Receiving its world premiere at this weekend’s Fright Fest, Crow tells a dark fantasy tale about man vs nature. To celebrate, Horror Cult Films got in touch with movie maker Wyndham Price to discuss tribal communities, “fucked up” folk music and the Welsh woodlands.
Q. What was it about Tim Rhys play that made you want to adapt it to the big screen. And did he retain an active hand throughout the adaptation?
I loved the natural conflict that existed between the two leads. The play was a two hander with Crow, the feral youth, protecting the wood against the brutal developer Tucker. It was essentially just two parallel monologues and not a natural contender for adaptation, but there was something in this tale that was both powerful and representative of the times in which we live. The play was as much social commentary as it was horrific, but the way Crow is mutated by circumstance from an innocent abroad in an uncaring world, to a serial killer, albeit one which we root for, is utterly compelling for me. There’s also the journey Alicia, Tuckers wife, goes on, from trophy wife to the new protector of the wood. All of which really caught my attention. Tim wrote the first draft and I took over. It seemed like a natural thing for us to do. He had a decent stab at it and then I brought some objectivity to proceedings. I felt the piece needed the additional supernatural element and that seemed to work in the evolution from stageplay to screenplay.
Q. The tension between the natural world and an urban one is an old tale, given a fresh spin. Did you have any key influences on your work when developing these timeless themes?
My main influence was my early life experiences. I was brought up in the Brecon Beacons National Park and we were surrounded by nature. The superstitious element was something that we would spook one-another with when we were kids… a kind of green man thing. It was great fun and also extremely frightening. Yet, I have spent most of my adult life in an urban setting, having lived for many years in London, studied in New York and now live in Cardiff. I’m a real townie, I guess, but the rural backdrop of my upbringing… the magical elements are something that is fundamental to who I am. So this wasn’t a huge step for me. I feel deeply that we must inhabit the stories we tell with who we are and that gives it an authenticity; so as much as I am consumed by literary and cultural influences, there must also be an experiential truth. I think this applies to all my work.
Q. The beauty of the Welsh Forest plays a core part – almost a character in itself. How did you settle on a location for the film and what made you pick that one?
Most filmmakers will tell you that locations are always a compromise. Indeed they are, because we have to have the convenience of getting cast and crew there, but I can honestly say that the wood at Coed Hills in the Vale of Glamorgan was pretty perfect. Not too remote, not too big, not too deep or dark. The reality is that Tucker buys a large wood attached to a farm and this is the UK. So while we are playing with people’s sensibilities here regarding the darkness of myth, we also have to give the impression of plausibility. I really didn’t want this to be a tale of the dark wood, but of nature in all its vividness. Hence, the saturation of the colours in the film. The wood at Coed Hills is also an alternative arts space and has many features that were apposite and germane to the story. This all saved incredibly on design costs, since many features were ‘built in’ as it were. The people there are also fantastic and when I shot a couple of scenes from my first movie, Abraham’s Point, there a few years ago, I just stayed in touch. To be honest, everyone, cast and crew were captivated with the place and its beauty. It’s a strange and seductive place!
Q. What sort of consideration did you have when planning the tribe’s rituals and their iconography?
Well to be brutally honest this was where the arts space itself was so profoundly perfect for us, as they regularly conduct a number of rituals there. These include rite of passage rituals, the coming dawn rituals and many, many, more. Once immersed in the location the rest just naturally flowed from there really. The iconography partially came from this and partially from the story itself since it explores the nature of Crow religion. The scarification, the Crow costume, the Great Crow costume, all came from this, but clearly with large input from our creative team.
Q. When it came to exploring the tribe’s mythology did you find yourself planning a lot more than you actually showed? And were you inspired by any groups in particular?
The mythological underpinning the story was heavily researched and yes we planned a hell of a lot more than we showed. Discernment was critical, since this is ultimately a fiction narrative not a treatise. Nevertheless, the mythology behind the piece is a hybrid of aboriginal American culture and Celtic and Druid culture. Despite being separated by continents and millennia, there were many parallels in the belief systems and the religiosity of both societies. The Crow was seen as the overseer of the journey from this world to the next and we say this very clearly in the film. So Great Crow’s sermons in the mind of the impressionable Crow are in fact based on elements of both cultures.
Q. As a director, you’re building an interesting folio of work. What do you look for in a project?
I’m a film nut and my tastes are pretty eclectic, but I’m always drawn to projects with a sense of unease at the heart of the narrative. Clearly, we need conflict in any story… a hero and a nemesis, but we also need internal conflict within the characters where they come to a fork in the road and must make a decision with consequences. Thematically, I’m drawn to stories with sub-textual complexity… and a strangeness that draws the audience in and gives the film a beating heart. I’m a fan of most genres, but I love the flaw in the character even more. That deep quest and search for meaning in a chaotic world. So whether it’s the literature of Paul Auster, or JM Coetzee, the myth of Orpheus in the Underworld to the melodrama of Opera , and on to pop culture in all its manifestations from chart music to Big Brother, I’m drawn to that confluence between conflict and emotional struggle. I love the quest for some kind of particular understanding in a world of chance and ellipses… perhaps a search for emotional equilibrium. Dear me… that sounds pretentious, but I kind of mean it. I am drawn to the dark shadows, to the coincidences that are beyond coincidence. That’s spooky right? That’s at the heart of Abraham’s Point, Dante’s Daemon, Playing Burton and Crow. It will be at the heart of much of my work, I’m sure.
