Sweetback (SB): Thanks for taking a few moments to talk to us, Chris. I have to imagine with the rave reviews that PANIC BUTTON has received, and the recent release on DVD, that your time is in very high demand. I’d like to start by asking you a bit about your background. You have an education in illustration and graphic arts.. Was your interest in art always designed to push you towards film-making?
Chris Crow (CC): My pleasure! My route into film was fairly bizarre, although it’s always what I wanted to do. I came out of seeing THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK as a very young kid and thought ‘That’s what I want to do!’ although being so young, I wasn’t sure what ‘it’ was. Essentially upon leaving college (I bizarrely ended up doing Fine Art not film, still not sure how that happened) I realised that my photographic illustration style could make me a living, I used a lot of the money I earned buying film kit and making zero budget shorts, the plan was always to make films. A motion graphics strain eventually emerged from my photoshop strain (I did the PANIC BUTTON titles) which is an important strain to me, however drama was always the thing for me.
SB: What were some of the films that peaked your interest in filmmaking, and what pushed you towards working in the horror field? Is it a genre that you have a lot of passion for and familiarity with?
CC: Yes and no, I don’t consider myself a genre director and what both DEVIL’S BRIDGE and PANIC BUTTON deal with is (at least I hope!) real human horror, real human darkness.
As I say as a kid THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK was a huge, life changing experience. Later films like BLADE RUNNER and BRAZIL aided my obsession. When I was about 8-9 my Mum used to leave me with family on Saturdays to go shopping, my older cousin used to let me watch Horror films with him, many are still banned today. So as a young kid I saw DAWN OF THE DEAD, CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE, CANNIBAL FEROX – a stack of very nasty horror films, they terrified me, gave me years of sleepless nights but I couldn’t get enough of them. I was utterly obsessed with monsters and ghosts as a kid, I also grew up in a haunted house, so I guess I was never destined to do romantic comedy.
SB: What’s the status of your first film DEVIL’S BRIDGE? Can you tell us a little bit about its plot and how making that film informed your experience on PANIC BUTTON?
CC: DEVIL’S BRIDGE will be released in the UK March 2012 by EOne. It’s getting dubbed as British DELIVERANCE which is great! It’s very much a city meets country conflict, I wanted to give that idea a bleak British twist and create a genuinely human psychopath with Bill Parry, a real monster, the kind of guy that scares the shit out of me, what’s scary is that he’s actually based of a few actual people and a few real stories. How did it inform PANIC BUTTON? Difficult to express, but you learn so much with your first feature and more and more with subsequent features. I think DEVIL’S BRIDGE aided me in realizing everything I applied to PANIC BUTTON, but I suppose the biggest thing was that it confirmed to me that believable characterization, dialogue and circumstances are king. Make it all as realistic as possible. Yes, I do realise that it’s all highly fictitious but you have to strike for that.
SB: I imagine at this point you’re a bit sick of reviewers describing your film as “SAW on a plane”. While SAW certainly came to mind while watching, I was also reminded of another film that built tension with minimal sets and a “game” format, the Canadian film CUBE. Where did the initial idea for the film form, and was it always designed around making the most of a limited budget?
CC: I don’t mind people calling it ‘SAW On A Plane’ really. I’ve not actually seen cube and have only seen the first Saw which I thought was a brilliantly made film. I came to the project when it was a couple of drafts in and had been developed initially by John and David (The Producers) before Frazer developed the screenplay. It was absolutely developed by John and David as a micro-budget film, it’s tough to raise a budget in the UK. For me the limited space was very attractive, scary, but I was very excited about developing that slow burn tension and claustrophobia.
SB: One of the most important elements when working on a cramped looking set like the airplane setting of PANIC BUTTON is being able to make the grow tension out of the claustrophobic surroundings without the whole production looking stagey. How did you and DP Simon Poulter work towards making the most of your limited space, and using it to your advantage?
CC: The minute I read an early draft I saw the style and as I’ve said it was the crafting of the tension that excited me. So immediately I wanted to start of with that crawling, slightly moving camera, go very tight, very personal and only use wide shots to feel cold and to make the viewer feel slightly voyeuristic. Then I wanted to bring in my beloved fast shutter speed, handheld, fast cut work as the shit hits the fan. Simon shot DEVIL’S BRIDGE and so we have already established a great short hand and working relationship. Initially we wanted to rig cameras up and float them about the cabin, however budget and space meant that approach wouldn’t work, so we started to employ slight pans, slight dolly shots for the movement, it works well when your so tight. It was a nightmare to get your shots in such a confined space, really difficult, not enough room to swing a camera!
