I describe my stuff as being arthouse meets grindhouse.
With his big beard, slicked back hair, dark tee and matching suit jacket, Sam Ashurst looks every inch the cult leader, an impression bolstered as he starts to speak. “I’m definitely a weirdo,” he smiles, staring down the barrel of the webcam; “I’m trying to use creativity to hypnotise my audience”.
It’s an assertion backed up by the journo-turned-director’s burgeoning filmography: with both Frankenstein’s Creature (2018) and this year’s A Little More Flesh, Ashurst is carving a reputation as one of the most exciting and avant-garde film-makers working in the British genre scene today. And as superficially alarming as his comments might be there’s a glint in his eye as he speaks, a man more likely to bond with you over obscure VHS titles than to pass you a cup of Kool-aid. If there is a cult here, it’s cult cinema: a fact that should surprise no one who listens to the Arrow Video Podcast which he hosts with Dan Martin.
Now – in a disarmingly honest interview – Ashurst opens up about the conversations he’s had as a journalist with many of the world’s most iconic film-makers, and how they inspired him to pick up a camera and evolve from critic to creator.
Prior to working in the sector how did you fall in love with genre cinema?
It started when I was very young. I come from a working class background, was raised on a council estate and my dad would show me and my sister bootleg VHS: he had Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Godzilla 1985 – stuff like that – and there was some horror stuff mixed in there too. He had the full-length Thriller video and still to this day – I tried watching it last night – that video freaks me out. It was a terrifying experience as a young child, and I had nightmares for ages afterwards.
All my memories of my dad from that time were of sitting down and watching those bootlegs and him sitting in his specific chair, smoking his way through a packet of Benson and Hedges. I’m painting quite a bleak picture, but cinema took me out of that and gave me a sense of adventure. It’s where my joy came from. So since a very young age I’ve been obsessed with cinema: it’s been my whole life.
Both you and Dan Martin on the Arrow Video Podcast have an encyclopaedic knowledge of obscure genre films: was your way into that particular branch of cinema through your dad too?
I’d say so. In amongst the Star Wars’ and the Indiana Joneses were psychotronic films, often very inappropriate. Me and my sister saw Fritz the Cat (1972) at an insanely young age, and that wasn’t a mistake on my dad’s part. Stuff like that and 70s crime films, just weird shit. I guess what we learn in childhood we take on into adulthood, so it’s been my life’s mission to recreate cinematically the feelings I remember from that time and the profound impact some of those weird films had on me.
Were there any particular images from that period which have left a lasting impression?
It’s a bit of an obvious one but my dad was obsessed with The Evil Dead (1981). I know people see that film as a comedy – it’s not a comedy. The second one: yeah, it’s slapstick and influenced by the Three Stooges and all that stuff. But the first one was a straight up horror film. It scared Stephen King at Cannes. I don’t know how old I would have been when I saw that – maybe 5 or something like that.
That’s young for The Evil Dead!
I know! It’s young for Thriller as well. Absolutely terrifying. As a kid I was scared of Ghostbusters (1984) and that is a comedy. My dad took me to the cinema to see that and I can still vividly remember where we were sat, how I felt when that fucking library ghost did her business and how I was scared literally for the rest of the film waiting for something like that to happen again.
So I guess horror vividly had an impact on me. And I think one of the appeals of horror is to recreate that feeling you have as a child when you’re scared. For a lot of people what we look for in culture is stuff that takes us back to childhood: whether that’s horror for me or superhero movies for other people or whatever.
It feels that for those of us who grew up at a similar time we have our earliest memories of cinema from a really interesting period where films like Ghostbusters, Poltergeist (1982), Jaws (1975) – which were ostensibly pitched at families – have some very strong moments in them. It feels like it’s produced a generation of film-makers very much influenced by those formative cinematic experiences.
That’s really interesting that you say that because that ties into one of my film-makers.
