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netribution > features > interview with stuart urban > page one
iAt the age of thirteen, Stuart Urban became the youngest director to participate at Cannes with his short film, The Virus Of War. Other credits as writer/director include An Ungentlemanly Act, the BBC tragicomedy about the Falklands War starring Ian Richardson and Bob Peck which he wrote and directed, and for which he won the British Academy Award in 1993 for Best Single Drama. In addition, this film won Indie awards for best independent production and British drama, plus awards for script and direction in the Chicago and New York Film Festivals. His most recent directorial work was on Our Friends in the North in 1996, the top-rated and critically praised BBC drama for which he won his second BAFTA as director. The programme also won Best Drama Serial at the Royal Television Society. His latest script credit is Deadly Voyage, a $6 million thriller for the BBC and Home Box Office about a recent mass murder of stowaways in the Atlantic, directed by John MacKenzie. This script drew much critical acclaim and was awarded the top screenwriting prize (the Silver Nymph) at the 1997 Monte Carlo TV Festival. He sharpened his feature film claws on Preaching to the Perverted , which he also wrote and produced but the budget was a lot smaller than he seemed to need and indeed, warrant.
Having known Jonathan Woolf at Oxford, he was very happy to compile and direct Sir John's trilogy at the BAFTA in 1999 - it was to be the catalyst for a very promising working relationship.
Revelation is a mid budget mystical adventure starring a couple of strong young actors alongside Terence Stamp and Udo Kier. Shot on location in Malta, France and England, this looks like an intelligent thriller, a thinking man's Indie Jones of you like but it's definitely commercial.
I spoke to Stuart at Bray Studios, near Windsor, whilst a thoroughly authentic catacomb set was being dressed for a rather horrific drowning-in-sand scene.

| by tom fogg |
| photos by giles keyte|
| in london |
I hear there's a connection to Sir Isaac Newton's lesser known work in the film's text.
Yeah, he wrote about sacred geometry and he wrote about the temple and, being a Mason, he was interested in that kind of mysticism and the ancient knowledge. So a key part of the film is what Newton may or may not have got up to.

Because you wrote, directed and are producing the film, how much personal research did you take upon yourself?
Well it wasn’t my idea. It came from a writer called Frank Falco who’s had a few commissions from reasonable clients like the Schwartz group of brothers. He'd written a script which was like a really low key British film with a fantastic central idea. So we bought the concept and we took the central idea of this relic, a box that's fought over by various forces of good and evil and which turns up after 2000 years in modern Britain. So we slightly changed it - well, more than changed it - that is the bare bones of our idea. But there's tremendous twists about two-thirds of the way through the film as to what the relic really means and contains and what its potential is in the modern era given the advances of science. My role as producer is not the key producer in this film. What I do is position it in terms of getting a sales commission, the marketing, and having done a website and to be involved in that side of the film as producer. But not in the sense of putting the money together, in fact I have brought in some possible deals but in the end Romulus decided to finance it themselves, which is great.

What was your first connection with Romulus?
I've known Jonathan Woolfe for the last 17 or 18 years. I had then worked for Sir John Woolfe at Anglia on a big television film about the Munich crisis and Neville Chamberlain. It was developed by Anglia but not made. So that was how I got to know the father and son a bit better, well I had met the father through the son. But when Sir John died last year, I did the tribute for him at Bafta and put together a programme about him. That was for Jonathan, for the son, and then he wanted to do a film. In fact a year and a half ago we tried to do a film that was an Agatha Christie property, it hasn’t worked out, although it might still.

Did Jonathan, in the time that you’ve known him, always want to kick start Romulus again?
Yeah, I think it’s clear he’s always had that ambition and he’s the made the money to be able to do it. And also the father had given him the title and library of an investment portfolio which multiplies the extent where they can risk money on a film which is, as you know, no small risk and it’s not a low-budget film. It’s a mid-budget film.

What is the budget?
I can’t say. I’ve been asked not to say, but mid-budget. You can say it’s certainly not in the low-budget category. Well, if you compare the kind of money Hollywood normally pays its actors and the money we’re spending on the screen in terms of the catacombs and the CG, we probably have up to 100 CG shots in the film. It will have the look of a quite a lot of Hollywood-type products -certainly a big European film. And our locations range across the Mediterranean.

You went to Malta didn't you?
Yes and we’re going to France next week. We have a wonderful British location as well, St Michael’s, hardly ever been used in film and it also has a great mythological and mystical history.

\Has this always been a passion of yours?
Oh, well I got interested in all this while looking at the idea of what if a relic was the subject of a modern hunt or quest. What is interesting is the idea that mythology and history and mysticism could be worked into a modern film, and then technology as well. We used two techniques the characters have: either the skills of computer decoding or computer astronomy to work out the sacred geometry or where certain places were in relation to the planets in the year 1096.

What would you have seen of Venus at that time? Can that relate to the symbols on this relic?
That’s exactly how it’s done in the film. It’s an adventure story where you’re really made to think about not only the clues, but also the process of what a person in this world can do with their life. It gets quite deep, but it exists as a straightforward thriller as well.

I’m thinking of the flavour of Indiana Jones for example.
It is, especially on a set like this. A thinking man’s Indiana Jones if you like. Is that what you call it? For a lot for women it’s very different to most films. The girl in it, she is in some ways an occult girl but occult in a way that's true, it's not about devil worship and possession. It doesn't mean bad, it means more the pagan and mystical aspects of modern belief and astrology for example. More women believe in astrology than in organised religion and your wider films don't reflect this. Some people will dismiss it as bullshit but for example a lot of the New Age history about sacred places and geometry, I think is really fascinating. I'm not a New Ager myself but I think it has some really good and interesting ideas. There are mysteries you can't explain, how the makers of the pyramids found the true north is astonishing. They definitely did. For example nowadays, if you use computers, you can work out where the stars were, and if you then align it with how they were at that time viewed from Egypt, you work out how they were able to determine true north at that time. And then the relationship between the pyramids and the stars changed, of course, but this is a lot about that kind of thing.

When you were growing up and aspiring to be a filmmaker, did you appreciate the occult themes of the Hammer Films?
Yes, Hammer I've always loved. It's great to be afraid and it's great to be at Bray because it's very particular of that tradition.

Had you'd been here before or not?
Yes, I had shot Our Friends in the North here but this film is particularly brave. They certainly shot some good films here. I think we would be in a way the next stage on from the best Hammer Horror films that were about something a bit deeper, about eroticism. There's a lot of the sacred sex element in this film about the relationship of the occult and the erotic and the hidden erotic aspects of Christianity of course. I mean it's really rich and the New Agers have certainly unveiled that and other aspects of religion that are so clear in the occult.

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