Director Interview: Giles Alderson

Following up on his review of The Dare, Hugh has a chat with the film’s director, Giles Alderson

 

Thanks for giving us some of your time today Giles.

No problem at all, I’m always delighted to talk about the film.

 

I watched The Dare last night, and I have to say it was fantastically dark and horrible in all the right ways!

It is certainly a little gnarly! A psychological, twisty, gnarly motherfucker! (laughs) It really gets in your brain this one.

 

You must be delighted now it has its UK release?

Yeah, its all down to the distributors. Holland came out last year, and it did really well there, then Hong Kong and America earlier this year. The UK release has come now, and they all had their own distribution channels. At first, I was frustrated by that, but actually it’s turned out to be really good because now I get to talk about it all over again! It’s like another wave of the film’s release. There was a lot of effort and time spent making this film, so its great to be able to talk about making it again.

 

Yeah it came to my attention at the American release, and I’d been looking forward to it for a while. Its really grim and grotty!

Well it’s definitely that! (laughs).

 

You co-wrote the film with Jonny Grant, who you’ve worked with previously. Who came up with the initial idea?

It was my initial idea, in this office where I am right now I had this little notepad with ideas. And I had two ideas that really stuck out to me, and I thought that if I put them together it could make a really good film!

One was about these four people trapped in a basement together with no idea why they were there, and the other was about a young man and a boy; are they related, are they not? I wasn’t clear on what the situation was, only that there was something very wrong.

So, I just thought why not put them together and just join them all up. Make a reason for them all to be there. And then the idea just sort of flew out of me, and it was all ready to be put together. I called Johnny up because I love collaborating with other people, especially on something as dark and twisted as this. Sometimes you can get lost in your own head writing it on your own, so I brought Johnny on as he’s a brilliant writer. And then within a month we had a solid first draft that was sent out to producers. It got some interest right away, which was a little unusual because normally it’s a bit back and forwards.

I think people saw the commercial appeal of this movie right away and saw that it could do really well on the horror circuit. There are elements of Martyrs and Saw, and all those sort of movies that people could relate it to.

It was still a battle getting it made and getting it to the screen, but I think that’s true of all films. We went through the wringer a little, but I’m so glad we made it. I mean, it was four years ago that we first started filming it, and it takes a long time for these movies to get out. When you’re a studio movie, it can be a little bit like being on a conveyor-belt, so its hard to make schedules work when you’ve got pick-ups to film and time goes by so quickly. I’m so over the moon that it’s got it’s release in the UK now.

 

It’s a really inventive film. Films with that kind of set-up, you mentioned Saw earlier, they are often focussed on elaborate traps and horrifying weapons. You decided to use bugs and creepy crawlies, which proves to be an inspired choice. Was that idea there from the start?

I can’t remember, to be honest. I think it’s a mixture of both, because I knew I wanted some sort of torture to happen in the basement, but I was also conscious that I didn’t just want it to be another ‘torture-porn’ movie. I didn’t want to go down that route, I wanted to make it psychological. And the fact of what happens in that basement, with the bugs and everything, there’s a lot more going on. I wanted that to be important, with working out who has to do what to who and why, rather than a psychotic killer doing that kind of stuff.

I really wanted to elevate it from that sort of stuff and try and make it a psychological drama. Of course people are going to compare it to those other films, its easier to sell it that way and I’ve done it myself, but actually I feel that the reason people like it is because it has those different elements. It is icky, it is creepy, it is very torturous. But is a different kind of torture, and like you say it’s a little inventive.

There’s something about creepy crawlies in a basement, climbing into orifices and being pulled out of places, you already start cringing! And that’s what makes the film interesting; our antagonist doesn’t know how to deal with things any other way.

The film is about bullying; it’s about doing something that you shouldn’t have done and the repercussions of that. I wanted you to come away from this film thinking about it and reflecting on the past. Which is an odd thing to say about a film like this, but it gives you that sort of question of ‘who do you root for?’ Do you root for the ‘goodie’ or the ‘baddie’, and I wanted that door to be open for the audience to choose and talk about it afterwards. And that opens it up to being more than just a throwaway horror film, which is exactly what I hoped to achieve.