When I interviewed Paul Thomas Anderson I had two interviews prepared: one that was very personal and talked about his dad whom he’d lost – this wasn’t long after I’d lost my own dad and I wanted to kind of get into it with him – and another interview which was normal, nothing too deep, nothing too personal.
The day before I looked at the questions and I was like “Ah, I can’t do that super personal one, it’s too much, I’ll just do the normal one”. And I went along, and the first question was to do with Jaws: I’d seen him talk in another interview about watching it at the cinema and what an impact that had had on him, and that tapped into some of my interests. So I asked him the question and he talked about his dad, how he’d showed them inappropriate stuff and taken them to Jaws when he was like 4 or something – so really young, too young basically – and they’d freaked out and had to be taken out of the cinema. And obviously that really tied in with my library ghost experience. The interview then turned into this amazing thing about his journey from being a son to father and how that’s evolved through his films.
But the Jaws thing – it’s suddenly: oh my God, the sea is in all of his films pretty much. Daniel Plainview goes into the water around the mid-point of There Will Be Blood (2007) and he’s like a monster in the water. And so it really tied into my thoughts and feelings about how we can use creativity to process stuff from when we were younger.
And then he just ends the interview telling me a story about how his son was watching Poltergeist in the kitchen when he was like 4 years old, and Paul Thomas Anderson came in and saw him and waited for a moment, and then realised “No, hang on” and took his son out. And I just think it’s such a beautiful evolution, such a beautiful journey: two Spielberg films – obviously one’s produced by him, one’s directed by him – but that journey from son to father. It ended up being a super personal and super profound interview anyway. So my advice to people would be always use those personal questions rather than the super professional ones because you’ll always get more interesting stuff.
So I feel prompted on a meta-level to apply that advice to this interview. A film which means a lot to me is Adam Wingard’s The Guest (2014) because it was something I watched one of the last times I was with my father before he died: it also looks back to 80’s aesthetics and references films like The Terminator (1984) and Halloween (1978) which are movies that my dad showed me at an inappropriately young age. I’m wondering if there are particularly talismanic themes or images which you’re pulling from your own childhood and seeking to integrate – either consciously or sub-consciously – into the work you’re doing now?
That’s a really good question. So my mum – “kidnapped” is a strong word – but we had to pack all our stuff really quick and were scooped into a taxi and taken to our new home with my mum’s new partner, my step-dad who raised me. And I’d say that, deliberately or sub-consciously or whatever, my stuff is a combination of the interests of my two fathers.
My dad was into all that exploitationy stuff, whereas my stepdad was a professor of cultural studies. His name was Couze Venn and he was from Mauritius, so I grew up in a mixed race family. He was one of the first people to translate Foucault in this country, and he became a very well respected professor, with pioneering work in postcolonial theory.
Don’t get me wrong, he loved movies too, he loved sci-fi – he showed me Bladerunner (1982) for the first time when I was little, which is a very special film for me, and we used to watch Doctor Who together – but his interests were a little bit more high-brow. The last film that we saw together before he passed away was Wild Strawberries (1957) which we saw on the big screen at a retrospective. So I describe my stuff as being arthouse meets grindhouse, and I guess it’s one dad meets the other. I’ve never really thought of it that way before.
I think if you take your first two features you can very much see that: Frankenstein’s Creature is an adaptation of a theatre production written by James Swanton and it evokes a presentation in the spirit of Georges Mélièsas as well as some imagery from Tarkovsky. And then A Little More Flesh makes no bones about its stylistic debt to grindhouse sexploitation movies and interrogates that. So it’s really interesting to look at those twin streams merging in your filmography.
Both of those films play around with ideas of discomfort and trance cinema. Films like Inland Empire (2006), Mandy (2018) and more recently Siberia (2020) are the closest I get to having that childlike feeling of being overwhelmed by a film, it being all encompassing and leaving me in a completely different psychological state. I’ll never forget stumbling out of Inland Empire: it was a clear day when I went in and it was snowing when I came out and everything felt so surreal and other-worldly. Honestly I felt like I’d just been hypnotised.
