Thursday, July 22, 2010

Steven Rumbelow on “Autumn”

What was your filmmaking background before making Autumn?

STEVEN: I was in a gifted artist program from age 5 and moved from painting to sculpture to theatre as a natural progression from painting. By 18 I was England's youngest professional theatre director, having worked at the Royal Shakespeare Company and became known for edgy versions of Shakespeare and Marlowe. One production of King Lear was doing very well in the early ‘70's and the head guy from The British Film Institute saw it and said he felt it should be made into a film. There was no way that he could have known about my ultimate agenda to move from theatre to film directing, as I saw film as the ultimate painting medium. Between ‘75 and ‘81 I made three films, with each one winning Outstanding Film of the Year at London Film Festival plus several awards in Europe. The films were King Lear in 1975, St. Joan in 1977 and Dr. Faustus in 1981.

Over the years I found it really useful to sort of synergize the positive processes of different media and it became a goal of mine to become a sort of renaissance director with cross over knowledge of all media. Now my directing career boasts 9 feature films, 65 episodes of television, 3 docs, 1 radio drama, 1 opera, 1 dance, 84 music videos, 17 commercials and 46 stage productions. I'm committed to eight very exciting films over the next three years or so that range in budget from $1m to $15m each.

I've also 100 plus produced works as a writer, but don't really view myself as a writer. I just felt that I wanted to be able to write in order to be able to rewrite other people's work on set.

What was the writing process like on Autumn?

STEVEN: It was nerve-wracking. I let David Moody present his version of the script, which was about 200 pages of the book. It would have been 5 hours long, but I got what he felt was the most important aspects of the book to go to film.

I sat down to write it and something happened that had never happened to me before. I had the haters of the book (the "don't mess with the zombie genre" people), the fans of the book all saying "don't screw it up" and "oh no, it's not set in England" and David Moody, in my mind’s eye, saying "oh no, what are you doing to my baby?" So my process was very, very careful, cautious and respectful.

The final script was 115 pages long which is par for most scripts. I managed to keep my main goals in perspective... the notion that, like the aftershock of 9/11, man does not respond by becoming Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger, but is more prone to sit in corners and experience the shock to the system.

What was the smartest thing you did during production?

STEVEN: Casting Dexter for Michael, Dickon for Carl and David Carradine for Philip.

The dumbest?

STEVEN: See next question. Smile. Really.

What camera system did you use to shoot it and what did you like and hate about it?

STEVEN: The Panasonic DVCPRO HD Varicam. I loved the high picture quality, use of darks and blacks... the options for speeds and the whole cine look bias to the camera! The Sony HD doesn't come close.

However, I hated the fact that in order to preserve the 24 frames per second that we shot the picture in meant that it had to go through a special process called "unwrapping" if you use Final Cut pro. There were no manuals at that time that we could find that tell you this, however, so our work in post was automatically re-conformed with extra frames to 30 fps and screwed up time code on all video and digital masters. Everything needed to be redone. That was the dumbest mistake I made on the film.

Over the Edge, my next film, is to be shot on a RED, so plenty of research on RED and FCP has been done to ensure this never happens again.

How did the film change while shooting ... and while editing?

STEVEN: It suddenly dumped a pile of snow uncharacteristically early that fall and it carried on snowing and snowing... sometimes with blizzards so bad we had to call off shooting because no one could get to set. Lots of rewriting to avoid exterior scenes and to allow for the first snowfall during the shoot so that we could get through at least half of the film before saying "Oh, look it's snowing." I really like the look of zombies in snow, though.

When we got into the cutting room, it seemed that the Bergman-esque style I used to tell the story as a psychological observation of human society in stress was working really nicely. The problem was that the first edit, which looked really good, was 3 hours long, so we had to compress many of the longer Bergman styled moments to shave off the 70 excess minutes.

And, finally, what did you learn from making the film that you can take to other projects?

STEVEN: 1) I learned a lot from working with David Carradine. I wanted it to be like nothing he had ever done before. That meant he had to take some risks and I had to take some directing risks. The risk was worth it because so many were pleased with the outcome.

2) I learned that you need to be strong to work against type in a genre and that when you do, the people that you really want to reach DO actually get it. Tossing away the senselessly ravenous dead zombie prototype can be scary. It forces one to create a different way of delivering horror.

3) NEVER, NEVER EVER! issue a copy of an unfinished cut, with scratch sound and effects, to your interested distributors without a watermark on every frame. Our film was pirated through Asia to bitTorrent and eventually everywhere. So far we are told about 12 million rips of that edit have been and are still being made. On many of the leading rip sites, that unfinished version that was passed around in June is still being downloaded and ranked in the top 20 horror films. The film wasn't finished until October and the work in post was 12 hours a day from June through September so you can imagine how unfinished the June rip was.

However, there is an upside and the fact is that even in that state the film still got a 30+% approval, which means that over four million people around the world were giving it good word of mouth. That would have cost us millions to achieve through traditional advertising means and accounts, in part, for why the film has sold so amazingly well throughout the world and the USA.

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