Q. The soundtrack was fantastic. What sorts of consideration went into crafting it?
I felt very strongly that the score should have a bucolic sensibility. We are in the country after all. But I didn’t want cliché. It had to have a suggestion of the rural, but we just didn’t need folksy derivation. I’d heard some of Graham Hadfield’s music and was struck by the scale and beauty of his orchestration. I heard one piece where he used glissando to great effect and felt… that’s it! We need an evolution of this. I was a musician for many years and I guess Graham and I could sit and talk diminished ninths all day, but in the end a film score has to do the impossible, which is to nudge us toward feeling emotion, but without any bathos or sentimentality. Underscore, with subtle tonal shifts and then full on orchestrated score to direct our sensibilities are equally important and I love the way that Graham achieved this. Throughout the process our mantra was…. and please excuse the expletives here, but it kept us on track as it were…. “fucked up folk”. This kept us away from any generic lapses. Anyway, we got there after a bit of toing and froing… the results are great I think. I love Graham’s Score.
Q. When it comes to casting characters as varied as Crow and Tucker, without losing the consistent tone of the film, what were you looking for in the actors? And did the tribe cast spend a lot of time getting to know the woodlands to sell their love for it during the film?
You know there’s always a schematic for casting, but it isn’t always apparent. The whole process is deeply intuitive. Most of it is gut feeling. I knew Nick who plays Tucker and he was the only one I felt could play him with resonant truth. He’s such a London boy really, that he didn’t have to make the giant leap to play Tucker. Yet, he’s an intelligent filmmaker himself and just understood the challenges of the role from the off. Tom on the other hand I’d never worked with, but had seen in Hunky Dory. He had the requisite innocence and charm to beguile the audience into feeling empathy for a serial killer. Elen Rhys is a gem of an actor, who plays emotional complexity with such ease. She just portrays this woman who goes on a journey from urban ‘new money’ to land-loving depth with such plausibility. Emily is a deeply intelligent actor and was wonderful in delivering such depth in her character, that she even rendered a potentially expositional scene with truth and believability. Andrew Howard I have known for many years as we made one of my shorts together and we’d been waiting for an opportunity to work together on a feature. He plays the character of Harley with such strength and power, yet, once again, with great delicacy and sympathy. Likewise with Jason Hughes who’s a dear friend and such a watchable actor. Years and years of TV work means he’s so incredibly dependable and such great fun too. Danny is a wonderful man let alone actor and was amazing, just able to turn up and click into the role like he was born to play it. Terence is an Icon of world cinema and played The Great Crow, with an authority that only an actor of his stature can bring. The reason we cast films is massively complex and multi-various, but if you get it right it seems to make everything else slot into place. They were all a complete joy to work with, which always helps enormously.
Q. The visuals were strong, despite a relatively modest budget. For the effect sequences did you fully capture the images in your head? Or was there more you would have liked to have done with more money behind it?
The simple answer is yes, I would have liked to have done more with more money, but conversely I also wanted a grungy feel to the film that a bigger budget might have contaminated. I find that whether the scene has effects or not, it’s never exactly what’s in your head but that’s part of the beauty of filmmaking. In truth, we could have spent the whole budget of the film on CGI, so there is a compromise here. Regarding the overall look of the film and the cinematography, then I am extremely satisfied and the film has the right tonality for me. More saturated than dark, with lots of movement and scale and we also got to use the full gamut or lenses from macro to extremely wide to extremely long, so I was really happy.
Q. Have you got much planned for your next project?
Yes I’m shooting a very low budget film called No Vacancies in December. It’s an erotic thriller set in a hotel room, which ends in a blood bath! Yes, quite literally a dead body in a bath full of blood. Ha. Ha. We have Joseph Millson and Sarah Jane Potts, together with Rachel Isaacs in the leads, so a great cast and I’m looking forward to it. Then in the spring, I shoot Avengeance, which is a Celtic / Roman, action – revenge movie and will have my biggest budget to date. They both have a darkness about them too! So watch this space! Beyond that I have a film called Lovely Day, which is a moving, funny and sad, rite of passage film concerning a young lads love of Jazz, but then it will be back the dark side with a neo-noir called Exile One Ten. Can’t wait!
Crow screen Sunday 28th August at 18:20. Tickets are available here