Writer/Director Andrew Barker Talks A Reckoning

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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?

barker - Writer/Director Andrew Barker Talks A Reckoning

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.

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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.

DC: I am very curious as to why the film’s title changed. I thought Straw Man had a sinister Wicker Man feel to it plus I think it fits the overall plot of the film perfectly. Care to share what happened?

AB: The reason is very simple – the name Straw Man was destroyed for us. When relations broke down in post-production with a party that financed the shoot itself, that name just gave both me and Adam a very bad feeling.

We decided to change it simply so we wouldn’t go crazy. We’d spent a year editing, without money or a break, and by the end of that year, that party were saying that the film was shelved, even though we were still working on it. At that point, it felt like it didn’t matter if we changed the title because we figured it was over anyway.

The title was meant to give us a fresh start; clean the palette if you will.

For me, A Reckoning for a far stronger title and says more about the nature of the film. Plus, I believe it’s more mature and not as obvious. Films change their titles all the time.

DC: Also, there have been indications in reviews of A Reckoning as well as in interviews that there is some sort of continuing “trouble” behind the scenes which is delaying the film’s wide release. Can you elaborate on what is going on? And what fans can do to actually SEE the film?

AB: Well it’s a very complicated saga, and to be honest, I don’t even know myself anymore. Shortly after principal photography, and even during, the writing was on the wall. Once we got into post-production, relations broke down with those who had financed much of the actual shoot. Adam and I couldn’t, and still can’t quite believe what went on. In fact, pretty much the entire cast and crew can’t quite believe it.

If it wasn’t for so much in-kind support we had, we would never have finished this film.

Now I’ll admit, we made mistakes ourselves, errors in judgement; sometimes our ambition blinded us, but the level of threats and bullying we were subjected to was beyond anything I’ve ever experienced before in my life.

It is a long, long story, and one that will be told one day, but I don’t think now is the time.

After all this happened, and the film was finished, I just sunk into a depression. I have pretty much stayed at home for a year, and only now I am beginning to feel normal again, and enthusiastic for new projects.

My wish is that all these positive reviews and wonderful things that are being said about the film make them reconsider their position. This film deserves to be seen. For the mistakes I’ve made, I am sorry. I am still grateful to them for getting this project rolling and I just hope in the future reason will be seen.

But in the end, nobody cares about what we went through, folk might be interested, but in who did what and who said what, none of it really matters, the film is the only thing that matters. I think we’ve created something beautiful, and you’re lucky to do that once in your life, if ever. Life is too short for these things.

How people can see the film on a wide scale… I just don’t know yet.

DC: There have also been quite a few comparisons of A Reckoning to Moon starring Sam Rockwell. How do you respond to those comparisons?

AB: I saw Moon while we were nearing the end of editing and saw there were similarities right away. But if anything, it just reconfirmed that we were on the right track.

DC: There are so many literary references in the film (Poe, Dickens, the Bible etc.), both verbal and visual (“Lovecraft” on the schoolroom chalkboard). How much of that was from your script or did you give Leslie free rein to ad-lib?

AB: Most of the literary references were in the original treatment. Using Dickens’ character names for straw people was something I added into the screenplay.

DC: Tell me about the straw people – how many of them were there? Who designed and made them? Did you get to keep any of them and what kinds of jokes were played on people over the course of the shoot that involved the straw people?

AB: I can’t remember how many of them there were, and I didn’t keep any of them, don’t know if anyone else did. Adam got a few emails after the shoot from people who had been round the base we used, saying they had the fright of their lives when they turned a corner and there was a straw figure stood there. So I guess we just left them there!

The set dresser made them and he did an amazing job, hats off to him. His sets were equally as brilliant.

DC: Several interviews have mentioned that you and your DP are admirers of the films of Terrence Malick and Werner Herzog. Did any of their influences work their way into A Reckoning?

AB: The beauty, poetry and graceful nature of any Malick film had a huge influence on me. He was someone Adam and I spoke about early on. I wrote a 44 page shot list running up to production, working out every single shot. It took me two months to write. I didn’t storyboard, I wrote the shots. At the start of that shot list I wrote a piece about how the film should move and I even referenced Malick.

