Interview with Luke Massey Director of WarHouse
The world revolves around big movies. Okay, it actually revolves around the Sun, but less people know that fact than they know what summer’s next blockbuster will be. And while everything that’s extra shiny draws attention, there are some diamonds in the rough that command it as well, despite them taking longer to be noticed.
Warhouse is an independent film that has rattled quite a few of the lucky ones that got to see it at various festivals or thanks to advanced screenings. With a little help, we got director Luke Massey to have a chat with us, trying to find out more about who he is and what his movie, starring Joseph Morgan (Immortals, Ben Hur) and Matt Ryan(Criminal Minds: Suspect Behaviour, Wild Decembers) is about.
Could you tell us, from geek-pride a little about yourself? Give us a small glimpse into who you are?
Luke Massey: I suppose I’m a film director who’s just done Warhouse, which is coming out this year and my background is being in filming for the last 10 years. I started working with the BBC, which is a TV channel here, when I was 17. It was my first job as a camera trainee, and then after that I ended up working in production houses in London, as an editor and as a camera operator. And I tried to work in as many different departments as possible before directing my first film, but mainly cinematography. Before Warhouse I think I worked for about 7 years, professionally, in tv and film and I have done a dozen of short films and a dozen music videos and some documentaries entries so primarily my background is camera before directing.
Okay, thank you. So what made you choose going into this particular career and have you ever thought about giving it up or switching to something that’s considered “safer”? I don’t know like becoming a lawyer or a doctor?
L.M. : Yeah, I mean, yeah to all of those, I mean…my mom worked like three jobs when me and my brother, who’s two years older than me, were growing up and so just to get by, she wasn’t at home a lot, she was always working and my brother had…I think he had a part time job where he worked one day a week and basically with his money we used to go out and there used to be a video shop around the corner and we used to go and buy VHS tapes for ten pounds and I remember, my brother’s a bit older, so we’d go out and he’d buy, he’d buy like Pulp Fiction and I was like fourteen or something. He’d come back and we’d watch Pulp Fiction, you know, twice a day for a week until we picked out another VHS and so slowly I just kind of became obsessed with film, by watching films like Pulp Fiction and El Mariachi and Reservoir Dogs and Clerks and Evil Dead. And my brother wanted to be a director and I wanted to be an actor and we just used to memorize these films.
And I remember, one summer when I was about fourteen, my brother was sixteen, that we re-shot with our friendss the whole of Reservoir Dogs. We made it like an a hundred minute film and we had every single shot in it and we were all in like our school blazers. And yeah, so me and my brother we were obsessed with film from a very young age and then…I did think about giving up when I was, I think I was about eighteen and I’d worked for the BBC and then – I’d done two jobs for them over a year – and then I didn’t work for a couple of months. I kinda thought there isn’t…where am I going to get another job from.
L.M: And I remember watching Lady in the Water the M. Night Shyamalan film and being completely, even though it’s not a great film, but the direction of it, the camera direction is amazing and I remember thinking, like I this is still really something I wanted to do, and I’m not ready to give up, and get an education here. And about a week after that I got a job for a year in London. Out of the blue someone found me so that’s kinda always felt like a bit of fame there?
That’s a cool story. So is your brother also in the business?
L. M. : No, he’s in politics actually. He’s very successful in politics in our country, so yeah, it’s a bit weird, but yeah, I ended up deciding that I wanted to become a director instead of an actor and I can’t remember really how it happened, but that was pretty much when I was about 15-16.
Is there anyone that inspires you? Other directors?
L.M. : Yeah, I’ve been workin…Growing up I went and got a book on The Evil Dead, when I was about fifteen, I watched this movie between fourteen and sixteen and I got a book on Evil Dead and how it’s made, by Sam Raimi and I remember thinking , you know, I can do this and be like him and Rob Rodriguez and Kevin Smith. I was a kid, you know, like fifteen years old and those three films, you know Evil Dead, Clerks and El Mariachi I thought, okay, there’s some books out there that are really telling you how they made these films with little or no money. I mean based on the things I know, those three, I mean when I was growing up, those three, low budget films that I had seen had done it so I kind of liked them…And as you get older, your tastes change and you’re no longer into those kinds of films, but I still look fondly on those filmmakers.