And similarly with Mandy: I was invited to a screening at Universal, and I go along and I’m in the waiting room, looking around and there’s no one else there, none of my normal journo pals I see at these things. And the security guard took me up and the whole screening was just for me: I had no idea. So I sat in the front row, dead centre, didn’t really know much about it, just let it wash over me, and I had a transcendent experience: I cried my eyes out in that film, I found it so powerful and so emotional.
I vividly remember walking through Oxford Street after seeing it and just thinking that I’m in another world. And then I was lucky enough to interview Panos (Cosmatos, director) at Cannes afterwards and he was just super down to earth: it was literally like talking to your mate, like you’ve bumped into him at the video shop and you’re talking about what films they’ve seen and what they’d recommend. He was just a really lovely guy.
A few months after that, when it came close to the actual release of the film, I was invited again to a screening at the Union Chapel and they called me up on the day and said “Panos would like to meet with you”. So I go along and it was a party for a lot of people that had been invited early, but then the publicist brings Panos over and we just go into yet another totally normal chat. Anyway, as we’re talking a woman comes over and starts talking directly to Panos and it’s like I’m not there and I’m like “This is how these things work, this is networking and I’ll just subtly fade back, like in Back to Future where George retreats when the guy comes to ask Lorraine to dance”. And I think Panos noticed me retreating and he turned to me and said “Hey man, I feel like I’ve known you my whole life. Do you feel the same way?” And I was like “Yes! Yes I do!”. And this person, I don’t know who she was, she just looked like “What the hell is going on here?” and then she was the one who faded away and we carried on our conversation.
Talking about grindhouse and arthouse, if you look at Panos, Lynch and Ferrara those are three directors you could say actually embody that marriage of high-brow / low-brow, grindhouse / arthouse.
Yes, that’s absolutely true.
For instance Bad Lieutenant (1992) by Ferrara is almost a work of transcendent religious ecstasy whilst also being an absolutely horrible film, and it holds both things in tension. You could say that about all three of those directors.
Yes that’s it, and I’m obviously not putting myself alongside any of those people because I’ve just made a couple of micro budget films with whatever I had to hand, but they’re certainly people I aspire to.
Talking about micro budget films let’s go to the first director on your list, which is Kevin Smith, who of course became famous after making Clerks (1994) by maxing out credit cards. You first met Smith in 2000, and you recently interviewed him for the Arrow Video release of Mallrats (1995) and spoke about how, without him, you wouldn’t have your career.
This applies to the journalism career and the film career. In 2000, after I graduated from art college, I went travelling around America. A lot of people go backpacking, but my spiritual home was LA. We had a family friend who lived there so I went on my own to stay with them and just figured I’d make friends out there, and one of those friends – it may sound unlikely – was Will Ferrell’s mum.
We were eating at a diner and talking about films and she was like “Who are your favourite directors?”, and at that time it was Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith. And she goes “Well, my son is in the new Kevin Smith movie, it’s filming at the moment, would you like to come and visit the set?”. And I was like “Oh my God”, absolutely mind-blown. And so we went to set, and it was one of the most profound experiences of my life. Kevin came over to say hello and it was my first experience of one of these “directing gods” who was just a normal, nice person. I’d brought my Preacher graphic novel – the one that he does the intro for – to get him to sign: because going out to the States I’d packed the essentials which, for some reason, included the complete Preacher graphic novel collection.
It’s all about priorities.
I know! These were the days before we had computers on our phones. So I took the Preacher novel with me and he signed it and was like “Oh you like comics, have you read any of the Jay and Silent Bob comics?”, I said no and he got on the walkie-talkie to his assistant to get his own personal copy from the office to give to me.
But it wasn’t just about Kevin Smith: the whole crew made me feel welcome and made me feel literally at home, like a member of the family. And I just looked around and was like “I have to find my way back here. Not necessarily to this set, but I have to go to other film sets”. And so I ended up training as a journalist specifically to get into film journalism, and doing set visits and learning stuff from all the film-makers we’re talking about, and then eventually going on to create my own film sets.
