Just over a week ago I sat down to watch the intense and classically produced film CANDLESTICK, eager to see what was in store for my first online screening experience. This 83 minute feature film was full of scandal and betrayal and some very British characters. See the plot description below which I have lifted from my very own review:
“Set in spring in London, this film centres on an upper class social gathering with five very impressionable personalities. Jack (Andrew Fitch), a very seedy and controlling character from the beginning, is the film’s protagonist, who organises an evening of drinking and Cluedo with his friends and family… As the events of the night unfold and arguments and accusations take centre-stage, the viewer begins to experience the deviant twists and turns in this ‘Hitchcock-esque’ creation.”
It is a week later and I am sitting down in the local pub to interview the director/writer and producer of the film: Christopher Presswell. I had a lot of respect and interest in this film, and the cast and original score in particular, so I had many questions to ask.
Nick Price, Listen: A lot of work has clearly gone into the making of CANDLESTICK – how long did it take to bring the film together?
Chris Presswell: I moved into a new flat on 1st June 2012, in Islington, with a Hungarian screenwriter. I had just finished my first feature at the time, and we thought as we were going to spend a year living together that we should try and write something. After a couple of drinks we discussed the movies we loved such as DIAL M FOR MURDER and films from that kind of era. Within about 2 months we had written the script, and it was a great experience writing with someone else. Therefore, it has been about 3 years of, more or less, non-stop work on this feature, with the film being finished about a year ago, but it obviously takes a while to get a film like this out to a large audience. There has been a lot of work with distributors, first working on a multi-platform release in America and now launching it on large platforms like iTunes and Google Play, which a large amount of Indie films struggle to get onto. As exhausted as I am, it has been worth it!
NP: How would you say your previous works on the likes of FORGET PARIS have helped you in making this film?
CP: The first film was a very small-scale drama about two characters which was made in about thirteen days with hardly any money behind it and very limited resources, so we tried to focus on the story-telling aspect of it all. Years ago, it used to be that if you make a really solid short film, then that would be enough to get you into a reasonably sized feature film. However, now as it is so easy to make short films, you kind of have to make a feature to prove yourself. We tried to figure out a story to tell which we could do well without a huge budget or cast, which was a very similar approach we took in CANDLESTICK with the one location side of things. I do find it interesting though to have these artificial constraints and try and write within them. One of the hardest pre-production factors was finding the right location for the film, as we had a lot of trouble trying to find an apartment in London with character. We were very lucky to find converted Victorian school over in Dalston which had expose brickwork so it always looks different in shots and adds a lot of character to it. That took 2 months to find, after a lot of Air BnB searching.
NP: Is that because it’s quite hard to ask people to use places for shooting a film?
CP: There’s a slight element of that. The flat was being lived in while we were shooting and the guys who owned it were very understanding and accommodating for us. We also needed to get a ground floor to minimise the levels of noise for neighbours which was also tricky. But it’s just mainly because a lot of flats looked very dull in London with very little character like the place we eventually found.
NP: A large focus of your film is bringing back an era of cinema long-forgotten and “make ‘em like they used to” – is this the feedback you have received from your audiences? Could you pin point exactly when this era was and what sort of films would we know of?
CP: I think on the whole, people get it. Surprisingly, I thought it would play better with older audiences (people who have grown up with those types of films), but in fact it has been generally the younger people that have got into it. One of the things we’ve noticed is that there does seem to be more films now trying to do things from a past era and there’s another film similar to ours called WILD CANARIES which opened in the States two weeks before ours did and IT FOLLOWS has a very 1980s approach for instance. There does seem to be a lot of nostalgia from younger filmmakers and we have seemed to catch onto this. A lot of film genres nowadays feel a lot more disposable than they used to and maybe young filmmakers are hankering for something a bit more timeless. It will be interesting to see if anyone else does this sort of film in the next 5 years and if it becomes a thing and we inadvertently were at the beginning of some sort of movement.
As for the era, I would say probably the 1950s because of the slightly exaggerated performances and elevated dialogue. A lot of those films which we were trying to emulate were originally stage plays, so it was always in their DNA that they would have that kind of elevated performance and stuff you’re not used to seeing in modern day film-making. Although CANDLESTICK was never a stage play, it could work as one with a few tweaks here and there. The main comparison though has to be Alfred Hitchcock.
