Writer/Director Andrew Barker Talks A Reckoning
Writer/director Andrew Barker is a man with a mission. For his first feature film, the stunning and gut-wrenching A Reckoning (review here), his mission is to get the film out to the fans who so desperately want to see this movie and for good reason - it's excellent!
From the seeds of an encounter with an abandoned RAF base in Nottingham, England, Barker came up with the story of a lone man (Leslie Simpson) and the questions people will be discussing and debating long after the film is over: Is this a post-apocalyptic film? Has The Man removed himself from society and now prefers to live like a hermit? Or is The Man simply insane?
Dread Central recently interviewed this amazing director to try and get some more insight into his polarizing film which very few have seen…yet.
DC: Hello, Andrew, and thank you for taking time to speak to Dread Central about your amazing new film (with the troubled history), A Reckoning. First, would you mind telling our readers a bit about yourself – where are you from? Where did you attend school? Did you always want to work in film? How did you get started in your film career? Just any nugget of information that comes to mind.
AB: I was born and raised in Derby, smack in the middle of England. It’s an industrial town, and when I left school, if you weren’t going to work in a factory or on a building site – of which I’ve done both throughout the years – then there really weren’t many other prospects.
However, school was a great time for me, although I did very little in the way of actual school work. I was into films from an early age, and me and a group of friends would get together on Saturday afternoons and make films on my mate’s home video camera. We’d usually remake the films of the day, so we’d do stuff like… say Die Hard in my mate’s back garden – that might give you an idea of how good these films were!
Films have always been a major part of my life. Jaws seems to be the film that I first remember having a profound effect on me. I was born in 1975, the year Jaws was released, so I’m very much a child of the imagery of Spielberg and Lucas; a child of the 80s. Just the other day I was talking to a friend about our nostalgia for the dawn of video, and what it was first like going into a video shop. It was a great time to be a film fan, and I was just at the right age for that revolution in home entertainment to have a huge effect on me.
DC: I know you’ve been asked this a million times but, aside from being inspired when you discovered the abandoned RAF base (where IS that place located?), when did the idea for A Reckoning first come to mind? And was there another inspiration for it? Is it a post-apocalyptic film, a film about a man who has withdrawn from society, a film about madness or something else completely?
AB: Post-apocalyptic imagery has always attracted me. I saw Mad Max 2 when I was very young and it just stuck – I love that movie. I can’t really pinpoint the exact moment A Reckoning came to me, other than from the first moment I found the location… fragments of the idea that became the final story were already forming in my head.
The RAF Base was just outside of Nottingham. I think they’ve built a new road through it now, at least that’s what they were planning to do when I last went up there about a year or so ago. We went back to shoot some footage for the on-going documentary… which will be an epic! If nothing else, the making of this film is fascinating; it’ll be like a what-not-to-do in filmmaking, at least in the politics of filmmaking! - thinking of calling it The Making, and then Unmaking of A Reckoning.
Anyway, I’m going off on a tangent… inspiration came from many different artists, from Cormac McCarthy to Richard Matheson to Herk Harvey to George Romero to Daniel Defoe. The place itself influenced me immensely as well.
As for the film itself, I guess it’s about the human condition, exposed to its rawest and most basic form. How long could a modern human being survive in a world where everything we now take for granted was taken away, all our technology, all our culture, and all connection to other humans. How long would a modern man survive before his mind cracked under the weight of loneliness?
DC: How would you sum up the film for those (and there are too many of “those”) who have not seen it yet?
AB: A Reckoning is the story of a lone man trapped and imprisoned in a barren, desolate landscape. His only companions are a village of straw people, these he converses with as neighbours and friends; he even teaches straw children at the local school. Yet, this anchor, this way of habitual living steadily becomes unravelled in frightening and disturbing ways.
DC: How would you describe The Man? And The Woman in White (Axelle Carolyn)? She is a complete enigma – does she represent an angel, happiness, salvation, death?
AB: The Man I guess is all of us… that is to say he represents humanity stripped away, exposed in the cold light of sorrow and loneliness. As for the Woman in White, well, I used to think she was real, but now I’m not so sure. That may sound strange, me not knowing, but as this story developed and was shaped between myself, Adam and Les, its depth and its shadows grew.
DC: How did you manage to shoot a feature-length movie (what IS the running time anyway?) in two weeks in the middle of England’s worst winter in decades? And on a micro budget?
AB: How did we manage to shoot it? Well, I often ask myself the same thing! First off we had a brilliant Assistant Director named Tiernan Hanby who held everything together and kept things moving. Also, Les is a one-take master; he’s remarkable.
But also, I think it’s because Adam and I can work extremely fast – some days we were doing 60 set-ups. We instinctively know what the other is thinking when approaching a scene, plus we both share the same philosophy on filmmaking – there are a lot of people who run around making films, acting like it is some kind of secret art, like they have some advanced knowledge. It’s bullshit. Filmmaking is hard work, there’s no glamour, no mystical art – if you’ve got your story tight, if you’ve cast well, and you know where to point the camera, you just shoot tirelessly. That’s it. Oh, and the running time is about 1 hour 40 minutes, give or take.
This balls-to-the-wall philosophy is what got us through the shoot, to the point where, even without warmth, electricity, and often working in blizzards, we still managed to get ahead of schedule to the point where we even came up with new scenes to shoot.
DC: What process did you go through to cast your film, particularly the leads, Leslie Simpson and Axelle Carolyn, as well as gather your crew?
AB: I’d met Les the year previously when I interviewed him at some convention about Doomsday. I think it was Les who suggested Axelle, and I’m so glad he did, because I think she’s great.
As for the crew, I pretty much brought them all in, apart from Tiernan, who was also a suggestion by Les. Hannah Eccleston, my amazing make-up artist, is someone I’d known from years back when I was making short films. Before she worked on A Reckoning she’d spent a year in Mexico working on Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto and has since gone on to work on the final Harry Potter flick and the new X-Men movie; she’s amazing. I once asked her why she still wanted to come and play at filmmaking with us when she’d worked for Mel Gibson… I can’t remember what she said now…
A few people on the crew were wonderful folk I’d met out in Cannes. It was a great crew, even through the harsh conditions everybody gave 100%, and remained in great humour. Even though the film is quite a heavy and serious piece, I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much in such a short space of time. It was a great shoot.
DC: Where did you find Director of Photography, Adam Krajczynski? The cinematography was simply brilliant!
AB: I met Adam a years before when we were both working for a shitty little local channel – we clicked immediately. In fact, I think I pitched him a film idea on the first day of meeting him.
Adam is an extraordinary artist – I believe he can do anything. His aesthetic intelligence is second to none. He has a clear vision, and like me, doesn’t like any fucking around. The term we had on set was, ‘Let’s just shoot the shit out of it.’
He’s a great editor as well. We spent a year shaping this film. We worked in his flat and spent day after day together and every day he’d surprise me with a unique and original way of approaching a scene. I’d love to see him direct something.