Adam Wimpenny, a Screen International Star of Tomorrow, has just wrapped his directorial debut feature, Blackwood. Screen’s Maria Sell visited the set of the supernatural thriller in Surrey.
The film shot for six weeks mainly on location near Guildford as well as in a studio in London and stars Ed Stoppard (Nanny McPhee Returns, The Pianist) and Sophia Myles (Hallam Foe, Tristan + Isolde) as a couple who move to a large country house, Blackwood, with their eight-year-old son (Isaac Andrews). The husband starts to have visions of a masked boy and is determined to investigate a mysterious disappearance that may involve a war veteran, played by Russell Tovey (Him & Her).
The thriller is not only Wimpenny’s directorial debut but also the first feature-length film to come out of Wildcard Films, established in 2009 by Wimpenny, producer Adam Morane-Griffiths and writer Joe Hill.
One of Wildcard’s other projects, conspiracy thriller The Mandrake Experiment (which is scheduled to go into production this summer), was slated to shoot before Blackwood - both were developed concurrently - but when financing fell apart two weeks into prep, the team decided to fast-track Blackwood instead.
The feature is financed entirely through private equity investments, which were channelled through an EIS, with some of the partners initially attached to Mandrake. But as producer Morane-Griffiths says they were happy to come on board for Blackwood as “they are backing the filmmakers”.
This change to Wildcard’s schedule could certainly work to their advantage considering that supernatural and horror films have fared well in the last 18 months as international successes, such as The Woman in Black and horror film Mama. “There’s also a track record in the UK of making supernatural thrillers and it suited our skillset,” says Morane-Griffiths.
He asked business partner and writer Joe Hill to pitch an idea, which they developed over the next 3 ½ years. Hill says: “I had an idea for a reversal within the story for a while, a little bit like Roar [Wildcard’s well-received short film, directed by Wimpenny and starring Russell Tovey and Jodie Whittaker] with the twist. I always wanted to do that particular twist and when he [Morane-Griffiths] asked about a ghost story, I thought actually that’s kind of a perfect fit.”
While Hill admits that he was keen to “write something that’s very much character based and not all about the concept”, inspiration for Blackwood also originated in horror films like Don’t Look Now and The Shining and other staples of the genre from the 1970s and 80s. Hill acknowledges that the thriller also has a Gothic feel to it, but credits Wimpenny as well as production designer Michael Howells (Nanny McPhee, Emma) with making the film “not look too staged, still feeling real”.
Wimpenny reiterates and confesses to re-watching The Shining prior to the Blackwood shoot but deliberately stayed away from some of the most recent “teen/urban youth type” horror films as he is “more interested in the suspense aspects, so it’s more about the tension and the mood rather than being about the gore”. Consequently it’s not an effects based film and everything is done with the camera bar a few “little tricks”, reveals Wimpenny.
Thus, there was a conscious choice to shoot the thriller on the Red Epic (the camera that was also used by Peter Jackson to shoot The Hobbit) with anamorphic lenses from the 1970s that give a softer look and more classic quality. The wide frame of anamorphic lenses also allowed Wimpenny to “place performers hard left or hard right of the frame or out on location to hold the shot for a little longer. He continues, “I find the wider you go with the camera the spookier you can make it when you see dark recesses in the house. It‘s about inviting the audience to look into the corners of the frame, it’s about what you don’t see as much as what you do see in the frame.”
In terms of the casting Morane-Griffiths admits that “when Joe [Hill] was doing a first draft of the screenplay I sent him a photograph of Ed [Stoppard] […] so it’s been subconsciously him. I think Ed’s been in the screenplay all the way through. Because when you see him playing it, he’s perfect.” Morane-Griffiths and Hill also previously worked with Stoppard on the play The Leisure Society (Trafalgar Studios, 2012). Russell Tovey starred in Wimpenny’s short film Roar,and Sophia Myles came onboard through United.
They all agree that the production has been terrific, aside from the snow disruption in late January, which slightly prolonged the shoot and also meant re-shooting some material.
After shooting her final scene Myles reflects that she was attracted to the role because it differs from the usual fare as “most of the times in films, women are in a story to be the object of sexual desire or a love interest and very little else in general”. For Stoppard the quality of the script drew him to the project, saying that “most actors want to tell good stories, so if it’s good on the page […] then you’ve got a good chance of producing something worthwhile on screen”.
Blackwood is now in post-production with delivery expected for later this year.