Lawrence Gough Talks Salvage and The Drought
With his debut feature film, the Brit horror Salvage (review here), landing in UK theatres and homes in a number of formats this week, director Lawrence Gough took some time to talk with Dread Central about the creation of the film and where he's headed next.
Gareth Jones: Salvage was produced as part of the Liverpool "City of Culture" award/presentation. How did that work as far as pitching the movie and eventually getting it made?
Lawrence Gough: The money came about through BBC Films and the UK Film Council and was tagged onto [the "City of Culture" program]. [Myself and writer Colin O'Donnell] were working on a feature at that time after making various shorts and trying to adapt one into a feature; then this money was kind of dangled as something that could be applied for – and they were looking for certain types of projects that would fit a budget, and we felt that what we were working on did, or if didn't it could be made to fit. We applied and very quickly got shortlisted, and then we spent about eight months or so going through these endless hoops of panel meetings, treatments, concept art, talking...there were many, many hoops. We were going from a few hundred or a thousand [films]...and three got picked.
GJ: That must have been quite exhilarating as your first feature project.
LG: It was. It was frustrating and exhilarating and anxious and all that. I think that right from the start they saw that we had a really strong project – what I thought was a strong project – it knew what it was, it had a marketplace and an audience...just because it was low budget didn't mean it lacked ambition. I think they liked that, and they liked what I had done before and could see that I had clarity in what I was trying to achieve.
GJ: Salvage is based on your previous short film "The Replacement", correct?
LG: Yeah, very loosely based. "The Replacement" is about a couple that get embroiled in a military experiment...it was taking that small microcosm of an idea and trying to find a new, fresh way of urbanising it. I wanted to try and urbanise it as the short was set out in the countryside.
There was the whole terrorist thing flying around at the time...there seemed to quite a few incidents at the time of streets being cordoned off by the police, suspected terrorists being raided in the middle of the night. Then the news came out about Devonshire, where these containers washed up on the beach. At that moment, when I switched on the news and saw that, I thought that's a great device to get a dark force into a film – something is inside the container and it's opened thinking there are some goods or loot in there, and they unleash something terrible and it rolls into suburbia.
That ties in with the terrorist thing as well because the big issue is that with the coastal lines of America or the UK, there is no protection, there's no way of governing such a huge land mass or coastal zones so that's one way that things can get in; and that was again tapping into the fear-mongering that was going on about terrorism at the time.
So that fitted perfectly into the story that we were developing into a feature. All of a sudden we have a single mother trying to get to her daughter, and this one [average] day that turns out to be an extraordinary [one].
GJ: Did you make your initial short films as part of study, for example film school or university attendance, or were they purely independent work?
LG: I trained as a professional actor and worked as an actor, but I'd always wanted to direct. Colin O'Donnell is a professional writer, and we met each other through a mutual friend, and it just developed from there really. We knew narrative structure and the screenplay format and knew we had a story to tell. It just clicked and came together.
GJ: All of your previous shorts, and now Salvage, have a horror element to them. Are you a fan of the genre, or what is it that keeps you coming back to it?
LG: I think what drives me to horror, or to work around that thriller/horror genre, is that it just allows the ability to be extremist when you need to be within a story; a very interesting way of delving around into the human psyche, really – behaviour and circumstance.
What horror doesn't do for me is the kind of Eli Roth Hostel and Saw territory...it gives horror a very bad name. It's rooted in nothing that's interesting. I think if you take that away, and I'm not trying to be high-brow or arty, but if you do take that away from anything to do with film...I really don't see the point of why it's being made.
I might sound a little bit arrogant, but what I'm trying to say is I think when horror excels – good horror, traditional horror – it's always rooted in some form of political backdrop or social realism or something that's contemporary or flying around at the time. I think that if you can latch onto that, it's a certain way of steering your story into the genre but it's rooted in something, clinging onto something bigger.
The new film we're working on, The Drought, is an ecological horror about a drought in the UK. So it gives you all the thrills and spills you need, but it's rooted in something that we're all living within or amongst, or believe or don't believe is happening...something contemporary.
