As the director of Down Terrace, Kill List and Sightseers, Ben Wheatley is carving out a career for himself as one of the UK’s most exciting independent filmmakers. During a short break from finishing his next film A Field in England, he chatted to movieScope about why he is so fascinated by the extremes of human nature.
Sightseers, Ben Wheatley’s follow-up to the award-winning Kill List, stars Steve Oram and Alice Lowe (who also co-wrote the screenplay) as Chris and Tina, a couple whose very British caravan holiday soon turns into a manic, bloody rampage against those who would spoil their idyll…
Like Kill List, Sightseers is very extreme but grounded in the everyday; what appeals to you about the extremes of human nature?
I think we are all extreme and unique in our way. It’s what makes us human. Normal is a construct; I just go where the story goes. I think any story where you can’t predict the end of after watching the first five minutes of the film is a good thing.
Your films can be both shocking and hilarious; do you think horror and comedy are natural bedfellows?
I think they are natural bedfellows. Slap stick humour is the comedy of injury and hurt. A lot of humour is rooted at the expense of someone else. With the balance of violence and farce you just find a way through in the cut; it takes time and patience.
You seem unafraid to take risks with story and content; why do you feel confident to do so when other filmmakers seemingly don’t?
I don’t see them as risks; it’s the only way I know how to tell a story. I couldn’t speak for other filmmakers; all I know is that as soon as I shot my first professional job my snarky attitudes towards other peoples work disappeared. Shooting anything halfway decent is very hard and there are many factors that can hobble a project.
Have their ever been instances where you’ve had to compromise your vision?
I’m pretty pragmatic with my ‘vision’. The making of the film and how the production is set up is as much a creative act as the filming and editing. I know going in what I can and cannot do. In terms of editorial, I have had control over my projects.
You have been given great support from Film4 in particular; how has this helped you to develop as a filmmaker. And how do you think independent filmmakers could be better supported in general?
Working with Film4 has been great. It has given me the opportunity to work on a broader canvas. They are very patient and supporting. Generally speaking, I think there should be more low and micro schemes. What’s needed is the equivalent of Play for Today; lots and lots of activity, new writing and new directors. From that the new national cinema could emerge.
What’s next for you?
A Field in England, which is a period piece set at the end of the English Civil war. It involves treasure, magic, mushrooms, magic mushrooms and giant Black Dots. We are also working on a big sci-fi film called Freak Shift.
You’re becoming something of a poster boy for independent British filmmaking; are you comfortable with that?
If it makes people look at me and say if he can do it then I can, then I’m very happy with it.
Would you ever want to make a studio movie?
Sure, why not. It’s not about me wanting to make one though… it’s about whether they would want to make one with me! •
Taken from movieScope magazine, Issue 31 (November/December 2012)