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Richard Rowntree Interview

We talk influences and behind-the-scenes exclusives with rising UK indie filmmaker Richard Rowntree, writer and director of the upcoming folk horror film Dogged

I recent­ly had a chance to screen the impres­sive new folk hor­ror film Dogged, the debut fea­ture from tal­ent­ed film­mak­er Richard Rown­tree. The film is cur­rent­ly mak­ing an impres­sive run on the film fes­ti­val cir­cuit, head­ing next to the Hor­rif­ic Film Fest in San Anto­nio, Texas, this week­end. I had the plea­sure of sit­ting down with writer and direc­tor Richard Rown­tree to talk to him about the movie and the secrets behind suc­cess­ful DIY indie film­mak­ing.

Richard Rowntree on the set of Dogged

Richard Rown­tree on the set of Dogged


Dogged start­ed off as a short. Did you always envis­age that it would be made into a fea­ture length film as well?

No, that wasn’t the plan. We had done a bunch of short films before. When we make them, we always try to make them a small snip­pet out of a much big­ger sto­ry, so they can make sense, rather than try and cre­ate this com­plete nar­ra­tive that starts in 5 -10 min­utes. When we were writ­ing the short for Dogged, we did kind of think about how it would be expand­ed on either side of what we were going to see in the short. But it was nev­er made with the idea that we would get to do that.

We (all the pro­duc­ers) had dif­fer­ent ideas of the back sto­ry of the char­ac­ters in the short and where they might go after. It took a cou­ple of months for us to sit down and argue our point as to why this would be a bet­ter idea than that and vice ver­sa. After we ironed that out, we sat down and we did a 19-page draft of the script over 8–9 months.

BTS: Matt Davies relax­ing on the set of Dogged

Writer Matt Davies and myself meet up once a week to go through the ideas we had. We would do a draft or notes and send them back and forth between us. Then every month we would meet up with the pro­duc­ers, sit down and again explain our deci­sions. Every­thing was giv­en a lot of thought and detail; it was a very col­lab­o­ra­tive script from the start.

What made you decide to make it a folk hor­ror film?

We all real­ly enjoyed the folk hor­ror revival that has hap­pened in the last few years — films of Ben Wheat­ley, Kill List (2011) and A Field in Eng­land (2013), and things like that. There is more inter­est in this now, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the UK. There all these weird old tra­di­tions that we still have going on to this day. We have Mor­ris danc­ing, which is a bizarre thing. Not nec­es­sar­i­ly that peo­ple believe it, but its entrenched in our psy­che in the UK, and it real­ly inter­ests me.

Still from Dogged

I am a mem­ber of a folk hor­ror group on Face­book, which has so many mem­bers from all around the world. Folk hor­ror encom­pass­es a huge amount, not just film — it’s art, lit­er­a­ture and immer­sive the­atre. We want­ed to make a film that we want­ed to watch our­selves. I am not real­ly into slash­ers. I just want­ed to make some­thing a bit dif­fer­ent that I would be real­ly intrigued to watch myself.

Who and what were your influ­ences when mak­ing Dogged?

Ben Wheat­ley for sure. In a bizarre kind of way, I pre­fer to watch hor­rors and thriller films.  It’s not great because my wife doesn’t, so we end up watch­ing films sep­a­rate­ly quite a lot of the time.  I enjoy watch­ing every­thing, and you can always take some­thing away from it. There are no films that are so bad there is noth­ing in them you can’t take away.

It is not all nec­es­sar­i­ly relat­ed to hor­ror. Grow­ing up as a kid you watch Spiel­berg films, cer­tain­ly the ones from when I was grow­ing up — they kind of blow you away. When I was watch­ing things like Jaws (1975) and Indi­ana Jones as a kid, the excite­ment you feel with those is fan­tas­tic.

Actress Aisha Jebali takes notes from director Richard Rowntree on set

Actress Aisha Jebali takes notes from direc­tor Richard Rown­tree on set

I watched a lot of hor­ror films when I was way too young, which I think a lot of peo­ple who love hor­ror did. Watch­ing things like The Shin­ing (1980) when I was real­ly young com­plete­ly ter­ri­fied and stuck with me. Anoth­er stu­pid one that got me when I was a kid was Grem­lins (1984). It ter­ri­fied me. I think the crea­tures in it were so well done, and the idea of them pop­ping out of the cup­boards in your kitchen real­ly scared me. I have always enjoyed the thrill of being scared by watch­ing a movie.

That’s not what we done with DOGGED, it’s not that kind of jump scare movie. But when I was in my mid-teens, I start­ed dis­cov­er­ing these movies that weren’t just about jump scares…they were unset­tling. Those were the ones I thought about a lot longer after I fin­ished watch­ing them. When I watched SEVEN (1995) for the first time, it was some­thing that real­ly stuck with me. It is not nec­es­sar­i­ly what you would call a hor­ror film, but the psy­cho­log­i­cal ele­ments of it real­ly affect­ed me.

Dogged has been rec­og­nized crit­i­cal­ly for the visu­al style and the music. What prepa­ra­tion did you do design­ing that?

Dogged Sound Recordist Joel Summers

Dogged Sound Recordist Joel Sum­mers

For the music, James Grif­fiths is incred­i­ble as a com­pos­er. He did the short for us, and we had quite a few dis­cus­sions before we start­ed shoot­ing about how impor­tant the music was to hor­ror films par­tic­u­lar­ly. You can go through a peri­od dur­ing the sto­ry where you are not mov­ing things on par­tic­u­lar­ly quick­ly. You don’t want to use a lot of quick cuts to dis­en­gage the audi­ence when you are try­ing to delib­er­ate­ly pace some­thing slow­ly. You need that music for things to move you along.

