Tuesday, 11 March 2014

interview: Paul Matthews

Though you probably won’t recognise his name, Paul Matthews is one of the most prolific British makers of B-movies. His company PeakViewing Transatlantic has made more than 20 films since 1992, often directed by Paul, usually produced by Paul and his sister Liz. I got quite friendly with the PeakViewing team during my time on SFX and visited two of their shoots: Rampage on the Isle of Man (which was released as Breeders) and Beings in South Africa (which was released as The Fairy King of Ar). PeakViewing films have starred such notable names as Ron Perlman, Robert Vaughan, Malcolm McDowell, Corbin Bernsen, Justin Whalin, Judge Reinhold, Patrick Bergin, Rik Mayall, Tia Carrere, Adrian Paul, David Warner, James Coburn, Edward Woodward, Jurgen Prochnow and Martin Sheen. Not bad for a company based in an end of terrace house just outside Cheltenham, which is where I interviewed Paul Matthews in February 1997.

Let's start with your background. Was your first film The Christmas Stallion in 1992?
"The Christmas Stallion, which we did in Welsh and English - we made two films at the same time. Basically, I had an idea for a film about a wicked land-developer, a 16-year-old girl and horses. It's just a family movie for Christmas really. Liz at the time was running a distribution company called Consolidated and they were working with S4C. They wanted some ideas, so I just gave them that as an idea, then wrote the script. Luckily they liked it, and we made the film."

What was your background before that?
"Before that I was in the building trade. I was a concrete welder. Nothing to do with films at all."

Did that give you the finances to set yourself up doing these things?
"Not really. Mostly it was Liz's idea to set up the company and go it alone. It didn't take a lot of money to set it up, really. Since then we've just built it up. After making one film we've made the next and then the next and the next."

So each one finances the next one?
"Exactly, yes. Well, it keeps the company going, it keeps us going, and then we make another one."

I understand there are five siblings running PeakViewing.
"I'm President of the company, Liz is Chief Executive, Veronica's Financial Control, Janet is Head of Sales, Peter's Head of Post-Production and Production basically and does the editing."

Is there an advantage to all being a family working together on these films?
"Very much so actually, yes. Because it's working with people that you know, that you trust absolutely. We're all on the same wavelength, which is good. And we all have our individual areas of expertise that we bring to production. Our brother-in-law as well worked on the films. He's Construction Manager on Rampage; he did location work on a couple of the others. So it works very well."

How many films have you made so far?
"This is the tenth or eleventh. I think it's the tenth, if you count the Welsh and English versions of some of the movies that we do, then this is the tenth."

Are the Welsh/English things shot like the Spanish version of Dracula? Do you shoot one thing then shoot it again?
"What we do is a take in English, and then a take in Welsh."

With the same cast?
"We did on two movies. Then on the third one we actually had a different cast. So we had Patrick Bergin and Teresa Russell in the English version, and we had Nicola Beddow and Anurein Hughes in the Welsh version. That was The Proposition, a historic drama about drovers in the 1790s."

Why have you gone from doing family and historical things to monster movies?
"Really, we started off doing a family Christmas movie; then we did two westerns; then we did another family movie; then we did Grim; then we did Proposition which was a historical drama. And now we're doing Rampage. So we've done family movies, we've done historical drama, we've done sci-fi, we've done horror, we've done westerns."

Which are proving the most popular or working best?
"The action-oriented movies sell easiest because that's what sells. American-style action movies sell relatively easily. You don't have to be Brain of anywhere to watch them. Which is great. They're pure escapism, which is what I like. I don't like to sit there and be preached at when I watch a film. I like to sit there and just forget about my troubles and watch it as a movie. That's what I like to do."

Do you write and direct all of them?
"I've written all of them; I've written and directed two of them. So more and more directing, yes. But I used to just write the scripts and then produce with Liz."

Have any of your films had theatrical distribution?
"Not so far, no." [Merlin: The Return was released to British cinemas in 2000 - MJS]

Is that a pain?
"It is a pain. The westerns went out on video in the UK: Trigger Fast and Rebel Rousers. But that's all that's been released in the UK at the moment. The Christmas family movies that we did, Christmas Stallion and Christmas Reunion, have been on BSkyB and Channel Four for the last few years every Christmas. So that's quite nice, to see them on TV."

Does your stuff sell well abroad?
"It does actually, it sells very well. Because we try to go for a good cast, a good quality movie with a fair amount of action in it, and a good story as well."