Being on a set – as intense and stressful as it can be sometimes – is the only place where I truly feel at home and comfortable and complete and happy. And somehow I sensed that from that Kevin Smith set. If he’d been a dick it would have been game over, who knows what path my life would have taken. But the kindness he showed me on that day put me down a very specific path.
This idea of home and belonging feels very congruent with your tastes. You’ve spoken before about how Nightbreed (1990) is analogous to the fellowship that exists among genre fans at places like FrightFest, with the freaks and geeks finding a home together in their shared love of cinema.
100%. As I’ve gotten older it’s gotten more acceptable to be a horror fan: it’s really grown. But there’s still that outsider culture, that sense that it’s where all the weirdos go, and I am most definitely a weirdo. I’m trying to use creativity to hypnotise my audience which probably isn’t a normal impulse. But yeah: a wonderful community, at FrightFest especially.
I think there’s something unabashed between people who are equally happy with films that are considered cheap or low-brow vs what is commonly termed “elevated horror”.
Yeah, that’s it. Some of my favourite movies are super trashy but I don’t love them because they’re trashy, I don’t sit and laugh at them. Toxic Avenger (1984) for example is one of my all-time favourite films. Does it fall into the arthouse meets grindhouse? I don’t know: certainly grindhouse, but there’s something weirdly moving to me about that film. For a little while the final shot would make me feel really emotional. There’s a real power in it.
I felt very emotional in Mandy as I said, and then after the encounter with Panos it was my first time watching it with an audience, and they were laughing at the stuff that made me cry. They laughed at Nicolas Cage’s meltdown in the bathroom. They laughed at that shot of him in the car. And for me that is a film about grief and loss, and that bathroom scene for me is howls of pain, and that final shot is him utterly mad with grief to the extent that he’s hallucinating.
So I felt angry watching Mandy with the people that were laughing at it. I looked around and was like “Who the fuck are you people?” – no offence to the people who saw it at the Union Chapel! – but for me personally I was like “This is wrong, they shouldn’t be laughing”. So yeah, maybe I do take things a little bit too seriously, who knows.
It’s always a very hard thing if there’s a film which means a lot to you and at best people don’t connect with it, and at worst they deride it. We all bring our own histories to what we watch and that’s our own interpretative lens. For my money Mandy is 100% about loss: the scene where Cage is gagged with barbed wire and it’s all in slow-motion whilst he’s watching Mandy be murdered, that is a protracted, elegiac sequence of a descent into grief.
Yeah, the agony of loss, absolutely. Two of my favourite critics read films in a similar way – Mary Wild of the Projections Podcast and Anton Bitel of Projected Figures. Obviously with those titles what they’re interested in is how we project our own feelings and histories and psychologies onto film, and how actually filmmakers themselves are processing stuff, even if they’re not aware of it. The stuff the filmmaker is interested in says something about the filmmaker. It’s like with writers – if you write a film or book or whatever – all the characters are that author or different sides to them or things that they reject in the world. But it’s all filtered through their own interests and obsessions.
So the audience projects, the creatives project, it’s all one big agreement. And sometimes what’s being projected you don’t want to see, and the only response is to laugh. And that’s something I’m playing around with a bit in A Little More Flesh, because I love that kind of humour where you ask “Am I actually supposed to be laughing at this?”.
Taking the more psychological or personal readings of film, I think it’s interesting that David Lynch is your next film-maker, particularly if we talk about the highbrow vs lowbrow, because his films are full of surreal imagery but often have certain moments which can be considered quite grindhouse, particularly the baby in Eraserhead (1977) or the severed ear in Blue Velvet (1986).
With Lynch, I interviewed him for Inland Empire and it kinda felt like it was his final film: I really got that sense from it, like it was tying up loose ends. I was on a round table with him and asked him about that. He didn’t really answer any questions directly from anyone, as is his wont, but he was interested in talking about Transcendental Meditation, and there was one moment where he kinda looked me in the eye and said “If you do the meditation people come and sit next to you”. He’d been interested in my interpretation of his film as an ending: it wasn’t like “Yeah, you got me”, but it had clearly piqued his interest.
