Arrow Video FrightFest returns next week and the five-day event promises to deliver plenty of blood, gore and scares.
Film-makers WW Jones and Luke Skinner will be bringing their feature directorial debut ‘The World We Knew’ to the festival for its World Premiere. The film mixes the gangster and supernatural genres, for something fresh and unique.
I caught up with directors WW and Luke to discuss the film, talk about finding the house that plays a central role, and to about finding the right balance in the storytelling…
Hi guys. How are you today and how have you been coping with the pandemic?
Luke – Hey, doing well all things considered. The pandemic really messed up our year professionally, we had an expansive festival circuit lined up, we were going to Cannes then Covid hit and everything just ground to a halt. Personally, it’s been hard and frustrating. I’m sure everyone has been experiencing the same thing, an anxiety over the uncertainty of the future. But we’ve had time to develop future projects, which has been good. We are immensely grateful for Frightfest for believing in the film and including us in the festival.
WW – 2020, the year that time forgot. A lot of this year has felt like a really depressing indoors version of Groundhog Day. I don’t think the general atmosphere has been that conducive to creativity as we’re all suffering from a lack of input but it has brought home to me the importance of film. Particularly at the height of London’s lockdown it was watching films that kept me half way sane, not just good films, but terrible films as well, and I watched a lot of terrible films… After all the uncertainty and lack of momentum this year it’s great being part of Frightfest and getting The World We Knew out there.
Your film, ‘The World We Knew’, is having its World Premiere at Arrow Video FrightFest this month. What’s it all about?
Luke – ‘The World We Knew’ is a film noir with elements of supernatural horror genre film thrown in. When a heist goes awry, a group of gangsters are forced to stay overnight in a safe house. During the night it appears that they might not be alone and the safe house is anything but safe. It’s a psychological thriller about guilt that haunts us.
Where did the inspiration for the story come from?
WW – I’d like to say I have exciting links to the criminal underworld and have seen loads of ghosts, but I don’t and I haven’t, it’s all made up. My co-writer Kirk says he’s seen ghosts but is pretty blasé about it. I’d had a basic, half-formed version of the idea kicking around for a long time but it was really when I approached Kirk to write with me that things began to develop in a more interesting and expansive direction. The project started to move away from simply being a ‘gangsters in a haunted house’ film and started dealing with bigger themes, notably guilt which we both agreed was a pretty horrific emotion that lends itself perfectly to the bleak and furtive world of Film Noir. I’ve always loved genre cinema, particularly films that blur the edges and operate in-between, so mixing together elements of crime, horror and classic Noir felt natural.
The cast is universally excellent. What was the casting process like and which was the hardest character to cast for?
Luke – The casting process was actually one of the easiest parts are the film. We knew Kirk was going to play Stoker as he co-wrote the film with that in mind. We knew our lead Alex Wells was eager to move into acting and thought he could potentially be a great fit for the character of Eddie. Alex didn’t have experience but we had a good feeling about him so we decided to shoot a screen-test which really impressed us. Alex was very natural and comfortable in front of the camera as he’d previously been a model and we liked the fact that he wasn’t known as it gives the character a blank slate. Struan, Finbar and Johann responded really well to the script and got where we were coming from, we met with them and talked about the project and they agreed to do it. The hardest character to cast was Carpenter. Carpenter is the crime boss’s enforcer and right-hand man. There was a temptation to cast a really big and imposing actor. But instead of having a frightening physical presence, Finbar brings a calm intensity to the role that is somehow scarier. His eyes burn with intelligence. What’s so great about Finbar’s performance is that instead of shouts and threats he psychologically tortures the other characters subtly, slowly unravelling them. Without giving anything away, there is an emotional shift that is unexpected and I think a lesser actor would have really struggled with that.
WW – This is our first feature so there was a real learning curve with the casting process. Looking back, it feels like we’ve been really lucky but it took a lot of work to get such an amazing cast together. We never wanted to fill the screen with the kind of stereotypical faces you’d expect to find in a low budget British gangster film, it was always important to us to look at things from a different angle and not make the easy choices. Casting is a pretty intense process, I’ll never forget the feeling of filling the roles one by one, you can feel things coming together and becoming solid – suddenly the characters come alive in ways they can’t on the page. Carpenter was the last character we cast, when Finbar said he’d take the part that was an amazing feeling, that was the final piece of the puzzle, then we were up and running. The World We Knew is really a character piece and our brilliant cast took those character’s above and beyond what we were hoping for. So maybe we were pretty lucky.