Liz said you were considering setting up your own video label to distribute your stuff.
"Yes, we'd like to. Because at the end of the day, if nobody else in the UK wants to take the films out on video or in the cinema then we'll do it ourselves. If we have to do it ourselves, then we'll do it ourselves."

What was the genesis of Rampage?
"Basically, what we try to do is make films that have a commercial value, and other people want to invest in. Because if nobody in the industry wants to invest in a movie then you can bet your bottom dollar that it's not worth making because it means you can't sell it. We have a number of partners in America that we make movies with. We know what they want to buy, and we know what the foreign buyers want to buy. So therefore what we do is try and tailor-make our films to fit in with that. And a sci-fi action movie sells well. It sells well in the American market and in the foreign market. So it seemed the logical thing to do. So I just wrote the script based around what I thought would work."

Rampage was originally announced as Grim 2.
"It was, simply because Grim did quite well in the States, and it also did quite well in the foreign market place. But in the end what I decided to do was actually get away from Grim and go for a different type of alien, a different type of monster if you like."

How different is the storyline?
"Vastly different. Grim is definitely a horror genre movie, whereas this is more sci-fi/action-orientated."

Is this setting itself up for Rampage 2?
"Possibly, possibly. But at the end of this one we've got more meteorites heading toward Earth bringing more monsters, so we'd have to have a lot more aliens and a lot more action and a lot more money and all that sort of stuff."

Is Rampage still a working title?
"Yes, it is. It will probably change. I'm not quite sure what it will change to yet, but it will probably change." [The title was changed to Deadly Instincts and then to Breeders - MJS]

Are you going to be showing it at Cannes?
"Hopefully we'll be showing it at Cannes, yes. It depends: if we can get it finished in time we'd like to show it at Cannes."

Why did you choose the cast you went for?
"Basically we chose Samantha Janus because she really fitted the role. She's very athletic, she looks the part. She looks like an American blue-eyed blonde, which is great. Also she's very easy to work with, very professional. She has a great attitude towards making films, and she really wanted to do it. And she's a very good actress as well. So we were very lucky that she agreed to do this."

Does the name value help?
"It does in the UK. In America, not quite as much obviously. But I think Sam will definitely be a big name in the States in a couple of years time."

Was Todd Jensen cast to give it an American hook?
"We cast Todd to get an authentic American in the lead. But also we've worked with Todd before in the westerns. We know Todd and we get on very well. But he also brings that square, clean-cut American look to it. He's also a very, very good actor that's done a lot of roles. He's done a lot of these action movies. He's somebody that I think is just about to break out in quite a big way. So Todd was a good choice for us."

What about Oliver Tobias?
"Well, to be honest, we were looking for someone to give the part more backbone, some sort of presence. We wanted somebody who was well-established, had that presence on screen. We were running through it and I'd seen Oliver on TV in The Knock, and it occurred to me that: yes, why not? He's really good. Again, he's a nice chap and he's easy to work with. And he brings a distinguished air to the role, which is great. And he did it really well."

Did you audition or screen-test?
"We did for the minor parts. Kadamba Simmons we've worked with before. Kadamba is one of these actresses that puts up with being wet, puts up with being dragged around in the dirt and all this sort of stuff, without complaining and moaning and groaning. She turns up for work in the morning and she does a great job. She's very photogenic: the camera likes her. And she's a very good actress. So we'd like to use Kadamba again because obviously she's easy to work with. Very much similar to Sam: very professional attitude. A lot of the rest of the cast are Welsh actors that we've worked with before, that we know. They're good, solid professional actors that have a lot of screen presence and bring the whole thing to light."

Weren't you originally going to shoot this in Wales?
"We were originally going to shoot it in Wales, but then we switched to the Isle of Man for financial reasons."

Presumably they must be good financial reasons, because it was bitterly cold up there.
"Well, it's not a lot warmer in Wales! The Isle of Man run a very good scheme to encourage films to go to the Isle of Man. They go out of their way to make you feel welcome and they make it very easy for you to go there and shoot. It's quite a complicated paperwork trail to get everything signed and sealed but once you've done that then it's a great place to go and make a film. As I say, the whole of the island seems to make you feel welcome and go out of their way to welcome you. It's very good."

Did you do a location scout out there?
"Yes, we went out there, did a location recce and what have you and then I adapted the script to what I found in the Isle of Man, so that we knew we could make it work in the Isle of Man."

