Miles Watts

You might not have heard of Whoops!, the new film from York-based production company MilesTone Films. But if you went to the Edinburgh Film Festival a couple of years ago you might have attended a screening of CrimeFighters, their micro-budget noir superhero flick, and if you’re any kind of web series follower you’ll no doubt have come across the irreverent and hilarious Zomblogalypse, the company’s flagship work – and soon to be awarded the feature film treatment come 2013. If you’ve listened very closely you may even have heard tell of a little movie called Amber, MilesTone’s other new film, yet to be released.

These filmmakers certainly couldn’t be accused of resting on their laurels, having championed the spirit of local, ultra-independent productions and getting some pretty good reviews in the process. Whoops! looks set to be one of their biggest successes – and with a significantly bigger budget than any previous project it’s certainly their most ambitious.

The blackly comic story of an everywoman, Rose Clements, who becomes an accidental serial killer, the film certainly follows in the mischievous footsteps of MilesTone’s past work. I caught up with amicable director Miles Watts (who also wrote the screenplay with co-director Tony Hipwell from a short story by producer Sam Robinson) a mere few days before filming wrapped on the gruelling (but apparently very fun and high-spirited) five-week principal photography shoot:

Why make this film? What is it about Whoops! that made you want to do it?

It’s just a dream of an idea. It plays along similar lines to our sensibilities which are to do entertaining drama with flourishes of shocking black comedy. It’s a film that has broad appeal, from horror and comedy fans to aficionados of Hitchcock and Ealing and just anyone who wants to be entertained and occasionally forced to cover their eyes.

Where did the idea come from? I dread to ask this, but…none of it’s based on real life events, is it?

The idea was Sam Robinson’s. Sam’s a local restaurateur/cinema owner/complete nutter and has a very lovely but very clumsy wife, and one night she got followed home by a stalker – or at least thought she did – and it sparked an idea in Sam’s head about her accidentally killing someone that freaked her out, and so he wrote a short story. Six years later, after gathering dust, Sam told us the story and we loved it.

Why the title Whoops! - was the exclamation point a dealbreaker?

Sam said right away that the film should be very British and blackly comic, and Whoops! just stuck. It’s memorable and a little bit silly, and only one or two people have said they didn’t like the title, so we asked them to come up with something better. They still haven’t. Someone suggested Rose: Portrait of an Accidental Serial Killer but that just sounds too literal. It’s like Jaws; Whoops! sums up what the film’s about. The exclamation point means we’re not taking it too seriously.

What do you like about the characters? What is it about them that’s interesting?

The characters just came to us fully formed once Sam had told us the story. Rose Clements, clumsy but loveable; her devoted husband Dave; their kids Emma and Patrick; Rose’s horrible boss Ed and the detectives in charge of the case, they all popped straight into our heads to fill out the story.

Another huge draw for us was that the central characters, Rose and Dave, are a solid, loving pair whose efforts are all for the good of their family. They’re not dysfunctional, cynical or jaded, they’re completely in love and would do anything for each other. That makes a nice change from bickering friends or characters in broken relationships. Rose and Dave are as normal and strong a couple as anyone, but for the small detail of hiding bodies from the police.

You’ve made previous films on practically no budget, but CrimeFighters played at cinemas around the country and screened at several film festivals regardless. You’ve got a much bigger budget for Whoops! Was this a natural progression, are you trying to set it apart from those earlier films, or were you simply just sick of working with pennies?

I think what happens is that every time we finish a film, we know for sure what we don’t want to do again. CrimeFighters was a tough shoot because we had no resources and practically no money, and even though it got our names out there a bit we vowed that we would never again make a feature that ambitious for as little as a few grand.

People got paid on Whoops!, not full rates but enough for us to show that we take it seriously, and if there was more money, we would pay more. And that’s what we hope to do on future productions. We did consciously cast professional actors rather than our mates, as there comes a time when you have to branch out and get the best actors for the roles rather than go for the easy option, talented as our acting friends are. And our cast have been an absolute dream; they are those characters.

