Ryan Andrews Interview
Conducted by Daniel Benson
Ryan Andrews is the director of Elfie Hopkins, a tale of a sleepy rural village where a stoner dropout fills her days by creating mysteries to solve. With the premiere approaching and the theatrical release just days after, Ryan took some time out to chat with HorrorTalk about his film.
Daniel Benson: Elfie Hopkins started life with the title Elfie Hopkins and The Gammons, can you tell me about who Elfie is and how The Gammons come into it?
Ryan Andrews: Elfie's basically a 17-year old stoner who lives in a small village. She's bored out of her mind and kills time by investigating her neighbours in order to create some fun for herself. Her mother was accidentally shot and killed during a hunt and Elfie was convinced this was a murder, which is what sparked off her investigative nature. The detective character she creates is a protective barrier over the death of her mother and also something to occupy her mind. A new family [The Gammons] moves into the village and Elfie sees this as the ideal case for a new investigation, along with her sidekick Dylan Parker [Aneurin Barnard]. They start investigating these neighbours straight away and in turns out they have a really dark secret...
DB: So it's a kind of Miss Marple/Midsummer Murders with horror elements then?
RA: I see the tone of it as that Gremlins kind of feel. Some of it is kiddified and childish, but then it gets much darker towards the end. Maybe like The Goonies, if that movie turned out to be really bloody. That's what I was aiming for; getting the feel of the 80s and 90s movies I was brought up on and introducing a bit of camp to it, because I was really influenced by Hammer horror. My Grandad used to make me watch those movies from about the age of eight!
DB: The BBFC site lists Elfie as being rated an 18 so it must be a bit more extreme than your childhood influences?
RA: It's actually not an 18 any more. It was rated 18 because of some of the explicit gore in it, but I literally had to lose a couple of frames of the gore to get it back down to a 15. It was a real big conscious decision for me because I wanted that age group to be allowed to watch it because it's as much a film for them as anyone else. It's definitely aimed at that age bracket. When I was writing it I really wanted to make it a sleepover movie, or the kind of movie you'd watch on a Sunday with your mates.
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DB: I saw a preview at Frightfest last year and the film has a very unique look and feel to it, which is backed up by the recent Facebook pictures you released. What kind of look and atmosphere are you aiming for?
RA: I wanted it to be heightened and a little bit off-key. When you live in the rural countryside and rely on your imagination for entertainment everything is heightened, like the places you choose to hang out. You might seek out a spooky old hose that's overgrown with weeds and specifically visit places with a heightened atmosphere to get your kicks. I wanted the film to heightened in that sense so it feels like you're with Elfie, in her imagination, but more visually. Tonally, everything is a bit off key when you live in a rural village, when you're trying to integrate with neighbours who maybe don't want to integrate. You feel you're intruding, a bit like Elfie is. Also Twin Peaks is a massive influence, so a lot of the feel is slightly surreal because I wanted that isolated feel to come across.
DB: You talk about this like it's from personal experience, is the isolation of a rural upbringing something from your own childhood?
RA: Yes, when I was younger I grew up in the middle of West Wales. In fact all of the locations we used were either houses of friends of mine, or my house, the woods we shot in - I played there when I was a child. Back then I thought I was Peter Cushing. It's so weird because I was watching a Hammer movie the other day and thinking "There's no way this old guy could fight vampires" but as a kid I thought he was nails. he was my absolute hero. So yeah, basically I grew up in that kind of environment and thought I was a vampire hunter, so I wanted to base it on that.
DB: In recent years much of the British horror output has relied an an urban, gritty feel and yet Elfie is completely the opposite to that. Did you consciously try to step away from what has become the norm in British horror?
RA: Well I really wanted to do something different and fun, and I also wanted something that had a lot of British fashion in it that was influenced by fashion photographers or photographers that were doing something a little different. There is a trend for everything from Britain to be really gritty, but I was brought up on a lot of American TV and films so there was a definite crossover of influence on what I wanted to do. Also, living in the countryside is definitely not as raw and gritty as if you're from the cities, so I wanted to make something to appeal to kids who maybe weren't into that scenario as much and maybe enjoyed Tim Burton or Terry Gilliam movies. So it was an attempt to capture that side of British cinema and not so much of the Ken Loach and Mike Lee style. I like the strangeness and uncertainty in performances that you get with a Gilliam film, or the oddness you get in a Burton film. For my first feature (I wrote this when I was 25) I wanted to create more of a fun element to it, with some of the Hammer Horror campness that I like. Now it's different, and the next feature I'm writing is a lot darker and more serious.
