The super natural thriller is on the surface one of the oldest and simplest genres of film- the classic ghost story style ‘who done it’ we all like to get our teeth into but in reality one of the hardest to master. To be successful it requires perfectly timed techniques of chill, suspense, twist and believability; a surprisingly complex concoction for contemporary film makers competing with the modern blockbuster. With this it’s not surprising that the once flourishing genre appears to have dwindled from our screens in recent years.
Adam Wimpenny, director of Blackwood tells us all about his exciting new feature that brings the genre back to life, from the use of classic lenses to casting that all important part of the ‘haunted house itself’
So take us back to the start, where did the concept for Blackwood come from?
I’d always wanted to make a ghost story, I grew up in Yorkshire in this big old farm house, when you live in the countryside, there isn’t much to do and you make your own entertainment. I spent most of my childhood creating these little horror stories that we’d go off and make into films so the idea of doing a ghost story is something that I always wanted to do. So when Joe Hill the writer pitched Blackwood to me I was really taken by it and worked with him to develop the script, we quickly found some money and decided to make the film. For a first film it felt like the right thing to do as classically for a ghost story you don’t need many locations the main one being the house where everything takes place in so from my point of view as a director we weren’t spending time running around from location to location we were just concentrating on telling a story.
For our first film we were in the fortunate position of making something that we wanted to watch as audience members and because we were doing it on a small budget we could do something on our on terms so something that was a little bit left field not a lot like a lot of the films that we seem to be seeing a lot of at the moment. Do something a little bit more old school and deliberately retro. I wanted to make a film That you have to give people the opportunity to think about, to go away and process to give it some reflection and let it all settle in.
It’s an amazing setting, the house has this fabulous eerie quality to it- how did you find the locations?
I didn’t want to make the film until we’d found the right place as to me finding the house was like casting one of the characters in the film, it has such a presence that I had to make sure the setting was right.
It needed to be charming enough to believe that this family would want to move into it but also have an edge to it where it would work for the movie atmosphere of a ghost story. Originally I envisaged setting it in Yorkshire as being from there I know the countryside but in the end I found the house on the internet, a wonderful old house. It’s owned by an elderly couple, the gentleman has lived there since he was 8 years old. It used to be a very well to do property but having become run down over time, it looked tired and like it needed some love so it worked perfectly for us.
I had an idea that if we were going to make something close to a classic English ghost story we needed to find something that was going to fit into that mould and have a gothic quality to it I like colours in film, things where there is history to it. At one point I was entertaining the idea of maybe setting it in a modern abode but the more I explored it the more I came back to the idea of wanting make everything muted and a bit more honest like how the garden and forests were encroaching on this family space that they were living in. I also wanted somewhere that had some history to it. The story of the house is that it’s architect in the eighteen hundreds used to design not the just the house but the entire furniture as well so much of the original pieces were still there.
The human cast all fit very well too, how did you go about your casting?
When the film came together it all happened very quickly so I went back to some of the people I’d worked with before I’ve got a background working in TV and having made short films before there were people who I’d had good experiences with.Russell Tovey was in Roar, our first film so he came on board to play Jack. It was a mix of actors I’d worked with before and those who were new to us but it had a real team spirit to it, everybody clicked and we had a good working relationship even though we were filming in very cold miserable environments, no frills attached, no luxury every one was making the most of it.
It’s a genre film so to make that work for the audience the actors have to be very convincing with their performances. from my point of you I felt very privileged to be able to work with this strong team of experienced theatre actors, they treated the more difficult scenes with a great sense of sensitivity.
I’m proud to say that Isaac Andrews who plays the little boy was spotted by us right before his career took taken off – recently he’s been in Hercules in Exodus with Christian Bale and he’s doing another big movie next year so he’s really going places.
The psychological thriller and classic ghost story seems to be a dying genre thanks to modern special effects – what would you say your Influences were?
I’ve always loved a lot of the films from the 70s and the 80s. There was some great supernatural horrors and thrillers where a lot of the horror came from the unseen psychological aspects rather than it being gratuitous in the last ten years there has been a learning towards these gratuitous hyper violent movies so this was a very deliberate move to go towards something a little more retro. when choosing the cameras we went for very wide lenses from the seventies to give it that old fashioned quality and make it feel that it was less phonetic and hand held, slightly slower, playing with wider frames. We used negative space within them to make it feel uncomfortable so you had some characters pushing very hard left or right to frame where you might be inviting the audience’s eye to look down the corridor or into darkness where there is always the suggestion that something might be round the corner. I really wanted to try and create something that was very much a mood piece, that you could almost wallow in and invite repeat viewings. You get to the end of the film and there’s clues to the pay off so it almost rewards the audience to go back a second time and watch how the piece had come together.
Shooting in the middle of the countryside in winter must have been quite tough, were there any pitfalls along the way?
It was very tough because the house became not only our shooting location but our production office, our greenroom and everything else. We didn’t have any trailers so everyone was just living in the house, falling over each other in this really packed space. Everything became tight and restricted, The real problem came as we shot all the house stuff before Christmas and then the location stuff afterwards. On location a massive snow storm came and completely disrupted everything we were doing we had to close down shooting and within the space of an hour there was about two foot of snow. Suddenly everything stopped and with no way to get the cast and crew home we had to create this massive convoy to get everyone out. In the end we had to cut and run and leave the production for a good week just because of continuity as we’d started shooting with no snow and then everything was covered for a fortnight so from our point of view that was a disaster. It meant we had to shut down the production and wait for the snow to clear. It was a very costly problem to have because if it was a bigger film you’d sort of suck it up but when your producing something on very little money it becomes a bit of a concern. However shooting at that time of year with everything being a bit dead it leant something to the film so that negative became a positive.
So what’s next for Wild Card Films?
We want to keep working together and developing more projects, Joe has a few projects in development and they are getting a lot of interest at the moment. We have a conspiracy thriller that we will hopefully be shooting as soon as spring next year in Singapore and Thailand. It’s very different to Blackwood an action thriller taking inspiration from Hitchcock style films and paranoid thrillers from the 70s but taking it up to date by setting in a modern environment.
Blackwood is currently showing at selected cinemas across the UK, for more information visit