Q: Your known for your work in blockbusters such as Clash of the Titans, was doing a smaller budget film a conscious decision?
Gemma Arterton: "I'd just come off this big action/adventure movie where I'm playing a princess," she explains, "So I wanted to do something completely different."
Q: What were your thoughts when you first read the script?
Gemma Arterton: "This was psychological, very modern and really full on. It was such a page-turner and I thought 'It'd be great to be involved in something where the audience are on the edge of their seats'."
Q: Did you identify with the character of Alice?
Gemma Arterton: "She's different to me in that she's from quite a well-off background. But she's cool - really feisty. When you first see her you think she's a complete victim, but she turns it around - she's intelligent and has get-up-and-go, so that's why I identified with her."
Q: How did you prepare for the role?
Gemma Arterton: "I always do a back-story for every character I play, and it seemed particularly important here because she's just a normal girl from a normal life, but in order to make the character believable and to get the audience on her side, you have to think about the back 5 story. She's really the human focus in the movie so even if she isn't likable at first, ultimately you want the audience to want her to succeed."
Q: Were you nervous about the physical aspects of the film?
Gemma Arterton: "One of the things that attracted me to the film originally was the physical aspect of the performance, because I did a lot of physical theatre before I started in film. Being tied up, being restricted, those things completely inform what's happening emotionally, which is really helpful. So sometimes when the camera's not on my whole body I'll still insist that I'm completely tied up, just because it does help that feeling of panic or claustrophobia." In spite or perhaps because of the dark nature of the film, the experience proved rewarding: "I think 'Wow, if I've done this, I can do anything now."
Q: And the shooting style and time must have been completely different then what you've been used to on some of the bigger films you've worked on?
Gemma Arterton: "I prefer this kind of tight schedule," Gemma Arterton agrees, "because you have to work on your impulses and instincts all the time. When you have a lot of time, you can get everything right but sometimes you can lose your way a little bit, rather than being on the front foot all the time. Some people work better that way, but I completely don't. So even though it's really stressful and you're constantly wondering if you got it right, if you got the shot, that's exciting and a challenge, and I think my best work comes out that way."
Q: How did you find working with J Blakeson?
Gemma Arterton: "It's such a luxury working with someone who knows the script so well. Sometimes when you work with a writer they can be very precious about it, but he's grateful for what else we can bring to it, and he knows film so well that he's brought something quite original to it."
Cast: Gemma Arterton, Martin Compston, Eddie Marsan
Director: J Blakeson
Run Time: 90 mins
Starring Gemma Arterton (Prince of Persia), THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED is a taut thriller from up and coming director J Blakeson.
Two Ex-Cons(Eddie Marsan and Marton Compston) kidnap the daughter of a wealthy businessman to make a mint on the ransom. Their seemingly foolproof plan begins to unravel as it becomes clear their hostage, Alice Creed (Gemma Arterton) isnt going to let her captors use her as capital without a fight. Determined to escape, Alice enters into a battle of wits against her two kidnappers. As the deadline for the exchange draws nearer, all three are bought close to breaking point in a desperate struggle for survival.
The DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED is a scorching kidnap thriller from first-time director J Blakeson. All three leads shine and in particular Arterton delivers a gritty and gutsy performance as Alice.
Audio commentary with Director
Making of - featurette
Extended Scene with commentary
The Disappearance of Alice Creed DVD RRP: $39.95
The Disappearance of Alice Creed Blu-ray RRP: $49.95
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About the Production
The Emergence of Alice Creed
The genesis of the script for The Disappearance of Alice Creed comes from a rather unlikely source. "I'm a big fan of Billy Wilder," says writer-director J Blakeson, "and of that idea he used of taking one moment from a film and basing an entirely new film on that one moment - as when he based The Apartment on one moment from Brief Encounter.' Billy Wilder's inspiration for his acerbic 1960 classic famously derives from a scene in Lean's film, in which a friend, Stephen, loans out his flat to Alec for an illicit tryst with Laura. Fascinated by this minor character's situation, Wilder used Stephen as the basis for The Apartment's C.C. Baxter. 'Obviously this is a very different movie,' J Blakeson continues, 'but I thought that was a neat way of getting inspiration, and I knew I wanted to write a very contained film. So I was actually watching Ron Howard's Ransom and in between all of the phone calls to the police and the wire taps and the chases, there's one scene where you see a member of the gang caring for the kidnap victim, which got me thinking about the kind of relationship that could form in such an intense situation. I started writing, and that was the beginning of it. Ultimately I wanted to create a kidnap movie in which you see nothing of the kidnap itself, or any of the standard things you'd usually see in this kind of film."
