With the release of ‘Wake Wood’ today in Irish cinemas, Robert J.E. Simpson talks to the film’s director David Keating.
At what stage did Hammer become involved in the production, and how did that change things for you?
We got involved with Hammer maybe 8 or 9 months before we shot the film. In many ways it was a good match because we were already making what some people might regard as a modern style Hammer film. I think without Hammer the film might have been a little crazier, they were probably something of a sobering influence — am not saying this is either good or bad, just a little different.
We had money from Sweden which meant we had to spend money there so we came up with a plan which meant we did our main shoot in Ireland and then after doing a first cut of the film we were able to go to Sweden and do a certain amount of stuff that we always knew we’d need, plus things I wanted to do a little differently, and then a few new ideas too.I know a lot of directors and producers always try to allow for another small shoot during post, if you can figure a way of doing it it’s a huge help.
According to local press reports production was about to start in the spring of 2008. What prompted the filming to be pushed back to the winter at such a late stage? Were those last minute changes a big problem for you?
Things have a habit of changing. You have to somehow manage to be extremely prepared and very flexible. The shoot was cancelled when we were about 2 weeks from principal photography. That was tough. My producers were in Dublin and we had a grim phone call and then I went to break the news to the team. Not the happiest moment of my life telling people we’re all out of work. I mean they would have been absolutely entitled to be pissed off, but they were very cool, very supportive, very considerate. So we put it all back together and started to shoot about 4 months later.
You shot the film in HD video? Was there an aesthetic or budgetary reason why you chose to film on video rather than film?
On a film production the decisions on how you spend your money are essentially creative decisions. I felt it was more important to put our money in front of the lens. We shot on quite an old HD system, the Sony 900. But I think Wake Wood looks good and this is down to Chris Maris being a fine DOP and also the exceptional grading job and post-production support we had in Berlin. I think too much emphasis is put on format these days. I’d settle any day for less image resolution and more time with a first rate colorist. We obsess about all this stuff because it’s significant but for an audience it doesn’t compare in importance to story and performance, not even close.
Were there any other complications on set that you can talk about?
We only had complications. We had to shoot a bovine caesarian section and make it look realistic. Try killing someone with a huge bull for a complication. We had to shoot out all our interiors first due to scheduling issues which meant we had no weather cover and got our asses frozen and drowned later in the shoot. The night we shot the big scene at the wind turbine with Eva and Ella our equipment couldn’t handle the ridiculous wind and driving rain.
Nine-year old Ella Connolly plays the central character of Alice. Can you discuss your experiences of working with such a young actor? Some of the sequences I watched being filmed were rather brutal and frightening. Did it concern you exposing a young mind to those ideas and actions?
She’d never really done any acting or stage classes or anything, which may have been an advantage. She’s quite a strict young lady when it comes to punching and blocking [Ella is a practitioner of Taekwondo] but she was also extremely squeamish when it came to blood and weird stuff so I had to be very careful about that. Ella’s mum, Fiona Bergin, was a big help because I knew that if she said Ella was ok with something then we were on pretty safe ground. I was concerned that Ella might do stuff she wasn’t happy with just to please me and in one way that’s great but you have to be really careful with this not only for moral reasons which would be enough, but also very practical reasons too. It was a challenge, but an interesting one.
During filming I could see you and DOP Chris Maris had a very close working relationship. How important was that, and to what extent do each of you influence the visual aspects of the film?
Chris combines a funny mix of being technically very capable with a real art school kind of sensibility. We had a common language when it came to shot framing as I think we have quite similar taste, and he didn’t seem to mind me being a Nazi about the colour palette. Although that was probably less of a headache for him than it was for the art department. It was funny, I had done miles and miles of storyboards that I had up all over our offices and in the beginning I kept trying to get Chris to engage with me on the boards and discuss the decisions I was making and for a while it seemed like he wasn’t listening — but then I realised it was his way of getting himself into the whole thing and he really was thinking very hard about everything and was very serious about his preparation and then we got on great. He’s very good. The storyboarding thing I’m a big fan of but you can’t let it stop you being flexible when you’re shooting.