At this year’s annual Grimm Up North 3 festival, I was fortunate to represent HCF in an interview with the director, Carl Tibbetts and producer, Gary Sinyor, of the psychological thriller, RETREAT, out now on DVD. I was sitting in the VIP lounge of the Manchester 235 casino, balcony section of course, where I was joinedby Starburst Magazine and Horror Talk. The following interview with Carl Tibbetts and Gary Sinyor was a collaborative one.
Starburst – Why did you get into films?
Carl – It all started when I was a kid, the American Werewolf in London with Rick Baker, his work, that was the reason I went into films.
HCF – What’s your background? Have you been to film school?
Carl – No, I went to art school and did fine art. I practiced as a fine artist for a few years then I taught myself editing and it developed into screenwriting. I then got into editing to be a director because if you don’t go to film school, you don’t get the opportunity to just be a director. You didn’t then, anyway. They couldn’t make the 150 grand feature film that you can now. So I worked in editing and was writing to try and get things going. Retreat was actually the first thing that people responded to and I got out there. People liked it and wanted to make it and allowed me to direct it.
HCF – Have you previously made any short films?
Carl – Not really, no. The reason I wrote it is because I spent years trying to make short films and you can spend something like 6 months of your life preparing for short films, send it off to funding and then get nothing. So I wrote a film originally that I could make on a small scale. It was a big idea on a small scale, that I could get made. It wasn’t ridiculous, I wasn’t trying to write a screenplay that had loads of effects, that nobodies ever going to give me the money for. That’s part of the creation of Retreat. That was the idea.
HCF – Who are your influences in film-making?
Carl – Fairly broad but I’m a big fan of Roman Polanski. Stuff like Cul-de-Sac, Repulsion, The Tenant, Rosemary’s Baby are very influential, style wise and the way he builds tension and his characters. I can only aspire to sort of be like him.
Starburst – How many movies have you produced?
Gary – Well, I’ve produced 7 or 8. I started of as a writer, director and producer and I’ve kind of crossed the boundaries from producing to other roles. I’m known mainly for doing comedies
Starburst – Where did you shoot Retreat?
Gary – Even though it’s set in Scotland, everything was shot in Wales. We were scouring the internet looking for a remote location. I was looking up Iceland, Newfoundland…just typing in ‘remote house for rent’. I found this one in Wales and was talking to the guy who owned it but I was unsure whether it would work. He sent me photos of his other house across the valley that they rent out and I was on the phone to Carl and said “It’s the house! This is the iconic house!”. If you look at it, it immediately has an iconic feel and character. This house is crazy, it’s nuts. It’s got weird staircases in it. You’d never actually say ‘let’s put these stairs in the corner of the house and make them really low’, so you have to bend down when you go up them. It was perfect for us. We were very lucky with that.
Carl – The cottage was fantastic. We found it in the middle of Wales near Portmeirion. The guy who owned the cottage, Plas Llandecwyn it’s called, was related to the people who built Portmeirion. It’s literally in the middle of nowhere. A brilliant place to stage this film and challenging too.
Horror Talk – What was the casting process like, as you’ve got 3 really big stars involved?
Carl – They responded to the screenplay, like everybody, who was at some point, attached to the film. It was about the script more than anything. I hadn’t directed anything so I had nothing to show them. I just went in with my screenplay, storyboards, we talked about it. I think these 3 actors had the opportunity to be in a film where they couldn’t hide behind anything and play roles that maybe aren’t that typical for them. Maybe apart from Thandie (Newton) who may have played a similar role, for Cillian and Jamie they are very different roles. It was four weeks and it was a certain amount of money and that was it. We shot in 4 weeks with 1 week prep. It took me 5 years from the idea to actually shooting the film. It’s 6 years now, as it’s been a year since the shoot. It took a very long time and then I only had 4 weeks to shoot it. We were going to go with studio and then we went with location. You have to accomadate for location and that changed it quite a lot. We had to shoot chronologically ‘cos we couldn’t then unwreck the house because we only had a limited budget.
Starburst – How close is the film to what you were intending?
Carl -It’s close. There’s the old cliche that films are made 3 times. You write them, you direct them and then you edit them. You get half way through the editing process and start thinking ‘this is a complete mess’. Then at some point, it ends up being something like what you started with in the beginning.
Starburst – Do you see Retreat as more of a horror film or thriller?
Carl – It sits uncomfortably in none of those and that’s probably selling the movie badly. It’s like Let The Right One In – is that a horror movie or a thriller? Is the American Werewolf in London a horror or a thriller? It’s more of a psychological thriller. It’s as much about the people as it is about the situation as opposed to horror for horror’s sake.
Starburst – Have you had any censorship issues with getting the right certificate?
Gary – No. I think we’re a 15 in the UK. In America, we’re rated R, which is quite amazing because there’s no sex.
Starburst – What have you got planned for the future after Retreat?
Carl – I’m writing a London based action thriller at the moment and I’ve got a supernatural thriller coming up.
Gary – Retreat is the first thriller I’ve done, but I’ll be directing a thriller I’ve written which I’m very excited about. It’s a really scary premise. It’s about a woman who at the beginning of the film suffers a family tragedy. I wrote this before Retreat came to me. She then starts to have panic attacks which make her go temporarily blind. I’ll be shooting from her point of view so when she goes temporarily blind, so will the audience. I’ve been very desperate to make this and looking forward to it.
The following video is of the subsequent Q+A session after the screening of Retreat. Spoilers ahoy!