Paul Wright’s debut feature film, For Those In Peril, won many plaudits on its release and even managed a BAFTA nomination this year. His film is a richly layered and deeply moving fantastical tale of an isolated community who are at odds with the soul survivor of a tragedy at sea. For Those In Peril is out now on DVD and a full article on the film can be found here.
- For Those In Peril has a very organic feeling to it, almost as if the film is a story passed down in the tradition of folklore. How did the narrative for the film first come about?
I grew up in a similar coastal village on the East Neuk of Fife and stories about the sea, both real and unreal, were part of everyday life. What I found most interesting about this was, when younger, it was difficult to tell apart which stories were real and which were not and I guess a starting place for the film was having a character, who was old enough to know better, latch onto one of these myths due to desperate circumstances. The actual story the mother tells in the film was a mixture of some of these stories I heard growing up. Another starting place was exploring how we deal with grief and trauma. I lost my father at a fairly young age and, again, what I remember about that time was, although I could understand what had happened, I couldn’t really accept the finality of it and would often daydream of a seemingly impossible reunion.
- For Those In Peril takes a fresh look at a tradition in British cinema of showing close-knit, perhaps even isolated communities in rural-esque landscapes. Were these things you were already interested in? How does the theme sit within how you see your work?
Again as it’s a similar village to the one I am from, it came pretty naturally to me; it’s what I know. Some of the many positive things about such villages are how people can come together, that sense of community, everyone knowing everyone else and to me they are the best people in the world. With the film, what I was most interested in looking at, however, is what happens when one person stands outside this close-knit community and deals with what has happened in the extreme opposite way to everyone else and the conflict that can arise from this decision.
- The film uses a vast array of cinematic techniques from beautiful cinematography to phone camera footage and super 8 footage. There are clear narrative reasons for this (looking at the past of the characters etc.) but are there also aesthetic reasons behind the inclusion of these forms and different visual textures?
To me film is the most exciting medium as literally any image and sound can be used to create a sensory, emotional experience. The use of different formats in the film, as well as deepening the narrative, was just another way to widen this sensory palate. Contrast is also something I’m very interested in so using beautiful, striking images one minute and the next having really scuzzy lo-fi quality images gave us that range of textures we were after. I think film can also be used well to represent different states of consciousness from real-life to memory, half thoughts to dreams and nightmares and can be almost truer to life by blurring the lines between these states.
- For Those In Peril makes great, almost startlingly, use of the landscape around the location whether it be the seascape and beaches or forests and dark country paths. Is this simply down to the location of the narrative or does landscape play a more important, perhaps even vital role in both the film and your work as a whole?
It was always the idea to make the location, especially the ocean, a character in the film. By having it visually or audibly present throughout, it was hoped the battle our main character was having both physically and mentally with the sea would become stronger and work as a constant reminder to him and the other villagers. To take it further still the sea also represents mystery, somewhere that we don’t know everything, and again had that contrast of being able to give life and to take it away which seemed to fit in well with the themes explored in the film.
- Where there any influences, whether cinematic, in literature or perhaps even in myth or genuine folklore that fed in to creating the film?
I’m one of these annoying people who think we are influenced by everything we come into contact with, both good and bad, and actively disliking something can be as inspiring as something that really connects with you. In saying that cinematically I was always most excited by discovering a filmmaker or film that made me reassess what was possible with cinema and took me someplace I felt I’d never been before. The first time I saw films by Tarkovsky ,Bergman, Jodorowsky, Herzog, and more recently filmmakers like Gaspar Noe, Harmony Korine, Phillipe Grandreuix and Lars Von Trier are good examples of this. I’m also as big a fan of documentaries as fiction film and feel as much of a connection to how many documentary filmmakers approach the medium than anything else. With For Those In Peril itself we actually didn’t have so many film references as photographic. I made up a scrapbook of around 500 images, which individually didn’t mean much but together helped portray the mood and energy of the film. We did something similar with a music playlist and gave them to the different heads of department and actors to help communicate the film I had in my head.
- How did you go about directing your lead actors? Was there a difference in technique between filming the normal, present tense narrative and, say, the phone footage of past events?
The present “main” narrative was a lot more pre-planned than it may appear. We didn’t really have the luxury to spend a lot of time finding each scene on set so it was vital we knew what we were doing before the shoot. In saying that once we knew what we wanted to get from each scene it was about giving the actors the freedom to go off the script to achieve it. Especially the scenes with George (Aaron) on his own, we were able to keep running the camera and it became about looking for those moments that we knew were getting to the heart of the scene and character. Shooting some of these scenes became a sort of dance between me, George and the cinematographer Benjamin Kracun, where we knew what we were after and it was just about committing to this way of working to allow these moments to happen.
The audio and layered material was looser still. So although there was stuff scripted we tried to create an environment where we could get a lot more footage in the hope of creating an almost archive of sounds and images. I reckon it’s through this that you can get some of these moments that are stronger than anything on the page. It was funny because another big part of this process was Michael Agglund who edits my films and his mantra is to get as much good footage as we can to have options in the edit room, he basically said the last thing he wants is take after take of exactly the same thing which was pretty liberating for all the crew involved.
- The relationship between brothers seems to be at the heart of the film. Is this the film’s main focal point of questioning or is there more to the film’s interests than simply peeling apart the layers of this relationship?
Yeah, ultimately it’s a really simple love story between two brothers which later manifests into Aaron’s relationship with his mother and how they are each dealing with this loss. I think we were all really conscious of keeping this emotional heart of the film present throughout and it was this that allowed us to go deeper with the other themes in the film.
- The film’s more surreal moments seem to be almost magical and fantastical, especially the film’s ending. How would you go about categorising your film? Is there a category that it can fit into or are there any films that you think could perhaps work alongside it (from any era or country) in terms of themes, style and ideas?
Crikey … That’s a tough one to answer! … To be honest it was always the intention to allow enough space in the piece for the viewer to put themselves and their own lives into the film. I think this is most apparent with scenes such as the ending and peoples different readings of it and think it’s one of these things that are better to be left open to the individual viewer… Again I don’t really think in the way of categories when thinking about making a film; the way I see it, it’s about the idea, characters and themes you are exploring, so if it’s right for the story you are telling this can mean a mixture of different genres and styles sitting together.
- What are your future projects and how are they going? Will they be in similar territory to For Those In Peril? Are there any themes, ideas and narratives that you’re particularly keen to explore in the future?
I’m developing a couple of other projects just now. Although very different to For Those In Peril in a lot of ways (there’s no sea in them for one thing), certain themes such as love, loss, life and death seem to be things I am constantly drawn to, which to be fair are big enough areas to keep me busy for a while! Those themes and the idea of the “outsider” or those living on the fringes of society, either literally or metaphorically, seem to be what inspires me the most. To be honest I think what I’m most interested in is going into areas where there are no easy answers and that I feel pretty scared to go deeply into but do it anyway. I think John Casavettes says something similar, to not make films where you know all the answers but instead are interested in delving deeper to get closer to a truth.