05th Sep2017

Interview: Fox Trap/Darker Shades director Jamie Weston

by Philip Rogers

Jamie Weston is an upcoming film director who will be making an impact in 2017. With the erotic thriller Darker Shades of Elise already available to purchase and a DVD release of his debut feature Fox Trap coming out in October, I got some time to talk with Jamie about his experiences in film, issues with special effects and things that only a camera can catch on an erotic thriller…

jamie-weston-on-set

With Fox Trap, what made you decide to do a horror as your debut feature?

I got brought on to do it. I work as a freelance director and self-shooter. I was offered the opportunity to direct a feature and it just happened to be a horror. I got asked at the end of November and at the start of January I was on set.

Making a horror as your first feature was great, because horrors are very experimental. You can try out all sorts of shots which hark back to regular drama or do some crazy stuff which you can only get away with in horror. You can go from interesting lighting styles, smoke, you can have people running around. You can really go for it with all the crazy ideas you want to try out if they’ve got the budget for all the equipment to do all the things, but you can try you best and it just allowed me to have a go. If my first feature film was a period drama I would be very much limited to standard shots, but this allowed me to jump in and do all sorts of bits.

Most of the blood, the blood spurting out was actually me. We couldn’t get the pump working, so it was me with a load of fake blood in my mouth, spurting it out off camera. To try and get the shots of the big stab and where she gets her throat slashed, I was off camera spitting into poor Therica’s face and stuff like that.

If you’re on a budget you have to improvise I guess?

I feel sorry for Therica but, you know, we’ve been really good friends since that shoot. Everyone on that shoot has been really close friends. Because corporate wise I’ve done about 100 shoots and worked on about 100 short films, doing various bits and bobs. You meet some people but you don’t gel. But the crew on Fox Trap are quite tight and we still chat regularly. We will all go out to London for drinks, so even though we were spitting on each other, it seemed to do the trick I guess.

Talking of budget, in the original script there were ideas that there would be secret passages in the house, but due to the budget you couldn’t fit in. Was there anything else you had to change or improvise to accommodate the budget?

I probably didn’t see thatearly script, but there is certainly another. A lot of the intro of them arriving in the house and all this other stuff all was going to be done on steady cam to get the overarching following feel around the house, but we didn’t have a steady cam.

The DP (Director of Photography) Beatrice did amazing, because she had an AC (1st Assistant Camera), but we didn’t have a focus puller. The bit where the car comes around the corner as she’s running out and gets caught in the headlights: to do this shot we need to crush the distance between the car and the woman so it looks much closer than they are. Because we can’t safely run a car that close to her and the camera, I said do it on 80mm lens so it looks a lot closer, and then do a dolly shot, so we follow and we turn so you see that and because of that obviously she has to pull focus from the running and keep her in focus during the entire run whilst moving, then pulling focus to the car as it comes around. Now that’s extremely hard. It was 4 in the morning, it had been snowing and we had been working for 11 hours and it was pitch black. I think that’s the most takes we did and I think that was around 16 takes to get that right.

There is something like an extra half an hour of the film that’s been cut, so you only see flashbacks and short bits about what happened at the party. There is a whole scene where you see the party and you see them leaving and going through the forest and get then they get to the car. It starts off with them at the car, but there is a whole scene before that, about 20 minutes which has been cut. I would like to have seen an extended version at the start. There were some shots that I really liked and there were certainly some aerial shots I would have liked and the chase sequence longer and more stuff in it. But we were limited with time and availability.

The film itself is in keeping with the 80’s horror. What films did you take inspiration from for Fox Trap?

I love anything 80’s style and with stuff like Stranger Things, everyone’s now really into this sort of nostalgic 80’s. Stuff from the 80’s wasn’t actually like that, it’s just now got this sort of fantasy version of what the 80’s were like, so all these Friday 13th films and Freddy Krueger films I used to really enjoy watching, I didn’t really find them scary, but I just liked how ridiculous they were. John Carpenter films like The Thing, I used to love that sort of gross stop motion stuff, they were my main influences. But also A Clockwork Orange, Escape from New York, The Warriors. There’s elements of them in the lighting styles and the juxtaposition between how they can make stuff look quite beautiful, but also grotesque.