After that my mum heard him talking on the radio and decided that she wanted to try this TM thing, and there was a course in the local area. She asked me to go along with her and I was like “Yes, I am going to go because I love David Lynch – he’s a lovely man, he felt like a friendly Uncle – but who knows, this could be a cult”. But as cynical as I was I was interested in it from the way he’d spoken about it. So I went along and it was pretty profound. Afterwards I had this overwhelming feeling, like I had been swimming or something, I felt so relaxed.
So I kept it up, and a year later Lynch was brought to the London Film Festival to talk about TM again and an interview opportunity came up. It was at a hotel, like they always are, and as I sat in the lobby someone sat next to me, a little bit close, and I turned and it was David Lynch. And I was like “Holy shit, has this been some kind of surreal long game? Is he a wizard?”. And I was like “Oh hello David” and he was like [perfect Lynch impression] “Hiiii”. And I told him about the TM and he brought his friend over and we had a chat about it, and then he got taken off by a publicist. When it was my time they led me through, and when he saw me come in his face brightened and he was like “It’s Sam! We get to speak to Sam!” and I was like this is, this is-
This is a dream!
This is literally like a dream! In terms of how that’s impacted my career, and this might sound a little bit wanky coming from someone with my background – I don’t know – but I do use meditation when it’s time to think about ideas. And I guess that ties into my desire to create these trance like states, these transcendent states, and hypnotise people. It’s easier in a cinema than on a laptop, which is one of the reasons I hope that cinemas come back soon.
One director you probably couldn’t say their films are trance-inducing is Tarantino, because he’s most famous for his rat-a-tat-tat dialogue and shocking explosions of violence. You’ve mentioned being a fan of his from the 90s: what was it like to meet him in 2009?
I will very quickly argue the point there because I do think he is the master of drawn out tension. Yes the dialogue is very quick and the editing can be quick sometimes, but when Tarantino slows down he slows down. He is the master at tension, more so than some horror directors.
The reason I put him on the list is because him, Paul Thomas Anderson, Ryan Coogler and Panos – these are all people who have helped bring the cinematic gods down to earth for me. Because you meet someone like David Lynch, Nic Cage or Arnie or Christian Bale, those kinds of people – they are very much what you’d expect. They are kind of like these untouchable, unreachable, unique human beings. I’m not saying Tarantino’s not unique, but these are people that I met and I was like “Ah ok, you just feel like a mate and I can talk to you and you’ve made stunning works of art”. Ryan Coogler’s Creed (2015), that uncut fight is fucking incredible. So they’re masterful technicians, people I idolise, and then you meet them and you’re like “Ah ok you’re literally just an ordinary person, let’s just talk”. It made me think when I started thinking about making films myself, it wasn’t “This is impossible, you have to be touched by the cinematic gods in order to dare pick up a camera”. It’s like “No, those people have made stunning works of art, are normal and nice, I can be normal and nice and hope to achieve something like that one day”.
I think it’s interesting grouping those three directors who perhaps are normally conceptualised as quite disparate: their early features – so I’m thinking Fruitvale Station (2013), Hard Eight (1996) and Reservoir Dogs (1992) – are all street level films made by young men in their twenties.
Totally. I mean I’m not in my twenties and I didn’t start street level but you’re completely right. You can throw Scorsese into that mix as well. I haven’t ever interviewed him, but I’ve come close. We’ll get onto that later.
It’s good to still have a few bucket list directors, though the next person on our list isn’t actually a director: it’s Trent Reznor, who is perhaps most famous for Nine Inch Nails and creating these sonic soundscapes. You interviewed him in 2010, so I’m guessing this was for The Social Network?
It absolutely was. I loved The Social Network, but I’ve been a Nine Inch Nails fan since my teenage years.