NP: The over-exaggerated accent was one of the thing’s which stood out to me, which I personally struggled to take on board because I’m not used to seeing that in films these days, but obviously that is taken from the era you are trying to rejuvenate right?
CP: Sure, it absolutely it is. It’s not bad performance. It is something I can guess being quite annoying if you’re not used to it and we have had a few people pick up on it and not realised it’s intentional, which I guess is always the risk of trying to do something different. However, most people when they get it after the first ten minutes go onto appreciate it for the rest of the film.
NP: I also noticed that the opening score was very similar to the opening theme tune of MAD MEN. Is this a series which has influenced your work and one you like to watch?
CP: You’re the first person to say this! I just watched the last episode last night so I have been watching it for the last 8 years, and I can see where you’re drawing the parallel from. It’s more Bernard Hermann influenced, and again if you’re taking influences from Hitchcock films, you always take the best bits and run with them. The score was actually recorded with an orchestra (a 21-piece string section like it was in PSYCHO) in Prague, which a lot of low budget films don’t tend to have the luxury of doing. It is one of my favourite things in the film and I think for a low budget film it has really nailed it.
NP: Other than finding the flat to shoot the film like you mentioned before, what would you say was the most challenging aspect of the production?
CP: I think every aspect of the production is pretty difficult at any kind of scale. In terms of actual production, weirdly finding the location was the hardest bit. When it came to casting, we pretty much knew who we wanted when we first started seeing people. The post-production was also challenging because we ran out of money so it was quite tough to get the sound right and get it all mixed correctly. Once you’ve got the film finished it is tough waiting around for 8 months for festivals to come along so you can get your film out there. We’ve had 12 festivals confirmed and it does seem to be finding its audience. However, the process of getting to this point is a long a grueling one.
NP: You said about the casting, do you know roughly how many people you auditioned?
CP: We had 2 days of auditions. One of the roles was offered outright from the beginning, and about 15-20 people were auditioned for each other role. The only one we had any difficulty in casting was Vera (Isla Ure), mainly due to the fact that every actress they auditioned, bar one, could have played the part and it was a very tough call to make. It was difficult and took a few days to decide on but it’s great to have that sort of choice.
NP: We mentioned audience perception earlier, but as far as you are aware, has it been as well received as you would have liked it to be?
CP: Yes I think so. Every festival I’ve been to has had a decent turnout in terms of audience numbers. The DVD sales in the US seem to be doing incredibly well. We did a multi-platform release out there where it was playing in a cinema in LA and in that same week we had some digital availability, with the DVD following the week after. We haven’t done a DVD release in the UK because it is a lot more complicated, involving a lot more money unfortunately. In the US we mainly cover California for the theatrical which resulted in us getting publications in the likes of The LA Times, The LA Weekly etc., so that has almost become a marketing strategy for films these days. Surprisingly the DVD (a supposedly dead format) is performing very well for a low-budget film, so it will be interesting to see how long it takes for the transition to iTunes.
NP: With FORGET PARIS and CANDLESTICK behind you already, I just wanted to ask what is next for you. Do you have any projects in the pipeline?
CP: We have got a script which we’re currently finding funding for called THE SHADOW MAN which is a spy caper. It draws similarities to CANDLESTICK in the sense that it’s a throwback, but the dialogue is more modern. We have actors in mind who we’d like to play the key roles, so we’ll have to wait and see how that pans out. We’ve just got back from Cannes where we’ve had a few meetings about a few other things which are probably a bit too early to say anything about, but there are a number of projects at various stages of development. In THE SHADOW MAN we will be using the same crew and same cinematographer (Haider Zafar) who is really good and has just shot a film out in Pakistan. Jonathan Armandary will also be writing the score for this feature too. It’s nice to build a relationship with people and work consistently on projects with them as you know you can trust them and discuss different aspects of the films with them. I’m quite collaborative as a Director, I don’t tend to think that I always know what’s best and I like to take on other people’s opinions.
You can read my review of CANDLESTICK here. The film was released worldwide online on 19th May at:
Many thanks to Chris Presswell for taking the time during his busy schedule to speak to myself on behalf of Listen.
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