Interview with Brian Barnes

  • What inspired you to get into filmmaking?

The first film that my mother took me to see in the cinema was ‘Bambi’.  As a 3 or 4 year-old, it completely overwhelmed me and left me devastated.  Reflecting on that experience a few years later, I realised that cinema had the power to move people, and I decided that I wanted to have that power over people’s emotions, which meant I needed to become a film director.

–  Writers, painters, composers, even teachers and politicians have control over people’s emotions. Why do you think film was the best way for you to have that power?
I agree that the other media you mention can have an emotional impact, but I find that the intensity of emotion that film evokes is so much greater and so it is more appealing to me.  Film can really enable a viewer to get inside a character’s head and live through their dilemma vicariously.  Novels can achieve this too, but they are more intellectual, whereas a great film works much more at a sub-conscious level, since it bypasses our critical brain, hence its power.  Viewers at the world premiere of ‘The Redeeming’ told me that they completely identified with lead character Joyce and were in tears by the final scene.  That’s exactly what you want from a film!  Moreover, I love the marrying of technology and art that film embodies and so it feels the right home for me and my talents.

  • What filmmakers would you say were your greatest sources of inspiration and who had the greatest influence on your filmmaking style?

I don’t think a director can reliably tell you about their own style completely by themselves – it has to be seen by an outsider and analysed by them.  My favourite director is Sidney Lumet – I’m a huge fan of his handling of dialogue and the powerful, authentic performances he achieved from his actors in such masterpieces as ‘Twelve Angry Men’ and ‘The Hill’.  Beyond that, ‘The Redeeming’ is a loving homage to some great film forebears.  The film’s influences can clearly been seen in such masterworks as Rob Reiner’s ‘Misery’, Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’, Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ and just a dash of Martin Scorsese’s ‘Shutter Island’.  We’re very proud to be part of such an esteemed tradition.
* Tell us about the differences between directing and writing for short films and for feature length films.
Before I embarked upon making ‘The Redeeming’, I asked everyone I knew who had made a feature film for their advice.  They generally said that making a feature was just like making a lot of short films back to back.  I can agree with that idea in terms of the pre-production and shooting, but it’s a radically different proposition to edit a feature film.  With a short film, you may have 4-6 scenes and they are pretty much fixed, but with ‘The Redeeming’ we had 125 scenes and we designed them so that they could be put in pretty much any order in the film.  This brought a completely new creative experience to the making of the film and I relished the flexibility and opportunities it gave me.

  • What are some challenges to indie filmmakers that a general audience might not know exist?

The hardest thing about being an indie filmmaker is getting people to watch your films.  Without the known and trusted brand of a big name actor or studio such as Paramount or Netflix behind you, people don’t trust the quality of your work.  (And perhaps with good reason, as we have all seen films that really don’t reward your viewing time.)  It’s really tricky to find a way to connect to a cynical audience in those circumstances.

-Even with a big studio behind a film, audiences often don’t go to see it. How do you try to overcome these disadvantages that multi- billion dollar companies also struggle with?
It’s tricky, but the key is to find a way to connect with an audience through your communication of the film’s essence.  That will mainly be through the trailer and poster, but you can also do it through behind-the-scenes videos and social media posts about the film & making of the film, and images and ideas linked to the themes of the film.  We indie filmmakers will never get the number of viewers that a big studio film will attract, but our budgets are much lower, so we can make a viable return with a smaller, more niche audience.  Our trailer has achieved just about 160,000 views, because it clearly appeals to our core audience.  It was the number 3 most popular trailer on the Britflicks website for the whole of 2018.  We achieved this with a zero advertising spend and it clearly demonstrates the potential of a good story and characters to find an audience.

  • What advice would you give someone thinking about making their first film?

Spend as little money as possible, but still make the best film that you can.  Think about your marketing and distribution plan well before you start writing the script.  For example, when you’re writing a scene, you should be thinking, ‘Can I use this bit in the trailer or on the poster?’.

