With Martin Scorsese as executive producer, and stars like Brie Larson and Armie Hammer, it might be fair to say that FREE FIRE is one of Ben Wheatley’s highest profile films to date. Ben Johnston asked him how it felt to have come so far since 2009…
Ben Wheatley: It’s cool – I make films in the same way I’ve always made them, whether they’re non-actors – half the cast of DOWN TERRACE weren’t professional actors – or whether they’re world famous. It’s all the same. Actors are actors. The fact that people know them more, or have more Twitter or Instagram followers, doesn’t mean anything when you’re actually working with them, because they’ve just got to do their job – the same way that anyone has to do their job. Being famous doesn’t protect you from working hard.
BJ: So you don’t feel you’ve had to compromise more, then, with a more recognisable cast?
BW: You tell me, man! I mean, do FREE FIRE and HIGH RISE strike you as movies that are ridden with compromise? I don’t think so.
BJ: As a fan – I agree with you.
BW: I’ve been lucky and I control as much as I can in these movies. There’s no extended cuts in any of the films I’ve made – I’ve always had complete control over them. And by the time I got to FREE FIRE I had contractual director’s cut. So there’s no creative compromise from my end.
BJ: With HIGH RISE and A FIELD IN ENGLAND, the time period was key to the impact of the film. Do you think FREE FIRE gained something from its 70s period setting – in a world before modern communications?
BW: Well yeah, there’s a technical side to it, in that it’s a time before mobile phones, before GPRS and all that kind of stuff. So that’s really important to the story.
BJ: Is there a similar sense of isolation to HIGH RISE, would you say?
BW: Well, not so much that, because in HIGH RISE, you know, they still had telephones, so you could contact the outside world if you want to – but they just don’t do it. I mean, HIGH RISE would be broken more by the modern need to document and broadcast, you know, so that’s why that story couldn’t be set in the present day because as soon as you started doing that, you’d up the ante, because thousands of people would know about it and turn up. It’d become a freak show, or you know, like Big Brother, but in the 70s you could get away with being isolated like that, and hiding away if you wanted to. But a modern mentality wouldn’t allow it, I don’t think, now.
BJ: You’ve cited the kineticism and energy of EVIL DEAD II, and also its humour, as an influence – and of course there’s the well documented quotes around your enjoyment of Tom and Jerry. Do you think that your mixture of humour and violence is inevitable, or is it something that’s actually quite hard to achieve without trivialising it?
BW: I don’t know if it’s inevitable, but slapstick humour is certainly something that makes me laugh, and I can only go in the direction of my own sense of humour, so… I think you just have to be honest to the story itself, you know. That’s the approach that you take with it.
“I think that you’d be hard pressed to draw a line between the troubles in this world, and films.”
BJ: What are your thoughts on the criticism levelled at films and videogames, over the last decade or so, claiming that they glorify violence or lead to violent behaviour?
BW: I think we’re past that, aren’t we? I mean, if you’re going to blame film and videogames for violence, then why not rock ‘n’ roll as roll, you know? Let’s get to it, let’s have it all in there. Rap music, anything. Video nasties from the 70s. I think that you’d be hard pressed to draw a line between the troubles in this world, and films. I think it’s just an easy news story, it just goes back around the same old nonsense. There’s no connection, and it’s just an easy target, isn’t it?
BJ: Moving on, this is the fifth film that you’ve made with your partner Amy Jump. Is there anything that you can tell me about the process that you have when creating a new project?
BW: It’s different every time, really. Sometimes I’ll write a script and she’ll rewrite it over the top, and sometimes she’ll write a script from a blank page – and everything in between. It’s not the case that we are two people in a room throwing ideas at each other – it doesn’t really work like that.
BJ: I’ve seen the concept art for FREAK SHIFT by Mick McMahon. It’s looking really interesting.
BW: We’re hoping to shoot that in August. It’s a science fiction movie about a city that’s had some kind of ecological disaster which has created these creatures that burrow up through the ground at night and destroy things. And it’s about the police force that have to deal with this destruction. It’s like a night in the life of this one particular truck load of cops.
BJ: Is there anything else the two of you are throwing around right now that you’re particularly excited about?
BW: Yeah, we’re talking about all sorts of stuff – FREAK SHIFT is exciting – CRIMINAL BEHAVIOUR is another thing we’re working on which is coming along, and also WAGES OF FEAR. I don’t want to say too much about anything ’cause I’ve already clogged up the internet with various mentions of things that are either half made or half abandoned!
Ben Wheatley will be at the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse for a Q&A after the screening of FREE FIRE on Wednesday 29 March.