Having directed the first series and established the PoV (Point of View) style of hit comedy show Peep Show director Jeremy Wooding left to pursue other film projects. His latest project, Burning Men, was gestating over for twenty years before the camera rolled on the low budget film. Featuring two musicians Ray & Don (Edward Hayter & Aki Omoshaybi) the two come into possession of a rare vinyl record within which are possible satanic rumblings to summon up….well whatever it is it’s not good. With groupie Susie (Elinor Crawley) in tow they set off in their battered blue car on a road trip across East Anglia with others after them and their vinyl record.
Shot entirely in a PoV style, something of a first for a feature film, director Jeremy Wooding spoke to us about the film…….
AnyGoodFilms: You co-wrote this with Neil Spencer who used to edit the NME. How did you start writing together?
Jeremy Wooding: Well we’ve been working together as a writing partnership for quite a few years. We started out writing short films together and we and a short film trilogy at the end of the 90’s called the London love trilogy which was the stories between male and female, across different divides so the first was across a class divide, the second cultural divide, and the third a supernatural divide. They were all shot 35mm and went into cinemas and also on Channel 4 on a series called the Shooting Gallery which was a short film showcase. Out of that I got an agent based on the second of those short films and was a Bollywood style short musical and the agent passed it onto a producer who was looking for new writers and directors and he said, ‘Do you think you can make a feature film out of it?’ So Neal and I went away for two weeks and came back with an expanded story which became my first feature ‘Bollywood Queen’ starring James McAvoy. I count myself as a director who’s come out of the short film making scene and it’s a very important step towards being a professional film maker.
AGF: So where did the idea for ‘Burning Men’ come from?
Jeremy Wooding: well at the same time that I was making the short films I was financing them by running a CD and vinyl record store in Camden market and I got to know a lot of vinyl traders being a vinyl fan myself and I thought there might a story or a script out of that scene. At the time when I was talking to Neil about it we were walking across Hampstead Heath trying to formulate a script idea and we decided what we were interested in was a couple of vinyl-ists, young guys who were dealing in kind of rare vinyl I suppose but who really wanted to be musicians and who were hoping to get that vinyl treasure that would make them rich and enable them to go to America, to Memphis find their mojo and play the blues. So it was going to be the fulfillment of their dream and from that we developed it over quite a few years and the first idea came back in the 90’s but the first draft of the script came in 2007 and originally it was much more straight forward, a sort of lads larky movie, they were much more jokey and the whole thing was much more fun as it were. Didn’t want to lose that but not to over stamp the film because we were interested in moving the film into a much more eerie supernatural area. We had a connection with those English landscapes and those atmospheres driving through the country. It was always going to be handheld, I’m a big fan of the French New Wave, film makers who just picked up a camera and shot stories on the street, fast turnover , stuff that didn’t cost that much which have interesting concepts and conceits. The idea then of shooting it POV style really came from a conversation I had with a producer who read the script, “ I really like the script but it doesn’t stand out enough for me amongst low budget films. It doesn’t feel like it’s yours’ and I said , “What do you mean?” he said, ‘Well you’re known for mixing genres and doing quite experimental things ‘ from my things like Derren Brown and Peep Show, ‘Maybe you can bring a different visual approach to it?’ So I went away and thought ‘Well this is a very low budget feature film’ and I’d always wanted to make a feature film version of a POV show going back to Peep Show and lots of talk of doing Peep show as a POV in a feature film but it never happened. And I thought ‘If I don’t do it now I’m never going to do it anyway’ and if anything if this producer was right it’ll attract interest in just the form let alone the content because it will stand out from the crowd.
AGF: With Neil having worked on NME was there any real life incidents you’ve used in the film?
Jeremy Wooding: Well we were writing mostly in Neil’s study at home. Neil’s got a really interesting collection of vinyl so not only was it there inspiring us which was there in your hands and could be worth something that could change your life. We found out pretty quickly that you could get a white label Led Zeppelin worth five thousand pounds or something so it was based in reality. Neil was very interested in the relationship between two musicians who form a band and how they stay together. We talked a lot about Keith Richards and Mick Jagger and how two musicians become like an old couple really and how they stay together or do they split up and come back. We kind of pulled back from that a bit because it began to take over the story of the film whereas now it’s the back story to their journey on the road. It began to take over and become the story of a band that’s split up and we didn’t want that. Neil’s contribution vis a vis music was incredibly important and during the time we wrote this Neil probably compiled 20 or 30 albums which were soundtrack albums of source music which I found incredibly inspiring and gave a good indication about the tone of each of the scenes and although probably only two of the tracks made their way into the scenes it enabled us to write scenes with that musical tone in mind.
AGF: yeah, it’s got an eclectic music score. But even though this is a low budget film it’s not obviously commercial so how easy was it to raise the finance to make it?
