, how would real people react in a real situation? That keeps it grounded and believable to a point, because the audience buys into the characters. If at any moment the audience thinks "Why don't they just do XYZ??" then you've lost them. Any time I think of what I would do to try and escape, I let the characters try it - then I try and think up how the sniper would stop them.
HC: The film has your trademark shade and light style, you punctuate the drama every now and again with humour, is this hard to balance?
JM: I didn't realise there was any humour in it until the first screening at FrightFest. I'd warned people it wasn't a barrel of laughs, as they'd just seen Cockneys Vs Zombies a few days before that (again, premiering at FrightFest, they couldn't escape me that weekend). But then during the screening there were plenty of laughs. I'd put in lines that were funny, not jokes, but moments where people could let off steam by laughing. It's part of that realistic approach, in real life, even in the darkest moments, people say inappropriate things, or react in a way that might seem funny to others. I can't help throwing in humour, because that's what life is like.
HC: There were a number of "Tower" movies at the time of the release of Tower Block, any idea why this could have been?
JM: I have absolutely no idea! I wrote the first draft in 2008, it got filmed in 2011, and released in 2012, and then The Raid and Dredd and Tower Heist and Attack the Block all came out within 2011 and 2012. They would all have been filmed at different times, so you can't predict when things are going to get released - I'm sure they'd have preferred not to have several other tower block movies quite so close together, it's just random. We were quite surprised, though!
HC: I saw a review at the time of release stating it was "Die Hard meets Assault on Precinct 13", you must have been proud of that one?
JM: Please send me that review, I'd like to keep that! Absolutely, I mean it's nowhere near the scale and brilliance of those two classics, but they were definitely the high-water marks that I was aiming at. Die Hard is the best action movie of all time (don't argue with me, you'll be incorrect), and Assault on Precinct 13 is one of the best siege movies, so Tower Block is definitely influenced by those. It's always strange when reviewers say things like that, it's flattering but rarely true. One review of Severance said it was "Funnier than Shaun of the Dead and scarier than The Descent", and neither of those two things are true... But I'm happy that people like the movies, so I'll take it.
HC: You've flexed your directing muscles recently, is this something you'd like to do more of?
JM: Yes, and Blood Shed, our last short film is now on Prime Video, along with Crazy For You, my first short, and Connie, my wife Cat's last short (they're also on iTunes). I've got a couple of film projects that I'm hoping to direct soon, it just depends which one happens first, fingers crossed. One is a supernatural retro horror written by Cat and me, one is a fun monster movie. I love directing, it's a whole other skill set and I really enjoy working with the actors to find the physical reality of what's on the page. Also, there's free food.
HC: So, what are you working on at the moment?
JM: I'm adapting a few things for TV shows, but they're still at early stages so I can't say what they are yet. I've just had a horror script optioned by a big US company, again I can't say what that is, but the people involved are amazing and I'm very happy they want to make the film. And in a complete departure from my usual horror mayhem, I'm writing a football comedy with a friend. I'm also still on Twitter and I'm running a writing advice Patreon for subscribers.
HC: James Moran, thank you very much.
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(Photo credit Dawson James Photography)
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