GJ: I was present for the Salvage screening at last year's London Frightfest. Did you find it intimidating or daunting to screen the movie for that kind of audience?
LG: Not really, no. It was no different to any of the others. Whenever I've seen it, it's been quite a horrible experience...I can't say it's been pleasurable at all watching it ever in the cinema other than by myself.
GJ: You find yourself focusing on what you would have done differently and cringing in your seat...
LG: Yeah. I don't think you need to be a filmmaker to understand that; there you are saying, "Look at my work!" As well as being absolutely amazing, I mean there are people actually sitting in the cinema watching your film, it is daunting and it's also what you just said. There are a few things about the film that don't work for me, that I wish we'd gone down different routes, and that is a little bit frustrating. There's lots of stuff in there which is good...and I do think that with what we have done, we've achieved something - and you move on to your next film!
GJ: Working within a restricted budget, were there many changes that had to be made to the original idea or script?
LG: The original story didn't change at all...it was just about staging. We were always, right from the start, working to that kind of budget. It didn't faze me at all because I think we've got quite a good story and it's about the way that you tell it, not about the money.
But then, at the same time there were scenes that we did do, but not in the way that we wanted to do them. The opening of the film had been written as three or four pissed guys are on the beach getting drunk...sat around a fire...and they get drunk and pass out, and wake in the middle of the night with this crashing sound on the beach and of course the container washes up. So they run down and crack it open thinking they're going to get a BMW or Porsche...and of course they open it up and get pulled apart by an unseen force. It's a good opening hook to a horror film.
Now at the opening of the film we have the paper boy sequence; now the container is reported on a news report...so yeah there are compromises that at the time were hard, but things like that, realistically, when filmed I think [are] still strong.
GJ: The main film I was able to compare Salvage to was the original Alien, with characters trapped in an area with a monster that you don't really see for most of it. Was that film, or any others, an inspiration for you?
LG: Not consciously...but probably subconsciously absolutely, I guess! There are lots of influences that I liked, and I suppose the Alien films, but not as much as the likes of Ils – the French film Them – which is also in a modern context...and the older horror...Kubrick's The Shining I guess. You know that kind of claustrophobia, psychological fear. And Polanski's early stuff - The Tenant, Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby, and all of those. It all kind of falls into the same pot, doesn't it...you think well, what can we achieve here? An unseen fear and how that impacts on the character, really being very intimate with them and staying with them. We could have cut to the army's perspective, or we could have cut to the daughter's perspective, but I think it's better that we don't know what's going on with them and we find that out through following one or two characters.
GJ: Any plans for a sequel?
LG: No, but I'd love to remake it! There's a lot that we didn't end up putting in there. It's quite a neat little story, and I think that if we can fill the stuff in and do everything that we've done, but better...maybe now I wouldn't bother doing it, but a year ago I think it would've been great as a remake. You could even put it somewhere as obvious as America, and the tie-in with the terrorist plot would've fit quite well. I don't think there's any prequel or sequel material in there, but a remake would be quite cool.
GJ: Are you at all disappointed with the lack of a wider theatrical release?
LG: We open on seven screens across the country – in London, Bristol, Edinburgh, Liverpool, and Glasgow. It's a theatrical release, that's for sure, just before the DVD and online and all that business. I think that's about right for this level of film.
GJ: What can you tell us about The Drought? How far along in development is the project?
LG: We are kind of at the script stage, and we've got a hell of a lot of interest already. In fact we've got an international film agent, and Robert Jones is producing, who's great and has a huge catalogue of work in big, big features. We're getting the script as ready as we can; then we'll move into pre-production!
Dread Central would like to give a huge thanks to Lawrence Gough for taking the time to speak to us. Salvage showcases Lawrence as a talent to look out for. It's in limited theatrical release and available on DVD, iTunes, and Sky Box Office in the UK right now. A Stateside DVD release is expected on July 6th. Check it out!
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