RA: No, it's more of a tragic love story, somewhere between Kids and Requiem for a Dream.
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DB: Your co-writer for the film is Riyad Barmania, how did you get together and develop the story?
RA: Originally we wrote a completely different movie, we made a short called Little Munchkin [reviewed during HorrorTalk's Frightfest 2011 coverage here] and its original title was The Gammons. It's about a family that fast tracks the adoption of a child and was originally developed as a feature. We looked at it and said to ourselves, "We can't make this as a feature it's too big". It's a Matilda or Edward Scissorhands kind of story in the feature script, so we decided we could either sit here and talk about being filmmakers or we could make a film, so let's come up with a simple concept with a great visual style that we can actually make ourselves. And that's where it originally came from. We had one character called Elfie and I went away and devised a load of other characters and we sat down together, with Riyad taking the lead on a lot of the writing, and we wrote a film we could make. I'd met Jaime [Winstone] when I was a camera trainee on a feature film and I really wanted her to play the role of Elfie. She agreed and said she wanted to work with me, which was great. On the way through we picked up momentum with [producer] Michael Wiggs showing an interest, then Jonathan Sothcott from Black and Blue films, Ray Winstone coming on board, then Steven MacIntosh. Once the cast started growing the budget didn't get a lot bigger, so I was pulling on all my resources from back home, some really helpful people like the Kelly family that lent us their house and were amazingly helpful with everything. We drew on everything around us that wouldn't push the budget up, to make a simple and fun movie.
DB: How was it having the father/daughter combination of Ray and Jaime Winstone on set and working with them?
RA: It was absolutely fantastic. I've worked with Jaime before on a TV miniseries called Beasthunters, which was a lot of fun, and we worked on the teaser [for Elfie] as well as her being a friend. I worked on a short film called Jerusalem and Ray played William Blake in that. It was great having them both on set, I think they were more nervous than I was, having them working together! It's got to be a little strange for them to be performing opposite each other when they know each other so well, but once we were on set the chemistry was brilliant. The one really good thing I learned from shooting this - the biggest thing I've shot by far - is that when you have actors as experienced as Ray they take the direction better than anyone else. So they actually make you feel better because they know to trust you and they know when they need to 'bring it'. He's a really nice guy and very giving so it made for a really great experience.
DB: And you have a talented young cast alongside them?
RA: Absolutely. We have a fantastic young actress called Gwyneth Keyworth, who plays Ruby Gammon, she was in [TV Show] Misfits and she was also the lead in Little Munchkin. I think she's really going to blow people away. Also we've got Will Payne, Aneurin Barnard and Kimberly Nixon. The young cast in this are a really cool bunch and their performances are brilliant. They're all people to look out for as they'll be making a big impact on the acting world, they're really cinematic and amazing character actors that you find in the UK. I couldn't have got a better young cast.
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DB: We touched on the 'fantasy' look of the film earlier, do you think it's going to deliver to horror fans in terms of the shocks and the blood?
RA: It's quite a rollercoaster ride towards the end, but it's also quite a slow burner without doubt. The ending certainly delivers in true Nightmare on Elm Street or Lost Boys style, but the beginning is a lot more Twin Peaks, off-key and unusual. There's a sort of uncomfortable bizarre to it then it switches, almost like From Dusk til Dawn, it's very much a movie of two halves. I'm hoping there's something in it for everyone.
DB: You've got your premiere on the 16th [of April], are you looking forward to it?
RA:Yes, I'm really excited, it's going to be a lot of fun. That's something everyone dreams of as a filmmaker; being able to show your movie to people, dress up nicely and have the whole cast and crew come together again.
DB: And are you looking forward to seeing how the fans react to it?
RA:Yes, I guess you're always in two minds aren't you? Half of me can't wait to see what happens with it and then the other half is petrified!
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