With a mind to directing the film himself, the taut, streamlined nature of J Blakeson's screenplay for Alice Creed is also the result of some self-imposed restrictions. "I knew from that experience that if I was going to write something for me to direct, I needed to pare things down considerably, so I set myself some rules: that 80% of it would take place in one location and that it would have no more than three characters. And those rules were a real inspiration to me, because they forced me to think about how to get the most out of this setup, and ultimately that meant really developing the characters."
Busy with his developing career as a screenwriter and shooting another low-budget short, a dark two-header entitled The Appointment, J Blakeson put the Alice Creed screenplay away in a drawer, until a potential commission to write a psychological thriller came along. "I sent in Alice Creed to my agent as evidence that I could write something in that genre, and she really liked it and suggested we send it out. So lots of people read it, I got a lot of meetings, but nobody wanted to make it at that time." Then the screenplay found its way to CinemaNX, "who liked it but didn't really think it was their thing - until I mentioned that I was thinking of changing the ending, at which point they became more positive. Once I'd pitched them the new ending they said 'yes'."
To oversee what was going to be a very tightly scheduled operation, CinemaNX went to Adrian Sturges. "I'd had a general meeting with CinemaNX because they'd seen my previous film, liked it and wanted to see if we might find something to work on together," he recalls, "I'd also known Josie Law, CinemaNX's head of development, for a long time and she had read J Blakeson's first draft which she passed on to me and I really liked it, so then they went away and decided to make it. So we entered into a process of very rapid development, coupled with a commitment to shooting the film early in 2009. I read the script in September and we went into production in February, which is unusually fast but a testament to how interesting the script was to people."
Having struggled for so long to get a feature made, the sudden turnaround took J Blakeson by surprise. "It was bizarre because it hadn't been easy to get to that point, but as soon as we did, it all happened extremely quickly." For Adrian Sturges, however, the accelerated pace of development and production was not entirely unfamiliar. "I'd actually had a very similar experience on my last film in some ways, because if you choose to be a bit crazy and try to make a film just after Christmas, you get the benefit of a lot of people who are not currently working on anything else because the industry's quiet at that time. As a result we got a really good crew together. So, yeah, it was tough, but I was really pleased with the quality of the cast and crew we were able to assemble."
Captive and Captors: Characters and Casting
With only three characters in the entire film, the success of casting process for The Disappearance of Alice Creed became even more crucial. As J Blakeson observes, the pressure was on 4 to "get the right three people, and the right combination of people." Adrian Sturges concurs. "We knew we had to get very distinctive actors, because it was the casting which would be the trigger for the greenlight."
So began a search for the three people who would take on the roles of Alice, Vic and Danny; a search that was concluded only a couple of weeks before the cameras were due to roll. "In a way it was liberating," J Blakeson comments, "it was horrible, but it was liberating. It meant that if anyone was busy in February they were off the list." Despite the time-pressure, the end result was to everyone's satisfaction. "We had a really great casting director called Lucy Bevan, who did a fantastic job. And we definitely got the right three people," J Blakeson concludes, "because they've been amazing and given everything."
Gemma Arterton is Alice Creed
The role of Alice was quite a departure for Gemma Arterton. "I'd just come off this big action/adventure movie where I'm playing a princess," she explains, "So I wanted to do something completely different." However different it may have been, there was no doubt in anyone's mind about Gemma Arterton's suitability for the role. As Adrian Sturges recalls, "Gemma Arterton was the first person we saw, and she was amazing - we were just very lucky to catch her between these big juggernaut films she's been working on." J Blakeson was equally enthused. "She came in and read, and within about twenty seconds I was thinking 'Let's hire her now. Right now'."