The house in the film acts almost as an additional character. Tell us how you discovered it and what challenges there were filming in it…
Luke – On our first short film ‘The Field’ starring Alice Lowe, we were really struggling to find a field to shoot in that wasn’t really expensive and was completely isolated. Which is a lot harder than you’d expect. The West family that owned the field said to us “you haven’t got a haunted house script have you?” So we went to the next field over and there it was. The house dates back to the 1600s and is listed, so we were limited in terms of what we could do in there. The floor had fallen in on one side of the house and there was a massive crack running down the back of the house splitting it wide open. The red room and the main room were painted and dressed by me, WW and Sal Pitman the art director, the week before the shoot. The other rooms were left pretty much as they were. The previous owner had been living there for a long time and each room was from a different era – weird 60s Tiki wallpaper in one room and then a very 80s kitchen. There were stories about the place being haunted. About a gardener that had hung himself over the pond… I’m glad you said that about the house being an additional character because we intended that, but were unsure if people would pick up on it. The house is a very feminine presence that contrasts against the men trapped inside. Typically in haunted house films, the houses are gothic and austere but we wanted it to be crumbling family home. The decaying femininity that encases these grim men is reflected in the characters lives. The characters have in one way or another lost wives and women because of their selfish toxic masculinity.
WW – The house is old, cold and certainly haunted. At one point a whole outbuilding collapsed before we managed to shoot the scenes we needed. That was pretty challenging. And the low height of 15th century ceilings aren’t ideal, especially for Laurens our cinematographer who’s well over six foot…but the house really is a character though, imagining the film without the house is impossible. It was just one of those amazing moments of chance, a real fluke, that we’d just finished our first draft of The World We Knew and we practically stumbled across the perfect location. In fact, it was finding the house that gave us the final push to make The World We Knew as an independent by any means necessary, it seemed too good an opportunity to let pass by. We owe that crumbling old mess a lot but I’m not in a great rush to go back any time soon.
There’s a nice balance between the crime drama of the story and supernatural elements. How difficult was it to get that balance right?
Luke – I think that film noir lends itself to both crime and supernatural cinema really well. In the second half of the film, that’s set in the middle of the night, we had full control of the lighting, as opposed to waiting for the sun. That film noir contrast with lights and darks really helps the transition in tone when the supernatural elements come in.
WW – I appreciate you saying we got the balance right, it’s really hard to tell from the inside. It was all pretty intuitive really and we tried to work more towards the tone, feeling and atmosphere we wanted for the film as a whole rather than concentrate on individual elements. Filmmaking is a kind of balancing act but it’s important to take creative risks and not always play it safe by making dull choices or doing what’s expected. Hopefully we managed to pull that off, I’m really looking forward to seeing what the Frightfest audience make of The World We Knew.
What’s the one thing you’d like people to take away from the film?
Luke – On the hand it’s about working class men and the stories that are presented to us that represent the worst side of masculinity as the most virtuous. On the other hand, it’s a story about the stories we tell ourselves. All the characters express their dreams and desires, what they intend to do with their end of the money. But all their dreams are second hand and clichéd, or easily obtainable, really. What comes next when we stop dreaming someone else’s dream?
WW – If they take something away with them, I’d be happy with that. That sounds like a cliche but a lot of films wash over you without you really having to engage and I’d really like for us to have made something that sparks with the audience. Ideally it won’t drive people into a deep depression due to its somewhat bleak outlook and I’m hoping some people might find it quite funny (in places).
What projects do you have coming up?
Luke – We have several projects in different stages of development. We’ll start shopping them around after we see what response we get from The World We Knew. Me and WW would ideally like to make a film a year for the next few years, we’ve got a lot of projects to kill off. It’s always a good thing to kill a project off – otherwise they swirl around your head and end up haunting you.
WW – We’ve got several projects in development and we know what we’d ideally like to make as a second feature. At this point it’s about getting The World We Knew out into the world and seeing where that takes us. You only get to make your first film once so I’m hoping it’ll find an audience that gets what we’re doing and want to see what we do next. Making a totally independent feature in the current climate wasn’t an easy task by any means, it can be pretty gruelling at times, but we can’t wait to do it all over again.
Finally, to any millionaire potential investors reading this who enjoy the film, please feel free to get in touch with our Producer Andy with your chequebook out, we’re good to go.
‘The World We Knew’ will have its World Premiere at Arrow Video FrightFest on Saturday 24th October 2020 at 11.45am. For more information and tickets, please visit www.frightfest.co.uk. Watch the trailer for ‘The World We Knew’ below: