HFF Interview: Death

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One of our narrative films this year comes from the creative mind of writer/director Martin Gooch. Working in the United Kingdom, he used science-fiction, comedy and heartfelt drama to tell the story of a family trying to adjust to their father’s death. The film is entitled Death and is definitely one that you wouldn’t want to miss.

Heartland Film Festival: The film opens with a wonderful whimsical dialog between two characters lying on the grass looking up in the sky. Then the next scene is the cold reality of returning to this house the characters have left. Why did you want to have the film open in this way?

Martin: When I was a little boy my dad would actually take my brother and I out to the top of a hill and we would do this – My dad called it Skyfalling. It works best on the top of a hill – where everything is below you – and several times I did actually feel myself ‘fall’ off the planet.

I’ve been making films for a long time – as a cameraman and short filmmaker and I wanted my debut feature film to be a movie that only I could make. Yes I could have done a zombie movie, or an east end gangster movie or a slasher horror – but EVERYONE is doing those – so I thought long and hard and just felt no one was doing mystery and absolutely no one was doing mysterious comedy sci-fi drama – so I thought ‘I’ll have that and do a Martin Gooch Film’ and putting these things in from my own life make my film unique. Whether you like it or not – I’m pretty certain there isn’t another film like it!

I have to admit and also tell you that this scene was not the original beginning of the movie – I wrote two others – both of which we filmed, and neither quite worked. One I cut and the other disappeared into the innards of the movie, and as a result – the ‘skyfalling’ scene became the opening scene.

I also think the opening shot of any movie is very important and this shot shows Eloise and Tom – the two key characters in the movie – together having fun, in what I hope is a cinematic and beautiful shot.

Heartland Film Festival: As the film goes on it goes from hints about there being a fantastical nature to a completely science-fiction story. What was it like structuring the film in this way, never letting the audience in on all of the secrets right away?

Martin: I’ve written quite a few screenplays now and even did a Masters Degree in screenwriting. So I have quite a bit of experience in structure – if you break this movie down you will find it hits almost all the structure beats – it’s a 90 minutes long if you cut off the pre-movie and the title sequence. The first act is slightly long and ends when they enter dad’s lab  – like many films they go from one place to another place at the act 1/act2 cross over – In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones, gets on a plane and head to Tibet, and in Star Wars Han Solo flies off in the Millennium Falcon, leaving some storm troopers looking for different droids.

Then the mid point of Death at page 50 is the arrival of Grandad – taking the film into an even further real of fantasy – and the lowest point end of Act2 is after the Bitch Fight between Eloise and Donna (with two ‘n’s).  So in terms of pure structure it hits the beats – but like all good films, you need to ‘keep ‘em guessing’, so I tried to put in lots of hints that something was going on – and even a few red- herrings – like time travel.

I also wanted to muck about with genre – if you turn off this film before they get into Dad’s Lab – then really you have been watching a family drama – then it goes to mystery and Sci-fi – and there is comedy throughout. I believe many of the best movies are cross or double genres, and I’m mucking about with quadruple genres…

Heartland Film Festival: You were able to tell a film with a lot of really clever ideas in an independent film without needing really expensive CGI. Did you ever feel limited by your budget or was it able to inspire you to try things in a new way?

Martin: Budget is the biggest pain of any filmmaker – even those people with $200M would like a bit more. But the old saying is true – creativity is born of frustration – and not being able to do certain things meant I had to think of other ways around it.

Heartland Film Festival: Now onto the really important stuff. You have your characters talk about it briefly, but what do you think of the current Doctor Who?

Martin: I think Doctor Who has really hit its stride now. It’s always had its ups and down, and there have been assistants who I wasn’t keen on watching.  Now we have an excellent Doctor, a reasonable budget and great writers. It has the feeling that it will never go away, and just run and run and surely with all of time and space at the writers’ fingertips – they have no excuse for ever running out of ideas.

In terms of British Science Fiction, then it would be impossible (and churlish) to talk about it without mentioning the Good Doctor. And I for one, would absolutely love to direct it.

Heartland Film Festival: Are you working on a next project?

Martin: As I write this reply I am sitting on a balcony in a hotel in Denmark, as tomorrow I sail off to a tiny island to continue shooting my next movie The Search for Simon, which is quite different to Death. I’ve also written the screenplay for DEATHTRAP DUNGEON which is based on the multi million selling Fighting Fantasy Gamebook by Ian Livingstone, and we are trying to get that going – it’s like Lord of the Rings meets Tomb Raider.

There are always many projects and I am keen to get involved with and create as many as I can!

Heartland Film Festival: What are some of the moving films that have inspired you as a filmmaker?

Martin: As a kid we went to the cinema very occasionally – but the films I saw were hugely influential – Dragonslayer, James Bond – For Your Eyes Only, and then Brazil, Alien, Blade Runner, as well as films like Excalibur – which have dated slightly, but at the time there was nothing better than knights bashing hell out of each other in full plate mail armour.

I have always preferred slightly (or completely) escapist movies, and don’t work well with depressing films – as I’m too much of an empath and depressing films depress me for days or even weeks, so it’s better for everyone if I watch a comedy – like Planes Trains and Automobiles, or Monty Python and the Holy Grail, or even Young Frankenstein.

You can purchase tickets for Death for the following days…

– Monday October 22 at 6:30 p.m. at AMC Showplace Traders Point 12
– Tuesday October 23 at 7:15 p.m. at AMC Showplace Traders Point 12

– Wednesday October 24 at 4:45 p.m. at AMC Castleton Square 14

– Friday October 26 at 4 p.m. at AMC Castleton Square 14

Interview conducted by Austin Lugar

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