Reading the script, Gemma Arterton knew this would be the challenge she was looking for. "This was psychological, very modern and really full on. It was such a page-turner and I thought 'It'd be great to be involved in something where the audience are on the edge of their seats'." Alice's personal situation, too, provided some interesting contrast. "She's different to me in that she's from quite a well-off background. But she's cool - really feisty. When you first see her you think she's a complete victim, but she turns it around - she's intelligent and has get-up-and-go, so that's why I identified with her."
We know so little about Alice at the outset, how does an actor cope with that lack of information? "I always do a back-story for every character I play, and it seemed particularly important here because she's just a normal girl from a normal life, but in order to make the character believable and to get the audience on her side, you have to think about the back 5 story. She's really the human focus in the movie so even if she isn't likable at first, ultimately you want the audience to want her to succeed."
Although she admits to having been daunted by the intensity of Alice's ordeal, which involves going through things most people have never had to experience, this was one of the elements which drew Gemma Arterton to the role. "One of the things that attracted me to the film originally was the physical aspect of the performance, because I did a lot of physical theatre before I started in film. Being tied up, being restricted, those things completely inform what's happening emotionally, which is really helpful. So sometimes when the camera's not on my whole body I'll still insist that I'm completely tied up, just because it does help that feeling of panic or claustrophobia." In spite or perhaps because of the dark nature of the film, the experience proved rewarding: "I think 'Wow, if I've done this, I can do anything now."
Eddie Marsan is Vic
Although the search for Alice was over, Adrian Sturges explains that "Casting Vic took a little bit longer, partly because we modified our thought process about the character." Eddie Marsan came to mind in part because he and Adrian Sturges had worked together before on a short film and had stayed in touch. Adding to the connection was Eddie Marsan's previous work with CinemaNX on Richard Linklater's Me and Orson Welles and Philip Ridley's Heartless. "I got a phonecall from Marc Samuelson," Eddie Marsan explains. "I'd just dropped my kids off at school, and Marc Samuelson said 'Eddie Marsan, would you like to make it three films in the Isle of Man in a year?' So when I read the script and saw how good it was, I knew that with a good Director of Photography and a good company like CinemaNX behind it and with Adrian Sturges producing I'd be in good hands."
"It was great to collaborate again," says Adrian Sturges. "What's brilliant about him is that he's a real actor's actor, who's been in such strong dramatic roles such as Scott in Happy- Go- Lucky, but he's also got this American presence because of films like Gangs of New York and Hancock. Not many British actors have that kind of dual career." Another element of Eddie Marsan's appeal as an actor, Adrian Sturges observes, is that "he's so capable of being both frightening and sympathetic onscreen". The character of Vic provided ample opportunities for both. "Vic's a great part," says Eddie Marsan of his role. "He's in one sense the senior of the two kidnappers. He's the one who's planned everything and he's the most experienced, but he's also the more volatile of the two."
Despite Vic's actions, Eddie Marsan found ways to relate to the role. "The question you ask is: if I was in this position, what would I do, how would I feel and think? And then you have to use your imagination to tap into it. I never find it hard to sympathise with characters. I don't justify them, but I can understand why they do the things they do - and it's easy in this case because it's a well-written script, it's very clear what the characters want to achieve. It means it's very easy to learn the lines and the context is very clear. It's bad scripts that are harder to deal with."
Martin Compston is Danny
Finding the right actor for the role of Danny proved by far the longest and most difficult part of the process. "We said we wanted a young Colin Farrell, and that was quite hard to find. We'd cast Gemma Arterton, and we'd cast Eddie Marsan, which was great, but with two weeks before the shoot we still hadn't cast Danny," J Blakeson says, describing a search which came right down to the wire. "It's quite a difficult role and we saw a lot of people that weren't right," adds Adrian Sturges.