You took on quite a few roles on Warhouse, you were directing, writing, producing, editing, could you tell us a bit about how you balanced so many things at once? And maybe drop a hint or two for any aspiring movie-makers?
L.M. : I think a lot of time…during this movie, I think a lot of time it’s got something to do with, like we filmed Warhouse in a small town, Stratford-upon-Avon, well just outside of Stratford-upon-Avon, where Shakespeare is from, and there’s not exactly a load of people who could edit or do cinematography. And with most low budget films, you figure like it’s the same thing that Rodrigues did with El Mariachi or Sam Raimi did and that you kinda have to just get on with it because there’s no one else to do it. It’s not really much of a choice and I knew this will be the case when I first started out so that’s why I worked as an editor for a while in London and then I worked as a camera operator, or well as a camera trainee for the beginning for the BBC, then as an operator. So I kinda tried to work in as many of those film areas as possible, cause I knew the likelihood of, when I started making my first couple of films, having to do take on those roles. And because I’ve been doing it for you know, seven years or something, before Warhouse, I was pretty much used to it, so it didn’t seem that weird.
I think other people in the crew, who came from outside, who came from London and such, they thought it was kind of a lot to take on, but I didn’t really, and the people who I’ve worked with before, which was about 25% of them (I’ve worked with them doing several roles before, so they were used to me doing it). So it wasn’t that strange and I’ve done it since. I don’t really find it that odd. In the future I’ll probably take on less roles because it’s a bit tiring, but at the time it just seemed quite natural to do it.
Do you think you might have a hard time letting go of the control you have by taking on all of this?
L.M. : I don’t know, I think sometimes people think I will. I’m not a great editor by any means and I’m not a great operator, I mean I really enjoy cinematography. I don’t think I’ll find it hard letting go, cause I love directing so much so I think the more I let go, the more I’d have time to concentrate on what I love the most, which is directing. I’m not really that possessive, cause some can do it better than I can and I’d be happy to let someone else do it. And to be honest, the more budget you’ve got the more there are definitely people who could do it better, so I don’t think I’d find it too hard to let it go.
So onto “Warhouse”. I admit I know very little about it, and it’s limited to the trailer and the press releases and the tumblr fans that went wild about it, so could you tell us how the movie came to be? And what was the hardest part about bringing it to life?
L.M. : The guy who I wrote with, Ben Read, he’s the producer of Warhouse, I kinda knew him through some friends and he has a publishing companies and he writes graphic novels and he wanted to try and write a screenplay and make it into a film and to keep his control over the screenplay so it hasn’t changed too much. We met and he pitched me this idea which is loosely what Warhouse became and that’s how it started and then we spent six months writing the script which was from this graphic novel idea. The concept was – a guy wakes up in a house and doesn’t know where he is and he has to fight every day. That was the original idea, it was kind of Groundhog Day meets Gladiator and then we went from there.
And then the hardest thing, I mean I saw this thing quite recently, by Spike Lee, that says like “One of the biggest achievements of man is making a film from start to finish”. When you look at it, it is kind of ridiculous. I can’t really remember what the hardest part was, cause it all seemed hard and impossible, but I think that if you have a lot of people, which we did and they are all doing their jobs and working as hard as they can, it just happens.
The production side of it is like a month, or six weeks, and that feels like the hardest part, but then you forget it’s like an 18 months of editing period going from original footage, and then the sound design and then you’re dealing with distribution companies and agents and contracts and it doesn’t really stop for about three years, this kind of constant, sixteen hours a day, work. And then you finish it and you have to start the next one.
But that’s good, starting the next one.
L.M. : Yeah, yeah, it is good. Sometimes is good to have a…The problem is, it’s the most addictive thing in the world, so you finish and think: “I’m going to have a couple of months of.” And that’s what happened to Warhouse, I mean we wrapped…I wrapped my main duties on Warhouse in the morning and in the afternoon we had the production meeting for our next film, so I had about an hour off, between the two films, from one finishing and one starting.
