Hammer Studios and The Woman In Black Q&A
Director James Watkins, screenwriter Jane Goldman and Hammer head Simon Oakes on their new scarer
Why the Woman In Black?
Simon: Well, it's a classic British ghost story I suppose. The play is an adaptation of the book, and it's very well done, but we felt it was a fantastic project to draw out many of the ideas that Susan touched on in the book but didn't really draw out.
Jane and James, how are you going to keep it scary?
James: Well, we're just trying to write a scary film then shoot a scary film.
Jane: Well, I think it's a scary story, and what's great about the play is that it managed to conjure that up with very little beyond the imagination.
James: There's a lot of film grammar you can draw on. Jane's written a wonderful script, and it's basically my job not to screw it up. I don't want to get technical, but the way we shoot it, the sound design and all those things will contribute. Recently we've had those great films like The Others or Guillermo del Toro's work, but there hasn't been a British ghost story, so I think there's an opportunity to make a great British ghost story that's classy and scary but has some of the feel of those films.
What's the story?
Jane: It's the story of a young solicitor who's given the rather duff job of going to sort out the estate of a lady who's just died in a remote village. He gradually begins to uncover a story that happened there long ago, which the villagers still know about - that's a terrible description but there you go.
How did you persuade Radcliffe to come onboard?
James: He read the script, he loved the script, and we met in LA -which is weird since we both live in London - and he loved it. He's obviously finishing Potter and he's just looking for new things. He's a very smart guy, very talented.
The original Hammers have a really distinct feel. Are you trying to emulate that?
Simon: Hammer was a broad church as you know. They had their mini-Hitchcocks in the late 1950s, the Draculas and so on. I think it's a broad church in terms of themes, and what I've done is look at how the DNA would transfer to now. Obviously those films were overtaken by the urban myth films coming out of the US in the 1970s, Exorcist and so on. So now we're not trying to do remakes, we're asking what would Hammer be today. So Woman in Black is a classic story, and it's the right time to bring that sort of thing to the fore.
Jane: I'll be wearing a white nightie on set in tribute. I think what Simon's intending to do wtih the new Hammer is to bring in filmmakers with their own vision, and each will have their own look rather than a house style, but that's something that evolves organically.
Simon: Hammer had a house family of actors and so on, but the world has changed in that way. From the point of view of creators and writers, I'd like to think we can have the same sort of thing, in terms of creative family.
The play's very much built around having just two people in the cast, and the shock ending ties into that. How is that translated into film?
Jane: The theatre adaptation is absolutely tied into the idea that it is a theatre production, but in that way the book is different, but without that framing device, which is just done for the theatre.
Jane, can you tell us anything about Kick-Ass 2?
Jane: I wish I could. At the moment it's still incredibly early days. Mark Millar has completed the comics. In terms of the movie, everybody involved would love to do it, but we're waiting and seeing.
The Woman in Black film that's already out there scared the bejesus out of me as a kid. One of the things that made it scary was that it was all in camera. Will you keep that or use CG?
James: We probably don't have enough money to have lots of CGI. From a personal point of view, I think it's more interesting in camera. Christopher Nolan, Danny Boyle and so on do everything in camera. Just look at the difference between 28 Days Later and I Am Legend. They're worlds apart. Flesh and blood every time.
How about X-Men: First Class?
Jane: I think it's in my contract that I actually get killed if I say much. It's going really well and I am very excited. I watched a bunch of pre-viz yesterday and went home feeling so excited. We start shooting in about three weeks. We have an incredible cast and we're all very excited. When I came to visit this set the other day, they're across Pinewood, and there were X-Men people walking around in bathrobes.
How about Let Me In? Simon, you're a producer on it.
Simon: That finishes mixing the sound tomorrow at Skywalker Ranch. Our version, we probably have to win you over, but it's going to be wonderful. It opens at the LFF, but Chloe Moretz is wonderful, as is Kodi, so we're very much looking forward to it.
Jane, when you're adapting a book, what's the mechanic? Lots of underlining?
Jane: I actually write down a breakdown of the source material, scene by scene, and then I go through that document. But I don't write on books, I don't deface them. It's probably having lots of library books as a kid. But in a document you can move things around and that's useful.
You met the book's author Susan Hill?
Jane: Yes, she's been so supportive and so complimentary. I absolutely adore her, she's been great. She's a great woman and a force of nature.
In terms of reinventing Hammer, are you looking to British actors, or foreign stars too?
Simon: The truthful answer is we're driven by script and talent and directors, so we don't pre-cast. I think the idea of a house style is more difficult to achieve these days, but we're very open-minded. We're making this film in the UK, but we made two in the US last year, Let Me In and The Resident. The latter has Christopher Lee in it, which was a symbolic moment.