After that, Adam and I went through the shot list and then on the shoot, we just used it as a guide. We were pretty loose, but without that shot list to always fall back on, we would have wasted a lot of time.

As for Herzog, another original genius, his influence was more about his philosophy on filmmaking. He’s under no illusion about filmmaking, he knows there is no secret art; it’s work and it’s hard, but he’s of the mind that if you want to make a film, then just grab a camera, steal one if you have to, which is what he says, and just shoot. He’s a very inspiring man. Anyone interested in filmmaking should read Herzog on Herzog; it’s a bible… but one you can believe in!

DC: You put your lead, Leslie Simpson, through hell, both physically and emotionally. How did you get him prepped to play The Man?

AB: I went up to his flat over several weekends in the run up to shooting and we would just talk the story and character through over and over. His dedication to the role was extraordinary, and he was amazing to watch. Without him, this film would be nothing.

It is an almost impossible task to command the screen alone for what, 90% of the film, and always hold the audiences’ attention. He is mesmerizing to watch. And he does this with very little dialogue. It’s an incredible performance.

DC: Just to satiate my own curiosity but why is the film not listed on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb)? Is this part of “the troubles”?

AB: We were on IMDb, but when the other party said they were shelving the film, they must have taken the page down.

DC: In order to get the word out about this truly thought-provoking film, people need to check out the official A Reckoning website, where there are trailers, interviews and more to be found. How much traffic has the site received?

AB: That website didn’t start out as the official website. It was a fan site, but it so pissed the other party off that they shelved the film because of it. I was just happy someone was getting the word out there for us. Then, it just became the official site because there was nothing else out there.

As for how much traffic the site gets, I have no idea, I don’t deal with the site directly and I’ve never asked.

DC: And there is also a Facebook site which can be found under the film’s original title, Straw Man, that has plenty of info as well as a Twitter account. So, there is no excuse for people to NOT check out the images and read the interviews and reviews for the film. Are there any other resources on the Internet for A Reckoning?

AB: No, they are the only resources on the net at the moment.

barker1 - Writer/Director Andrew Barker Talks A Reckoning

DC: What are you working on now or what is on the horizon for you?

AB: It’s been a slow crawl back to being interested in making anything again, but I’m slowly healing now. Like I said before, I spent a year at home, and in that time I just wrote – short stories, outlines, I even completed a children’s book. But I have only just started to think about films again.

Just this week I’ve begun working on a screenplay with a writer named David Flint, which is a horror film set in the desert. We have an up and coming company in the states interested in this project. They are called Film Regions International, Inc and they’re just readying to release their documentary, My Amityville Horror, which I’m looking forward to seeing.

I also have a backlog of scripts that I’ve written with my usual writing partner Matthew Waldram, one of which I really would love to make.

It’s been difficult to move on until I knew the fate of A Reckoning, but I’m slowly starting to think about what to do next.

DC: As this is a horror site (and there IS horror in A Reckoning), are you a fan of horror films? If so, what are some of your favorites?

AB: I think The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is the greatest horror film ever made… Hooper’s of course. It is a relentless nightmare; it’s beautifully shot and just works on so many levels. It’s an extraordinary film.

I also love the old Universal Monster flicks; they’re just beautiful to look at.

Plus, I love the work of John Carpenter, early Romero, all the usual suspects really. As for modern horror, I guess Let the Right One In is the best horror film I’ve seen so far this century. It’s a masterpiece. I haven’t seen the remake.

DC: What is your opinion on the state of film horror these days?

AB: I’ve kind of developed a love/hate attitude towards horror films of late. I don’t love them like I used to when I was younger… even though I’m writing one at the moment!

I think films need to become scary again, not just disturbing. I think this is happening, but slowly.

DC: How about horror literature? Any particular authors you are a fan of (besides Poe)?

AB: Again all the usual suspects – King, Barker, Peter Straub, Richard Laymon… also Richard Matheson – I Am Legend is one of my favorite novels, and was another big influence on A Reckoning.

DC: What is one thing no one knows about Andrew Barker that you think they should know?

AB: I’m not going to let our film disappear and die.

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