Well, that’s still better than nothing.
L.M. : Yeah, it is better than nothing and I think I had a sandwich in my hour off and it was very good. I think I enjoyed it.
A sandwich you will always remember.
L.M. : I will, I will remember that sandwich.
So why “Warhouse”? What about this story appealed to you? Why not something, I don’t know, something that sells, like a romantic comedies or something like that.
L.M. : I think, I’ve always had an idea of doing a horror film for my first movie, because…I think because of Evil Dead, because I loved that film so much as a kid and I wanted to do something with a bit more…I think horror films now are just blood and gore and I got fed up with that. Then Ben pitched me the idea and I loved the idea of isolation, so when we first started working on it, I liked the idea of a guy being trapped in the house, not for a couple of weeks, the guy had been trapped in the house for like four-five years and we get to really study what happens to you. I found that interesting, just the entrapment in general. There’s films, that came out recently, there’s a film called Buried which came out, which I thought was brilliant and then there’s films like Cast Away that I just find fascinating. Any film where there’s one actor on screen I find it really interesting to watch and I think that it really shows a good actor, that can carry the whole film on screen on their own.
You already has a large following on social media, like tumblr. I just checked it today and the tag is filled with pictures and people screaming for the movie. Does it ever make you worried or self-conscious to know that there are so many people are keeping an eye on you and your work?
L.M. : Not really, I mean I think it’s really flattering and really nice and hopefully that will just intensify when the film comes out and it’s really comforting when you’re working to know the people want to see what you’re doing and that gives you an uplift which I suppose most filmmakers don’t really get to have, cause obviously Joseph’s got a massive fan base…And I don’t really feel much pressure, cause I think most people…I think Joe is superb in it and I think 99% of the people are going to love it, because his performance is so good.
I think it’s a difficult watch, Warhouse. I don’t think anyone will see it and it will be the film they expect, because it’s not strictly a horror film, it’s a thriller and it’s more of a drama than anything else. It’s not about violence, it’s not about gore and it’s not about scaring you, it’s the kind of a film that will make you think about it a couple of weeks afterwards, because it’s, in some degree having to do with reality and people. So yeah, people will get some kind of an emotional attachment to the soldier coming home, and how that can affect the person, dealing with what has happened at war.
Speaking of the actors, since you mentioned Joseph Morgan. You got to work with him and Matt Ryan. Were they your first choices for their roles? Could you tell us a bit about how it all came together – the casting process …How was it working with the cast and the crew?
L.M. : Yeah, the parts were written for both of them, I was filming…Joe and Matt were directing a short film called With These Hands, which I did the cinematography for, I did the lighting and the camera work and we all kinda…I knew Matt for quite a while before hand and this was the first time I’d met Joe and we’ve spent like three weeks working together, getting along really well and I said I’ve been thinking for a while, six months, twelve months about doing a a film and we talked about the possibility of them doing the leads and me being the director and they seemed thrilled. And then Joe…then Ben pitched me the idea for Warhouse, and it wasn’t called Warhouse then, I can’t remember what it was called and then I pitched that idea to Joe and Matt and they thought it was good and it went from there. Since then we shot another film ,which I’m just editing, called 500 Miles North and I did the cinematography again for a short film that Joe directed, called Revelation, which has just been in Atlanta.
We’ve worked together four or five times since With these hands and we’ve continued to work together and bounce projects off each other, so we’re kind of a close-knit group of film makers.
What do you think will make people, the viewers connect with the characters, or with the movie in general? Was there something specific you wanted them to see, other than the changes and the isolation that happen to a person?
