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netribution > features > interview with stuart urban > page two
You're staying away from the tongue in cheek, late Hammer…
There's nothing camp about the film although we do have some humour at times but it's not camp, I mean I love high camp this is not. It will be looking at ideas about real occult, the eroticism of certain aspects of symbolism, symbols are very important in the film and Hammer looked into that kind of thing and they put across a wonderful sort of fear. I mean, relatively speaking our budget is bigger than the Hammer films where in those days. In other ways, they were wonderful films and Don't Look Now was another point of reference, and it's kind of similar sense of fear and loathing and religion. There's one scene when we're in Malta actually where the knights of Malta, the knights of St John, of course the Maltese would never admit it but they were deeply involved with the alchemists. You can see the evidence on the graves which is part of our story in the film. All these occult details on graves - very odd for a Catholic country. You know, full of occult stuff, snakes eating their tails and the like. When we were with the bishop of this cathedral, he twigged to what we were doing and then banned us from this cathedral. Then we went to another one, and we had to re-create one of the occult graves at the second cathedral which also had occult graves but not all the details that we had from the other one. We had to climb out onto this ledge to look down at a high angle, a shot we couldn't get without building a tower, and it was just like Don't Look Now where instead of occult you've got this kind of climate of fear and people could fall off this high scaffolding. Yeah and then we had the scaffolding and that was also a bit like Don't Look Now because it was kind of wobbly, the priest was looking at it and it was all very funny. Doing a film like this you do get a bit spooky, also you feel sometimes - I've never felt quite like this, I've never done anything quite like this.

Do you think you can get spooked out?
I get nightmares. Other times it's very funny, but that's only because it's fun to make the film.

Tell us about the characters.
Well, we have four characters in the film, one is a sceptic son of a billionaire - he's out of prison, he's got a chip on his shoulder about his father, and he is the sceptic, the computer specialist and codebreaker. He went to jail because he committed industrial espionage for his father. There's the occult girl, who's benign, very knowledgeable and neither of those two know their purpose in life and the film is a kind of discovery of that. Another main character, a priest played by Liam Cunningham, and the fourth is Terence Stamp, the billionaire father of the boy. The priest is the traditionalist and he denies all this, just as a lot of the Catholic traditionalists will deny these things. In the film, that priest exists to show a good character who personifies the old belief, he's not necessarily an evil man, but he is misguided. We have not had specific help or hindrance, but we've had hindrance in that area. It was very funny when we gave the script to a sort of Catholic thinker, he said "Oh no, you couldn't possibly have this, this is wrong or that's wrong, denying this that and the other which we know there's evidence of. The New Age people or paganists look at the New Testament or Gospels in a very different way and are able to show that Jesus didn't directly claim to be the son of God and Mary Magdalene was kind of suppressed. Her legend was suppressed by the church once it became male-led and male dominated so the film tells the story of the empowerment of the female character. She gets kind of empowered in the film by finding out all this information.

Is the narrative poignant enough for us to understand all these messages, or do you need a certain level of knowledge first?
The film is bold because we are going to immerse people in all this and nevertheless it still works as a straightforward thriller. It may be that people find it too much, you know, it's a provocative film and there is a lot of knowledge to absorb in a visual way, it's not just chat. There's a kind of regular amount of dialogue but it's quite strong and you have to take the facts in to understand what the symbols mean. You are told but you have to pick up on it in the film so it won't be much good for people who just want a brainless romp.

But there are a few action sequences?
Oh, a lot action, there are three major set pieces in the film. The catacombs, which is a huge scene, the attack on the billionaire's castle by supernatural forces, basically people are put to death in the way that Romans put Christians to death, and the big fight when the hero finds his mother being murdered. When he fights these commandos who are in the house, but he surprises them luckily - there are only a couple in the house. So there are three solid chunks of action, and the suspense of course runs all the way through the film.

What you're shooting now, the catacomb scene, where is this based?
This is meant to be in Patmos in the Greek islands. The actual models of the catacombs here we're mixing together elements of Italian, Maltese and Greek catacombs to give an overall Mediterranean feel but, for example, some are cut in straight stone and we felt that would be wrong - the Roman ones are all straight, classical. The Maltese are more like this, and the Greek ones are smaller, so it's a mixture.

And logistically, compared to your first film, how much of a difference is there?
Well Preaching had hundreds of extras and was a lower budget film at £1.3m. This is much bigger and you know the shoot is longer. Both very hard.

Where does the weight of responsibility sit heaviest, directing or producing?
Well I tried to be very responsible - there are times when you would push on if you were just the director. But sometimes now I have to say OK that's enough, but it's not really compromise I don't think, at all. It's better to be responsible as a director as there are so many who ignore the demands of the schedule or, equally, in my career I've never, ever given in to committees or pressure on me as a director, something for which I've been prepared to lose jobs. For example, in Our Friends in the North they loved what I was doing for seven weeks, then in the eighth week they hated it, and we all parted our ways. In the end it won loads of awards. You've got to stick to your course, but you have to be open minded enough to collaborate with people and sometimes it doesn't work but this time I think it is working.

It seems to be a very enjoyable shoot and there's certainly very little tension in the air. How well did you know your crew before you began shooting?
Well there's Sam the DP who did Preaching, the editor Julian Rodd, did Preaching as did Continuity. The first AD Kieran didn't but I worked with him before and that's about it for the team from Preaching.

It's been like this all along though has it, light hearted and professional?
Yeah, yeah, I'd like to say so, it's been certainly great fun and we've still got some heavy stuff to go through but we'll have French icing on the cake at the end!

What's been the most enjoyable section?
Probably the most bizarre fun was getting the pilot of the 737 to tip the plane on its side as we flew to get the sun to go over our crew - I've always wanted to say 'waggle the wings'. I don't like those plane scenes done in the studio, they always look shit. In our case, it's actually flying and all the people you see in the plane are the crew. We chartered the plane to fly directly into Cornwall from Malta. There's a former military base in Newquay that's actually ready for a 747 to fly into in the event of national emergencies, so we flew in in our smaller plane, a 737, still quite a big plane and it was really fun to be filming inside. To be able to say 'OK, tip right, and then the characters get covered in that ray of sun'. It will probably end up being cut, you know what it's like, but it was really great fun. Having played with other toys like tanks and things it was quite fun to play with a big plane.

What would you want the audience to take away from this film?
I think what would be nice is to think that, as a British film, it will try and be both entertaining and thought provoking and yet totally commercial. It's not an art film. It's actually got a lot more intellectual content than many so-called art films. It isn't about stripping coalminers, ballet dancing sons, it isn't about all these things that so many British films are about - gangsters and social realism, all of which are perfectly decent. British films are so rigid, there are only three or four types of film you can make in Britain which is why this film is being made by people who are not from the establishment and why it's not funded by the usual suspects. And that's why we are able to make I think a very fresh and different film. If it succeeds, brilliant. If it doesn't, well at least somebody's trying something different.

It's obviously good to be part of a tradition as well.
Well it's nice, but I don't really look back, you know one can't really decide I'm going to make The African Queen. I don't wake up and say I'm going to do that but it's good to be… it's nice but none of thesoefilms are in any way relevant. I loved all those films, they are some of my favourite films and I think John will be a very able and important producer if he wants to put his mind to it now and in the future. It's good to have a very supportive and brave producer unlike some times in my career when I've had people who have been either cowardly or corporation men in the BBC who are very much establishment figures. Jonathan is more independent and …singular, I think, so that's very good.

Thank you Stuart and good luck with the rest of the shoot.


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