Screen speaks to James Nunn and Ronnie Thompson, directors of Tower Block which received its world premiere as this year’s FrightFest closer.
On the surface, Tower Block might have seemed an odd choice as a FrightFest closer: a taut thriller rather than outright horror, the choice was vindicated by an ovation following its world premiere on Monday night; its success probably sealed from the moment the first head exploded over the screen, at the start of a deadly siege between a skilled sniper and the last residents of a soon-to-be-demolished tower block.
“I’m absolutely delighted. It couldn’t have gone better,” believes co-director Ronnie Thompson. “I’d like to really thank the FrightFest gang for really supporting us. It’s a real privilege they did that because they’ve given us the platform for our film and I want to thank the fans for getting behind our film.”
Co-director James Nunn agrees: “We had such a fantastic premiere and I certainly was overwhelmed with the response with the audience gave us. There’s so much British product at the moment which isn’t making the numbers at the cinema, it would be fantastic for Tower Block – given we’re so pumped on the reception [at FrightFest] – to find a really decent cinema audience.”
Approached by producers James Harris and Mark Lane, who had worked with the directing duo before, Nunn and Thompson had been looking for a project to direct for their debut and Tower Block ticked the right boxes. “We read it and had some good ideas, so we met [screenwriter James] Moran and we all had this creative synergy from the start,” explains Thompson.
Given that both directors were influenced by the same films and directors, John Carpenter among them, their approach was to create a film more in-tune with international horrors, rather than kitchen-sink gritty British dramas. And with only around a year between receiving the script and the delivery of the film, Nunn and Thompson’s partnership was one that clicked instantly.
“We created rules early on about how we were going to tackle the film and played to each other’s strengths – Ronnie’s storytelling ability and my technical language ability,” states Nunn. “Then there was obviously crossover between the two of us on the day and in prep. It was a real organic easy process.”
Not that the shoot wasn’t without the usual problems that hamper most films – “time, budget and things like that,” outlines Thompson – and also a more painful problem for one of the film’s main stars, Sheridan Smith. “During one of our fight scenes, because all the guys were doing their own stunts, Sheridan had a dodgy punch which landed on her sadly but she was a total trooper. Everything was dealt with correctly and she just jumped straight back in doing another close-up for it, so she was an absolute star,” recalls Thompson.
What also helped the duo was that, aside from three scenes which they shot two different versions of as they disagreed on the approach, they were on the same page throughout the making of the film, characterised by the fact that the duo are planning further projects together.
“Jim and I are working on another big horror movie next year but we’re actually doing two films on our own, and it’ll be interesting to see how our styles are in comparison to Tower Block,” notes Thompson. “I personally think the styles will be pretty damn similar because Jim and I have very similar visions and views of what qualifies as a good film.”
As for Tower Block, alongside a UK release on Sept 21 through Lionsgate, it’s set to play in Fantastic Fest and Sitges, with SC Films already selling it to the likes of Germany (Universum), Japan (Nettai Museum) and France (Swift). So are the directing duo worried about how it’ll translate internationally?
“Part of our original discussion about how to tackle the project is we wanted it to translate in all sorts of countries and it’s the reason, although the film’s set in England, we never really give it a specific location with regards to the East End or London or anything like that,” explains Nunn. “The idea was we could pick up that tower block and put it in any country and it’d still be the same and the characters will be the same.”
Thompson adds: “There’s always going to be certain elements that won’t translate as well as you’d hope, perhaps regional accents, but I think as far as story goes and the movie goes in itself, there are tower blocks everywhere.”