Richard Stanley Talks His Films, His Roots, and More!
September, 1990: Young South African born filmmaker Richard Stanley delivers what will be his signature work, Hardware, despite what was considered to be a meager budget when compared to the wallets of the Hollywood giants.
A slasher story that is set in a visually eye-popping dystopian future most major releases could only dream of achieving. It would set him at the forefront of Britain's most promising directors.
His second feature was the unfortunately misunderstood Dust Devil. Though given creative freedoms of a much larger budget, the production suffered heavy re-editing by distributor Miramax, which altered Stanley's original vision for the project. A later Director’s Cut would surface on DVD.
Things took a turn for the worse on his next big production – penning the original screenplay for a $35 million dollar adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau, a production reportedly plagued by two troublesome stars in the form of Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando. Stanley was replaced as director a mere three days into filming.
From there, Stanley would return to the world of documentary filmmaking, having cut his teeth in the area during months spent in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan with the well received look into the troubled country titled Voice of the Moon.
More recently, Stanley directed a portion of the Grand Guignol-inspired horror anthology The Theatre Bizarre, with his adaptation of Clark Ashton Smith's "The Mother of Toads" – an arcane fable fiendishly laced with Lovecraftian references. We recently sat down with Stanley for a discussion of all of this and more.
On his roots that led him to where he is today...
My dad wanted to be in the film business when he was growing up in England. Apparently he was caught stealing camera equipment from the set of the Thief of Baghdad, was disgraced and ended up in South Africa. He still wanted to be a filmmaker. He never got it together but he had a whole editing setup upstairs, and when I was a child, I was playing with the editing equipment. He showed me King Kong when I was four years old; he brought back a print and forced us to watch it. That and Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. Like a lot of other kids I was into that.
On stirring up controversy at film school...
I managed to get my ass expelled. It's a film called Rights of Passage. What I wanted to do was show a day in the life of prehistoric man. It starts with a 20th century office worker who’s leaving his suicide note on a Dictaphone. We get the 20th century person's suicide note on the soundtrack with images of the primordial people going about their business. I couldn’t convince anyone to play a caveman so the caveman is played by myself covered in mud. I think what worried the film tutor the most was the location. It was shot on the cliff faces of a mountain, and the rock climbing sequences were pretty hairy.
On his tutor's reaction to the film...
Partially, I don’t think he was expecting it. It was about reincarnation, and there was kind of a very despairing tone to the whole piece. It upset him on some level. He got very angry when he saw the rushes. He confiscated the film.
On his decision to shoot in Afghanistan for Voice of the Moon...
That came from about three years of making music videos. I got so cheesed off with making one music video every month that I was pretty desperate to do anything else. It's okay for a while to do music videos, but the quality goes down; you're just doing anything you can to pay the rent. After about three years we had enough. Basically I've got a sort of first on/last off policy as a director. I like to arrive first in the morning and stick around until everything’s loaded and taken out. I noticed that the driver of the truck was complaining about the gears. He was saying it was as difficult to change gears on the truck as it was on a BTR-60, which I was realised was a lightweight Soviet troop transporter used in the invasion of Afghanistan. I then asked him how he got to drive one, and he explained he had been fighting the Russians in Afghanistan and he was back in London trying to save up enough money to go back to join the Jihad. I asked if we paid for his plane ticket, would he take us with him. My cameraman and I went back with him to Afghanistan to film what happened.
I guess we were pretty fed up with London enough that we gave it a shot. I was pretty in love with Afghanistan at the time and wanted to get into the Hindu Kush really badly. We were fond of the results. I think we came back with something really worth having.
On how the production for Hardware came to be...
Well, like everything it was a series of very random encounters, basically. Hardware had been written before I went to Afghanistan. During the time I was in London, I was churning out screenplays and banging on every door available trying to get people to read them. The Hardware script had been doing the rounds.