Did you finish the shoot on schedule?
"Yes. We only shot for four weeks, 24 days: four six-day weeks. Which is very tight for an action, sci-fi, animatronic film. So we had to be well-organised and what have you. It was tight but we just about achieved it."

Was everybody happy with what they produced over those four weeks?
"I think so, yes. I think everybody pitched in. We had an excellent crew from the designer, the first AD, to the camera crew, the sparks, everybody worked really hard to make the whole thing work. It was because of their expertise and working as a team that we got it done in the four weeks."

Had you worked with many of them before?
"Yes, we'd worked with most of them before. They're people that we've worked with before and want to work with again because they're among the best people in the country to get a film like this made on time, on budget. And excellent quality."

Were you pleased with the monster suit?
"Very much so. It was Gorton and Painter effects that did the monster for us. They did Grim for us eighteen months ago. It was brilliant, it worked really well. And Clifton who played the monster did an excellent job. Put up with wearing that suit all day long and he did really well."

That must have been a tricky role to cast.
"It is hard to cast a monster. At the end of the day, you can ask someone to come in but you can't give him a script to read and lines to say and what have you. You can ask them to walk up and down a couple of times and growl I suppose but that doesn't really work. Basically what I did was auditioned quite a few people: actors like Clifton, dancers, what have you. We were looking for someone who was fairly tall but also athletic so that they could move well. Clifton fitted the bill because he's an athletic individual; he's tall but he's also a dancer so he knows how to move, he's done mime and he's played monsters before, which helps. But at the end of the day what really swung it was he was the easiest-going, had the most - if you like - happy-go-lucky attitude towards playing the monster. He wanted to play the monster. He didn't want to be an actor and act as the monster; he wanted to be the monster, which was great. And it worked out very well. He did a great job."

Did the extras enjoy themselves?
"I think so, yes. Quite a few of the minor roles are from the Isle of Man. The role of Myra, which is Sam's best friend in the movie, was a girl from the Isle of Man, a girl called Katie Lawrence, who's never done anything else before. She did a really good job for someone that's never done anything before ever."

Did you put out a casting call in the local paper?
"What we did was go through a local casting agent, a chap called John Danks. He organised casting sessions for people from the Isle of Man who wanted to give it a try and we had a lot of interest which was great."

I know you had HTV here this morning. The publicity seems to be kicking in for this one.
"It does, yes. It's gaining a bit of momentum, which is great. I'm not sure I like some of it!"

Certain newspapers. [The Daily Star ran a picture from the film under a headline along the lines of ‘Sam Janus in aliens sex horror’ - MJS]
"We haven't got a lot of control over that."

Presumably it all helps.
"Oh, it all helps, obviously. At the end of the day all publicity is good publicity, I suppose. And it is nice to have the publicity because a lot of people put a lot of effort into making this film work. A lot of time's gone into it and it's nice that the results seem to be worthwhile and they get recognition for that in the papers. Which is great."

It must be a bit galling that most people don't even know that there is a British film industry?
"Yes, exactly. It's very difficult. Everybody moans and groans about the British film industry, but there are an awful lot of films being made of one type or another. Most probably are financed from outside the UK. But with schemes like the Isle of Man's and what have you, hopefully we can make more. The pity is that we have to rely on such schemes to keep the industry alive. It's a shame the government can't do more or business can't do more or the financial institutions in some way help us develop the industry. Or redevelop it, put it back on its legs again."

Would you like investment from government or industry?
"I would prefer from financial institutions or business rather than government, because at the end of the day any industry needs to stand on its own two feet and be self-sufficient. It's no good relying on government handouts and then whinging about the fact that they've been taken away. It's much better, we'd be much stronger, if we had private investment or money from outside. We could then become self-sufficient as an industry rather than relying on the government. Because the Americans don't rely on the government. It's a billion-dollar business over there; it is the highest exporting business in America. And it's privately run by individuals who are in the business to make money.

“The one thing I think that we lose sight of in Britain is that films are a commodity. It's no good making a film because you want to make a film. You have to make a film because you believe in it, but also that people want to watch. They pay to watch it, and then you can make another film. I think that's something we tend to lose sight of. Just because it's commercial doesn't mean it's nasty. It's not a dirty word to make a commercial movie. It's commercial movies that give you the opportunity to make the occasional movie that's more art-house or so on. That less people might well watch but it might have more social value. But people want to be entertained and we've got to make entertaining movies."

