Christopher Presswell is a British writer, director and producer who won the BAFTA Rising Star award in 2012 His debut short and feature films screened and won awards internationally. His recent feature film, “Candlestick”, co-written with András Forgács, will have its Asia premiere at the World Premieres Film Festival 2015. SineScreen caught up with Chris about his latest modern thriller.
When and why did you start writing and making film?
I knew that I wanted to make films when I was around 8 years old and saw a ‘making of’ documentary on television. I decided I wanted to be a director, despite not having any idea what that meant at the time, but I assumed it was important as their name was usually listed first during the end credits. Twenty years later, here I am, being a director!
What particularly inspired you to write Candlestick?
Back in June 2012, Hungarian screenwriter, András Forgács W. and I thought it would be interesting to collaborate. Five months after spending a lot of time in our living room, drinking whisky until 4am, and throwing ideas around, we were on set! That’s an absurdly quick turnaround, but I think we really suited each others’ writing styles. It was as perfect a collaboration as we could’ve asked for!
What was your main intent for the film?
More than anything, I wanted to make a film that was fun and playful. So many independent films are made these days that tell dark, emotional stories. That’s not a criticism; my first feature very much fell into that category, but I’ve always loved filmmakers like Billy Wilder, who made a succession of fantastic films while jumping between genres (Double Indemnity; Some Like it Hot; The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes).
We also liked the idea of making a 1950s style film, but set in the present day. As much of a classic as Dial M for Murder is, the central conceit would fall flat in a modern day setting because of the invention of mobile phones. I wanted to incorporate these potential stumbling blocks in our plot instead of conveniently writing around them, and that’s something I really think we managed to pull off.
Candlestick is strikingly stylised, with a self-referential quality and acting technique that lends itself to stage performance. What was the motive behind this? Who or what were your main stylistic influences?
There are a whole host of influences, but notably the films of Alfred Hitchcock, specifically Rope and Dial M for Murder. Both films began as stage plays, so that’s embedded in Candlestick’s DNA. We wanted to capture that era’s cinematic spirit, from exaggerated performances and heightened dialogue, right down to the Saul Bass influenced animated titles and Jonathan Armandary’s terrific Herrmann-esque score. I’m keen to stress that we were trying to pay homage to a particular period’s style, as opposed to emulate a specific filmmaker.
What was the casting process like, and how did you know when the script was ready to shoot?
Because the film is very much an ensemble piece, we tried to audition actors alongside each other instead of having a reader. It was very helpful to see them feed off of one another. That being said, with Jack, who is in almost every single shot of the film, we felt it was important to see the actors auditioning by themselves. Andrew was the only person we saw who was able to blend the level of charisma to pull it off, simultaneously maintaining a dark air of threat about him.
Jack, as well as being somewhat psychotic, is a very cynical character. Are there any elements of yourself or your fellow scriptwriter in Jack? Would you say you’re cynical people?
There are definitely elements of both of us in Jack, but no more so than there are in Vera or the Major. As a writer, you draw on your own personal traits and experiences to help you better understand the character that you’re writing, and while I’ll admit that we both share moments of cynicism, I like to think that we’d be much more palatable dinner guests!
How has growing up and living England influence your filmmaking? Is there any particular aspect of English culture that affects your creative process?
To date, it’s made me interested in explicitly British stories. All of the characters in Candlestick reflect aspects of classic British culture, and are of the variety that tend to play well internationally, although we’ve tried to invert them a little and give them a more playful, contemporary feel. The same is also true of the film that we’re currently developing, called The Shadow Man. That’s not to say that we won’t divert from that model in the future, but for now, I’m more interested in celebrating that heritage instead of trying to distance myself from it.
Have you played Cluedo a lot? Did you grow up watching murder mysteries films or TV shows?
Cluedo was indeed a staple of my youth, if only for the fact it was less likely to end up in a huge argument, unlike Monopoly. Oddly enough, despite there being obvious parallels between the game and the film, quite a few of the cast and crew (including my fellow screenwriter, of all people) have confessed to never having played it!
For you, personally, what makes a good film?
I love cinema as an art form. From overwhelming emotion, as in Life is Beautiful, or sheer anarchic mayhem of Furious 7, there’s honestly no set formula for a ‘good’ film. What I do enjoy seeing is when filmmakers attempt to break the mould. In this age of billion-dollar franchises, I think it’s important for audiences to champion films that try to do something original or unique. The world is a much duller place without them!