Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Perfecting the Long Take: An Interview with Director Adam Mason

United Kingdom born filmmaker Adam Mason took time to answer a few questions on his body of work. From one of his earliest features (Dust, 2001) to his latest ("Empire of Dirt"), Mason talks about some of the highlights in his career and some of his collaborations, in this interview. Fans of his film are encouraged to have a quick read as Mason talks about what is coming up next for him and his filmmaking career.

(Mike Allen) Just to get readers up to speed, I wanted to talk about a bit about your background and your previous films. You graduated from film school, in the United Kingdom and quickly went into your first production, Dust (2001). What was it like shooting your first film?

(Adam Mason) My first movie was actually called The 13th Sign and we shot that back in 1999. It was completely awful. As was Dust, the second feature I did right after. No one's asked me about either of those in a long long time! I always pretend Broken is my first feature. That's one I'm really proud of.

That said, it was a wonderful time back then. I'd just got fired from Marks and Spencer's in London, which was the one and only normal job I ever had. I raised some money to make The 13th Sign, and was kind of off on this path of doing whatever I wanted with my life. The movie's awful because I didn't have the faintest idea what I was doing back then, but it was a case of work begetting work, and I've never looked back since.

(MA) Another one of your earlier works, The Devil's Chair is a film I own and it was shot in 2007. The film is a surreal title, involving drugs, mental illness and a strange demonic creature. Was there anything you took from your experiences shooting Dust into The Devil's Chair?

(AM) I guess by that point I was working in firm collaboration with my writing partner Simon Boyes, and had got the hang of what I was doing and what it was I wanted to say. He's the perfect creative partner for me, and meeting him was when things really took off for me.

Over those initial years I'd learnt how I like to shoot things, and most importantly the importance of having a good script and the best possible actors. I believe that with a strong script and good performances it's actually pretty hard for a director to fuck a movie up. So from about the point I did Broken onwards, I turned all my attention to those two things. Everything else is essentially dressing when it comes to filmmaking.

(MA) Now, Blood River (2009) is a film that I sometimes mix-up with ‪Blood Creek‬ (2009). They both released in the same year, with similar titles. I like both films. But, Blood River is more of a thriller, which includes a strange drifter and a ghost town. Can you give me and readers a bit of insight on who the character Joseph (Andrew Howard) represents? He comes across as very mysterious in his early scenes.

(AM) Joseph is a heady mix of Charles Manson and Jesus Christ. In the movie, the female character represents idealist America, the male character represents capitalist America, and Joseph represents the truth. The themes of Blood River have never been more relevant than in 2017. It's about the lies men tell, and how they eventually catch up with them.

(MA) Onto Pig from 2010, this is a film that I remember being shot in one take. That is an incredible feat as the film is over 70 minutes long. I am sure you have been asked this before, but what is the greatest challenge in filming a huge take like this?

(AM) I like doing single take stuff. I've done a lot of single take music videos, obviously Pig is all one shot, and the opening of "Empire Of Dirt" is a four minute continuous shot. For me, I just like how if you remove edits, everything feels so much more real. It's like anything can happen at any time, as conventional film grammar has gone out of the window. I'm a huge fan of the theatre, and to me shooting in that style is like watching a piece of theatre.

Obviously the challenges are enormous... but in a sense it also makes things simpler, as everything becomes smoke and mirrors in its purest form. There are not so many ways to solve each problem that arises, so you just work through them methodically. I actually like having less choices, as a rule. It helps me focus and solve the important problems instead of getting caught up in minutia.

(MA) Also, how much of the dialogue was improvised within Pig?

(AM) It was 100% improvised. There wasn't a script.

(MA) Now, your most recent film is a short film called "Empire of Dirt." The film plays out a bit like a nightmare. The strange lighting is off-setting and some of the characters are very disturbing. Also, the film does not follow normal rules of reality, involving death. Is this film a nightmare put to screen, or something else?

(AM) The short is a proof of concept for a feature my mate Paul Sloan wrote, which I really want to make. It's basically Oldboy (2003) meets Hellraiser (1987). I dipped my toe in those waters with The Devils Chair, and so it was nice going back to shooting creatures and using old school FX.

The feature script's about a low level street hood who gets cursed by this supernatural entity to avenge the death of a young girl. It's basically a hardcore action movie like The Raid (2011) set in the HP Lovecraft universe.

(MA) What sort of message did you want to get across to the viewer, with "Empire of Dirt (if any)?"

(AM) There's no message apart from - 'how cool are monsters?'

(MA) Finally, what do you want to say to your fans and fans of horror about what is upcoming for you, in the film world?

(AM) I've been focusing 100% on writing with Simon here in Hollywood for the past five or six years, and that's been going brilliantly. It's led to a career in screenwriting I never even dreamed I would have. I also had three beautiful kids with my amazing, lifesaver of a wife Elizabeth. Which has really chilled me out! I'm a lot more mellow and happy these days, thank goodness!

But now I'm ready to step back into the directing arena, and this short is the first fruit of that. Hopefully much more to follow :)

Mason's website is here: The Adam Mason Homepage

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