Are you happy with the level of production you have right now or would you like to have a big success and step up into a big outfit?
"It would be nice, yes, to do that. Obviously we'd like to make more movies. The problem with it is it takes such a long time to get the idea, the script, the paperwork, the finance in place and actually make it. It then takes you six months to put the film together and whilst you're putting the film together and all that, you can't be doing two projects at once. We turn out roughly two a year at the moment. We'd like to make that three a year, definitely. But that means more people, bigger overheads, and all those type of things. But we'll see how it develops."

In America monster movies are churned out and many of them are pretty terrible.
"They do, yes. They churn them out as genre movies and they all work to a formula. To a certain degree Rampage works to the same formula. There are the things in Rampage that you would expect to see in a sci-fi alien movie. Obviously you have the alien, the girl who's in peril, the hero and all this type of thing. So yes, there is a formula but it's a recognisable formula. And actually subconsciously when people watch these movies, if that formula isn't in place then they're disappointed. It was the same when we made the westerns. There was a certain way of making a western that people expect to see in westerns even if historically that wasn't actually that correct. But that's what you expect to see so that's what you really have to show to a certain degree.

“But it really depends; I don't know. There's nothing wrong with churning out movies one after the other because at the end of the day occasionally you churn out a good one. We do it slightly different to the Americans. We spend more money and we try to have greater quality like on Rampage. Because we can't compete head-to-head with them. They've got bigger studios, more money, more muscle. They know how to do that sort of stuff; that's not what we do. For us it's a year's worth of work to just get one movie finished."

When you take Rampage to the AFM, what has it got that will make it stand out to buyers?
"The problem is: you say about all the movies they churn out. When you take a movie like Rampage to the AFM it competes against all the low-budget videos that are around at the time. But it also competes against all the big-budget Hollywood blockbusters with Mel Gibson and who knows what starring in them. So you're competing on two levels. You're competing against the lower-budget videos and you're competing against the big-budget blockbusters that Hollywood turns out.

“So what we try to do is make sure that we can hopefully compete against the bigger movies quality-wise in the photography. Technically, our film will be as technically good as any of them. From there we use the best actors and the best people we can in the UK to try and compete against the lower-budget stuff, although we have spent millions of pounds on making the film. So Rampage is a step above the low-budget end and we're going head-to-head with the big-budget, to a greater or lesser degree."

Are you gradually increasing the budget on each successive film?
"Yes, we are. Rampage was... what was Rampage, Liz?”

Liz Matthews: “It depends whether you mean what it really cost or what we tell people it cost. What it really cost was £575,000.”

"Yes, but that's if you discount all the deferments, but what was it in reality with all the deferments?

LM: “About a million."

And how does that compare with Grim?
LM: “Oh sorry, that was Grim! This one is a million and a half pounds. This is a real million and a half pounds.”

"Grim we shot in three weeks, this one we shot in four weeks, and the difference shows on the screen. It would have been nice to have five weeks or six weeks.”

LM: “And when you add the deferments to Rampage it rounds up to two million. Which is really representative of what you get in terms of production value."

Is Veronica in charge of the financial side of it?
"Yes. But as I say, at the AFM we go head-to-head with all the big blockbusters from Hollywood as well as all the low-budget stuff. So we like to think we're a step above the low-budget end and hopefully try and compete with the bigger ones."

Do you watch much of the stuff that's in direct competition with this?
"We do and we don't, really.”

LM: “It's basically what's feeding all the cable services. Apart from all the big blockbuster premiere events, all the other movies on Sky are directly in competition with us. And we're in competition with them in terms of getting a place on Sky or a place on a video release or whatever. The big, big problem is getting the theatrical release, which is dire for every single filmmaker in this country, dire."

Would you be looking at doing a limited theatrical release?
LM: “On Rampage, yes."”

There's certainly a market out there.
"Oh, without a doubt. But it's just so difficult to get distribution in the UK. People like Virgin Cinemas, they're a British company, they've taken over the cinema chains. You would have thought they could occasionally put out a British movie, wouldn't you?"