Giles & a bloody Richard Short on set of The Dare

Giles & Richard Short on set of The Dare

I think you very much did. You can easily see things from Dominic’s point of view, and there is a real moral quandary as to whether anyone should really escape from that basement alive.

Yes (laughs), he certainly has his reasons for what he does. We wanted you to feel for Dominic, to empathise with him as that is a very interesting story to tell. Sort of telling an origin story that isn’t an origin story.

 

I really enjoyed the dual narrative in the film. Spending time with Richard Brake as he’s bringing up this young boy in this horrible old farmhouse. It took a few scenes to really grasp what was going on there. The cast are terrific, how did you put them together?

We had auditions and were lucky to find such an amazing cast. Richard Short who plays Adam is different as I’ve know him for twenty years. I always wanted to work with him, but there’s always that worry when you’re working with a mate on set and you step up to be the director. You wonder if he’s going to trust me as I director, and will I trust him as an actor? But it was really wonderful. I cast him as Arthur in my other film, Arthur & Merlin, which we filmed after this but came out before it!

Bart Edwards, who plays Jay, as soon as I saw his tape I just knew immediately that he was Jay. The tape is fantastic, and I will put it out one day, maybe as an extra on the Blu-ray. You could just see right away why he was right for the part. He was in a Stag-do scene at the start of the film, which we changed as we wanted Jay to be more of a family man.

We filmed a ‘British’ ending originally, and that will be on the Blu-ray. It was a very British ending, but the one we went with is much more ‘American’ and studio friendly. A sort of ‘we could do a sequel here’ type ending. And there’s talk of a sequel now, which there wouldn’t have been with that original ending (laughs), there couldn’t be!

 

Richard Brake is one of those actors who is just omnipresent in cinema and TV over the last fifteen years or so, what was it like working with him?

It was one of the best experiences of my life.

Richard Brake is an outstanding actor and a fantastic human being. He’s so wonderful to work with. As soon as his name came up in the casting break down, I couldn’t believe he was on the list. When I realised we could get him for the part, I just decided that I wanted Richard Brake. Even though Credence was written as a bigger man, which was to play into the identity of the killer in the film and give it a sort of ambiguity. But, as soon as the opportunity to cast Richard came about, it made more sense to use him with his presence and his ability to perform and work with a young kid. To have that balance of perfectly on edge, slightly psychopathic farmer that you’ve seen before in movies, but we could put our own spin on it.

For us it couldn’t have been better with Richard, he’s such a wonderful actor.

There was one scene with him where I had to hang him upside down! I was worried about it, because, well, its Richard Brake! (laughs)

I said to him ‘I’m going to have to hang you upside down for a while, are you going to be alright with that? Something really awful is going to happen..’ and he was just like ‘Yeah man, I’ve done this before let’s just go for it!’. He just threw himself in, and he was wonderful with Mitchell Norman who plays young Dominic. He’s the consummate professional on set, but also understanding that Mitchell needed to know that this was all part of the game. He stayed clear of him at the beginning and eased his way into the relationship. He wasn’t all matey-matey with him to begin with, and that really helped the fear factor in there.

But he was wonderful. I can’t tell you just how lovely he was.

I’ll always be grateful to my amazing team, and for getting the money together to make this. The whole experience was just wonderful, and Richard Brake was a big part of that.

Giles & Richard Brake having a laugh on set of The Dare

Giles & Richard Brake on set of The Dare

It’s great to hear that, Richard Brake is one of those actors who is always so mesmeric regardless of how big or small the part is. I didn’t realise he was in the film before I put it on, and it was great when he turned up.

Yeah that’s quite interesting there in itself, because they didn’t put his name on the poster. I mean, it’s a horror movie, you’d think his name would be there, but they wanted to sell it on the killer and the mask. That it’s something fresh and new, and that was their take on it.

 

You mentioned the mask; it is so grotesque! Where did the idea for that come from?

