March 15, 2012

Interview with Simon Rumley, Director of RED, WHITE AND BLUE, etc.

British filmmaker Simon Rumley has gotten a lot of attention in the last couple of years because of his most recent feature-length film, RED, WHITE AND BLUE, which has acquired some buzz since its release and has been considered by many to be one of the more impressive independent genre-films of recent years. Simon, however, has been making films for over a decade, and with the success of RED, WHITE AND BLUE, his segment in the upcoming ABC'S OF DEATH, and a couple of projects in development, it doesn't look like he'll be going anywhere anytime soon, which is a great thing for fans of horror and genre cinema. I recently got in contact with Simon, who was kind enough to answer some questions about his career, his inspirations as a writer and director, and some of his favorite films of the last year.

The Death Rattle: Because of the style of your films and how they're marketed, I'm sure people would be quick to label you as a "horror director" when, to me, your films are more like dramas that tread the waters of horror and extreme cinema. That being said, is "horror director" a moniker you'd embrace, or would you like to transcend genre films and be looked at as a filmmaker first and foremost?
Simon Rumley: I'm happy with the horror director moniker, but I think that comes, really, from people who haven't seen my films, but, as you suggest, just my posters or trailers! I think most people in the horror community who support my films would agree with you too, as do I in fact. I'd like to think my situation isn't different to Korean directors like Kim Jee-Woon or Park Chan-Wook (both admittedly a bit more successful), who flirt with genre but essentially make hardcore dramas and aren't afraid of the violence and extreme human emotions in the way some directors and actually some audience members are. I like horror, always have done, and the community's been very good to me, but, actually, if you look at my earlier work, they were inspired by Richard Linklater and, as well as being favourably compared to his, my films were also favourably compared to those of the French Eric Rohmer, so if you consider my work as a whole it's actually less horror, really.

Death Rattle: Your style of filmmaking and writing seems to come from a pure and genuine place. Has there been a conscious effort on your part to develop your own style, or is it something that just happened over time as you grew as a filmmaker?
Simon: Thanks! Well, I've always written my own scripts, so that has probably something to do with it and yeah, I think it's something which has just evolved really, trying to make everything believable and real so the emotive aspects of the scripts can really hit home. Everything to date that I've done has been grounded in a reality, even though sometimes that reality can get pretty crazy, and, as I continue to write, everything remains in that camp. I'm sure it has to do with the Linklater/Rohmer inspired trilogy that I did and that if they weren't believable then there was nothing to hide behind.

Death Rattle: As a director, who are some of your influences?
Simon: Hmmm… Well, tough to say, but I guess Scorsese is an obvious one, Herzog, Krzysztof Kieslowski maybe not so obvious, but I loved the austerity of his films and the investigation into the human psyche that most of them afforded. Jodorowsky I'm a big fan of, although I can't say his films have influenced my film-making style. Funnily enough, I loved a bunch of Rob Reiner films like STAND BY ME, WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, PRINCESS BRIDE, etc., but again, not sure how much they really influenced me as a film-maker. In terms of more contemporary film-makers, I guess there's the two Koreans I mentioned earlier and Kim Ki-Duk, Aronofsky, and David Fincher.

Death Rattle: What were the films that shaped you as far as becoming the person you are and eventually pursuing a career in the film industry?
Simon: Well I guess when I was a teenager I'd see whatever I could, really - from TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and THE EXTERMINATOR to THE WARRIORS, and THE WANDERERS to THE BREAKFAST CLUB and SIXTEEN CANDLES. TAXI DRIVER was a big influence on me growing up (in filmic terms), as was GREMLINS, STAND BY ME, WIZARD OF OZ, THE WARRIORS to name a few.

Death Rattle: What is usually your starting point when you sit down to write a screenplay? In other words, do you build your scripts around an ending or certain characters you have in mind?
Simon: Errr… Usually an overall concept with a lead character or two, and then building from that concept. I usually have a vague idea where I'm going with the script but not always exactly how to get there. I think I'm more of an instinctive writer in that respect.

RED, WHITE AND BLUE (left to right): Marc Senter, Simon Rumley, Amanda Fuller, Tim League, and Noah Taylor

Death Rattle: On that note, did you write RED, WHITE AND BLUE with Texas in mind? If so, what was it about the Texas setting that appealed to you, and how was shooting there compared to England?
Simon: Yeah, I did. Well, I had the vague story and I wanted to make a film in America rather than England. I thought it'd be crazy just to turn up in Somewheresville, USA and try to get something shot, so, by the stage I started writing, I'd been to Austin a couple of times and had become friends with Tim League, who I had an inkling would be able and, more importantly, happy to help me out. At some point, we spoke and he affirmed this, became Executive Producer on the film and was really instrumental in sorting out a lot of stuff that we needed for the shoot.
For the film, I know I wanted somewhere where there was quite a 'scene' in terms of music and going out, in a place which was varied and large enough for someone to get lost but not large enough that, if that person was found again, it wouldn't be a complete coincidence, as happened to the Erica character in the film…
Everyone from out of Texas (that being me, producer Bob Portal and DP Milton Kam) loved Austin and the people there and the crew - definitely the best shoot I'd been on.