SB: Let’s talk a little about casting. Since nearly the entire film is spent with our four main characters, it was ideal that each could envelop their characters totally. How difficult was it finding actors to fill those central pieces?
CC: The casting came together really well, I’d already worked with Joshua, Mike and Vern on DEVIL’S BRIDGE so I knew I wanted to use those guys, Mike recommended Scarlett and both Elen and Jack came highly recommended by a number of people. We didn’t have a casting director, but the cast came together really well and they’re a blinding bunch, it was a real pleasure to work with such a talented cast as it was with DEVIL’S BRIDGE also.
SB: Perhaps the most important role in the film is that of the ALLIGATOR avatar which provokes much of the action. Finding the right balance of Game Show Host sincerity and terrifying menace in what amounts to nearly entirely a vocal role had to be an immense challenge. Talk about how you got the great Joshua Richards on-board.
CC: Joshua played Bill Parry in DEVIL’S BRIDGE, so I knew what he could do with the part. He did an incredible job, that’s a tough role to crack and he was all over it. I was absolutely insistent that Joshua was on set acting with the others throughout and not merely recorded in a booth after or before the shoot. That was the only way to make it work in my mind and I feel that it worked very well. It’s a great performance.
SB: The film takes a rather serious look at how much private information is floating around on social networks, as well as taking in issues of bullying and cyber-stalking. It makes for a very timely viewing experience, but are there any concerns that focusing so much on social networking might date the film? Or, do you think this sort of mass information harvesting is here to stay?
CC: Not really, sure the technology and ‘look’ of such sites changes rapidly, however I’m pretty sure it’ll get a lot worse in the years to come. Hopefully people with respond to the story, characters and situation not just the social networking aspect.
SB: What were some of the biggest challenges you ran into while filming? What sort of shooting schedule did you have, and were there any specific challenges that working on such a limited budget created?
CC: Four week shoot, Devil’s bridge was a nearly impossible three week shoot. All shoots are tough and I’ve yet to make a film with a big budget, however a smaller budget forces you to think creatively rather than throwing money at a problem.
SB: The film is being rather ingeniously marketed through the http://www.all2gethr.com website. Can you talk a little bit about marketing the film, and the response you’ve received from genre fans?
CC: I’m not involved with this side, so can’t answer the question. The producers are doing all of this, but I think it’s a really smart idea.
SB: Any word on a North American release for the film? It really seems like a film that American (and, in my case, Canadian) horror fans can really sink their teeth into.
CC: Not sure as yet, hopefully very, very soon. I think it’ll translate really well although I did read one review by an American reviewer that claimed he found it hard to watch because of the ‘tedious’ English people, they’re British of course not ‘English’ but 99% of the international feedback has been fantastic. It seems to have gone down well at AFM so fingers crossed it’ll be crossing the Atlantic soon.
SB: What projects are coming up for MOVIE MOGUL FILMS? And I read something about a PANIC BUTTON novel?
Movie Mogul are working on a slate of films, Frazer Lee is indeed penning a novel.
SB: For those looking to follow you and your upcoming projects, what are the best ways to keep in contact? Ironically, I’m guessing social networks would be quite useful here.
CC: I’m working on my website, although keep getting sidetracked. I tend to hide and keep very private on social networks as I do find them fairly disturbing.
SB: What advice do you have for young filmmakers who are looking to create something tense and professional looking on a low budget? Any words of wisdom?
CC: Think about it, plan it, don’t rush out and shoot anything, make the story as strong and as watertight as possible, that’s the keystone. Cast are so important, they really are, cast well, screen test people, talk to them, make sure they’re right. Technically of course it’s much easier with the exciting abundance of digital technology, the DSLR shooting has given us great looking video for a decent price, however isn’t a solution, tools are tools but we really have the tools to shoot cheaply now.
SB: Anything else to promote/plug?
CC: I’m talking to a few Producers independently about a few projects. And we (the guys behind DEVIL’S BRIDGE) are developing a very exciting project that’s essentially a Revisionist Western come Samurai film set in Medieval Britain. It’s dark, brutal and very, very bleak. I’m also developing a fairly nasty, dystopian, near-future Sci-Fi which (hopefully) puts an original spin on the ‘alien’ invasion idea.
SB: Thanks again Chris for taking this time. I wish you all the best, and I can’t wait to see what you have coming next.
CC: Thank you!
- [NO-BUDGET NIGHTMARES] PODCAST #80: PLAGA ZOMBIE (1997) - July 25, 2016