It’s amazing to think that it’s only been a couple of years since director Ben Wheatley first arrived on the scene with his sly, powerful British gangster comedy/drama “Down Terrace.” And barely twelve months after that, he impressed even further with his horror-tinged follow-up “Kill List.” The director seems to work at a thundering pace, and only slightly over a year after “Kill List” premiered at SXSW, he made his debut at Cannes with “Sightseers,” another gruesome, dark tale, albeit with more belly laughs, about a caravanning couple (screenwriters Alice Lowe and Steve Oram) on a killing spree.
And in keeping with this busy workflow, just as “Sightseers” is hitting the fall festival circuit, he’s on to his next picture with even more brewing in the background. First up is “A Field In England,” a psychedelic costume drama set during the English Civil War, starring Julian Barrett (“The Mighty Boosh“), Reece Shearsmith (“The League Of Gentleman“) and Michael Smiley (“Kill List”), among others.
We spoke to Wheatley in Toronto this week, where “Sightseers” was making its North American debut, and he told us that on the one hand, “A Field In England” is likely to be quite distinct, aesthetically, at least, from his last film. “It’ll be black and white,” he said, “it’s historical drama, so it’s very different… It’ll be black and white, but [going] in and out of color. We’re building lenses from scratch, and using weird plastic lenses, all that kind of stuff. So it’ll be different looking, definitely.”
At the same time, it’s still going to be made on what he described as a “modest budget” like its predecessors — according to Wheatley, something that he’s absolutely happy with. “I like working like that,” he told us. “I like microbudget. Because it’s total freedom, it’s more like filmmaking when you’re a kid, getting a camera with your friends and making it up on the spot. That kind of filmmaking goes away when you’re spending other people’s money, to a degree. The whole germ of it starts with the script. If your script’s set in space on a space station, fighting monsters while it fills with water, you can’t shoot that on no money. And if you try and shoot on no money, it’s going to look like shit. But if you’re constructing movies that don’t need a lot of production value in them, people talking in rooms, or in costume in the past [like ‘A Field In England’], that’s fine. Most drama is based around that set up, it’s perfectly feasible. You think about ‘Persona‘ or something, it’s like three women in a room. If you had to go and shoot, it wouldn’t be that hard. Of course, the skill to be able to make that movie, and those performances, is something else. But the actual physical thing of making that film doesn’t have to be expensive.”
“A Field In England” was quite a late addition to Wheatley’s schedule — the original plan was that black comedy “I, Macrobane,” starring Nick Frost and regular collaborator Michael Smiley, would be his next project after “Sightseers.” Unfortunately, scheduling conflicts with his prospective star put paid to that immediately, but the filmmaker hopes it may come to pass in a year or so. “[The film] sort of slipped through the cracks,” Wheatley told us. “We were thinking about doing at the end of this year, but Nick’s just done [salsa dance comedy] ‘Cuban Fury,’ and he’s now doing ‘The World’s End‘ [the actor’s reunion with Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright]. So maybe after ‘Freak Shift,’ towards the end of next year, we’ll look at it again.”
As for “Freak Shift,” that’s the bigger scale monster-movie that Wheatley told us about in January, which focuses on “a crew that’s built up this armored vehicle and they go out and have to respond to 911 calls about these big monsters that have come out of the ground.” According to the director, things are proceeding nicely on the project, (financiers Lava Bear came on earlier in the year), and it should go straight after “A Field In England.” “It’s happening next year,” Wheatley told us, “that’s not greenlit, but it’s in the process of the deal coming together. That’s looking really interesting, loads of storyboard work’s being done on it, creatures are being designed, and all that. That’s our film for next year.”
It’s an impressive slate of projects for one of the more distinctive filmmakers out there, and one that we’re glad is proving so prolific. Look for more from our interview with Wheatley very soon, but in the meantime, IFC Films will release “Sightseers” some time in the near future.
Interview by Kevin Jagernauth