DREW CASSON INTERVIEW
Interview conducted by Joel Harley
Nineteen year old Drew Casson is what many would describe as a true Wunderkind. Starting out aged twelve, making short films on YouTube (from his mother's shed, no less) he's already racked up a portfolio of special effects work that would put many a veteran filmmaker to shame. His debut feature film, Hungerford, premiered at the Sci-Fi London in May; the jewel in the festival's crown. Before seeing the film, I met with Drew for a chat about found footage, Marvel movies and the curious allure of Emma Thompson.
JOEL HARLEY: How does it feel to have your debut feature film premiere here at Sci-Fi London?
DREW CASSON: I haven't processed it yet. It's unbelievable. The fact that sci-fi London recognised the film, and not only that, has given us this world premiere here, and Q&A on stage afterwards is mind blowing. I can't thank them all enough, from the bottom of my heart.
JH: Did you imagine, starting out aged twelve - making short films in a shed - that you would ever end up here?
DC: Everyone who makes a film, whether they know it consciously or not - their dream is to make a feature film. That's what they're driving and aiming towards. I always hoped and prayed and believed in my work, but I never thought it would come this quickly.
JH: How did you go from directing short films to this?
DC: Jesse Cleverly from Wildseed Studios saw my work and thought 'great, we'd love to do a webseries with you'. Hungerford was always supposed to be a webseries up until when we got to the cut, where it turned into a feature film. So, in a weird way, I can say that I haven't directed a feature film yet - even though Hungerford is a feature film. But yeah, that was the jump. It progressed from short films to web series to a feature film. It's slow, but I wouldn't have been able to do half the things with Hungerford if I hadn't done my webseries before.
JH: So, for the unaware, how would you describe Hungerford?
DC: Hungerford is a coming-of-age story about a group of young people whose home town gets taken over by these 'forces', and the decisions they make basically lead to the people they will be for the rest of their lives.
JH: How did the idea for that come about?
DC: Jesse, who also co-wrote Hungerford, had the idea of doing a young person's drama, but it was always supposed to be a comedy. It was my idea from the get-go to turn it into more of a horror/psychological thriller. I don't feel a story has been told yet of young people under pressure; specifically, under fear.
JH: How did you find the transition to be, going from making short films to something much longer, such as Hungerford?
DC: Very stressful. There is not a single person who ever prepared me for how much stress there would be. Ultimately, the stress balanced out with the creative choices you make (which) seemed more gratifying and satisfactory when you see it bigger and longer. One of the big things was the length of the shoot. Usually, shoots I've done, the longest would have been two days. Hungerford was nine days solid.
JH: What made you decide to shoot it found footage style?
DC: The idea was Jesse's, from the get-go. There's that myth that it's cheap and easy to make found footage movies. The truth is, it isn't. It's very difficult and can be very expensive. I think The Blair Witch Project was, not a fluke, but a lot of clever decisions applied to something that hadn't been done yet. As soon as Jesse suggested the genre - and I'm a big fan - I thought it'd be a challenge, to get right, to nail it.
JH: Were you worried, going down that route, given how much found footage is out there these days?
DC: I was, very. What's great is I have a very big knowledge of what's out there. I'd also done vast amounts of homework - both before and after. Afterwards for the narrative, and the cut of the film. The success of films like The Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity - and even [REC]. [REC] is one of my favourite films.
JH: [REC] is fantastic!
DC: It's an amazing film. The second one wasn't as good as the first one. I haven't seen the third one.
JH: It's terrible.
DC: Is it? There you go. [REC] came out before Paranormal Activity - the Spanish were doing it a long time before the Americans. We were lucky (in that) I could name maybe two British found footage films. One of which I had the pleasure of being in - Borderlands, with Gordon Kennedy - I had a walk-on, walk-off part. As soon as I finished that, I started writing Hungerford. There's a misconception of found footage films that you either do them completely low-budget, or you do them high-end Cloverfield, Chronicle - and what I was trying to do with Hungerford is blur the lines between this huge massive spectacle genre movie, done for a very small budget.
JH: How did you go about avoiding the clichés which go with found footage?
DC: You mean that the last two minutes should be the best part of the film? Again, lots of homework. With found footage movies, you will always fall into some kind of cliché whether it's very minute or huge. Other found footage films tend to steer away from the things you want to see - there's a monster in the dark, but we're not going to show you until the last two minutes. What I was hoping to do with Hungerford was when, just when you thought we were going to cut away, we show you it, up front. There it is. Have it.
JH: As a young filmmaker, coming from an indie, homemade background, what is your perspective on the British film industry today?
DC: It's slowly becoming stronger and stronger. It really does warm my heart to see huge budget films being shot in this country, such as Star Wars VII, The Avengers 2 and Guardians of the Galaxy. I feel that in the next decade the British film industry is going to be one to watch.
JH: What do you think you can bring to that?
DC: I'm hoping that the films I make and have made inspire people. I've never gone to film school, it's all self-taught. I'm hoping that I'll be proof that, somewhere along the line, that if you solely want to do something, you can do it.
JH: How do you feel that platforms like YouTube help young filmmakers such as yourself? Do you feel that it's easier to get your voice heard, or more difficult what with everyone else sharing such a massive platform?
DC: It's a tricky one. There are people on YouTube who are phenomenal - for all the wrong reasons - and people who are under everything, and they shouldn't be. I agree with what you're saying in that we've never had it easier - but also everyone else can do that. It's a battlefield.
JH: You've made a lot of homages and fan films as part of your work on YouTube. Is there one franchise you'd love to get your hands on?
DC: I'd love to play The Doctor, in years to come. I'd also love to play Eric Draven in The Crow. It's the film I grew up on. To direct, I'd love to get my hands on a story from Marvel such as Black Panther, Daredevil. You know you're in a good place when you're telling stories about such characters.
JH: As a director, which actors would you like to work with in future?
DC: I'd love to work with Tom Hardy. I think that man is unbelievable. Emma Thompson - a bit random, but that's the kind of person you want to be making films with. There's an actor called Michael Pitt. There's something about him that I think would be great to work with. It isn't necessarily about working with them, but more the influence they could have on the film set - or on a film - that's why I'd choose them.
JH: And, finally, I particularly enjoyed your Texas Chain Saw Massacre homage. Can you talk us through a few of your favourite horror films?
DC: I have grown up with horror. I saw things I shouldn't have at a very young age. A few of my favourites - I love The Mist. Frank Darabont is King. I love the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. [REC], as I said earlier. I couldn't watch that, the first time. I stopped at the end. Blair Witch is genius. There's too many.
Drew Casson, thank you!
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