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New Directors/New Films ’10 | “Down Terrace” Director Hopes to Shock Audiences

New Directors/New Films '10 | "Down Terrace" Director Hopes to Shock Audiences

Mike Leigh meets “The Sopranos” in this extraordinary family crime drama, shot in eight days largely in one location. Fresh out of jail, Bill (Robert Hill) is obsessed with finding out who snitched on him. His son, Karl (Robin Hill), also just released, is similarly concerned but has other things on his mind—namely, what to do about his pregnant girlfriend. Bill, eager to ferret out the informer, lays out a series of traps and ruses for his associates—that is, when he’s not singing old Fairport Convention songs while accompanying himself on guitar. Director Ben Wheatley (BBC’s “The Wrong Door”) makes a powerful feature-film debut, creating an astonishing sense of normalcy laced with jet-black humor. [Synopsis courtesy of New Directors/New Films]

Editor’s Note: This is one interview in a series profiling directors whose films are screening at the 2010 New Directors/New Films Festival.

“Down Terrace”
Director: Ben Wheatley
Writers: Robin Hill and Ben Wheatley
Cast: Julia Deakin, Sara Dee, Robert Hill, Robin Hill
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
89 Minutes

Director Ben Wheatley on his filmmaking background and the origins of “Down Terrace”…

I am a director who works in TV comedy and advertising. I’ve always loved films since I was a kid and have slowly moved toward directing through cartoons, storyboards, and animation. In the last ten years I’ve been making a lot of viral animation and live action clips for the Internet. From this background of making short sharp effects-based pieces I started getting offers to do online advertising and television. I directed “Modern Toss” and “Wrong Door” in the UK which were sketch shows that were skewed towards visual comedy – lots of effects and animation. After this I directed “Ideal” for the BBC, an ongoing series about a drug dealer, set in his flat in Salford, Manchester. The camera never leaves the building. After I completed “Ideal” I felt like I’d like to make something really loose (in both camera and script) and started to plan “Down Terrace.”

“Down Terrace” was born out of what I had. I had access to a location, to actors and friends who would help. The script was developed with these resources. The story comes from watching and enjoying a lot of gangster films but wanting to make something that felt fresh and not a comment on other films.

Director Ben Wheatley. Photo courtesy of New Directors/New Films.

Wheatley on challenges and inspirations…

The biggest challenge is believing you can do it. It sounds like a simple thing to think you can just go out and make a film, but it took me a long time to feel I had the experience and skill. The actual physical making of the film wasn’t too bad. Even though we shot it in eight days it was a lot less stressful than shooting for eight weeks. We cut it in three weeks and had it finished in a month. It’s a good intuitive way of working.

Cassevettes is an influence on my filmmaking, mainly through the balls he had to just start making films. Alan Clarke is a filmmaker I admire, though he is a man and I am a child.

What Wheatley has in store for audiences…

When I’ve watched “Down Terrace” with festival audiences people laugh and gasp and shriek. I think audiences go in thinking they know what they are going to get – that it’s going to be another “Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.” What they get is something with a lot of soul, a lot of laughs, and some bone-crunching violence (both physically and emotionally). I cast my favorite actors and wrote the parts specifically for them. It always makes me chuckle to see them up on screen.

and on future projects in the pipeline…

I am working on two scripts that bookend “Down Terrace” and a film about contract killers who get involved with Satanists!

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