Yeah, thank you! Again, we worked really hard to not copy other masks, and we worked really hard knowing that masks are really special in horror films, they mean something. We wanted ours to stand out a bit, so if someone were to wear it at a Comic-Con that you’d go ‘That’s the mask from The Dare!”.

Julian Kostov, our producer, worked so hard on this and I want to give him credit. A lot of the designs in the film are his, and we’ve got like a botfly-larvae on the mask that look like braille, not real of course just samples (laughs). And we’ve got pigs teeth in there, stitches, and an eyeball too! We wanted something that makes it look like Dominic could be looking anywhere when it’s on because you can’t actually see his eyes. And the idea of the mask is that it’s made of pigskin and human skin mixed together, so we wanted it to have its own colour, its own hue, its own look, and for it to be something he would have made himself.

 

You mentioned you re-shot the ending. The one that they went with almost looks like an epilogue set a little in the future, and certainly opens the door for a sequel. Is that something you’re looking to do?

It was something that was offered to us to be honest. Jonny and I had already come up with a few ideas about a sequel, and where we could go next with the film. I mean when you’re pitching you sort of throw those ideas in, you know sort of ‘this could be a franchise’.

But, actually once the movie started to do well at festivals and we picked up some distribution deals, it got mooted why don’t we do a sequel. And we said well we already have ideas, and they sort of said well why don’t you think about this idea… so yeah we do have an idea at the moment for a sequel and its very much written up. We’re just waiting to see if it actually happens.

But I think The Dare still stands on its own, with its own story, but if we could do a franchise and go a little bigger, we could bring Richard Brake back and all these potential ideas that we have.

You can do all sorts with a movie like this. And we’d be honoured if people wanted to see a sequel! It would mean that the first one did all right! It’s so hard to get a film made, and to get another film out of the one you struggled so hard to get made would be amazing. Of course you’re gonna do it!

 

Yeah, and the way you end it with a sort of ‘sting in the tail’ ending really wraps the narrative up nicely if that is where the story is to end permanently.

Yeah, I think so. It’s a very different ending than the original, but that’s filmmaking: things always change, you always shoot things differently.

 

As you mentioned earlier, you’ve been an actor for much of your career. Were you always looking to transition to the director’s chair or was it something that you fell into?

It was something that I fell into, and I’m so glad I did. We were making the pilot for a TV show for the BBC and the director pulled out at the last minute. And because we had set it all up, the team had written and produced it and we were all in it, I just said that I would do it. I had directed plays that I’d written, but I had shied away from directing often because I thought it would get in the way of my acting.

Which it did, because I was terrible in that pilot (laughs). What I learned from that was that I fell in love with directing, I fell in love with the camera and directing actors and how you can create something magical out of lines on a piece of paper. I remember thinking that if this was something I could do as a career, and have a movie out that people would watch and buy? That would be amazing.

And I’d been in many horror films as an actor and really enjoyed the experience. As a kid I wasn’t a big horror fan, they scared the shit out of me (laughs), I was a bit of a wuss. It was only after I had been in them that I found my love for horror and realised the fear in me was just my own worries and issues, so I fought that and now I love them and think they’re amazing. You can manipulate people’s fears in a horror movie, really mess with their minds, make them second guess who they should be rooting for.

Like, why do we love Freddy so much? Why do we love Friday the 13th and Jason? People return to these films time and time again, I think Scream 5 is going to be coming out soon too, it’s an incredible genre.

Leatherface was actually shooting while I was prepping The Dare when I was over there, and it was really interesting to see the connections with the designs, and that’s on the same studio where I shot my film.

Moviemaking is magic: at the end of the day you’re just shooting people in a warehouse with a camera, but through film you can really make that scary for people! Because it often isn’t on set (laughs).

Director Giles behind the camera

Giles behind the camera

Within the horror genre, are there any directors that you admire?

So many!

