Exclusive: Exploring Virtual Reality: A Conversation with First Time Director Charles Barker
The debut feature film from director Charles Barker. His previous credits include award-winning campaigns for international brands such as Vodafone, Nokia and Wella as well as FX short, (Indecision), which was accepted into more than 60 film festivals all over the world.
He is also an award-winning genre screenwriter, specialising in action, science fiction and horror. The Call Up, topped the Brit List (British Black List) in 2011 as the best unproduced screenplay of that year, as voted for by industry peers. As a writer in the gaming industry, he recently had the opportunity of developing a new game for the Playstation 4.
When a group of elite online gamers each receive a mysterious invitation to trial a state-of-the-art virtual reality video game, it’s a dream come true and impossible to resist.
Arriving at the test site, the group step into hi-tech gear and prepare for a revolutionary, next-level gaming experience that brings modern warfare to life with frightening realism.
At first it’s a unique and exhilarating experience. But what starts out like a dream encounter with cutting edge technology quickly takes a turn for the sinister.
The Fan Carpet’s Marc Jason Ali had the pleasure of speaking to first time Director Charles Barker about his Directorial debut. He tells us how he feels stepping behind the camera, the inspiration for the film and being a sell proclaimed Gamer…
So it’s fantastic to speak to you today as this is your feature film debut, how does it feel to be stepping behind the camera?
Yeah it’s very interesting that you work on something for years and you obsess over every detail and then suddenly you have to let it free, with this particular project it was quite challenging because not only, I wrote the script but it had a lot of VFX in it, special effects and it had a lot of you know gunplay and special effects and it had an ensemble cast of 8 people who are on a lot of the time we were filming them at the same time, so you know there where explosions, you know we did some filming in New York, it was very conceptual in that we took one floor in a building and we redressed it to make it feel like we were going down 25 floors and we had to redress the floors so they where both game and real world and it was all shot out of sequence because we had to shoot all of the real world stuff first, then come back and once the floors redressed and shoot all the game world stuff. So yes it was a very daunting and thrilling experience and most first time directors choose a film, you know a couple talking in a room and that’s their first project and this was a blockbuster, it had all of the different elements to it.
Brilliant. As you said you wrote The Call Up too which landed on the Brit list, what was the inspiration for the story and do you consider yourself a gamer?
Yes I consider myself a gamer and it came out of playing…..I would hate to think how many hours, I know the average 19 year old gamer has done 10,000 hours of gaming, so I don’t know how many hours I’ve done (laughs) but I usually get beaten by some 12 year old in Idaho (laughs) so I’m not that good, but you always imagine when you’re playing these shoot-em up games that if it was for real you’d be that superhero soldier, you’d charge through the rooms, taking on all comers, saving the day, and I think what really interested me was the gap between your fantasy and reality, if all of those rules where for real you would be hiding under a desk quaking with fear and crying quietly for help and I think that was my inspiration, to take a whole bunch of gamers, how they feel and would behave and put them in situation where the stakes are raised to (legal or lethal)to see that sort of impact as this new reality hits them and how they cope with it and you know it was great fun, lot’s to explore from that starting point.
Wonderful. Touching on the cast you’ve assembled a fantastic cast from Morfydd Clark, Max Deacon, Ali Cook to name a few, can you talk about that process?
Yes it’s very much a genre film so you have these different types, you know you have the caring girl, you know it’s just about getting…you know this film it’s a genre film in the sense that it’s fun, it’s great solid entertainment and you need these characters to be very readable in a situation where they’re not in the their own environment. So you know you’ve got nothing outside of how they act as actors with any back-story or back history, so they’ve got to be good actors and you’ve also got to make them be slightly archetypes, so you have the gamer, the super soldier, you know you have the caring girl like I said and you have the guy with a haunted past and we had like two weeks of rehearsal because I really needed, because of the limitations of the concept, to make sure these characters landed, that they felt 3 dimensional, so we had a two week period where we storied and we work shopped it a bit and there was lots of feedback, you there was a great actor Boris who is from Sarajevo and we changed his story so the character in the film came from Sarajevo as well, use some of his backstory about being an illegal immigrant and all of that process was really good to not just have actors turn up on set and start acting without that space to develop a really solid relationship between these characters.
Looking at the industry, who inspires you?
My favourite directors are Kubrick you know; they’re the usual people like Ridley Scott and Kubrick, but with this particular film because I’m trying to make a break out genre film, what with a very low budget, I’m always really impressed by low budget films that punch above their weight. So there was a Canadian film called Cube that I always thought was really clever in the way that they had the limited resources and made this incredibly big universe which is kind of similar in some ways to what I tried to do and I love the dark atmospheres of Fincher, the old Fincher with Seven and that sort of dread lurking in the shadows, how wonderful cinematography can create a really sinister atmosphere because cinematography can look great and art direction can create great cinematic atmosphere and a great universe. So I’m very much into universe creating, so directors who can make a universe with a very limited budget and get audiences to buy into it, those are my heroes, so even a film like The Raid again was an interesting example of a very small budget which created this big world and that’s……when you’ve got all the resources in the world and you can make anything then you’re in a very different place, when you’ve got a small film and you want it to compete with like a blockbuster then you’re very clever about how you marshal your limited resources and make it feel as big as possible.