It was only when Martin Compston's name came up in their continued discussions that something seemed to click. "I'd seen Martin Compston in Sweet Sixteen and Red Road," recalls J Blakeson, "and thought he was brilliant in Red Road, but he was up in Scotland so he sent down a video audition which we thought was very good, but we wanted to see him together with Gemma Arterton, to see how they worked together. When they read together it worked brilliantly, so that was that."
This ideal piece of casting nearly passed them by, however. "I was actually thinking about going to America when I got the script through," Martin Compston explains, "and in a way I wasn't keen to read it because I thought with Gemma Arterton and Eddie Marsan being involved, I'm going to be really disappointed if I don't get this part and I'll end up going to America on a bit of a downer. Then I read it and knew I really wanted the part," Martin Compston explains. Any pressure he felt about the meeting in London was soon dispelled. "It was probably the nicest audition I've had in my life. They were just coming in from lunch, so they offered me some food and we sat and chatted for about an hour. It was great because you could see that they wanted you to do well, which always gives you a bit of confidence." It was clear to all concerned that they had finally found Danny. "It was just a huge relief to get someone as good as Martin Compston so close to the shooting date," says J.
For Adrian Sturges, Martin Compston had the ability to convey qualities in Danny which had eluded other candidates for the role. "It was evident that Martin Compston had that mixture of charm and a passionate side that could easily be pushed into - not violence necessarily but certainly less socially acceptable behaviour. That's something he'd shown in his earlier work, and it definitely helped that he'd come via a different route from many of the actors in London who have been through that standard drama school process."
How would Martin Compston sum up his character's rather unlikely charm? "The best way to describe Danny is probably as a manipulative little fucker! It's a cracking part for a young guy to play. He's not the master criminal, Eddie Marsan's character is running the show it seems and Danny is just a lackey, but as you find out he's actually playing along for a reason, playing everyone against each other." The character's hazy motivation led Martin Compston to consider the roots of Danny's current situation. "You kind of imagine that he's been a petty criminal but that it's escalated and that's how he's ended up in a more hardened prison environment and how he met Vic."
Whatever Danny's failings, Martin Compston found himself warming to the character. "I actually like him in a way, because he's very opportunistic and just lives in the moment, which is great to play as an actor. He doesn't think about the consequences and ends up entangling himself in this web of lies. But of course one lie covers another, and he never really thinks about where it's going and he just sort of tries to cover himself for the next ten minutes."
Deadlines, Deadlines: The Shoot
Shot entirely in the Isle of Man, partly on a custom-built set and partly on location, the schedule for The Disappearance of Alice Creed meant there was no time for error. As the film's Director of Photography, Philipp Blaubach, observes: "When you have a tight schedule you think 'Oh, it's quite nice to get it done quickly, another one under the belt' - but of course that comes with a lot of restrictions." For J Blakeson, those time constraints proved to be the real test. "I had shot-listed this film and had something in the region of two thousand shots - and I think in the end we probably took 500! So I was constantly scaling down. I had such high ambitions and such a short amount of time, and I was working very closely with Philipp Blaubach and Toby, the First Assistant Director, to try and get enough footage to tell the story, but also to make sure it looked striking and cinematic. There's a reason people opt for the shaky, handheld approach, because it makes everything so much easier."
That was not the route they chose to take, however. "J Blakeson wanted to make a more stylised, composed, carefully storyboarded film, with some quite intricate shots," explains Philipp Blaubach. "That kind of film would normally take much longer to shoot." It was up to Philipp Blaubach to find a way through these contradictory issues. "Making a film with such a short schedule has been done before, but it's obviously tight, especially because we're shooting with a single camera most of time. You have to work very fast and find a style that is very efficient."
The single set also presented certain problems. "Working in a studio we don't necessarily have a ceiling throughout the set - you can't just point the camera anywhere - so initially I was concerned about to what extent the setting would limit the cinematic feel," Philipp Blaubach comments. "Actually I don't necessarily think there's a contradiction between shooting on one set and it being cinematic - and overall it was a good challenge."