Danny Boyle was a huge inspiration; his book is amazing, he didn’t write it himself it’s more of an interview with him. I also host a podcast called The Filmmakers Podcast, and I get to interview directors on that. I’ve got to chat to some incredible people that I would never have gotten to chat to as a filmmaker myself. I’ve been trying to get Danny Boyle on the podcast for a long time, and actually it might happen! What he’s achieved with his career is incredible because he hasn’t gone down the same path, hasn’t made the same film over and over, yet they all have a ‘Danny Boyle’ feel about them

Tarantino is incredibly gifted, and I love that he is so open about just stealing work and just makes it his own. Because everyone steals, that’s just what you do, and it’s ok! He takes things and does them in his own way and does them really well.

I’m in awe of people who do this on the bigger budgets and control lots of elements. I think you have to be a little neurotic, sort of the Captain of the ship. And that takes a lot of energy, and it’s not easy. But it really can be magical when done right.

 

We always ask our guests to give us tell us their favourite horror film, the film that keeps them up at night?

Interestingly, I had never watched The Blair Witch Project, I just never watched it because of all the hype around it. And then I watched it about five years ago and I absolutely loved it. It was like the hype had gone and I could just sit and watch it and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Films like that are fascinating; someone made that movie for almost nothing, just got a camera and decided ‘let’s just go do it’.

Jordan Peel is someone who is massively influential in the horror genre at the moment, he just stepped up and made this amazing world. Adam Egypt Mortimer is such a talented filmmaker. The list of filmmakers coming up in the horror genre is amazing, there’s loads of us. And while we don’t all know each other, we know of each other and watch each other’s work. Host was an amazing film that came out recently on Shudder, I spoke with Jed Shepherd who wrote that, and I love that people are coming up with new ideas in horror, and new inventive stories with their own slant on them. I mean, as much as The Dare might have influences from other films, it’s an original story. Of course it’s influenced by films I’ll have heard of or seen in the past, but in my mind its totally original.

Neil Marshall, who has The Reckoning coming out soon which looks amazing, he really inspires me too. There are so many talented filmmakers, so many great up and comers and I am in awe of them and delighted to just be anywhere near them! (laughs).

 

I spoke with Rob Savage a couple of months ago regarding Host, and it’s great to see someone really just take the initiative and do something new and original. Someone who just made the best of the lockdown he found himself in and picked up a camera and made this terrific little sixty-minute horror film.

Yeah, it’s amazing to see. And especially when you look what’s happened to them now with the Blumhouse deal, it’s brilliant. It gives hope to a lot of people.

At the moment the UK industry is thriving, there’s a lot of talented filmmakers and we’re all working our asses off. Phil Hawkins, Matt Butler, Christian James, I mean the list goes on and on of people working so hard and making cool movies.

Everyone wants that Blumhouse deal! (laughs)

Giles on set of The Dare with Bart Edwards, Alex Evans and Richard Short

Giles on set of The Dare with Bart Edwards, Alex Evans and Richard Short

Are there any other projects coming up for you at the moment? I know COVID has caused a lot of things to grind to a halt for some people.

Interestingly enough I’ve not stopped at all through COVID. I chose this opportunity to really knuckle down and work on all the scripts that were lingering or close to being finished, and to work on my director’s vision for all these different projects.

As soon as COVID lifted a little and we were told we might be able to get back onto sets, I was just like ‘BOOM, here are all my projects’ to all the investors we were talking to. There are quite a few projects on the go; I’ve just been attached to a psychological thriller, it looks like we will be shooting in November but that hasn’t been announced yet. And next year I’ve got a Hamlet project that I’m filming. There’s a horror comedy on the circuit, so fingers crossed on that one, the investors are saying yes at the moment to my producer.

And they are all on nice budgets too, which is great because that means I can work with my team who have come up with me, the actors who have come up with me, and also some new blood too and get some nice names in the projects.

At the moment things are ticking along nicely, just keeping my fingers crossed that these things all go ahead and that people like The Dare! I’m just keeping my head down working hard and preparing for the next challenge that comes along

 

Giles, thank you so much for chatting to us. I had a lot of fun with the movie and can’t wait to see what comes next.

Aw thanks Hugh, I really appreciate that!

 

By Hugh McStay


 

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