Absolutely, the feeling of building a universe is quite important nowadays, especially with interconnected films and all that sort of thing. Speaking of Cube that spawned various sequels, do you see The Call Up going any further?
That would be interesting; Spielberg is doing a film about virtual augmented reality…
Yeah Ready Player One.
Yeah I’m really glad I got mine about before that (laughs) it’s like there is a big budget idea here that would be wonderful to make, a sort of Westworld you know to do with augmented reality that would just be a dream yes. But the real thing that you know, the thing about the Cube is that, I don’t know if you know or saw any of the sequels, they weren’t very successful and I think what I set out to do with The Call Up is to make that low budget film that feels much bigger than its budget and people watch it and go, they don’t think about the budget and go “that’s just a great ride, wow they made that for a hundredth of a blockbuster” and it feels like a really substantial world, I really kind of designed the story (can’t make out) a director and a writer sort of manipulate the story knowing the restrictions that directing and try and make it as big as……I’ve kind of gone off on a tangent haven’t I because your question was….(laughs)
No it’s fine carry on…
Ok, yes I’d love a big giant sequel, would be fantastic.
Great. In terms of writing and directing do you have anything coming up that you can tell us about?
I’m developing something with Stuart Fenegan who is one of the producers on Warcraft and I’m doing a parallel universe sci-fi, which is kind of a ….you could see similarities with The Call Up because there’s a sort of duality in The Call Up between the game and the real, so it]s quite fun what I’ve done with this parallel universe film called Probabilities, so that’s what I’m kind of interested in and I have an invisible man goes military one as well, generally what I’m doing is sci-fi, I love sci-fi and generally I love grounded future now sci-fi.
Is that your genre of choice?
Yeah, the thing about grounded sci-fi in particular is it’s kind of, you get your cake and eat it, its fantasy and you can dream and create universes, but also the audience…..it’s very thrilling for the audiences because they think it could be possible and just round the corner. When I started this journey of making this film, none of this virtual reality was sort of developed as much as it has been in the last sort of 3 years while I made it and it feels like reality’s caught up with my sort of conjecture, but that’s been a really sort of interesting experience and it’s quite interesting.
Aside from film what else are you working on, I heard you are writing for Playstation…
Yes I have been sort of in talks with different games developers for a variety of projects, I can’t really talk about them but I’m very interested in story based projects, I love The Last of Us and I think there’s a wonderful moment when you get to the participatory element of gaming, connect with the immersion of the story in film and those two connect I think you get a real magic that creates amazing entertainment for people. So I’d love to try and develop that more and of course in VR and augmented reality is utterly huge and it’s just going to change entertainment and I think that the next couple of years it’s going to, it’s almost like the invention of the film camera you know it’s going to completely revolutionise entertainment.
Yeah they’re working on it, is it Oculus Rift they’re working on at the moment?
Yeah I think HTC is a bit more expensive than that one, if you ever get a chance to try some of the kit out; it’s all full of glitches and no of it’s really quite working and they haven’t got a really good story yet, they haven’t got that sort of game and that story that ignites the platform, but when it happens it will be amazing, it will be totally revolutionary.
Great. Just to wrap up, do you have any favourite games that you played or that you would like to play?
Recently (laughs) I had shoot’em ups, I love shoot’em ups, just kind of playing with mates, a lot of them have tended to go to single player missions, I was just shooting sort of playing online or in the same room as friends and as I said I loved the story based games which are still very visceral as well with great game-play like The Last of Us, nothings quite beaten that for entertainment for me, there was a very good spin-off for The Walking Dead TV series and that was great, that was very story based with really haunting ugly choices to make that I really enjoyed. So I really loved……you want the plotting of a good TV show like Breaking Bad to meet great gaming that’s when it will really become something magical.
Yeah Telltale have been doing some pretty good things recently with tie-ins to TV shows, like the Game of Thrones, I believe they did one for The Walking Dead as well Telltale.
Yes, I think it’s Telltale that did it because there’s one company that did a dreadful job and one company that did the job that I love, I’ll need to check to tell which did the good ones, if they did Game of Thrones then I think it’s Telltale as well.
Ok brilliant. Just finally before I let you go, are there any actors or actresses that you haven’t worked with that you’d like to?
Oh gosh…….. (laughs) …… I should have prepared for these questions, let me think. There’s so many, it depends on the project really it’s really difficult, if I gave you one of my scripts to read and you could talk about what actors to cast…..you can kind of name one actor it seems I don’t value other actors, without a particular project in mind it feels like I’m saying other actors aren’t as good, there are so many great actors out there that you just need to find the right one for the part. If you ask me I could talk about lots and lots of films and say I love the actor in that film, but unless I have a particular project that I’m working on you know that I’d love to have an actor involved in it, it’s kind of, that’s the question.
It makes me feel by picking one I’m saying I don’t like the others and that’s the kind of problem with me saying that, it’s not that………I’d need to list about 50 there’s so many actors that I really would love to work with, but to sort of say I really want to work with them above all these others feels. Let me have a think, Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Boyega, Domhnall Gleeson, Andy Serkis and Adam Driver.
THE CALL UP IS OUT IN CINEMAS ON MAY 20 AND DVD AND DIGITAL MAY 23