Congratulations to you both on Urban Ghost Story, you had a good press for it at Edinburgh, three years ago, why has it taken so long to open in cinemas?
CJ Weve been involved in a nightmare scenario. The film was signed over to a distributor and before it could be released, things went pear-shaped. We had to buy back our own film to get it screened.
What's the story line of Urban Ghost Story?
CJ - UrbanGhost Story is about a young girl who is killed in an ecstasy-induced joy riding accident, but revived by the paramedics after being dead for 289 seconds...and from that point on she is haunted, not only by what happened on the
night of the accident, but she also feels that when she came back from ' the other side', something followed.
This has been a limited screening; one cinema in Glasgow, one in London, are you planning more, is this some kind of test screening or is the distribution budget too tight? What's the story there?
CJ - Yes, we will go around the country, but we have been very specific about what we want to achieve with the release. We could have gone much wider but we would have lost a lot of money. This way we focussed everyone into two cinemas, got our reviews and got out with great screen averages.
You made White Angel for just £10K, Urban Ghost Story's budget was a jump, to £240K. Does this mean Living Spirit has gone hi-lo budget, rather than lo-lo budget?
CJ - No it just means that is all we had for each film. If we had only 50K we would have made it for that. If we had £2m we would have made it for that. So far our budgets have been dictated by the amount of money we can get our hands on.
You've described your role in this film, as producer, as a bit of a downbeat job: "Producing is like cleaning toilets - it's thankless, creatively dead and boring". Does that mean you are not happy in the role of producer?
CJ - Yes, producing is just dull. I don't get off on the power trip that others seem to get off on. It's not film making, it's a lifestyle and I'm not too much onto that.You directed both The Runner and White Angel, which Genevieve produced.
You clearly work as a team in preparation, but was it easy staying hands-off from the action for the shoot, not only keeping out of the director's chair, but not wearing your director's hat either?
CJ - We are a film making team and to be truthful, it is unfair to use labels such as director and producer, although we recognise we have to. So for The Runner and White Angel, the perception is that I was the film maker, and for Urban Ghost Story, the perception is that Genevieve was the film maker. In fact, film making at this level is all one big list of things to do and it's all hands on deck. The line between jobs blurs so much that it is ridiculous to differentiate. Still, the media need labels or they don't know what to do!
Genevieve...You had always produced before, was it an easy transition to hands-on as a director?
GJ - I had always wanted to direct and producing was an amazing way to learn the ropes before actually on set directing. It also gave me a good insight into having to work around shots that would be too expensive to do and
therefore it forced you to look for ingenious ways to get that shot you wanted. Most of the time it would actually work out better than you had planned. However when you're directing it's another ball game. When I produced, I was very hands-on creatively as that was where my interests lay, so I was always physically on the go all the time.
As a director it seems to be even more on the go - always answering questions for everybody on set in each department, trying always to be a step ahead of yourself and making
sure that the costume, lighting, set design etc all matches up to what you want for the shot, as well as making sure that the performances are how you visioned them. It took me about a week to settle in and once I did I loved it.
Given a choice, which role do you prefer for yourself, or do you get equal creative satisfaction from both?
GJ - Definitely directing. Far more creativity involved. However to see a film from conception to completion is a very satisfying feeling.
What were your inspirations for directing this one? Who do you feel has done the sort of thing that made you say for your film "It's got to be like this - not like that."
GJ - There was a fantastic Robert Wise film from 1961 called The Haunting with Claire Bloom. They did a Hollywood remake recently that was really bad which was a real shame because the original is terrifying. There are no special effects but just atmospherics and it worked extremely well. Spielberg and Tobe Hooper had made a fantastical film about poltergeists which I love but how often have you heard about the gateway to hell opening up in your living room. We wanted to make a movie that explored the reality of poltergeists as this to us was far more terrifying than thebig Hollywood special effects extravaganza. We wanted to capture that chill at the back of your neck that you get when, late at night, you are with your friends telling ghost stories. Things-that-go-bump-in-the-night films could be so easy to get wrong, one naff apparition could blow everything. You must have been conscious, early on, of what you had to avoid at all costs...