  • How would you describe your directorial style?

My guiding principle is always to let the story and performances speak for themselves.  I don’t like to ‘get in the way’ of the actors with flashy camera tricks or dazzling lighting.  Simple and authentic are my watchwords.  Once shot and edited, I’m a passionate proponent of the power of sound in films.  I fully believe that a film’s soundtrack is well over half the experience of watching the film, so I spend a lot of time and energy getting the sound right.

-Soundtracks are certainly an important part of filmmaking but some highly acclaimed films (recently Roma) don’t have one at all. As someone who places an emphasis on sound in their own films, do you think the choice to cut the soundtrack entirely is ever warranted?
We need to be careful here with the definition of soundtrack.  Many people will hear the word “soundtrack” and assume that we’re discussing music.  In film, “soundtrack” means all sounds that you hear when you are watching the film, whether that be the wind blowing, the river rushing or the character’s clothes rustling.  They are a key part of a filmmaker’s story-telling arsenal and very few films choose to ignore their power.  In ‘The Redeeming’, sound was a crucial story-telling device and we spent a long time getting it just right.  For example, the disembodied voices that the lead character Joyce hears are an essential part of the story progression and needed a lot of finessing so that you really understood her predicament.

  • What are some of your favorite films?

I love ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ by Sergio Leone.  Other favourites are John Frankenheimer’s ‘Seconds’, Luc Besson’s ‘Subway’ and Ridley Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’.

  • Which filmmaker currently working in Hollywood do you admire most?

The directors I have my eyes on right now are Jordan Peele, Jeremy Saulnier, Joel Egerton and Trey Edward Shults. I think they all could have amazing careers ahead of them.

  • Tell us about your experiences on the festival circuit.

I’ve played a few festivals and even won a number of them – for example, my short film ‘The Urge’ won 5 awards including a Best Film prize under jury president Timothy Burrill (producer of ‘The Pianist’).  I love talking to people at festivals after they have watched my films.  There’s no experience in the world like having someone come up to you and telling you how your film has touched them in some way.  ‘The Redeeming’ played its world premiere at the Horror-on-Sea Film Festival in Southend, England and someone told me straight after the screening that our lead actress Tracey Ann Wood had moved him to tears with her performance.  It’s moments like that that make the whole agony of making films worthwhile.

  • Tell us about the road to the National Film Awards.

Our cinema release was very short, too short to make us eligible for BAFTA consideration, but long enough for BIFA (British Independent Film Awards) and NFA eligibility.  I was really hoping that Tracey Ann Wood’s portrayal of Joyce would garner some notice from the awards panels, but in the end, the NFA nominated the film as a whole for Best Thriller.  It was so exciting and unexpected that it took several days for the news to sink in.  We simply couldn’t believe how big the competition was – we’re nominated against a couple of massive studio pictures, so we’re the true underdogs.  Now, my team and I are really looking forward to attending the awards ceremony in central London on 27th March and rubbing shoulders with the stars on the red carpet.  We’ll keep our fingers crossed right up to the opening of that fateful envelope on the night!
• What drew you to the premise of your film?
‘The Redeeming’ is a gripping cat and mouse thriller that plays out over the course of one stormy night in a remote countryside cottage.  When I first read the script for ’The Redeeming’, I found its mystery, intrigue and tension so compelling that I couldn’t put it down and devoured it in one sitting.  I was struck by how cleverly writer Roger Thomas had referenced the classics, such as ‘Misery’, ‘The Shining’ and ‘Psycho’, but what I truly loved about his script was the magnetic portrayal of Joyce.  Her struggles with her painful memories and mental health issues felt so human and so universal.  I knew that this was a part that a strong actress could get her teeth into and make her own.  I was delighted when the National Theatre’s Tracey Ann Wood signed on, and I knew that it meant we were going to create something special with this film.

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