L.M. : Yeah, I think the main thing is…there’s two characters in it, there’s the character that Joseph Morgan plays , which is A.J. Budd and he’s a guy that wakes up in this house and he goes downstairs and at 9 o’clock, just as he’s leaving the house, he sees this breakfast made for him and the bell rings at 9 o’clock and this creature comes in and tries to kill him and he tries to escape the house and he can’t. And the next morning, when he wakes up, the whole house has reset itself and the damage is gone and everything is back to normal and the alarm goes off again and the monster comes back. And he’s there for four years and you kind of realize that the punishment that he’s going through, the torment that he’s going through, is…as a soldier dealing with coming home from war.
And Edward is a World War I solider, who A.J. finds the diaries of, and he explains his experiences and I think you get this kind of a buddy relationship, this almost Shawshank Redemption relationship, between the two characters, even though they are set in different times.
So I think there’s a lot to get out of it in terms of the emotional level and the two guys play it really well.
Okay and one very burning question: When will “Warhouse” be release outside movie festivals? Cause I know you’ve taken the film to some festivals, but people are waiting for it to be out on DVD or in movie theatres and so far it hasn’t happened.
L.M. : Yeah, we’ve been…At the latest there will be an announcement at Cannes, in May about all of the release dates, but hopefully I’ll be allowed to say sooner. We’re just waiting to get the all clear from the sales agent.
Okay, I can’t wait for that. Can you tell us about your other project: 500 Miles North? I know it features both Joseph Morgan and Matt Ryan, you already mentioned you’re a tight knit group, but what is it about? Can you tell us something about that?
L.M.: Yeah, that’s just a…I’m just finishing, in the last stages of editing. It’s about two brothers, two estranged brothers who are brought back together when their father dies and leaves them a lot of money in his will, but they can only get the money if they take his ashes on a road trip, 500 miles up north going through most of England and then Scotland and then the Highlands and they have to re-enact a family holiday they had when they were kids. It’s kind of a dark comedy, drama and it’s sweet. It’s a sweet kind of a little movie. And it’s got a really good cast in it, it’s got Sue Johnston, who’s a big actress over here, she was in a show called The Royle Family and it’s got Kevin McNally who’s in Pirates of the Caribbean and it’s a really interesting film…it shows the whole landscape from Birmingham to Liverpool to Lake District to Glasgow to the Highlands and it was like an amazing time filming it and once again, Joe and Matt were the greatest of leads.
Is there anyone else you would like to work in the future? Actors, actresses?
L.M. : I’m a massive fan of an actor called Peter Mullan, who’s a Scottish actor who is a director as well, he directed a movie recently called Neds, which is great and is actually brilliant. And he did a film called Tyrannosaur, which did really well at Sundance, where he was the lead in it and it was directed by Paddy Considine, who’s another person that I would like to work with. So yeah, Peter Mullan and Paddy Considine are two actors that I would love to work with.
Any advice for those aspiring writers/directors?
L. M. : I don’t feel like good enough to give advice to people. It always made me feel kinda.. I don’t think I’m that qualified. I think the main thing is, the more stuff you do, the more you learn, so even if it’s just filming with your mates like I did when I was a kid I think it’s important. And then one thing I wish I did more was film more little short films when I was a kid and yeah, just film as much as you can and if you’re a writer, write as much as you can even if it’s nothing that is going to get published or you won’t show it to anyone. It’s just that the more stuff you write, the better you’re going to become. It’s the same with directing or acting. It’s just something and you throw yourself into it. I don’t think that the harder you work the more the chance of you becoming successful. I don’t think there’s kinda that much of a mystery to it and a lot of it comes down to luck, but only luck gets you there. Once you’re there you still have to be able to, you know, do the job so I’m saying just work as much as you can and as hard as you can.
Okay and is there anything else you would like to add? To tell your fans or your future fans based on Warhouse?
L.M. : No, that’s it. Your questions have been great.
Okay then, thank you very much and best of luck. I can’t wait to see Warhouse.
L.M. : Oh, thank so much, it’s been great.
Thank you, Luke for taking the time to chat with us and hopefully we’ll hear from you soon.
Here’s the trailer for the thrilling and horrifying movie that we’ve been promised. It’s making me feel trapped and claustrophobic just by looking at it and I have to say, if the trailer alone can do that, it’s bound to be a great movie.