While shooting the interiors proved tricky, Adrian Sturges notes that the final week of exterior shooting proved even more complicated. "Once we were in the studio and we knew we were all in that apartment, it was straightforward because we knew there were certain targets we had to hit every day," he says. "The craziness came at the very end, when we were trying to shoot all of the location stuff in one week, which meant we had to be quite open to accepting whatever weather we got, changes in light and so on."
The timeline for the shoot only served to underscore the psychological force of the film's content. Because it was shot largely in chronological order, by the end of the first day the crew were witnessing the scene in which Alice is dragged kicking and screaming into what will become her prison. "We did about five takes," J Blakeson says, "and it was terrifying. Gemma Arterton really threw herself at it, so she was screaming and writhing and it was all very full-on. Then on the second day we covered what happens when they get her into that room: tying her up and so on, including some nudity from all three of them. So by the end of that second day the entire cast had been naked. Of course you want everyone to feel safe, particularly with Gemma Arterton tied up for shot after shot, so although everyone was fine it was still pretty intense: it's disturbing on screen, but even more so when you're in the room."
It was precisely that intensity, both in terms of the schedule and the nature of the film, which drove the three actors. "Every single day is so full on, because the script is so relentless," comments Martin Compston. "On bigger budget films you can lose a lot of the connection with what you're doing, because you do have this total sense that 'This is a movie,' and you do lose a lot of the energy. Whereas here, every day you're tying somebody up, having a gun at your head or a knife at your throat, or gagging somebody. If we'd had two months we'd have had too much time to think about it and would have got lost."
"I prefer this kind of tight schedule," Gemma Arterton agrees, "because you have to work on your impulses and instincts all the time. When you have a lot of time, you can get everything right but sometimes you can lose your way a little bit, rather than being on the front foot all the time. Some people work better that way, but I completely don't. So even though it's really stressful and you're constantly wondering if you got it right, if you got the shot, that's exciting and a challenge, and I think my best work comes out that way."
No stranger to blockbuster filmmaking, Eddie Marsan observes: "The trick with both a tight schedule like this and a much more generous schedule is keeping your own creative juices flowing. So one challenge is maintaining that during the tight schedule, and the other is keeping your powder dry while you wait for them to set up Visual Effects shots. You have to achieve the same thing, the same outcome, it's just that there's a different discipline in maintaining your creative juices."
The speed of the shoot was undoubtedly aided by the decision to shoot in HD rather than on film. "We certainly had a ton of footage, which is obviously one of the results of using HD," says Adrian Sturges, "but that's great for the actors because you can let the camera run and see what happens. This is my first film on HD, and it changes things a lot, but I'm really happy with the results." For J Blakeson, too, shooting in HD was both a new and positive experience. "It gives you such a cinematic look," he says "and the best thing about it is that what you see on the monitor as you shoot is pretty much what you're getting, so there's less left to chance."
Ultimately the accelerated production process and its unique pressures meant for a positive experience all-round. "It was great because if I'd had a year to fret about it, I'd probably have become terrified," J Blakeson says, "but I had no time to be scared, no time to worry, I just had to get on with making it and trust more in my instincts." 10 "It's the unexpected elements which make it a proper movie," Adrian Sturges concludes. "If everything had turned out how you'd planned then it'd be boring."
The Appearance of Alice Creed: Creating the Look and Feel
The sources of inspiration for Alice Creed's look and feel were - given J's origins as a film student - suitably eclectic. In preparation, the director "watched a lot of films that are based around one location - Repulsion, Shallow Grave, The Shining and so on. That sense of growing unease you get from The Shining really inspired me."
