CS Interview: Writer / Director Sean Ellis on the werewolf thriller Eight for Silver [Sundance]
Before the horror thriller debut at the Sundance Film Festival, ComingSoon.net had the opportunity to meet with writer / director Sean Ellis (anthropoid) to discuss his return to the genre with the exciting werewolf chiller Eight for silver.
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ComingSoon.net: Eight for silver is an absolute treat, it’s dark, it’s scary, but it’s also your first time back in the horror genre in about 13 years. What made you want to get back into this genre?
Sean Ellis: I don’t make decisions about the genre per se, usually it’s something other than that, even though I said that when I did it anthropoidAfter that, I was offered many World War II scripts, and at that point the last thing I wanted to do was create another World War II script. I think I’m usually drawn to the story and if it’s a certain genre that I’ve done before, like The broken oneThen you probably say: “Yes, why not?” I mean with The broken oneI’ve been raked a bit over the coals, but then again I’ve learned a lot, you learn a lot more from your mistakes as a filmmaker than from your successes. I’ve been very careful about making the same mistakes in the same way with every movie I’ve made since then, especially a horror movie, and I think that was definitely one of the minefields I went into that should come with something really original. That was definitely the bridge, if you want to make a horror movie make sure it’s something people have never seen before.
CS: How did you come up with the concept and the story for this film? I love the mix of a typical werewolf movie and Lovecraftian elements.
I KNOW: I think it was too big for me to say, “Oh, I’m going to reinvent the werewolf legend.” I didn’t know how to do that. I mean, I could have said it, but I didn’t know how to do it. Even if I am going to reinvent the werewolf legend, how do you do it? So I started researching the original wolf man and the fact that it was written by a Jewish writer and that the wolf was a metaphor for his experience of being a Jewish man in Europe in the late 30’s and I started to think about it like this Metaphor for tracking your religion was very interesting at that time. I thought what are we being persecuted for in modern society? I think we’d probably be prosecuted in some ways because I think we have big problems with addiction these days, be it drugs or phones or a bad relationship or whatever, and I like to think of the wolf as a metaphor for the addition. When I started to think like this, I started to think that you will become a slave to your addictions and they will rule your life for the most part. When I started thinking in these terms, I almost started thinking about the design of what was going on, because that meant, instead of turning into a wolf, you became a prisoner of the wolf. I think when this element came to my mind, I began to enjoy the possibilities of where I could take this. Step by step, the concept and nature of the design progressed the story and basically ended up where it is. It plays with some of the original mythologies, but I also had fun spending time playing with that mythology for fact and fiction. I mean there are biblical references that are facts and then there is the silver bullet which is fiction and mythology.It was fun to mix this stuff up, give the silver bullet some kind of story because we all know it’s for the werewolf is harmful, but not many of us know why, so it was fun to play with.
CS: You have a phenomenal squad with mostly European stars, but then Boyd plays British and he does it very well. So what was it like building your roster for the film?
I KNOW: Yeah, I mean, we started talking to a few actors at the beginning just to get feelers out there and I think by that point Boyd had got the script through his agent and he got a message to me that the that said he loved the script. He had seen anthropoid and asked me if we could have a call about the project and so I did and I was impressed with Boyd’s work because I saw him in Narcos and i saw him Logan and felt that he was a very interesting actor and that he is very chameleon-like where people don’t necessarily know his name but they know his work and I think that’s a really interesting thing. Because if you say Boyd Holbrook some people will say, “Uhhh?” and you tell the blond guy in Narcos and they say, “Oh yeah, he’s great!” You know, I find this really interesting and I’m a little bit like that. I have a feeling that people don’t necessarily know my name, but my films are better known. So we thought about it and basically said, “Yeah, I think the elephant in the room is the English accent.” He said, “Let me record it for you and send it to you, but just know whatever you hear, I’ll be working on it for three months so please take that into account.” But what he sent me was really good and I actually found that quite interesting. There was a calm in his voice that I thought was right. He kept working with a dialogue coach until he was shooting and even while shooting he never dropped the accent, even during lunch and all. He would just keep practicing whatever he was doing. Then, right after Boyd’s casting with the film, we had Alistair and Kelly, they slipped right in and they were both my first choice, so we were lucky enough to get that.
CS: This is also the first time in a while that you have appeared as a cameraman alongside an author, director, and producer. What was it like to return to this position alongside the other three??
I KNOW: I mean, it’s a job for me as a filmmaker. I’m lucky because I know my way around cameras and lenses and I know that my background is photography and I was a photographer for many years before I became a director, with a tool, be it a brush or a camera, a given To get the image you have in mind even though I’m training with a camera. So when I picture something in my head, it’s pretty clear to me how I got around to doing this with lights, cameras, and lenses. So for me it’s just a job. I mean, it’s obviously extra work in the sense that there are days that I have a 23kg camera on my stomach for 9-10 hours a day because I also operate and it’s physically demanding. In addition to this, not only do you need to fully focus on your actors, but also on whether the light has changed and whether you need to open up your exposure a little because something just happened or you are losing the light. It’s a little bit extra but I think because I’ve been doing it for so long it’s pretty much second nature but after saying that I would have loved to work with a DP [laughs]. There are so many great DPs that I admire and I would love to take them in and give them the space and time to create something beautiful. I think there were budget constraints in this case too so it was just easier for us to have two crew members less.
CS: How do you feel as you prepare for the premiere at Sundance?
I KNOW: Because of the ban, we never showed the film, so I’ve had a bit of culture shock in the last few days when these phoners were actually the first time I’ve actually spoken to people who didn’t work on the film and who saw him. It definitely feels like what people are seeing is very positive and people seem excited about it. So I hope the audience and buyers find the same thing, they see the same thing as you when you sound excited about it, so I hope this continues.
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In the late nineteenth century, the brutal land baron Seamus Laurent slaughtered a Roma clan and unleashed a curse on his family and village. In the following days, nightmares plague city residents, Seamus’ son Edward goes missing and a boy is found murdered. Locals suspect a wild animal, but pathologist John McBride warns of a more sinister presence in the forest.
Written and directed by Ellis, the cast of the film includes Alistair Petrie (Hellboy, sex education), Max Mackintosh (The quiet ones), Boyd Holbrook (Logan, the fugitive), Kelly Reilly (Sherlock Holmes, Yellowstone) and Roxane Duran (Mary Queen of Scots).