For me the music in any kind of film should lead you on an emo­tion­al jour­ney, and James is phe­nom­e­nal at that. He was work­ing at a rapid pace, doing scor­ing and send­ing us clips every two or three days with a minute or two. I don’t think there was any time that I sent it back and said I didn’t like it. It was bril­liant, and it flows. There is a lot of music in the film, and a num­ber of peo­ple have point­ed out that it’s like anoth­er char­ac­ter. It’s kind of haunt­ing and threat­en­ing and at times also very sub­tle. But it always leads you to where we want­ed you to be as film­mak­ers.

Chris Foulser and Richard Rown­tree on the set of Dogged

The visu­als were obvi­ous — DoP (Direc­tor of Pho­tog­ra­phy) Christo­pher Foulser and Lee Wig­nall the edi­tor had a huge impact on that. Film­mak­ing is very col­lab­o­ra­tive for me, and I am always pre­pared to lis­ten to opin­ions and these guys had great ideas. The light­ing as well was real­ly impor­tant. We had a great gaffer with Christo­pher Wil­son, and the sub­tle­ty of the light­ing real­ly helps because it makes it feel very nat­ur­al. In addi­tion, Lee Wig­nall did a fan­tas­tic job bring­ing out the greens and reds in the film, which real­ly helped to make the back­sto­ry dif­fer­ent.

The film was financed through crowd­fund­ing. Did you have any issues dur­ing film­ing due to the bud­get­ing con­straints?

We raised the mon­ey a long way in advance to doing the shoot for Dogged, and we had so many tal­ent­ed peo­ple work­ing and putting there all in. Every­one, from the cos­tume design­ers, to hair and make­up, to the pro­duc­tion design­er, Mel (Wig­nall), was amaz­ing. Mel came in quite a long way under bud­get on the pro­duc­tion design, and she still had a garage full of props, signs, and all this kind of amaz­ing stuff that she man­aged to pro­cure from here there and every­where.

Pro­duc­tion Design­er Mel and Make­up Artist Gem­ma

We were quite well pre­pared, but we did have a major issue on our first day of shoot­ing. We had a jib made for us as we couldn’t afford to buy the big prop­er expen­sive one. We have this tal­ent­ed car­pen­ter, who built us a wood­en rig jib that we would use on the top of our tri­pod, and he built us a set of rails so we could do long track­ing shots.

We went to put the jib on the first day, but it was too heavy and broke the tri­pod. We pan­icked for about 10 min­utes, and then a cou­ple of the guys ran down to Argos to buy a cheap tri­pod for the rest of the day. By the time we came to shoot the next week­end, the guy who made us the rail made us a remark­able weight bar­ing tri­an­gu­lar base to replace the tri­pod. It was so DIY, and there are so many things on YouTube where you can see how peo­ple make these things. You do get some great shots, but you need a lot of prac­tice before you start to use them on the set of a fea­ture film.

Still from Dogged

What was your favorite scene in the film?

There were a cou­ple which were real­ly good fun to do. The sex scene in the car was a fun one to do, as well as the one where Sam (Sam Saun­ders) drops his phone in the toi­let. For peo­ple who haven’t seen it, he’s hav­ing a pee in the morn­ing. He gets a mes­sage on his phone, and when he gets it out he drops it in the toi­let. Some of its shot from a real­ly low angle down between his legs as he pees, so you see the pee com­ing out, then you see the phone drop past it.

I was involved on the floor under­neath Sam point­ing up with the cam­era at a real­ly of odd angle. We rigged up this pee machine, which was pump oper­at­ed and filled with orange squash. We were in close quar­ters, so the cam­era was being passed through the door. It was crazi­ly claus­tro­pho­bic and prob­a­bly the most fun moment.


Still from Dogged

Where there any scenes which you were unable to film due to prob­lems on set or bud­get?

There were a few things which I would have per­haps done dif­fer­ent­ly in a more con­trolled envi­ron­ment. The show­down at the stone cir­cle, for exam­ple — I would love to have cre­at­ed that in a stu­dio to com­plete­ly con­trol every­thing. But stu­dio space is expen­sive. And although I could have prob­a­bly con­vinced my boss to lend us the plants to make it look like a real­is­tic for­est in the stu­dio, it would have been a lot of work.

Still from Dogged

What advice would you give to some­one who wants to get into film­mak­ing?

Go out and make films. You can shoot real­ly good qual­i­ty films on your iPhone now, and the more you prac­tice the bet­ter you will get. If you want to make rigs for your­selves, look on YouTube. There are lots of tuto­r­i­al on there. You can make so many good jibs, slid­ers and the rest of them. Go out there and just prac­tice. You don’t have to put your film out there at the end if you’re not hap­py with it. But the more you prac­tice, the more you under­stand what you have to do.

Watch loads of films as well.

Watch a broad range of films, not just the ones you like. I have a prob­lem with watch­ing musi­cals, but I kind of force myself to do it. I just find them awk­ward to watch, but I watch them to find dif­fer­ent tech­niques to do dif­fer­ent things.

Thanks so much to Richard Rowntree for this insightful interview. Be sure to follow Dogged on Facebook to learn when and where you can catch this incredible film. You won’t want to miss it! 

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