27th Dec2017

Horror-On-Sea 2018 Interview: Brian Barnes discusses ‘The Redeeming’

by Philip Rogers

The Redeeming is new psychological thriller from director Brian Barnes, which has been selected to play at the Horror-on-Sea Film Festival on Sunday 28th January. I got chance to ask Brian a few questions about directing his first feature, filming during one of the worst flooding for 50 years and giving Christopher Nolan his first job.

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What can we expect from the film?

The Redeeming is a gripping psychological thriller for fans of films like Don’t Breathe (2016), Blue Ruin (2013) and Get Out (2017).  It’s made in the style of classics, such as Misery (1990), Psycho (1960) and The Shining (1980). It’s a captivating cat-and-mouse game that plays out over the course of one night, where you’re never quite sure what will happen next.  It’s the story of how disturbed single mother Joyce (Tracey Ann Wood) must confront mysterious stranger John (Ryan Wichert) to protect her home, but her struggle to hold onto her sanity could doom them both.  After a fight and chase through the house, a shocking twist reveals just how fragile Joyce’s reality has become.  The Redeeming forces viewers to acknowledge that we all believe what we need to believe in order to survive.  The film features mesmerising central performances by the 2 leads and was filmed partly by candlelight during ‘the stormiest period of weather the UK has experienced for at least 20 years‘.  Cast and crew were trapped in a remote Somerset (SW England) farmhouse, with rising floodwaters cutting us off physically and mentally.  We all channelled this isolation and disturbed atmosphere to create the intense claustrophobia of the film.

Why did you decide to choose The Redeeming as your first feature film?

As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make your first impression.  My first feature needed to be something that would leave its mark on viewers, but also be something that I could make for next to no money.  As an unknown director, nobody was ever going to give me a lot of money to play with. The Redeeming strongly appealed to me because it’s a poignant emotional journey told within the structure of a great genre story, so it has a good blend of appeals for a broad audience.  Roger Thomas’s script is an amazing page-turner, where you never know what’s going to happen next and it has an incredibly shocking twist, which causes you to re-evaluate what you have seen beforehand and wonder what it all means.  That’s powerful story-telling and I wanted to create a film like that for an audience, because it’s so deliciously entertaining.  Moreover, what excited me about this film was the opportunity to redress the balance on a big problem within film as a whole – the lack of meaty roles for women, and the even greater shortage of parts for women over 40.  I’ve been blessed to work with some fabulous actresses over the course of my career and it really upsets me to see such talent go to waste, because there just aren’t the opportunities for them to show their range playing ‘Wife’ or ‘Doctor’ in mainstream media.  As Tracey Ann Wood (Joyce) told me, ‘I’ve had a ball playing this part!’  I’m so proud to have made it possible for her.  There are so many cogs that have to align just right to enable a feature film to be made that it’s truly a miracle that any get made at all.  I have been trying to get a film off the ground since 1987 to no avail until now.  In the meantime, I’ve made many award-winning short films and hundreds of corporate videos for some of the world’s biggest brands, such as Apple, Google and Microsoft.

Rather than writing a script and bringing in the cast to suit the characters, the script was written by Roger Thomas based on the actors. Did this make the process easier and would you do this again?

I’m a great believer in ‘the art of the possible’.  Many filmmakers I meet are waiting for just the right moment, the right cash investment or the magic producing fairy to help them get their film made.  But, as Mark Duplass said in his SXSW speech, ‘The cavalry isn’t coming.’ I have spent many years myself trying to do things ‘the right way’ – developing projects and taking them to producers to try to get them to help me make my films.  And I’ve hit a brick wall and got nowhere.  With The Redeeming, I set out to design a project that I definitely could make by myself.  I’ve directed 25 short films using the Roger Corman/Robert Rodriguez principle of making a list of what you already have and then building your story around that.  It’s such a powerful technique, so I decided to try scaling it up to a feature film.  After years of sitting waiting for something to happen on all our other feature projects, by contrast, with The Redeeming we were in production almost straight away after deciding to make it.  This was because we already had the location, the actors and key props in place before we even developed the concept for the film.  We also reverse-budgeted the film – i.e. we added up what money we already had and worked out a way to make the film for that amount, so we didn’t need to waste time raising money and could get going on production straight away.  It’s certainly a production method that I enjoy and I’m planning another similar project as a result.

You were filming during one of the worst storms in the UK for two decades, which left the cast and crew trapped in a remote Somerset farm house. Although it sounds like Stanley Kubrick’s perfect scenario, how did the weather affect the cast and crew during filming?
I’m a huge Kubrick fan, so the reference is very flattering. The Shining is actually a key influence on the film, so being locked in by the weather certainly helped the film. We shot during the heavy storms of January-February 2014 in an area just to the northwest of the Somerset Levels.  At the time, that area of the county was experiencing what one report described as the “worst flooding for 50 years”.  Because the house we were living and shooting in was on high ground, we ourselves were not directly affected by the worst of the flooding as we shot the film.  However, our writer Roger Thomas was unable to visit the location because his train couldn’t get through the floodwaters.  Our cast and crew were not able to leave the house for the duration of the shoot due to road closures around the area caused by flooding and fallen trees.  There was a stream running across the lane from the house, which burst its banks and flooded the road in front of the house.  To be honest, we didn’t even notice, because we were working so hard, we didn’t have time to wonder what was going on outside the house.  Because we were trapped there together, we developed a very special bond and had a great laugh over dinner and drinks every night.  And nobody killed anyone!  I counted them all out and I counted them all back.

Did the weather force you to adapt and change the structure of the film from the original script?

