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Craig Strachan

Craig: "It remains very hard to finance a film out of Scotland".

Conducted by Phil Davies Brown
March 1st, 2006

Finally, a horror movie set in Scotland and filmed in Scotland by a Scottish Director with a Scottish cast!! It's not that I'm overly patriotic, it's just that director Craig Strachan has made it easier for me to stay in my own country and make horror movies.

As regular readers will no doubt know, I've been looking forward to seeing Martin Compston kick Devil Dug ass for months now, and on February 24th the nation will get it's chance as the Werewolf in the woods opus hits Scottish screens.

I practically leapt out of my seat when I was offered the chance to interview Craig as he's successfully done what I aim to do, and that's make horror movies here in Scotland.

Read on to hear two Scotsmen talk about the state of our film industry and all things horror, as well as the recent success of homegrown horror. As my friend Paul would say, Chuffed Pus :-)

Where in Scotland are you from and did you undertake any formal training in film?
I'm from Glasgow, grew up in the suburbs (mostly Milngavie) and spent a lot of time playing as a child in Mugdock Country Park, which was the principal location for Wild Country. I graduated from Glasgow Uni with an arts degree in 1990, and then went to graduate school for Film at Boston University in Massachusetts, graduating from there in 1992.

How did you get into filmmaking?
After Boston I went out to L.A on a one-year work permit and freelanced as a script reader for a number of production companies and agencies. The job was great because it demystified the screenplay for me, it let me see the standard of professional writing, which was not that high to be honest, and I basically thought "I can do that". I returned to the U.K - to London - in 1994 and started writing spec scripts. I optioned my first script later that year.

Did you wonder how on earth you were going to get into the industry living in Scotland, and how did you go about achieving your goal of directing?
Well, as you can guess from above I pretty much thought I would have to leave Scotland to get into the industry. That may have been true 15 years ago, but I don't think it's true now. There were many enthusiastic young people – some Scottish Screen trainees, some not - who worked on the Wild Country crew, who had come from other shoots and were going straight on to other shoots. So I think you can have a reasonable expectation of working in production in Scotland today. It remains very hard to finance a film out of Scotland, however.

Wild Country is set for release next week and is your first fully fledged feature film. What inspired you to write the script, and did you then have to endure a lengthy waiting process, before being able to get the film made?
I'd have to say the birth of my first child, in July 2001, inspired me to write the script. I don't want to sound like Ron Howard or something, but there's a theme of parenthood in Wild Country - primal parenthood, protect-and-defend parenthood, slaughter-anyone-who-looks-at-my-kid wrong parenthood, but parenthood nonetheless. And yes, it took nearly five years from finishing the first draft to get to this point, where the film is about to be released.

Craig: "There's a theme of parenthood in Wild Country - primal parenthood".

How did you go about finding finance for the film?
I sent the script to Ros Borland and Catherine Aitken at Gabriel Films in Glasgow. They raised the money, very slowly and with one-step forward, two-steps back, over the next couple of years. At one point Ros even refinanced her house as a bridge during post-production. That's the kind of dedication you need in a producer, and it’s very rare.

The film has some very familiar Scottish talents included in its cast. Were the more familiar actors such as Martin Compston and Peter Capaldi approached, or did they audition?
Peter and Martin were pretty much offered the parts. We knew we wanted them. Martin did generously come in to read against some of the actors we were looking at for Kelly Ann, the female lead. But we weren't auditioning him. We'd seen Sweet Sixteen!

Samantha Shields is said to be something of a revelation, how did you find her?
She was with an agency in Glasgow. She was actually the first of hundreds of girls we saw for the part. She was very quiet and shy when she first came in, but when she started to read, the character just sort of exploded out of her. She was very much the front runner from the earliest stages - her audition just stayed with us.