Jeremy Wooding: Well to set the record straight on the budget it was 300,000 pounds. IMDB often picks up weird stuff but it was 300,000 from A-Z so it was a micro budget film and we physically shot it for 200,000 pounds. The whole approach when we were writing it was about, “Can we really achieve this if we go to Scotland? Can we afford to go to Scotland?’ Well no, we can’t and nor do we want to because this is an English road movie and so we mapped out the route so that it was all do-able. It was always planned to be low budget and also with the handheld camera with a small cast and crew on the road. Just going back to the soundtrack, there were tracks that we both liked that might make it into the film, when I was in the edit I was looking for temporary composed soundtrack that I could use and Neil and I both liked the idea of the soundtrack being a bit like Neil Young and a bit like Paris Texas Ry Cooder. We talked about that sort of guitar sound and Neil pointed me to a whole new load of CDs to try including a CD called Ribbons by Justin Adams, ‘It might have the right textures you’re looking for’ and lo and behold it did. So I asked him, ‘Who sent you the album?’ and he said, ‘PR and management for Justin’ so I said, ‘Can you get in contact with him and see if he would be interested in doing this style in an original composition?’ So we spoke to management and Justin saw the film and he liked it and said he was up for it. So Justin went off and recorded the soundtrack in two and a half weeks at Peter Gabriel’s studio just outside Bath. But apart from that there are 32 tracks in the film and that took a bit of licensing. For example Neil knew Jah Wobble personally and I thought it would be a problem getting the track, ‘Tiger, Tiger’ and it took a bit of convincing. Obviously we paid a license fee but not Hollywood rates. So each track we had to approach the bands, the management, get the licence and it was a long old process. Probably the craziest one to get was clearance for Joe Strummer‘s, ‘Long Shadow’.
AGF: Was that because his estate are protective of his tracks now he’s no longer alive?
Jeremy Wooding: It wasn’t the original track it was a cover version which the guys play at the start of the film so we were after the publishing licence for it and it turned out that Joe and someone else had written it who lived in New York and didn’t have any representation and we went on this crazy chase to try and find this guy and get it cleared with him. I could see is house on Google Earth, I knew which gigs he was about to play but there was no way I could get in touch with him. In the end we got in touch with him via Joe Strummers publishers who after doing all this chasing said, ‘Oh yeah we know him we can put you in touch!’ When you make a movie with so much music in it is a big effort and that’s why it’s not done that much. The most recent example I suppose is Baby Driver because Edgar always had a playlist in his head right from the start. You end up curating a whole new thing parallel to the movie and then mixing the composed soundtrack, the sourced soundtracks, sound design, dialogue all mixed is quite technical feat so that it work in the cinema, a lap top, a phone and probably I would have been a bit wary of doing that if I hadn’t met Thelma Schoonmaker
AGF: Oh, Martin Scorsese’s editor!
Jeremy Wooding: Yes it was at the Bath film festival and we were talking about ‘Casino’ which is one of my favourite films and I asked her, ‘How did you manage to get that back to back soundtrack working with the sound design?’ and she said, ‘Well all I can say is that when your Martin Scorsese you can keep going back to the dubbing theatre and keep remixing and remixing until you get it right’. We couldn’t afford to do that but we could try stuff out to make sure that we’ve got a bit of space to let the music breathe so getting that overall balance of the soundscape was quite important to me.
AGF: For a road movie you’ve got a great albeit somewhat battered car in this that looks like it would break down. Where did you get it?
Jeremy Wooding: Well as they say for road movies, ‘The car’s the star!’ It was always a consideration as to what is the car they are in? When we were in Neil’s house in Kentish town across the road there was this car parked just as it looks now and this was 10 years ago and were talking about what it should be and I said, ‘It should be something as iconic as that car across the road, you know it’s something that’s come into the boys possession from a father that they’ve reconditioned or something and no one else would have it and they would believe that it was iconic as the Burning Men band’ and Neil said, ‘That belongs to Paul over the road, Paul Shearsmith who an improvisational jazz musician who has a band called Echo City and often features the car in his band on his You Tube channel and he often puts it in art galleries as a back drop to when his band are playing’. Paul has actually played the car percussively with bits of metal. So in a way the car was cast first and we had to write with that car in mind and because Neil knew Paul he actually came on the road with us. Strangely enough it’s extremely comfortable inside and reliable. It’s got a brand new V2 engine in there. It only broke down once which was a very simple repair but that was just some leads that had come loose. The other reason liked it was that it was the sort of car that police would spot a couple of youngsters driving and thinks there’s something illegal about it so it adds a little edge with them driving out into the provinces and hopefully not meeting a police road block.
AGF: As the film gets darker with its possible satanic tones, as allegedly occurs on any film with such a theme, did anything supernatural occur?
Jeremy Wooding: No even though there’s a dark undertone it didn’t permeate the shoot or anything. It was quite a fun experience for everybody. I think the interesting supernatural aspect of it is that it’s in Ray’s head and this is where the POV style helps as you’re seeing what h sees and the others don’t necessarily see that and which may or may not be there. So that enabled us to play with that idea of, ‘Is it real is it not? What is it that’s lurking under the fields, in the waters of east Anglia, the eastern seaboard?’and to play with that idea that there’s layers of myth and legend and ghosts and demons out there within the English countryside which people have written about for centuries which some people like that are sensitive to, which you see with Ray’s mum so it runs in the family. That came out of some people that Neil and I know so we were playing both sides, either you believe it or you don’t and is it just superstition or is it a precursor to something bigger?
AGF: So this has been a long time in the making but what’s next?
Jeremy Wooding: Well now I’ve got this out of my system and as the tag line says, ‘It’s been a hell of a trip.’ Its been two years since we shot it and it’s been a lot harder to put the money together and make than I thought it would even though its low budget and it is an odd movie and quirky and the only one of its kind out there . Having done it and thrown caution to the wind I think I would like to go back to more conventional film making and also a bigger budget and I’ve got a couple of different genres of film that I’m attached that I’m writing . There’s a war film, a horror film, a rom-com so as usual it’ll be a genre mash up of whatever I choose to do. Hopefully one of those is imminent this year but it depends on the producers raising the money. A couple are further down the line than others. It’s a bit of game that you never know if you’ll be shooting until the phone rings and the producer says, ‘We’ve got the money!
BURNING MEN IS RELEASED IN CINEMAS ON MARCH 1ST 2019