In terms of the visual style, Philipp Blaubach notes that "We talked about David Lynch in terms of colour and mood. We wanted to create something non-naturalistic, with a certain amount of artifice and style." That mindset led to the use of an ARRI D21, an HD camera which behaves much as a film camera would in terms of lenses, and to careful choices about the lighting scheme and shooting ratio. "We used a very soft neon light a lot, particularly in the bedroom, to give it a kind of 70s sci-fi look," J Blakeson points out, "and we shot in 2.40:1 widescreen. Basically anything that made it look more cinematic." Adrian Sturges concurs, "One thing we've always pushed is to make sure that it's never too contained, or theatrical. We've endeavoured to make everything - from the set design to the sound - feel as cinematic as possible, and I hope people watching the finished film will think we've achieved that."
To compose the film's score, Adrian Sturges and J Blakeson chose Marc Canham, previously known primarily for his work on videogames, from a shortlist pulled together by music supervisors Marc Marot and Claire Freedman. "They wanted to take a punt on me," Marc Canham says, "which was great of them since I didn't have a track record of doing films." In fact, it was this lack of film work which drew J Blakeson to Marc Canham's showreel. "It sounded the least like a traditional film score, and I liked that," J Blakeson explains. "Of course with videogames he's worked with big orchestras and he'd done plenty of composing for picture, but he hadn't done it so much that he'd started to fall into the trap of taking shortcuts - so what we heard was fresh and original. He brought a lot of new ideas to the table and that was kind of exciting." Adrian Sturges similarly was intrigued by the idea of helping a composer move from one area to another: "on The Escapist we'd worked with Benjamin Wallfisch who comes from a modern classical background - he went on to be nominated for a Ivor Novello and World Soundtrack Award for that score - and for Alice Creed I was interested in trying another angle again. My brother - who is a major gamer - always told me to think about using games composers for films and Marc Canham's skills and enthusiasm got him the job.
For Marc Canham, having worked on videogame projects for several years, the shift to film scoring meant a different kind of engagement. "With film there's a continual emotional journey with the picture, which means you have a relationship with the film far more than you do with a videogame," he observes. "With games you write in a 3D way, because very often the majority of the game soundtrack is interactive," he adds. "You're not writing with a linear set of events, it's more a case of: they could go left, right, they could have a gun or a sword. With film it's just a continuous flow, so you are always on an emotional edge."
Having been into film scores from an early age, Marc Canham had some very clear ideas about his aproach; ideas that were echoed by J. "I don't like film scores that tell the audience what to think all the time," Marc Canham explains, "so it was nice for my first film to work with someone who was anti telling the audience what to think before they should think it, and who wanted to let the music sit far more naturally alongside the dialogue and the picture." J Blakeson concurs: "We knew we wanted this shifting, uneasy music that didn't give the audience there reactions on a plate, that didn't tell them what to feel. We just wanted it to support the characters, while contributing to this growing sense of unease and unpredictability."
J Blakeson also appreciated Marc Canham's slightly off-centre approach to instrumentation. "What's great about Marc Canham is that he didn't come at it thinking 'Right, well we'll start with the strings and the orchestra.' Instead he went off and played around with some instruments for a few days until he found what he thought was the right character for the film." While the strings, piano and some of the percussion were recorded at the world-renowned Abbey Road Studios, the rest of the score was devised at the Oxfordshire studio Marc Canham established with partner Rich Aitken, which is a treasure trove of musical curios. "I have instruments up here in the studio I don't even know the name of," Marc Canham says, "They're just things we've acquired over the years. Here we've used instruments like the Gattam, which is an Indian percussive pot. It looks a bit like a flower pot without a flat bottom. It creates a really nice, resonant, percussive tone. So, yeah, it's an eclectic mix of sounds, but not put together in a way that sounds uncomfortable. I want the score to communicate and tell a story, I don't want people to spend time thinking 'How did he make that?'"
So how did the composer approach his first film score? "I started literally at the beginning of the film and went through in order. By doing that, you end up with some ideas fit and some don't. So there are things you'll hear in the opening scene of the film and throughout were written more at the end than at the beginning. There are melodies that represent Danny and Alice and their relationship, and there's a melody that represents Vic and Danny's relationship. Every time you hear a theme, it comes from a particular character's point of view. J would say, 'we want to see it from the eyes of this character or this character', and that would influence me and how I'd interpret the scene at any particular moment."
