Cuckoo: Tony and Richard Bracewell interview

With British drama Cuckoo out now in cinemas, we caught up with its producer and writer-director, Tony and Richard Bracewell, to chat about it…

Brothers Tony and Richard Bracewell area formidable team. Richard, with his background in TV work, is the writer-director, while ex-PR man Tony has the production firmly under control. Together, they produced the cult movie The Gigolos, their first feature from 2006. Cuckoo is an atmospheric psychological thriller with riveting performances by Laura Fraser and Richard E. Grant.

We caught up with Tony and Richard to talk about the making of the latest film, marketing, and working with Richard E. Grant…

Your film has been ready for some time, but it has only just come out. I watched it for the first time a few months ago – why did you start showing it so early on?

Tony: It’s all about finding the right slot for the film to come out. When you’ve got a big beast such as Harry Potter on the horizon, it’s hard to predict how many screens it will take, so it took us ages to find the right slot. This allowed us to add a few finishing touches, but we didn’t do any re-editing. We got a deal for the release of the soundtrack, which will now be released before Christmas. Originally Andrew Hewitt composed the score using cello, synth and a string quartet, but he has altered it slightly, it has more depth to it. He sped it up and by altering the tempo a little bit he has heightened the tension.

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How are you marketing the movie?

Tony: It’s great, it will be in the West End, at the Apollo Piccadilly Circus, which we did not have for the first film. When local cinemas get behind a film, they will find the right slot for it, because they know their audience. That’s why we did press screenings early on. I am tired of the festival circuit – there are other ways for the audience to find out about your film.

It’s all about the spending power. Big movies spend money just to get the audience. For instance, Inception is rumoured to have cost as much to make as it did to promote it. You have to make a decision as to whether you are going to try and compete with the big productions or not, and you can’t compete, so you have to embrace a different way to do it. And there is an independent or alternative way to do it.

Are you relying on the movie building enough ripples to attract a discerning crowd?

Tony: I don’t think anyone understands fully the power of Twitter and word of mouth combined. It’s something that can get great results if used well. I don’t like people who moan about the business. I have no time for it. There are ways to get your film seen. You have to embrace the fact that it will be a limited audience and get them to talk about it.

Nowadays, more than anything, you have to treat your audience with respect, and if they are spoonfed bad movies, they will vote with their feet. In terms of distribution, cinemas who take risks are key, like picture houses and some of the leading independents. They do a good job of getting behind these films.

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They will not make you a multimillionaire, but then if that was the case, everyone would be in Hollywood! You have to embrace change and be very deliberate about it. All we ever wanted t do was telling a new story in a world of remakes.

This is a relatively small production from a young team. Was it difficult to get the finance?

Tony: The first coup was getting Richard E. Grant. Then we had to raise the money, with all the difficulties that entails in this day and age. It helped that we had a great story.

How did you two end up making films together?

Tony: Richard used to work at the Clapham Picture House. He knows from first hand experience that there is an audience that will be back week after week to see something new. He left to work on the 11 O’Clock Show for Channel 4. He used to do the Ali G segments – Ali G in the countryside. After that, he ended up doing Blind Date for 18 months, all the location dates. There was a limit to what he could do with that, but he learnt how to be self-sufficient, because he was always working with limited budgets. So we decided to make films together.

Can you give a bit of background on The Gigolos?

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Tony: It was shot around London using improv techniques. We had a 30 or 40 page treatment, and the actors would start to improvise based on that. The story was about a gigolo and his assistant who go out and have a competition with each other. The Gigolos is about the dysfunctional relationship between the two men.

How did you get the talent for your first movie?

Tony: Susannah York really nailed it on the head: it sounded interesting, and actors like to work. Having her really helped our project get credibility. We also got Anna Massey, who was pretty much unfazed by the improv method. I mean, she has been in Frenzy and Peeping Tom – you can’t really surprise her! Our big break happened when we cut it and sent it to a lot of festivals’ it ended up being premiered on Sunset Boulevard at the ArcLight.

That’s an impressive debut!

Tony: We were under no illusions, but saw a couple of people from Miramax and DreamWorks, which we did not really expect. Then, as we were going up the escalator we saw three or four of the Desperate Housewives… It so happened that Transamerica [starring Felicity Huffman] was premiering next door!

How did it go?

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Tony: We were afraid that an improvised comedy about a gigolo in London might not be well understood. You know when the audience gets it and laughs at the right places. When it came to London no distributors were interested, so we released it ourselves. We released it on five screens, and eventually it went out to 28 screens. So we ended up releasing a film by chance!

When we were in LA we were in a hotel, the Roosevelt, which has a lot of Hollywood history: Monroe resided there for a while, and she’s rumoured to be haunting the place, as is Montgomery Clift. We saw Pelé, the football legend, at one end of the lobby, and at the other end was Paris Hilton. To us this really sums up the kind of work you can do. You can either embrace quality or you follow celebrity junk culture.

[At this point, Richard, who has been working extra hours, arrives.]

How did you get this project together?

Richard: Richard E. Grant and Laura Fraser both responded really well to the script. Richard was great about his part. I had written it hoping to get someone who’d get excited about it. Laura responded to the script immediately. When she auditioned she understood the story and the characters – you knew early on that she was the only choice. She did a test on camera and, watching it, she came alive. The film is about a young woman, when it starts she is at the centre, looking at the camera, she has an intimate relationship with the audience, and the other characters are in the shadows, far away…

I think this is a career-defining performance for Laura Fraser.

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Richard: I hope so. She was a delight to work with. She had a sure touch about what she’d done and whether it was right or not. There’s a stillness about her, but it’s all going on beneath. Film is a craft, put together by all sorts of different people. Because of this, actors become forgotten on set. I always make a point to let them know I’m happy with them, and also to ask their opinion.

The flat is really important, was it a real flat? What did you have in mind originally?

Tony: The flat was as important as the flat in Shallow Grave. It was built in a warehouse in Great Yarmouth.

Richard: A lot of stuff in the flat was about creating the right mood and a lot came from Laura, so I left her to it. We did not set out to make it look a certain way, a great deal of it emerged as we were working on it.

The lighting is very striking, it sets the mood of the film very strongly – it really seems to reflect Polly’s state of mind.

Richard: The cinematographer came on board 10 days before we started filming. I knew exactly what I was looking for. Mark [Partridge] had been a McLaren pit mechanic and then had been to film school, and I felt he would have nothing to prove on set. He’d listen and I left him free to express himself. I said I wanted the shadows to be black, not underexposed, but true black.

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Richard had to look like he was creased and lined by all the things he had been repressing. It was lit very old school. Mark then went on to do Lark Rise To Candleford. I was obsessed by The Lives Of Others – it influenced the way Cuckoo was filmed. It feels timeless.

Tony and Richard Bracewell, thank you very much.

Cuckoo is in UK cinemas now.

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