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An Interview with Caradog W. James


Caradog: "People said we couldn't get a sci-fi film made for a budget of less than £1 million and we nearly didn't".

Caradog W. James
Interview conducted by John Townsend
18 March 2014

Caradog W. James is a British filmmaker who's new film The Machine is a stylish and frightening depiction of a future where intelligent machines are being developed and trained to wage war.

How does it feel with the film about to finally come out after all the work? There have been some very positive initial reviews but is it a tense time for you?
It is a little, yes. People said we couldnít get a sci-fi film made for a budget of less than £1 million and we nearly didnít, but the thing we didnít understand was that itís very hard to make people aware the film exists once you have made it. The model most films have is to spend the same on marketing and distribution as on producing the actual film and we had nowhere near that. If Iím tense itís because I want to make sure that people go and see it for everyone who worked so hard on the film.

With the low budget how did you achieve the visually striking images you did in The Machine?
Part of it comes down to the fact that John (Giwa-Amuu: producer) and myself come from a short film background before we eventually got together to form Red & Black films. What that gave us is the ethos that with the budgets on short films you need to be as prepared and as organised as possible. That means a lot of rehearsal time as you have limited time on set, restricted locations and so on, and this type of approach allows you to put as much of the money on the screen as possible. The other thing was that people really responded to the script. When we sent it out to potential visual FX companies two of them clearly just wanted to be involved, not really for monetary reasons and they were Minimo VFX in Barcelona and Bait Studio in Cardiff.

There has been justifiable talk of Blade Runner influences in the film but I wondered where the initial idea began for you and did it change and develop a great deal over time?
The script was about 2 years in the writing and for the first year it was mainly about research into robotics, A.I. and then reading about futurists and quantum physics but that became a little hard going. I made notes but didnít always get through them! (laughs) What it did though was give me a grounding and somehow John arranged this off the record meeting with a guy from the Ministry Of Defence who was actually doing all this stuff. He explained how they hadmmapped a slug brain and then a mouse brain, and that now they were working on a chimp brain. If they can then do that to a human then where will it go from there? Where is the humanity if the copy is exactly the same as the human brain? The second thing was that their A.I. was being taught how to interact with the world in the way that mentally disabled kids were taught so I went and spoke to the families of severely autistic children and they were so inspiring that this inspired where Vincentís character came from. I wanted then to base my story in the real world but heavily influenced by filmmakers like Ridley Scott, Stanley Kubrick and John Carpenter for their lighting and sound and atmospherics.

Caradog: "Caity has a dance and gymnastic background so we were able to push it further and further".

Visually the film is stunning but it centres on the relationship between Vincent and The Machine. Was that chemistry difficult to achieve?
This again is a short film technique. We saw a lot of actresses before Caity (Lotz) but she understood in her audition that The Machine is the most human character. For Toby (Stephens) he really responded to the script. What we did though was insist on a long rehearsal period for those two so they could become friends and develop a connection which they did. They also needed to trust me which enabled them to open up on screen.

Did Caity have to undergo any particular training for the role because it becomes very physically demonstrative?
With low budget filmmaking you need a certain amount of luck and we definitely got that with Caity. With the dancing scene it was just me and her in a warehouse and we decided to improvise quite a lot. Then without prompting she did this back flip. Caity has a dance and gymnastic background so we were able to push it further and further and were trying constantly to see what else we could do. On top of all that she has a martial artist background so she ended up doing all her own fights and stunts which was a massive help to the production.

How important is it for directors and production companies to push the boundaries as much as possible within these low budgets given the difficulty with financing in the film industry?
Whatís always driven us is to try and make the kind of films that inspired us. Our ambition was to make elevated genre films that have more meaning and story behind them. Itís a very tough climate to get films made and there is little room for new filmmakers like ourselves to exist. You have to be as ambitious as possible though so we aimed really high and worked really hard with some great collaborators to get The Machine made. As far as actual funding goes we basically went on tour and pitched in front of all these people, a bit like Dragons Den! It was really tough because some people werenít even listening and the last thing they wanted to invest in was a film. People just didnít think you could make a film like this for less than a million but we did.

What are your thoughts on anyone these days having access to the technology required to make a film? Do you think this dilutes the market at all?
I think itís fantastic that anyone can now go out and make a film but the model as I said is a difficult one. Making the film is one thing but it still comes down to the marketing. You can spend £5 million getting a star to get your project made but then spend the same again to get it publicised. New technology hasnít changed that. You might make a great film but itís still possible no-one will hear about it.

Caradog: "Making the film is one thing but it still comes down to the marketing".

You mentioned Kubrick and Scott earlier. Were there other directors who inspired you to become a filmmaker alongside these two greats?
With Scott and Kubrick they were both very interested in composition and lighting and I think thatís also what excites me the most, the creating of an startling image. Itís about something that generates emotion not just from the actor but as a combination of art and craft. What was fantastic about Kubrick in particularly was the way he created layers within the genre, almost smuggling in big ideas and I think thatís a great way to approach filmmaking. Iíd love to be able to copy that, to make a film thatís interesting enough to get people talking.

What will see from you next?
Iím very excited about a horror movie we have on our slate, something in the vein of The Conjuring or The Exorcist. Not necessarily gory but very frightening. What I like about it is that not only does it have something to say but itís very visual as well. We possibly have some interesting projects coming on the back of people liking The Machine which is very exciting.

"Thank you ever so much for taking part in this interview Caradog.
And we wish you the very best of luck in the future."

'The Machine' arrives in cinemas and on VOD on 21 March and on DVD/Blu-ray from 31 March.


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