Me and the DP were very influenced by, even though it may not be obvious at all, renaissance artwork in our lighting style. We wanted to have those harsh shadows and the colour pallets were deep blue and rich orange like you would see in renaissance artworks. Like Caravaggio, his artwork is very visceral gore but it’s quite a beautiful painting, that’s how we wanted to try and put it across. It looks really nice, but we’re also showing a lot of gore. We were trying and trick the audience into enjoying the horror.

In terms of the 80’s look we also used a pro mist filter on the lens which softens up the image, which gives the highlights that blurry glow with the candles. It makes it look slightly vintage and the colour grade. We looked back at what film stock the first ever Halloween film was shot in and tried to replicate elements of that colour pallet into the film so subconsciously it has a lot more vintage look. To the general view these may not be directly obvious, but it looks like a vintage film, but you can’t put your finger on where or why that is.

The film was shot in 4k?

We shot Fox Trap in 4k using the Sony F55. That got the attention of cinematography magazines because nobody would shoot features on the Sony F55 because it’s more of a documentary camera. We were mainly doing night shoots, 22-day shoot which were pretty much all night in January, so we needed a camera which could shoot in low light without giving us a horrible noisy image. We went for that camera, because not only does it do 4K, it also works well in that light.

Moving onto Darker Shades of Elise, what attracted you to doing an erotic thriller, following up from Fox Trap?

After Fox Trap the producers said “we’ve got this other concept that we would like to try out what do you think?” I enjoyed working with them so I thought yeah let’s do another film project. It was something that you just have you jump in with both feet really. We are making a film about a lot of people having a lot of sex. It was an interesting change, I wanted to do something very different. Visually they look very different.

The way we went about doing Darker Shades of Elise I wanted to shoot it more arthouse, in a way I wanted to be more free with the camera, use a lot of natural lighting, I didn’t want it to be all perfect. I wanted to capture the moment as it happens. The performances were improvised by the actors, I wanted to see full frontal nudity to get a European arthouse look to this. It was another way of exploring and trying out stuff I hadn’t got the opportunity to do on Fox Trap.

A lot of relationships in the film are based on sexual attraction and chemistry between the characters. Did you have any issues where the characters didn’t connect?

We vetted everyone before the project and told them this is how it’s going to be, we want it to look like this for this reason. There were a couple of bits where they were like “I don’t want to seem too keen, in case my misses thinks…” Because its improvised so some of the actors were like, “Christ if I really get into it I might get in trouble”. But after a few takes most of it was pretty simple. Some of the actors were dating as well, which is why we got them on, which made it a lot easier.

There was a different ending originally which was re-shot. What were the reasons for that?

We shot three different endings and there were even thought of shooting a fourth one, but I was like no, were done. The endings were all very similar, but they all have a slightly different idea of how they end. The first ending they were both on London bridge together and they kiss and look out, everything is OK now, they got through it all, it was pretty at night and they walk off hand in hand. In the second ending, she was pregnant and he was all right, but she was like, who’s is the baby. The one we went with, everything s nice, they have a new house, beautiful garden, things have moved on, but his phone goes and its left on things have changed, but have they really. I like the idea that the audience had gone through seeing all this happen to her and you get this catharsis at the end, every-things settled and it’s all right. Obviously, my bosses liked the idea it ends on a downer, so we kind of compromised where she thinks it’s all right but she’s not quite sure.

I know there is an uncut version, what can we expect from that?

There is a lot more sex scenes, full frontal nudity from the lead male cast members, more explicit sexual acts which you see in full. Even some of the start of sex scenes, where we were shooting it I had to like double check to see if they were actually pretending or not, I was like what is going on. Do we have to stop filming for a minute? In the edit, there were certain things that only the camera saw so we had to cut certain things down.