Your most recent film Amber was almost completely improvised and took place in one location, whereas CrimeFighters was much more ambitious in terms of plot and scope. That’s quite a leap to make between features. Why so different?

When we finished CFs, mostly shot at night on the streets of York, I promised everyone that our next feature would make amends by being shot entirely in my house! And so it was. I wanted to direct something simple and Dogme-esque that came to me while sitting in one of my mates’ (Emma Keaveney who stars in the film) bedrooms.

The day we found out CFs was in the Edinburgh Film Festival, we sat around in Bristol discussing what our next feature would be. Full colour rather than black and white as CFs had been, no script so as to free up the actors, and a kind of tribute to a couple of my favourite films Show Me Love and The Breakfast Club. I’ve never been so delighted with the outcome of a feature before and I can’t wait to release Amber around the same time as Whoops!

From the promotional material and your past work, it’d seem safe to bet that there’ll be a hefty number of laughs to go along with the gruesome murders. Will the film have the same tone as, say, Zomblogalypse or would you like to go for something a bit darker?

We think it’s really funny as well as genuinely dramatic and involving. You love these characters and you don’t want to see them suffer, but to quote our own tagline, Accidents Will Happen and it won’t always be pleasant. There are some cute moments, some huge guffaws, some slapstick and some darker moments that hopefully you’ll care about because you’ve been through the emotions with the characters as they’ve gone through them.

What has influenced your approach to the movie? You’ve previously said that Whoops! will hopefully play like an old Ealing picture, which is clearly evident in the promotional art, but is there anything else on your minds as you work?

We’re huge fans of Hitchcock and serial killer movies in general, also Ealing and films like A Fish Called Wanda which are just delightful audience pleasers. There are also a few Sam Raimi moments, particularly The Evil Dead and Drag Me To Hell in there. The Coen Brothers are also big heroes of ours but then they’re also obsessed with Hitchcock. Rear Window, Psycho and Frenzy sprung to mind when we were planning Whoops!

Our director of photography, Jenni, has worked with us in selecting just the right look for the film to match the tone of the script which veers from comedy to drama, often several times in the same scene, and I don’t think there’s a single shot in the film that we compromised or that isn’t beautifully captured.

Was it difficult writing a screenplay you didn’t originate the story for, or did you enjoy playing within the confines of someone else’s world?

It was really fun writing the screenplay from Sam’s short story and then honing it over the course of about a year. Sam’s ideas are really great and he left Tony and I to develop and flesh out the story and characters, and then he stepped in with ideas for some of the film’s best moments and one-liners.

We all left our egos at the door and at every step have done what’s best for the film in terms of jokes and funny moments. And then the improvements the cast have made with a changed line here, a character moment there, have served as a further draft of the script. We’re all very happy with the collaborative nature of it.

What kind of distribution are you hoping to get for the film – should we be expecting to see Whoops! in major cities, or even overseas?

There are various avenues to explore. We’d like to get the film into some major film festivals and gain distribution that way, similar to what our Exec Producer Dominic Brunt has done with his debut Before Dawn, which played at the Berlin Film Festival and Frightfest. We took the proposal for a Zomblogalypse movie to Cannes in May and there are a wealth of possibilities for Whoops! but generally yes, we expect to screen the film internationally because we feel it will have mass appeal and we’re learning how the market works.

Finally, and most importantly, what are audiences going to get from this movie?

They’ll be entertained, shocked, on the edge of their seats and rooting for the characters all the way through. Whoops! is not just for horror and serial killer movie fans, it’s a film about a very peculiar couple, really good people at heart who are tremendously in love and devoted to their children, but who make a few very bad decisions that lead to some shocking revelations in suburbia.

So on the one hand audiences can enjoy a comedy romp with some great twists and turns, a knowing script packed with film and serial killer references, and just a cracking slice of movie magic. We really can’t wait to launch it.

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