What else do you have in development?
"The next film we've got in development is a family movie. It's a sci-fi again, but it's a family orientated movie. A little bit along the lines of ET but not quite. It's about a family from America who inherit a house with a goldmine. When they uncover the goldmine, they find that there’s some aliens trapped in the goldmine. And all the folklore and old wives' tales that have been built up in the area - things like fairies and pixies and hauntings and changelings and what have you - are all down to the aliens. Who actually caused the problem because they're trying to get free. Then on Christmas Eve, the family release the aliens, and they all fly off into the wild blue yonder." [This is what eventually became The Fairy King of Ar - MJS]

Is the recurring Christmas theme profitable?
"It is, yes, because family movies at the moment are doing quite well. But also if you put a Christmas feel to it, then it's a movie you can sell every year. Every Christmas, all over the world, there's a two/three/four week period where TV stations put out family orientated movies. So if you've got a good solid, family movie, and it's got a Christmas feel to it, then you can do quite well, because you can resell it and resell it. Whereas a normal movie, they might put it out every three, four, five years."

Are you one of these companies that has dozens of things in development, or do you just take it one at a time?
"We have dozens of things in development. We have dozens of ideas sent to us by people and sometimes it's very difficult because we haven't got the time to look at everything and take everything on board. But we tend to keep it to our own ideas and one or two ideas that we really like, that we'll try and develop further. We've got half a dozen ideas that carry through to the next couple of years."

Would you ever adapt stuff?
"I don't like adapting stuff, no. We adapted the westerns from some books written by JT Edson, which was okay. I quite enjoyed that because I'm a western fan. So it was great to do some westerns. But I find it harder to adapt stuff than just to get an idea and write a script and get on with it, basically. The trouble is, when you adapt books everybody who read the book has their own preconceived idea of what it looks like. The imagination's this big and the television or cinema's that big. So you can never actually - or rarely - do it in terms of what people expect."

Do you shoot a cinema ratio or a TV ratio?
"A film like Rampage we shot for cinema. But making sure at the same time that it'll be okay for TV."

What about the music?
"The music is something we're still working on. I haven't quite decided yet."

Do you tend to go for library music?
"It depends because each film's different. Something like The Proposition has got a different feel to something like Rampage. Something like Grim again is different as well. So really we've got to find the right composer to give the film the correct feel. It's so important that you get the music right, just because it sets the mood and it carries a lot of the emotions in the film. So yes, it's difficult. I'm talking to a couple at the moment, but we haven't made up our minds yet."

Who designed Kadamba's costume?
"That was designed by the costume designer. That was Ffyonne. She did a great job, actually. She designed Kadamba's costume which sort of fits with the alien's colouring and what have you, which is very good. It's a bit Barbarella really but that's okay because that's the type of movie it is for obvious reasons. She designed all the other costumes to fit in with an American feel. She got the American police uniforms and all that sort of stuff. So Ffyonne did really well."

I see you've got Species and Alien3 there on the shelf. Are you studying them for reference or trying to make sure you don't copy them too closely?
"Not really. Peter's a member of a video club and he gets four films a month. That's just part of his collection. The other thing is, when we're developing this or when I'm going to be directing, I quite like to watch a couple of monster sci-fi movies, just to get a feel for how you could do it. Or how I could do it. Not exactly copy, but just to get a feel for the genre."

Obviously the special effects side is a lot more intensive here than on the others.
"Jim Francis was the Head of Special Effects, a company called Lightforce. They were with us for the four weeks and they did a great job. It takes a lot of time to set some of their stuff up. But they did really well. The other side of special effects is the digital effects which we had to work on. A company called PremierVision are going to be doing that for us, and they did the effects on Grim as well."

Do you prefer in-camera effects or post-production stuff?
"I prefer to do it on the day. My problem with digital effects is: if you do it on the day and it works, everything goes great and you've got it. If you do it digitally and you shoot with the thought of putting a digital effect on something, that's great. But if the digital effect doesn't work, then you haven't got anything. So it's very difficult. I don't like that element of not having it after you've spent all that time and effort doing it. And I don't quite trust computers anyway. I'm not a computer boffin at all. I never use them. I know they can do amazing things. We do film it with the digital effects in mind, obviously, but I just don't like that element of not being in control, of what could go wrong."

Are you going to use them to distort the alien POV shots?
"Well, we did that last time on Grim. But what we did this time was we created our own camera filter. We got a distorted piece of glass and painted some veins on it and what have you, put a blue gel over. So that we actually created our own physical filter to shoot through which gives us the alien's POV. Which is great because now it's on film. I don't have to digitise anything, I don't have to create a computer image and I don't have to pay a lot of money to have it put back to film afterwards. So it worked really well. And it was very simple and easy to do. That's an instance where I think it was better to do that than create the digital effect afterwards. Because there's a lot of cost involved in digital effects.”

website: www.peakviewing.co.uk
interview originally posted 24th March 2007

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