Susan Montford is a Scottish film director/producer, whose new film – While She Was Out – is released imminently on DVD. Starring Kim Basinger and executive produced by Guillermo del Toro, the film’s been garnering good reviews, too. Here, she tells us about it, and her plans for Tripods, and possibly Shoot ‘Em Up 2…
How did While She Was Out come about? Were you a fan of the short story?
When I first moved to Los Angles from Scotland it was to direct an elaborate film about the Manson Girls with Vincent Gallo. It fell apart during 9/11 for various reasons and I was heartbroken. I then spent several years trying to put it back together, wrote a bunch of scripts and put a bunch of projects in to development – all very ambitious and quite complex projects for a gal from Glasgow.
I then realised that the only way I was going to get to actually direct was if I wrote something that I could make for any amount of money from $500,000 to 20 million and shoot it anywhere in the world. While I was thinking about this I came across the short story and realised it was perfect. It had all the potential to be turned into a straightforward, hardcore survival tale with no complex –expensive! – subplots.
Many of the reviews have cited Kim Basinger’s performance in the film. How did she come to get involved? She seems to be quite selective in her film projects right now.
Kim was on a very, very short list of actors I loved for the part. I’m a huge fan of her work especially from LA Confidential, Eight Mile and Door in The Floor. I think she is extraordinarily fragile and yet somehow invincible as an actor. CAA called me one day and asked if I’d like to meet with her and I couldn’t believe my good fortune. I stayed up three nights straight imagining every possible question she could ask me. When we met it was uncanny how right there and then she was already in character and my Della. Funnily enough she didn’t ask too many questions. After she committed I reworked the boy’s dialogue in the script to be American slang. I had deliberately kept their dialogue neutral previously so I could shoot the film anywhere.
You made some conscious decisions about how you were going to shoot the film. What was your thinking there, and are you happy with the end result?
I wanted the forest to look real and really very dark so I got my wish. Steve Gainer my Cinematographer – he shot Bully, one of my favourite films – used balloons to light the trees from above and then we colour timed everything to be even darker. I also had this Hedi Slimane book of photographs I liked which we used as a reference where the faces are all lit in slithers with the rest in shades of darkness.
When we were deep in the forest, sometimes the conditions were so extreme – 29 nights outside in the freezing cold of a Vancouver winter with storms where trees fell down all around us, constant rain, mud slides, some snow, the DP, AD and myself all got hypothermia – that I had to favour performance over visuals. Fortunately the story allowed for that to happen and I think the extreme weather – especially the rains – made for an atmospheric movie.
Was it an easy film – if there’s ever an easy film! – to get made? And do you find on smaller films that you then have to devote the same time again to promoting it?
The film felt charmed when I first put it together – especially considering the problem projects of the past. It was quite a bit tougher to complete post as we had run out of money. Fortunately I had made some really good relationships during Shoot ‘Em Up and was able to ask favours of many lovely talented people.
What was Guillermo del Toro’s involvement? How did it affect you on a day to day basis?
Guillermo gave me some great advice before I started shooting on how to work with the actors. He then watched all the dailies even although he was making Hellboy 2 at the time. This amazed me – what energy and passion he has as a filmmaker – it takes your breath away. It was a great comfort to have him as Executive Producer. I was also blessed to have Lee Tamahori as my secret Godfather. He gave me a lot of great advice about going into the woods, having been there himself a few times….!
What kind of genres of film interest you, and do you have a dream project that you’d like to tackle?
I love action, noir and horror. If it’s a good story with something slightly twisted about it. I’m interested. I have a totally far-fetched fantasy of being the first woman to ever direct a James Bond film. Probably the only thing that qualifies me is the fact I’m British..!
How is The Tripods coming along?
We just got the script in from Alex Proyas and Stuart Hazeldine and it is fantastic!
And finally, can you please get a sequel to Shoot Em Up going?
I wish…I love that movie…We won’t stop until we make it happen…
Susan Montford, thank you very much!
While She Was Out is out now.