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Give us a brief history of your career up until Wilfred.
I started out making short films when I was at college and then I came to London and then from the university of London I went over to the States to work as a researcher with a number of indie production companies.
When was this?
About 1985. I did a whole host of different things and it was almost like an internship. I'd roll tape, I'd run sound, work lights and I basically tried to work in every capacity I could to get a broad overview of the industry, I'd work on anything from film, commercials, corporate, broadcast, anything at all.
Then I came back over to the UK as a freelancer and worked in all areas of indie production and ended up doing a number of courses at the National Film School.
How did you find those?
Very useful because I wanted to learn more about production. As a director I also to learn how to be a producer/director, it helps to be aware of how things work as a producer. I actually trained as a production manager and worked on a few films before moving back up to Yorkshire and effectively started working freelance for ITV.
Same as the States in that I started as a researcher and used that to move across to associate producer, to producer and then to director. From about '92 I was working for Yorkshire and Tyne Tees as producer/director for all their arts programming, but I very quickly realised that the filmmaking aspect of it appealed most.
And working on indie shorts the whole time as well?
Yeah, still on shorts and working with other people on my own stuff. With Wilfred I really felt it was the right time to move back into film properly, more potential in terms of funding opportunities.
While I was working in television I was building up a firm crew of people I really wanted to work with, people who still had an edge to them as opposed to career mentality of many people in television. Nice to find people who have a little more to them.
Well like the sound recordist Stewart Bruce, he's got his own sound recording business down in Brighton. Young guy who's done a lot of FilmFour and Channel 4 stuff, he's got a real gift for sound and I needed that because Wilfred has 52 tracks. I'm really interested in sound and you can do an awful lot for the viewer with it.
Tell us about Wilfred now.
It was inspired by the poet Wilfred Owen and I was interested in him because he did most of his writing near where I was based in Harrowgate, North Yorkshire. He basically had shell shock, came back from the front to a clearing station in Ripon. It was while he was recovering there that he wrote 'Gas, Gas, Gas', 'Anthem For Doomed Youth' most of the big ones he wrote there from earlier drafts.
Generally you lose that first hand contact with people from that period and what's actually left is the art form, so the visual image system of the whole film is based on surviving art form from the period.
I started off with poetry and prose and the tons of letters that Owen wrote. I then took it a step further with Jacob Epstein's 'Rock Drill'. For me, Owen's poetry was just a way of him expressing what he was going through and rather than it being about words on the page, it's more about him dealing with what he's going through so, had he been a photographer it would have come out that way etc.
Epstein equally, was really only getting that out of his system as a sculptor. I was interested in all artists of the period, Gormasch's landscapes, Otto Dix's soldiers and even through to the music which was done in the style of B J Moran. The whole film, in both sound and vision is influenced by surviving art forms but what I really liked was using contemporary artists to re interpret each element. For instance, in the 'Gas, Gas, Gas' sequence the soldiers were done in the style of Otto Dix using an animator called Robert Jefferson. He's very Eastern European in style and that took me back to Dix, we also used Robert for the 'Rock Drill.' For the Gas sequence we were intercutting between live action and animation, I was after something haunting and evocative - the film has a very strong visual style in the line with the audio strength of the poetry.
We also used conventional drawn animation by another chap from Harrowgate called David Bunting, again his first professional job but on the back of Wilfred he got work on Disney's Tigger.