The film can be seen as a drama, whilst other may see it as titillation; how do you interpret the film?

It’s more of a drama I think. It’s certainly a titillation/erotica to begin with and even throughout there are sex scenes all the way through. But as the drama unfolds the latter side of the film it gets quite dark and turns it to rape. Although some people may get off on it by that point, it continues through with sex, the audience should no longer be enjoying it, because the characters are not enjoying it at that point. By the end of it if you re-watched I think the starting sex scenes will feel a bit sour as well. I think it’s more of an erotica drama, but on a second watching, a sinister thriller. I think it changes throughout the film.

You also have another project Mandy the Doll?

It is based in a true story of Mandy the Doll which is in a museum in America; it’s a Victorian doll which has been possessed by a spirit. The story is about young girl in the Victorian era [who] is tricked into going in an old church and locked in the confession booth and because it was a cold winter she ends up getting frozen to death. Her soul latches onto her doll which she carries around with her. Come back to modern day the doll has been passed through her family who look after it, but knowing this dark secret. They invite someone to come over and babysit at the house and all shit starts to happen. It’s like a classic doll film with bit of a twist. This will have the abilities to hopefully top Fox Trap.

This sounds like it has a similar feel to Annabelle which is about a possessed doll which is locked up…

Annabelle is in the same museum as Mandy the Doll in real life. It’s a very different story though once it gets started and you find out about this woman who lives in the house, who’s looking after the doll isn’t the nicest person either. There’s a different dynamic as well, the heroes are not are not your typical schoolgirls or half sexy females running around the house getting stabbed in the back.
They’re not heroes, they are part of a criminal organisation and they are there to rob the woman blind. One of them has just come out of prison and they left their underground unit and they want to make a break to eastern Europe to clear their names, this is their final job before they leave. This will happen in the course of about three to four hours so it’s quite contained. I think it’s going to be interesting and we have some interesting ideas about how we are going to shoot it. I like the idea of keeping the drama moving to a lot of single set up takes and of movement. We have scenes which go a lot on a long time and we just follow the movement. It will be very different from the other two films.

Are there any other projects which you are working on at the moment?

Canary… were in pre-production for, that will come in the new year. I have just been brought on to direct Irons which is about football supporters and one of their friendship group is becoming a woman and how a bunch of football hooligans deal with gender. It’s also a light comedy family film.

There is talk of another Darker Shades, which is called The Personal Shopper which I have been asked to come on board. I haven’t said yes yet, but this has been pushed back to October so there may be another one and after seeing The Handmaiden I have a few ideas. I also have my other jobs I am currently doing film workshops with autistic kids at the moment, so other sort of things which I am busy with.

What advice would you give to other film makers who are looking to get started in the industry?

You need to network, find other filmmakers. You can’t make a film by yourself, because if you do it will be shit. Even if you think it’s good, it will probably be shit because you can’t be amazing at everything. When I got started I joined a film group that was local to me and I was with them for about 5 years until the point I was helping to almost run it and stuff. Every couple of weeks we would meet up and make a short film together. Within 5 years I had helped and made about 100 short films. Most would not be on my CV or website because I don’t really care and some of them weren’t even that good but the point is you get used to using cameras, lighting, sound, knowing different bits and you could be crap at it because you are just helping other people out. I used to just apply. I worked at the art department at Pinewood and doing little jobs and running stuff. just work on as many films as possible.

If you want to be a camera man or director you need to work on as many different films as possible and soak up everything everybody does to see all the different mistakes and why they happened. See how the directors work with different actors in different situations and then when you make your own film you have a wide knowledge of all the different things, what could go wrong and how to deal with it. You need to get first hand research by working in as many films as possible you really understand everything that’s going on, if you’re a director, you’re essentially the manager of the shoot. Even if you don’t have to do it, you should know what’s going on.

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