I had heard that you lost funding a couple of years back and the project stalled, what happened during this hurdle? Did you use the time wisely to hone the screenplay?
No, the script was pretty much there. I did one rewrite early on for Gabriel, and then we left it alone. We used the time wisely to look for replacement funding!

What are your thoughts on "the film industry" in Scotland?
I think there is a lot of talent in Scotland and a lot of enthusiasm for film. I don't think it has translated into a sustainable industry. Yet. It has a lot to do with what I said before about it being very hard to finance a film out of Scotland alone. You're always having to deal with financiers from London or farther a field who often have issues about Scotland - why set it there? What about accents?

Do you feel that organisations such as Scottish Screen could, or perhaps should be doing more to bring more movies here?
I think Scottish Screen actually does a pretty good job at bringing movies here. They also do a first-class job with their training schemes, building up the local skills base. I think many Scottish-based producers feel they would like to see more support for indigenous projects, but Scottish Screen has a very limited budget, especially when you consider the cost of making movies. It's just not in a position to green light films on its own. It has to work with other sources of finance that are usually outside Scotland. We'll see how Creative Scotland shapes up.

The film was shot in and around Glasgow. Which areas did you shoot in and did you encounter many problems during shooting such as bad weather or any unwanted attention?
The film was shot in Anniesland, Drumchapel, Mugdock (by Milngavie) and Kippen, Stirlingshire. We expected weather problems - we were after all shooting a lot of exterior nights. In Scotland. In November. But it was unseasonably warm and we didn't experience any significant delays at all. Which was just as well – it would have bust our budget. And the only bit of unwanted attention we got was in Drumchapel, when a couple of locals were hanging about the end of the street where we were shooting. They heard it was a werewolf picture and started howling and stuff during takes. But they were just having a bit of a laugh and when we explained to them that it was actually a problem for us they stopped and just watched. No big war stories, I'm afraid!

Craig: "I think we're in a real renaissance of British horror".

Neil Marshall famously uses Scotland in his horror movies, (as setting in Dog Soldiers and in location for The Descent) do you expect comparisons to Dog Soldiers once Wild Country is released?
Yes, I'm sure there will be. Although Wild Country is not "another" Scottish werewolf film. It is the only Scottish werewolf film. Dog Soldiers is great, but it was shot in Luxembourg!

What are your thoughts on recent British horror movies such as 28 Days Later, Dog Soldiers, The Descent, LD:50 and Creep and why do you think they are so popular amongst genre fans of late?
I think they are all great movies and that's why they are popular. Audiences are always right! I think we're in a real renaissance of British horror. I'd just like to claim a bit more of it for Scotland!

People always say you shouldn't work with children or animals yet your feature film debut includes both. How hard was it to work with the werewolf and is it a mixture of practical models and a guy in a suit or are there any special visual effects/CGI etc?
The beast was a mix of guy-in-suit, practical models and a wee bit of CGI. It was challenging to work with the creature, because the FX guys had a number of practical requirements - about how long the creature could work, how long it would take to get him ready and on set after he was called - that were often difficult to work around with our schedule. But that's the territory.

How long did it take to put the film together in post? Did you play around much with the narrative or any certain sequences, or did you always have a clear vision in your head of how you wanted to tell the story?
Well, we wrapped in mid-November 2004 and post finished in mid-March of 2005. So about four months in post. Which was as much about the sound mix as the FX. I really didn't play around with the narrative. I was very focused on delivering the script - perhaps because I wrote it!

What movies could you compare the film to if any in terms of tone and style?
I quite like the Total Film review, which said it was an odd hybrid, a cross between Gregory's Girl and Blair Witch. With apologies to Bill Forsyth!

Are you a big fan of horror movies and is it likely that we may see more horror movies from you in the future?
I am a huge fan of horror and I would love to do another one in Scotland – and soon. Hopefully!

Is there any chance of a sequel?
Depends on how the first one does. I have thought about ways to continue the story.

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

Don't fall behind, make sure you get help
writing college papers fast.


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