To celebrate the release of AAAAAAAAH!, David Hayles spoke with director Steve Oram about the film.
You’ve said the film is based on nature documentaries but there are a lot of filmic references in there as well, like the opening scene of 2001 in there, and the close ups of the eyes was like something from Sergio Leone’s film
Steve Oram: 2001 wasn’t consciously aped – excuse my pun – nor was Sergio Leone – it was all about the intensity of feeling. It mainly came from the idea of observing and being a voyeur – that was my main vibe with it and we worked really hard on that.
The film has no dialogue, but you had a script with the full dialogue in it. Was that just a blueprint?
Scripts anyway are just guides – this was a way to understand what the scenes meant – so the actors knew what their statuses were, what they had to do. The scenes were all very simple – that person is a force, this person is a different force, then they meet and things occur. It was always the idea that the script would be thrown away, never used and never subtitled, and a complete commitment to being a weird ape type thing.
Did you find it a challenge to have no dialogue?
As humans we socialise wrongness and smooth over the cracks with words… in a way animals don’t. If you take dialogue away it’s amazing. It was actually really easy and the actors really warmed to it – it was a challenge to express yourself in ways without words. There’s a director who gets actors to throw the scripts away before they film the scene as a way of understanding the forces – is it Terrence Malick that does it?
What was the filming process like, given it was in ‘ape’?
We got to it from a very extended rehearsal period, workshopping to get the language and tone of it right, that was the main thing. Making sure it wasn’t too jokey, or too jibberishy, because when we originally started doing it, we had these long sections of dialogue – we’d film the first take with dialogue, and then say ‘go ape’; to begin with their were long sections of really boring ape language, a bit baggy, so we got really ruthless and cut it down so that sometimes there would just be a look, rather than actual dialogue.
Toyah Wilcox’s performance is amazing – did you write her part specially?
I didn’t write it for her, and in the casting process it was ‘can we find a 55 yr old woman who’s up for doing these ridiculous things…?’ and she came to mind.
How did you ‘sell’ the final product?
It’s like a slow burn thing – if you give your film away you lose all your money and people just take it – the distribution in this era is a piss take – so it’s a way of combating that – no one funded it apart from me. The deal with Icon and Frightfest came about organically and we were happy with that.
It’s a film you need to watch with an audience to see if you should be laughing at some of it.
Yeah you need someone to put your arm round you at the end!
How have audiences reacted?
At Nottingham, people were pissing themselves all through it… and at the end [the stabbing] they were laughing – which I found astonishing – because it really gets me… they laughed in Birmingham too – maybe it’s a Midlands thing!
It works almost as a companion piece to Sightseers
I guess it’s a slightly nihilistic take on life – so there’s similarities there – that there’s brutality in the heart of everyone… Sightseers was… the character is quite affable, friendly, and he kills people because he has flashpoint… here it is normalised… arms being ripped off… it’s all about displays… the only one who kills is mad – it’s a heightened version of life…
When you look at the trailer on YouTube the sidebar suggestions include ‘Angry thug on Jeremy Kyle Show’
[Laughs]… yes, well, you know… it’s not based on class, it’s about men – they’re not rich or poor, they dress quite nicely, outwardly they’re not thuggish, just ordinary in the way most of us are – they’ve got jobs and they eat well… but it’s just a slightly heightened version of our existence. There’s nothing really in the film that we don’t do – there’s just a slight twist, it’s slightly heightened… you displays every day, just men strutting around, being alphas or pretending to be alphas or… it’s a very male thing to pose and posture – so a lot of that’s about that – in the film I’m physicalising it more in the film, rather than in our lives we’ve absorbed it and naturalised in more subtle ways, but in the film they just go ‘I’m going to fucking hit you with a newspaper’ or ‘I’m going to have sex with your missus on the washing machine just to show you that I’m now in charge’… that was the thinking.
Was there ever a point with this where you thought ‘what have I done?’
That’s always part of the process – doubting yourself and being annoyed and frustrated… I had very low points with it but then I realised it was working at some point.
Who was the first person to see the film?
[Producer] Andy Stark was the first person I showed a rough edit to. It changed a bit but not much from there – all through the process I had very little input from people – carefully chosen people – Sightseers was a very very long development process and we had everyone sticking their oar in and it was really confusing and difficult to get your head round. With this I had concentrated input from people you trust.
Did you film hours and hours of footage?
There was very little stuff we didn’t use because we had 11 days to do it – there’s maybe half a scene we didn’t put in – we were so time constrained. When you’ve got very little money it’s all in the preparation, and it’s testament to the actors.
We’re writing one at the moment – another dystopian comedy sci-fi. There’ll be actually words in this.
Aaaaaaaah! is out to own on DVD and Blu-ray now from FrightFest Presents and Icon Home Entertainment.