Death Rattle: THE LIVING AND THE DEAD is a personal film for you. Is this something you'd care to talk about?
Simon: Sure - back in 2001/2002, both my parents died. My dad was a surprise but, due to his previous illnesses, this wasn't a complete shock. My mum's descent was a complete shock and completely unexpected. In December of 2001, she was diagnosed with cancer and by March she was dead. The whole experience was completely unreal, surreal, sad, troubling, disturbing, etc., etc., and so I wrote the film as a response to her death, to try to relate all the emotions that I'd gone through as she was dying.

Death Rattle: How do your earlier films, pre THE LIVING AND THE DEAD, differ from your later films?
Simon: As above, I was inspired very much by SLACKER and then DAZED AND CONFUSED and then BEFORE SUNRISE. So I just got on with them, really. There are elements of darkness which run through the trilogy, but there are also a fair few moments of humour. Also, I felt that in terms of directing they were really fly on the wall observations, so my later films have been much more stylistic in terms of editing, visuals and music.

Death Rattle: Recently, you directed a segment called BITCH in the British anthology film LITTLE DEATHS. Was the idea behind your segment something you were sitting on previous to LITTTLE DEATHS, or was it something you specifically came up with for the film?
Simon: Yeah, actually, it was a story I'd had for about 20 years! It was inspired by when I was at university, in bed with my girlfriend at the time, when a spider fell on her and she completely freaked out - I always thought that'd be a really nasty way to take revenge on someone, by making them confront their worst nightmares. As LITTLE DEATHS started to gain pace, I wrote the script and changed the spider to dogs, and there you have it, really.

Death Rattle: Visually, were you trying to go for anything in particular with BITCH as far as using blue filters and red lighting? It's gorgeous by the way.
Simon: Thanks. Well… I like to try different things if I can, and I felt that the blue tinge gave it an unusual feel and a slightly melancholy one at that. I also felt it would provide quite a dynamic contrast to the red light in the dog kennel room. I initially conceived the idea as a black and white film, but, as I rewrote the script, that no longer seemed suitable.

Death Rattle: You're one of many filmmakers partaking in the upcoming ABC'S OF DEATH. Out of curiosity, what letter of the alphabet did you work on and is there anything you can say about your segment that won't get you in trouble?
Simon: Yep, I got letter "P" - my short is called PARAMARIBO, which is the capital of Suriname, which is a country in South America where my DP Milton Kam is from. My segment is about a woman struggling to provide her three young children with a decent upbringing and what lengths she'll go to to make this happen.

Death Rattle: Speaking of which, how did that work out, as far as getting assigned a letter of the alphabet?
Simon: We were each asked to choose four letters of the alphabet about which we'd like to make a film and to submit the titles. In the end I submitted three and got given "P", which I was very happy with.

Death Rattle: Aside from the obvious, like cultural differences and whatnot, how do you think modern-day British cinema differs from modern-day American cinema?
Simon: Good question… I think it falls between the cracks a little bit. For all its shortcomings, there are a lot of exciting and cool films which come out of America, something that, in reality, I'd be hard pushed to say about the UK.

Death Rattle: Just out of curiosity, what were some of your favorite films of the last year?
Simon: Tough one. Well… CONFESSIONS (although I saw that the year before last) I thought was pretty excellent, and then a few non-horror things: LOURDES (quite stunning I thought, but it didn't seem to get much recognition as far as I can work out), I AM LOVE (quite arty, but quite affecting in the end) and I liked DRIVE quite a bit, too, and SNOWTOWN.

Death Rattle: What's next for you? Are you currently working on anything?
Simon: Yeah, I've been writing my first original screenplay since RED, WHITE AND BLUE - an epic crime family drama set in California, and I've also been developing a script with writer Dan Schaffer which is shaping up pretty well. They'll both be finished by April, at which time I'll start pitching them

Death Rattle: Is there anything you'd like to say to the readers and fans out there? Anything you'd like to promote?
Simon: Not really - thanks for reading! And I hope you're looking forward to watching ABC'S OF DEATH as much as I am. I actually saw a trailer for it about a month ago and it was mind-blowing. I had to watch it about 6 times to take it all in. Everyone really looks like they've pulled out all the stops on this one, so yeah, very exciting!

Death Rattle: Simon, thanks so much for your time.
Simon: My pleasure!


  1. Brilliant interview, Aaron. I'm not too familiar with Mr Rumley's film work, but after reading this I really want to dive head first into it! I'm kicking myself because The Living and The Dead was on The Horror Channel here quite recently and I didn't get to see it. I love the types of dark dramas you guys discuss here; films that don’t fall firmly into the 'horror' genre, but still lurk on its murky periphery. Like Simon said, these films can so often be much more powerful because the makers aren't afraid to portray the dark extremities of the human condition. The work of Aronofsky and Gasper Noe springs to mind. Very intrigued to check out Red, White and Blue now.

    Keep up the great work!

  2. Excellent! Loved both The LIving and the Dead and Red White & Blue. Rumley has such fantastic and unique skill at crafting complicated, believable characters and getting fantastic, pitch-perfect performances from his casts. Great interview and I can't wait to see what he does next.

  3. Awesome interview! I've heard of his movie Red, White and Blue through the horror community but never watched it. I might pick it up though. :D