Short of The Month Premiere 'Son of Perdition'
I was lucky enough to catch a screening of 'Son of Perdition' at screentest where it was nominated for a number of awards, what stood out to me striaght away was the visual way in which Matthew tells his stories, I knew it had to be our first official Short of The Month!
I absolutely loved your short, the visual style and the tones you created brought me back to Twin Peaks and The Twilight Zone, what were some of your stylistic inspirations?
Thank you so much! I always had a very strong vision in mind for Son of Perdition, even from the initial idea stage, before writing had actually begun. David Lynch was a huge inspiration for me, especially Twin Peaks - it's the epitome of strange "small town America" and that's the feeling I wanted Perdition to have. This one road town in the middle of nowhere, with a dilapidated and sinister looking diner at its centre point, almost caught in a Bermuda Triangle-like time-warp, hence the 50s style. The story is a classic Faustian narrative and so I watched a lot of The Twilight Zone which often deal with similar stories. I've always loved The Twilight Zone, they're so utterly bleak and ahead of their time. I wanted Son of Perdition to feel as though it could easily slot into a season of The Twilight Zone.
What was your biggest challenge with this project?
One of the biggest challenges was the budget - we had to convincingly tell a truly 50s inspired American story, whilst shooting on the South-Coast of England. I think we managed to pull it off quite well but we had to really pay close attention to every little detail to make sure that whatever you saw on screen fully immersed you in the world of Norman Clifford and co. Which isn't an easy task when you're only working with a few thousand pound. We definitely had to get quite creative at times but I'm very pleased with how it turned out!
This is a very cliche one but what inspired the story? It's quite a unique take on the eternal life concept.
When I started working on a new idea for my next short film I was reading a lot of folk stories, particularly those that dealt with deals with the devil and people getting one over on him. These stories totally fascinated me and I'd always wanted to write a horror-thriller and it seemed like the perfect story-line. I've always been interested in the idea of self-preservation and the lengths we'll go to, to ensure our own survival. Money plays a huge role in Son of Perdition, the character of Norman is rich beyond anyone's wildest dreams and he's so pompous and self-obsessed that he thinks he can buy his way into eternal life, money means nothing to him and neither do people and that's why Alex Macqueen's character ("The Man") decides to teach him a lesson.
You've got some amazing cast in this film, what was your casting process like?
I worked closely with Ben Cogan, a wonderful freelance casting director who worked for the BBC for 15 years. We'd worked together before on my first short film After the Fray and we developed a close friendship and working relationship. Ben really knows how to get inside the mind of a writer/director and is totally hands on, which I love. He was such a huge fan of the script and we got started right away bouncing ideas around for cast. I think Alex Macqueen was the first suggestion he sent my way for the "devil" character and I instantly knew he was right for the role. Alex is a wonderful comedic performer but we both knew he'd be more than capable of bringing something deliciously sinister to the screen! Then we cast Steven Hartley as our leading man Norman Clifford. Steven was everything I'd hoped to find for the character of Norman, a fantastic whiskey and cigarette soaked voice, an enigmatic charm and an extremely powerful presence. Finally we looked to Jayne Wisener to fill the role of 'The Woman'. I knew Jayne from her stunning debut performance as Johanna in Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd and I was delighted when she accepted the part. Jayne was a pleasure to work with and she was so dedicated to the role, which really comes across in her performance. Although she only appears in the final act, her character is totally unforgettable and I've found that she really leaves the audience wanting more.
How collaborative is your writing process, do you do table reads or rehearsals that influence script changes?
The turn around on Son of Perdition was fairly quick and so we never had the opportunity to do table reads but we were constantly talking on the phone and pinging emails back and forth to really get into the mind of each character. On my sets I'm always more than happy for the performers to improvise and juggle the words around slightly for whatever feels most natural for them. I don't want the conversations to sound rigid and robotic, we as an audience are just flies on the wall, peering into the lives of these characters - if someone stutters or loses their train of thought for a moment, I like that, that's real life, that's how conversations are, anything that's too rehearsed just breaks the reality of the story.
The production design is incredible and that comes across in all your work, where do you draw from for such a rich eye with that?
We never had a designated production designer, I handled a lot of those aspects myself - as I said; I had a very strong vision in mind for the film from the get go and I wanted to be in control of that as much as possible and be as hands on as I could. I knew I wanted the diner to look as if it was lit entirely by neon signs advertising coke floats, hamburgers and ice creams etc. The lighting was heavily inspired by films such as Drive, Only God Forgives, Blade Runner, 2046 and so on. I scoured the internet and Facebook for classic car groups to find the perfect 50s car for Norman (Steven Hartley) to drive and I was lucky enough to find a beautiful, pristine 1950s Chevrolet Bel Air. It was incredibly important to build a very distinct and rich world for this story to take place. The diner is the centre point of the film and is totally a character itself, which is why it was so important to find the right location. We shot on location at Ruby's Diner in Gosport, a tiny little place that really did fit the bill perfectly - of course it had a lot of modern day fixtures and decoration which we had to cover up/move and bring in 50s inspired props to dress with and I'm really pleased with how it turned out. We had our own napkins and menus printed so it really felt like we had our own working diner.
What are you working on at the moment?
I'm currently working on a psychological-horror set in the highlands called LEAL, starring Brian McCardie (Filth, The Damned United) and Jayne Wisener (Sweeney Todd, Jane Eyre). It's set in the aftermath of a nationwide epidemic, a young woman finds refuge in a remote dilapidated bothy belonging to a reclusive older man and we soon find that one of them is harbouring a macabre secret that could be a matter of life or death. Although the backdrop for the story is a pandemic/zombie-style setting, the horror is found in the isolation of the highlands and the relationship between the two characters. It's heavily inspired by the likes of Misery and The Shining, with a pinch of The Road thrown in for good measure. We recently pitched the short to a funding board sponsored by WEP Films out in Germany at the Berlinale in front of a prestigious panel of judges from festivals such as Sundance, Edinburgh, Chicago and Seattle (to name a few) and were awarded the 1st place industry prize, with money going towards the budget. We'll be shooting later this year!