I lost contact with my dad: basically he moved to America when I was quite young and I didn’t see him for like 15-18 years, he just vanished. He had an interesting life before I was born: he tour managed The Doors, he produced the first punk album by The Deviants – so before Sex Pistols – and he actually contributes a spoken word track to one of those albums. He was the first guy – or so he told me – to be made an official Hell’s Angel in the UK, after George Harrison brought the Angels over from San Francisco, and they rode a Harley through his flat – to terrorise the cast of Hair. All this stuff has been written about in various books about the 60s, my dad was basically this character of that time. He had a running feud with Marc Bolan about who was king of the mods. My dad saw the mod movement as a working-class reaction to existentialism, and he felt Bolan was only interested in the clothes.
Unfortunately he fell into a life of crime involving heroin and ended up going to prison, spending time in Rikers Island. None of this I knew until he came back into our lives briefly before vanishing again. He then came back again at the very end when he was dying, and I think he wanted to make his peace with us.
Obviously I was conflicted, but he was essentially living in a squat, a really horrible, dirty flat. His friend who had reconnected us showed me pictures, and I was like “I’ve got to get him out of there and into a hospice”. But he was refusing to go, because I think he was worried about not having access to drugs. I tried to convince him, like “They’ve got the best drugs there, it’s pure shit”. But he wasn’t having it. So basically I withheld contact with him as a kind of bargaining tool.
At that time I went to see Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life (2011) and there’s a line in that film where it talks about two paths: there’s nature and grace, and nature tries to control everything whilst grace just accepts everything, accepts everyone as they are. And I was like “Fuck, I’m trying to control my dad. Like if he wants to stay in this horrible shitty flat, if he doesn’t want to go he doesn’t want to go, I’m running out of time here”. So I told his friend I wasn’t going to be withholding contact anymore, I was going to talk to him, and we arranged a call that weekend. But unfortunately he passed away before we made that call.
And so I ended up cleaning out that horrible flat and putting his stuff away. I knew he loved music, like I do, but I found CDs and CDs of Nine Inch Nails stuff. And I was like “Wow, I had no idea he was into them”, and felt this connection from beyond the grave.
A year before that I had interviewed Trent Reznor for The Social Network, and what I took from Trent was how film influences his music: not just that he does film scores now, but how Eraserhead directly influenced The Downward Spiral and what he was trying to do with that album, to make people feel kinda crazy and discomforted the same way Eraserhead’s sound design does that. That’s always stayed with me. And I hope to one day make a film that inspires some electronic genius or crazed metal head to make an album inspired by one of my films. That’s the dream.
You also compose electronic synth music and create your own music videos.
I don’t think I’ve used any of my own stuff in my films, though I have scored a short. The thing is, Ben Wheatley – and this ties into the music thing – I’ve semi-known for a while. I appeared in his FrightFest short years ago, interviewed him for Kill List (2011) and Sightseers (2012). I know him reasonably well, he’s a really smart, nice guy.
For High-Rise (2015) he gave an interview where he talked about how journalists should make their own films. It was very controversial at the time, but I was like “That kinda makes sense”. I don’t want to take anything from journalists – I’m a journalist, I’m proud to be a journalist, some of the best pieces of writing I’ve ever read have been film reviews – however what I took from that quote wasn’t confrontation, it was logic. Because it’s like anything, if you play football you can appreciate what the professionals do more. So I thought “It’s probably similar with film-making”.
So I directly credit Ben Wheatley for that turning point into “Actually, it’s time to make something”. And I’ll tell you what, it has improved my journalism, particularly my interviews, a thousand-fold. The stuff I get from people now, I’m really able to understand and connect with them more.
The music thing has been about trying to take that apart and put it back together again. We’ve all known since we saw Star Wars as children how important music is, so it’s just something I’m trying to teach myself so I’m able to communicate with composers when it’s time to step it up a bit more.
One film-maker from your list we’ve got between Trent and Ben is someone you’ve mentioned before, which is Sam Raimi who you spoke with in 2013.
