Ryan Andrews talks mixing horror and fantasy
It’s been somewhat of a long and challenging journey for first-time filmmaker Ryan Andrews, but the promising director’s debut has finally arrived, and he was in London to discuss Elfie Hopkins with The Fan Carpet‘s Stefan Pape.
In what is a stylistic picture, starring Jaime and Ray Winstone, Andrews is clearly infused and inspired by Hollywood film noir as well as the likes of Tim Burton, and the Welshman discusses his influences and his stylistic approach, ahead of the films April 20 release.
You’ve said you want this film to be like a mixture of British twee and American grunge – I was just wondering if you could unpack that statement for us?
I grew up reading a Roald Dahl and watching a lot of Hammer Horror, so I wanted to bring a fantasy element to it and also a quirky campness to it element, so I was really influenced by that growing up really young so I thought that was a bit of British heritage that we don’t really use a lot, a lot of the stuff we do at the moment is very gritty Britain, but in like fashion photography and within our writing there are a lot of fantasy elements and I thought that was somewhere I really wanted to start as a director, to stand out from other directors. As far as American grunge is concerned, I’m 30 odd so that’s what I grew up listening too so I wanted that to be in the dress wear and in the atmosphere in the bedrooms and in their world that has been influenced by America, there’s a detective idea too where they were influenced by American pop culture but inherently inside them from where they were brought up there is a lot of British influences as that’s where they come from – the country side. That’s how I grew up so it was a direct influence of what my generation was brought up on, based on what I grew up experiencing.
As you said, not many British films incorporate that fantasy element, it must have therefore been quite hard to get this film made, especially as a debut filmmaker?
Yeah it was really, really hard. I had masses and masses of mood-boards ready to go as I started off a production designer so my first way into anything is always visual – and I wanted to write a story that was quite simple and fun as it’s my first script so I haven’t written a script before so the visual element was really important to me so I started approaching people and they loved that it was something different straight away. I met Jaime on a shoot a long time ago for a film called ‘Daddy’s Girl’ where I was actually camera training and we used to hang out afterwards as we were the same age and probably the only young people on set, so we’d go back to my house and watch movies and she was into fine art as well so I had loads of Barbarella-esque supposedly concept movies I was making and she loved the visuals in them and it was something I wanted to to continue. So she took it to her agent and he saw the visuals and read the script and thought it was great, so we started to put it out there and it took a long time to get off the ground without a shadow of a doubt, but as I was shooting other things with similar visuals at the same time, which showed people I can actually direct and this is how it is going to look and they could see it actually coming together – so I think over a long process of trying to prove myself with the people on board so they were seeing me develop projects – starting them and finishing them, and this was while I was trying to get money so I think that really helped me get to this point in the end.
There are definite film noir influences evident in the film, with references to Chinatown and Double Indemnity, was there one particular film that really inspired you?
Not for this film so much, but there have been films that have influenced me into style of how I wanted to produce something, like Alien, which is my favourite film of all time – because of the production design, and it made me look a film in a different way and it’s what I wanted to do with this film – take loads of different references to get the styles of a genre film. Also Twin Peaks was a massive influence. The dialogue in this is quite crazy and off-key and I’m sure people will either love it or hate it, and for me it’s this Twin Peaks world. Then things like Edward Scissorhands, the Goonies, where I love how crap they are at doing stuff, and I liked that element with Elfie and Dylan, they are actually terrible detectives, and for me that’s really funny.
There are a fair amount of new faces involved in Elfie Hopkins – such as yourself, and various relatively young actors. But Ray Winstone is the stand-out experienced actor, how important was it having him in the film, and on the set?
I think it was really important, especially to help bring some of the other bigger actors in. He’s a great name to have attached to this project, and not a likely name either, this is quite a different film for him to and that was exciting for everyone to have him on board, and to think our little movie has got someone who has been in massive movies – and that’s a great presence to have on set because it builds up confidence. Also he taught me an amazing thing; big actors take directions so I shouldn’t be scared because they understand that what is in my head is really important to get out.
Did Jaime need any convincing to get dad involved?
I think she was really happy to work with him, and really happy that it wasn’t coming from her, but the fact me and her dad had already worked together. Because it was her project as well it was really nice, to think she had set this up and she was hiring him, like – “Dad do you want to be in my movie that I’m setting up”, which was a really nice experience for her. He’s good, and she’s good, so she’s making a film, so why not. And for the part there is no-one else you would rather see play it.
How much did the script develop from the start to what we see in the film?
There was loads of evolution when we were on set and realised we didn’t have any money. It was just a 22 day shoot and it was like, “shit, this in insane. We’re shooting three death scenes a night.” So that evolved it.
Your background is in fine art – how much of a role did that play?
It was fine art to start with, then I went to London Film School to do production design, and coming from fine arts I remember everyone being like “build sets!” I remember the first set I built which was this mad and huge zombie lab and my parents have this factory in Wales and there’s a part of it that had closed down so I just went and took all the machinery away and I think at London Film School no-one had really pushed it that far before, so once I built that set everyone was like, “can you do ours?” so then when I left school I was doing production designer and camera-work so I built up my visual style so I already that inherently in, so when I had a scene it may not start with the character but with the room. Although that has changed a bit now, as I start with the characters because I’m getting more into filmmaking properly at a higher level so from everything from Elfie onwards is gonna go a bit of a different way, but to start with it definitely came from a set or something I wanted to see. After doing Elfie I learnt the most I had ever learnt about actors, I’ve never done a big TV show or a big film so Elfie was my first introduction in what it’s like to spend more than three or four days with an actor – a week had been my longest time. But it was such an amazing and steep learning curve, by the end I had realised so much more about what an actor needs which was a really exciting thing to come out of the film with, so now when I go into my next project I’ve got so much more that I needed to know about actors and my visual style is down, and now I am probably going to do something different. But it was an amazing process in that kind of sense, as after you see your visual world grown and all of a sudden you’re in there in this world you’ve made. Once that world is there you’re in there with them – I even ended up dressing like the characters, turning up to set like that, so it was really good to be in the world and with the actors, learning with them as well as directing, and that was the most fun part of the movie I think.
ELFIE HOPKINS IS OUT APRIL 20