GJ - We knew from the beginning that we didn't want to show anything - it had to be suggested and to have an underlying build up of terror. I can't bear those movies that promise you the monster and when they deliver it - it just doesn't live up to your expectations.
I believe you had a little experience of the paranormal yourself in childhood Genevieve. Were you able to bring any of that to the film?
GJ - My grandmother was a medium and so I grew up in an environment that I thought was totally normal where the family would meet at Christmas and New year and play the ouija board. I was brought up in a hotel on the Isle of Wight that very much resembled The Shining - although nobody went mad thank God! - there were lots of rooms and dark long corridors that were very spooky. I feel very comfortable with horror and have a morbid fascination with it. Spiritualists and mediums were seen as very normal to me so I guess in Urban Ghost Story, we wanted Elizabeth's Berrington's character as Mrs Ash to be seen in that light - hence they look and sound more like businessmen than crazy psychics. When I was a teenager, even though I had had certain experiences, I became very sceptical and I was always looking for alternative answers and interestingly enough, was satisfied with each answer I was given. This is very much a part of the film, where each theorist gives their own conclusions and is satisfied at the end of the film.The film relies a great deal on the soundtrack to help raise the tension.
You must have planned and executed that very thoroughly. How did you go about it?
GJ - Sound is so important to a movie. Many new film makers ignore it completely. We were very conscious to make sure that we had an extremely full soundtrack full of atmos. We wanted the towerblock in the movie to be it's own character so we gave it a constant breathing atmos. You can hardly hear it but it's there adding to the underlying tension. The pipes in the building would have their own throbbing atmos and we would search and search and search for strange animal sounds to add to the mix - for instance we found a fantastic sound that's in there quite a lot called "Giant animal wingflaps"! It was actually a big part of the whole process that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Now when it came to the score we wanted something that would fit in with the soul of a young 12 year old girl and the torment that she was feeling. I knew I wanted a kind of Indian feel but with a touch of "Enigma". Rupert Gregson-Williams did the score and he tapped in to the whole 'feel' and at the same time continuing that underlying tension which was brought in with the piano. The score has since won awards at some US
You received good reviews for Urban Ghost Story when it premiered, people were impressed with your direction, MGM whisked you over the pond, what have you been doing in the three years since then?
GJ - I've been doing a lot of writing. Firstly Chris and I have completed the second edition of The Guerilla Film Makers Handbook. I've also written several screenplays, one of which will be shooting in Australia early next year. A much bigger budget and a romantic comedy; so very different to everything
I've done before so I'm looking forward to it. I went up for the MGM movie and several other Hollywood movies, but so far they haven't got to shooting yet - both of the really big movies I went up for have been put on the shelf for various financial and political reasons. I believe as a filmmaker you have to be responsible for your own work and if something comes in
between, then great - I'll wait and see.
You both have this "taking-turns" agreement at Living Spirit about who directs. Score so far is two-one to Chris. Who's shooting the next one then?
GJ - We've been able to develop since then. Our intention was always to make movies, so now luckily we're at a situation where we can build up our production slate and make more than one movie in three years!!!
CJ - the plan was always to launch each other as directors, then to develop projects individually before collaborating again when it comes to production. It should be easier now... I hope!
Let's look at your other career, as authors of The Guerilla Film Maker's Handbook.
The book came about because you were thrown in gaol at one point. That must have been a bit of a low point...
GJ - Yes. No doubt about it. It was. We thought we were on the cusp of making it big. We'd been offered a lot of money from a US distributor for our tiny film, we were getting great reviews at festivals and on our release around the country and then bang! They came down on us heavily. It did take
a while to not think it was the police at the door every time the postman would ring the bell first thing in the morning!!! However it's funny. When we were told that we were going down for 2 years I remember being able to deal with it and setting my mind to - "Okay then, I'll have plenty of time
to write screenplays and it will be good research", so when they told us we were free to go, it came as a real shock and I actually felt disappointed!!! Luckily it didn't last for long.