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Steven Sheil

Steven: "The idea was to make a film about a fucked-up family".

Conducted by Steven Davies
December 19th, 2008

British director Steven Sheil spoke to us about his new and shocking look into the ultimate dysfunctional family, 'Mum & Dad'. We discuss his influences and how his first feature length flick came to light and how he think it'll fare when unleashed to the Birtish public this Boxing Day both on theatrically and on DVD!

Did you draw on any experiences or influences when writing and directing 'Mum & Dad'?
I’m a big horror film fan, so I guess years of horror-film watching fed into the writing. The idea was to make a film about a fucked-up family, because it’s a kind of horror archetype, but not one that has been used too often in this country. So there were a few specific films that fed into it – ‘Frightmare’, ‘House of Whipcord’, ‘Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girlie’ – as well as a whole load of other stuff from Japanese horror cinema to Eastenders. The only thing in the film that was really drawn from experience was the setting – I grew up next to Heathrow Airport, so I know that landscape really well. Contrary to how it might appear in the film, I actually had a very loving and supportive family when I was growing up…

Steven: "I think that audiences will be unsettled by the perversion of the family".

Do you think the recent emphasis and heightened media coverage of cases of child abuse may unsettle many viewers even more so when they watch 'Mum & Dad'?
I think that there has been an increase in the coverage of child abuse cases over the past ten or fifteen years, coupled with a growth in general coverage about children and family – it seems to be one of the big cultural touchstones at the moment, from ‘Supernanny’ to the government fears about ‘feral children’ – everybody seems to have an idea about how parents should behave. I think it’s become more of an obsession in this country than in many other places around the world, and one of the things that ‘Mum & Dad’ does – in the context of being a full-on horror film – is explore the idea of a family who have gone massively off-track, who have ignored society and set up their own set of values and their own twisted morality. I think that audiences will be unsettled by the perversion of the family that occurs in the film, but that’s because the idea of ‘family’ and what it should be, is something that is constantly on everybody’s minds.

How did the shoot go and were there any particular issues you came across?
The shoot went really well – we originally planned for 18 days, but then lost a day early on when Olga – who plays Lena – fell ill. So we had to make up the extra day during the shoot, which was really hard work, but we had a great (and very fast) crew. The hardest thing was just keeping up the pace for the whole time – we just had to work at such a speed that there wasn’t a lot of time for thinking about things – a lot of what we did was decided very quickly, but I tried to be as pragmatic as possible. One night we had 20 minutes left to shoot two scenes – which was going to be impossible – so I sat down with the DOP, Jonathan Bloom and we devised a way of doing it in two shots. And actually it probably works a lot better. It was a great way of getting experience as a director, and a great way of testing yourself, and the film.

Steven: "It's the overall atmosphere and tone of the film that feels most extreme".

How do you feel the cast performed and got on with one another on and off the set?
The cast were brilliant – I couldn’t have hoped for better people to work with. I knew that they were all taking a bit of a leap of faith in agreeing to be in the film – first-time director and producer, low-budget, extreme subject matter – but they all really went for it. They all seemed to bond as well – Toby (Elbie) and Perry (Dad) were living together and formed a bit of a father/son bond, and I think the same went for Dido (Mum) and Ainsley (Birdie). It was a bit more difficult for Olga because she had a really demanding part – she’s in nearly every scene in the film, and has to undergo some quite horrible things in the script – so she didn’t get to have as much downtime as everybody else and also, due to the nature of the script, had a different relationship with ‘the family’, but they all seemed to get on fine, and I think they all keep in touch with each other still.

Did you have any problems with the censors? I would imagine the UK censors would have been fairly conscious of recent abuse stories in the public eye when making their decisions?
The BBFC viewed the film three times, I think, and didn’t request any changes. I was careful when making the film that we didn’t put anything in that would really put us in danger of not being passed – mainly because we couldn’t afford to recut the film or pay the fee to resubmit it – but I wanted to push the film up to the line. I think, if anything, it’s the overall atmosphere and tone of the film that feels most extreme, and that’s hard to cut without banning the film outright.

Will you be returning to helm another horror in the future or are you thinking now about maybe throwing your talents at another genre?
I’ve got another couple of horror scripts that I’m developing, but I’ve also got some non-horror ideas that I’m working up – one’s a sci-fi film and the other one is a really black war comedy.

"Thank you ever so much for taking part in this interview Steven.
And we wish you the very best of luck with the movie's release. 'Mum & Dad' hits UK cinemas on 26th December."

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