He was totally sweet, totally down to earth. And what I learnt from Sam Raimi was minor really in the grand scheme of things, but it comes back to me whenever I’m being interviewed because – as you might imagine, as someone who grew up on The Evil Dead – I completely gushed. I normally try to stay professional but I was like “Man, your films…” and he just said “Thank you for that compliment”. And I just thought “That is the best way to receive a compliment”. So if anyone ever says anything nice to me about my films, and it does happen every now and again-
And so it should.
Thank you for that compliment.
It’s the best way to accept a compliment! You know, fuck being self-deprecating, that doesn’t get anyone anywhere, because not only are you rejecting the compliment, you’re actually saying to the person “You don’t know what you’re talking about”, so no one feels good. But if you just say “Thank you” everyone feels good. So yeah: that’s a very small lesson to learn from one of your absolute all-time idols, but it’s one that stayed with me.
It’s good getting lessons on self-worth from Sam Raimi.
We’re in the last two film-makers on your list, and in 2018 you spoke with Lynne Ramsay.
Yeah, so Lynne Ramsay I probably learnt the most important technical, practical lessons. With pretty much everyone else I’ve talked about it’s something on my personal journey, but this was when I moved into film-making.
Obviously I knew that sound design was important and Lynne Ramsay is the god of sound design. But what I hadn’t thought about until I spoke to her was how it doesn’t just help the film during the edit, sound design can help you with performances. She talked about using sound to help Joaquin Phoenix get into character (for You Were Never Really Here, 2017), so on A Little More Flesh I did an early sound edit of the first 20 minutes to play to the cast, and for some I played it to them on their way to set on their first day, and you could kind of see their eyes light up as they understood what it was we were doing.
That directly came from Lynne Ramsay, who was overall one of my favourite ever interviewees. I wish she was given the money to make more films, because they’re all masterpieces in my view.
Our last name here is again another non-director: Thelma Schoonmaker, who is perhaps most famous for being Martin Scorsese’s editor.
For me everyone on set is a film-maker, and that applies to Thelma Schoonmaker maybe more than anyone else because she is so, so key to Scorsese’s career. It’s just impossible to overstate how important she is.
I interviewed her in February 2019 and she told me a story about how making Goodfellas (1990) helped her get through the grieving process after she lost her husband. And a month later unfortunately I lost my beloved stepfather, and I think because of that interview I taught myself to edit, and I ended up editing A Little More Flesh myself. I needed to cut costs because – compared to Frankenstein’s Creature – I had a bigger cast and all the rest of it, so I needed to take on some of the jobs myself, but really me editing it only came about because of that conversation.
If anyone out there is going through a tough time I would advise learning to edit. You can teach yourself on YouTube and it’s one of those skill sets that requires such absolute focus and concentration, while you’re doing it you look up and seven hours have gone by and you haven’t even realised, it’s so absorbing.
So that was a very important lesson and skill set that I learnt from Thelma. I’m going to edit my next film as well.
What are you able to share about the next film? One of your scripts is going into production – The Creature from the Below.
I’m not sure if it will be called that in the end but that’s what it’s called at the moment. It’s a script I’ve written on commission: someone came to me with an idea and an outline and I wrote it for them. I haven’t seen the latest version, and these things – when they’re out of your hands they’re out of your hands – so I don’t actually know what the final script’s going to look like, but as long as the through line is retained then it’s exploring some of the themes that we talked about today. There’s one whole thread to do with grief and loss and regret. It’s being directed by Dan Allen, who’s a lovely guy, so I’m very hopeful for that and I’ll talk about it when it comes out.
And in the background I’ve started talking with Harley Dee, an actress I really admire, about the next project. Like all of my films so far they’re real collaborations with the actors. With James (Swanton) Frankenstein’s Creature was his play so obviously that was always going to be a collaboration; A Little More Flesh came so vividly to life from conversations that me and Elf (Lyons) had – and the rest of the cast but especially with Elf because she was the lead and the producer. I just think you get the best stuff through collaboration, so this next one’s going to be a weird: maybe the weirdest yet.