Monday, 25 August 2014

interview: Michael Booth

Michael Booth wrote, directed, produced, photographed and edited the marvelous feature Kuru. After I reviewed the film in August 2014, Mike very kindly (and very promptly!) answered a few questions about the movie. (NB. This is not the same Michael Booth who wrote and directed Diary of a Bad Lad and Tash Force.)

What was your film-making background/experience before you made this?
"Before Kuru, I'd really only ever made experimental little shorts. I made two or three short films at college that I haven't seen since, but it was always my ambition to make a feature film. After leaving college I started working full time at a cinema and in the meantime wrote films. That's about all the experience I have."

How did you go about casting your crucial central role?
"I kind of dreaded finishing the script because I knew I then had to find someone to play Claire. I didn't know how I was going to pitch it to an actor, what was essentially the part of a cannibalistic monster with no emotion. I started asking around through various actor friends in case they knew someone but it was slow going. Then one day I found out that Carol, who I worked with, was an actor. I sent her an e-mail with the script and was thrilled when she agreed to meet and talk about it. I remember she was enthusiastic about it and had a lot to say about the part and why she'd like to do it. I was very lucky because, as well as being an excellent actor, Carol has a great sense of humour. There were days when I was asking her to crawl around on the floor and throw up concoctions of dyed black porridge! She took it in good spirit  I was really pleased with her performance, she required very little direction on my part which was a massive help. I'm not sure I could have made it without her."

How were you able to create something this impressive on just £250.
"The short films I've made in the past I've done for little or no money, so I just made it the way I would have shot one of my shorts, just over a longer time. I knew my first film would have to be low budget, so I wrote it low budget. I set it in one location with as few characters as possible, and then shot it myself in my parents' house. The £250 went on make-up materials, batteries for the sound man, props....and sandwiches! If I'd have had more money, I would have distributed it amongst the cast and crew, because everyone was so good to give up their free time to make it, but I just didn't have the cash to pay them."

Why did you decide to turn your colour film into monochrome and how do you think that changes the movie?
"The film was shot, edited and first screened in colour. I'd always envisioned it as a colour film. I can't remember what made me do it now, but I decided one day to take a look at the film again in black and white and that was it. I converted the whole thing, having spent ages already colour correcting it, and mastered off the final cut in monochrome. It just works for the film. There's an otherworldly quality to black and white images that I find beautiful and engaging. I don't know if the film is better in black and white, but I think it adds to the tone of the film."

Which part(s) of the film do you think work best, and what would you change if you could?
"I find it very difficult to see Kuru objectively now. I spent so long writing and shooting and editing it, looking for faults, that I can't watch it without seeing things I would change. I'm happy with the overall tone, the sense of building dread. Henry's music did a lot of that work for me. I think I could have shot some scenes differently, given them more of an impact, made it scarier  It wasn't meant to be scary though, I always describe it to people as 'unsettling'. The main thing I would change is the location. The house was meant to be small, but I just couldn't find anywhere to do it. In the end I decided to make it at my parents' house which is a lovely big country house, and because of that I had to write in some back story to make sense of why a young artistic couple are living in such a large house. I should have rented somewhere and I did look into it but I can't remember why I changed my mind."

Why has the film sat unseen on Vimeo? Did you try for distribution or festival play?
"I did send it to some festivals when I finished the first cut. That would have been the slightly longer colour version  It was rejected by all of them. I actually spent more money sending it to the festivals than I did making the film, about £300. I was quite tired of the film by that point having worked on it non-stop for about four months, so the rejections left me deflated. I shelved it for a few months then eventually went back to it and re-edited it and converted it to black and white. I could have resubmitted it to festivals but I decided to just post it online so at least the people who worked on it could see it and show it to their friends and families."

To what extent is this, in your view, a vampire film?
"It's interesting you regard it as a vampire film - I always intended it to be a zombie film. I wanted to take a genre and try and do something different and original with it, and with zombies I thought I could do something. Claire isn't a typical zombie of course, I suppose I've created a new kind of monster. All zombies I've seen are mindless hungry beasts. The difference with Claire is she's intelligent, she's sentient. She hunts her prey. That's why there are so many references to spiders throughout the film. Spiders are so creepy because they always seem to be thinking. They sit perfectly still until their prey comes to them, like they're just waiting. That's how I described it to Carol, that she's really like a human spider."

What are your plans for the future?
"At the moment I'm shooting a short film about the artist JMW Turner ( which I'm very excited about, I hope to finish that in October.  I'm also writing my next feature film Deadbeat which I hope to shoot next year.  It's a film noir about ghosts and murderers and femme fatales. After that, I'll just keep making films because it's what I love doing."

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