Collaborating remotely at first, exchanging Mp3's and notes by email, in the later stages J Blakeson visited Marc Canham at the studio so they could work more closely. "J Blakeson has some musical background," he notes, "so we could speak straight off in a vocabulary that we both understood. Then as things were becoming more developed, he'd come up to our studios Oxfordshire and we'd talk - not about major changes, but about small points that he really wanted to hear, to get the right impact. Very often that was a case of underplaying rather than overplaying it." In part, that subtlety was achievable because of the film itself. "You're not having to use the score as a repairing tool to insert emotion," Marc Canham says, "which might be the case if film didn't work, but you've got these amazing performances, so the music can just do its job rather than drawing attention to itself. I think music certainly can save a scene, but that's not what it should be doing."
"It was a great experience working with Marc Canham," J Blakeson concludes, "so hopefully we can get together again on another project." As for Marc Canham, his experiences on Alice Creed have given him the bug for film work. "The next one can't come along fast enough," he enthuses, "I couldn't have asked for a better film to be thrown into for my first gig, because the ingredients and the personalities involved were spot on."
The Disappearance of Alice Creed is Adrian Sturges's third collaboration with a first-time feature director. "I don't honestly know why that's happened," he muses, "but I can only say that J did extremely well. Other directors I've worked with might have more hours of filming under their belt, but they're not necessarily as knowledgeable about film as J, because he's watched so many of them."
With J Blakeson's prior experience limited to low budget short films, the shift to features inevitably proved a little intimidating. "On a film industry level, this was a tiny crew with a tiny budget," he comments, "but for me this was a massive crew and a massive budget, because I'm used to making no-budget shorts with an eight man crew. This was a thirty man crew, a great crew, with a purpose-built set and a great camera."
Whatever first-time nerves he may have had, J Blakeson soon overcame them. "I've been wanting to do this for such a long time," he says, "that my first fear was getting to the shoot and a) not being very good at it and (b) actually not liking it very much and suddenly realising that after all this time I didn't really want to direct. But that didn't happen. I got to the set and it all felt very natural to me. Of course there are moments when you wonder what you're doing, like the first rehearsal with Eddie Marsan, who's obviously worked with big directors like Scorsese, Mike Leigh, Michael Mann and he's looking to you for feedback, but then you understand that that's what you're there for, to give people guidance." "
He's very excited about the process," Martin Compston notes, "but also unflappable, very calm." Eddie Marsan concurs, "He's a very, very calm, confident, well-prepared director - I think he's got a good future ahead of him."
His dual status as writer also had its advantages, meaning that, as Adrian Sturges observes, "he was able to modify the material - often in small ways - as we went along." Gemma Arterton adds, "It's such a luxury working with someone who knows the script so well. Sometimes when you work with a writer they can be very precious about it, but he's grateful for what else we can bring to it, and he knows film so well that he's brought something quite original to it." Martin Compston echoes Gemma Arterton's sentiments: "He's very good and getting what he wants and needs, which is right, but then he'll let you fly and have a go at what you want to do."
So how would J Blakeson sum up his first experience as a feature director? "It's been a real rollercoaster, but a very enjoyable one," he admits. "If I can have this experience every time I make a film I'll be a happy man."
The End Result
"The script was quite unputdownable," Adrian Sturges notes, "so I always knew it was going to be tense and exciting - amusing in parts but always unpredictable - but there's an emotional element to it now which I hadn't really guessed would come through. Particularly with Vic's character, you sympathise with him much more than I'd anticipated, and that's certainly a lot to do with Eddie Marsan's performance."
J Blakeson, too, points to the role of the actors in creating the tone of the finished film: "Ultimately what happened is that we got some very good actors on board, who of course are very focused on developing their characters - so it did become much more emotional, which I really loved, and which I think makes it a much more rewarding, richer film. I always say that it's a kidnap thriller that ultimately turns into a kind of twisted love story. I'm very pleased that it's become more character focused: I think you get into stories because of plot hooks, but you remember stories because of characters, and I hope that's what we've achieved here."