Fortunately, not.  The script required a storm to be raging and we were very lucky to have a howling gale when we were shooting, so we had just the weather we needed.  Lucky for us, as we couldn’t afford a wind machine!  However, as captain of our ‘ship’, I did constantly wonder if we were going to have to abandon the film if the floodwaters rose any further.  We could see the water pooling at the bottom of the hill below us and wondered if it was going to chase us out.  I did have contingency plans in place, if we couldn’t shoot everything.  I had a list of scenes that we could drop from the schedule and pick up later back in London, if we needed.  We were shooting at an incredible rate – an 85-minute film in 9 days = 9+ pages per day – and it was touch-and-go whether we’d truly be able to keep up the terrific pace we needed to achieve the full script coverage.  By contrast, most big films shoot about 2 pages per day, so we really had our work cut out for ourselves.

What was one of your favourite scenes in the film?

There’s a moment in the film that was completely improvised by Tracey Ann Wood (Joyce) literally moments before we shot it.  I’m really proud of that, not only because it is an effective moment for the story, but it also shows how well we were working together that she was free and able to create new material, despite our crazily tight schedule.  (Sorry, I can’t tell you what moment it was without spoiling the story.)  The opening scene is also a particular favourite of mine, because it’s a truly collaborative sequence.  Our Director of Photography Matt Aucott suggested getting a shot of Joyce (Tracey Ann Wood) on the beach at night.  When I asked him why, he simply said, “Because it will look great.”  I wasn’t convinced, but we shot it anyway, without any clear plan for how it was going to be used.  When I got back to London, I showed the beach footage to my editor Leo Martin and told him I didn’t know what to do with it.  He suggested building a sequence in the harbour by shooting pick-ups and that maybe we needed a police flashing light to set the film up.  I was inspired to put the harbour light and siren together and voîla, we have our opening scene, which really sets up the kind of film you’re watching through the little trick we play on you in the opening shot.  A truly collaborative result.

You gave Christopher Nolan his first job. How did this come about and can you claim to have any influence on his career?

Christopher Nolan and I were friends in the early 1990s, as we were both members of the University College London (UCL) Filmmaking Society.  When Chris graduated, he needed a job.  Having seen his work through the society, I knew he was talented, so I hired him as my camera operator, working in my corporate video production studio in the West End of London.  So, I’m the man who gave Christopher Nolan his first job in film.  However, probably my biggest claim to fame is that I lent my futon to Chris and his then-girlfriend-now-wife Emma Thomas for about a year, because they couldn’t afford to buy their own bed.  I also helped out a little on a few of his early films – Larceny (1996), Doodlebug (1997) and Following (1998).  He asked me to give him feedback on the cut of his unknown first feature film – a student angst story called Larry Mahoney.  Although it was superbly well made and demonstrated Chris’s talent for staging, blocking and camerawork, the story just didn’t work and I advised him to abandon the film, as it had such narrow audience appeal.  Chris had previously introduced me to Raymond Chandler’s books, saying he was a fan.  On that basis, I advised Chris to make a “noir” type film.  His next film was Following (1998) and the rest is history. I also introduced Chris to David Julyan, the composer he worked with on several of his early feature films. David and I had known each other for years and he did the music on a couple of my corporate video and short film projects. Chris and I stayed in touch for a while; he invited me to the UK premieres of Memento (2000) and Insomnia (2002), but the last time I saw him was when we spent a little time together during his location scouting for Batman Begins (2005).  I’m still in touch with a couple of mutual friends, so I get second hand news every now and then.  I’m pretty sure he doesn’t need my advice these days.

Do you have any new projects which you are working on?

I’m still plugging away at a long-gestating comedy sketch web series called ‘Fetch-a-Sketch’, which features Tracey Ann Wood (Joyce) in one of the roles.  Some people express surprise that I work in comedy, given my love of thriller and psychological horror.  But, there is a massive overlap between comedy and horror – the best horror films have comedy in them and some comedy can be truly horrific, when you really think about it.  Borat (2006), Brazil (1985) and Death of Stalin (2017) for example.  I mean, The Redeeming has utterly chilling subject matter, but is peppered with laughs throughout.  Beyond that, Roger Thomas and I are constantly developing feature screenplays.  Right now, we’re working on a new idea for another psychological thriller, and we’re always going back and tweaking the other 5 or 6 scripts we have in order to make them even more appealing.

If someone is looking to direct their first film, what advice would you give them?

This is my first feature film, so I’m not really in a position to give proven advice.  However, all too often I see newer filmmakers getting distracted by ‘this new piece of kit’ or ‘that cool shot’. (Alfred) Hitchcock famously said that you need 3 key things to make a great film – the script, the script and the script.  Audiences don’t care about the cool shot, if they don’t care about the story and characters.  Make sure you have those fundamentals working first and then enhance them with your cool shots.  Beyond that, I simply urge you to get out there and get shooting.  Filmmaking is a supremely practical skill, so you can only learn and develop through trial and error.  Don’t succumb to analysis paralysis and just sit there wondering when your muse will come.  However, whatever you make and put out into the world, your work will attract both lovers and haters.  Learn from the haters, because they might be telling you how to improve your work in their own sweet way.  But most of all, enjoy it!  If you ever find yourself not enjoying making films, then give up and walk away.  Nobody needs that pain in their lives.

The Redeeming will be playing at the Horror-on-Sea Festival on Sunday 28th January at 2:30pm. You can get more information on the making of the film from the website http://www.theredeeming.com
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For more information on the event and to purchase tickets for the Horror-on-Sea please see the website for details:  https://www.horror-on-sea.com

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