Andrew David Barker is a British born filmmaker turned author, who transformed his love of horror movies into a creative legacy that is blossoming as we speak. I recently reviewed his engaging indie film A Reckoning here and was inspired to take it a step further by getting inside the creative process that birthed this unique cinematic experience.
Hoju Koolander: Aside from this film project you have written two novels, Dead Leaves and The Electric. Was your first artistic ambition to be a filmmaker or an author?
Andrew David Barker: Filmmaking came first. I’ve always loved movies and have always wanted to make them, right from a very young age. When we were 13/14, my friends and I used to get together every Saturday and make a film on my mate’s video camera. We’d remake whatever the film of the day was, be it Die Hard or Back to the Future or whatever, all in my mate’s back garden. So you can imagine how good they were. Anyway, that feeling of being with my friends, having fun, making films, has never gone away. I’m still chasing it, I think.
The desire to write a novel came a little later. Not too much later. I was about 16 when I outlined my first novel, which my friend Ben and I worked on for the next four or five years. We never finished it in the end, but it laid the foundations of what I’d want to do later in life.
HK: Your novella, Dead Leaves uses the 1980’s British political witch hunt against “Video Nasties” as a plot device, how did your affection for horror films influence your choice of subject matter for A Reckoning?
Andrew David Barker: I like DIY horror films. Those films that people went out and made on sheer will and ambition. Films like Night of the Living Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Evil Dead. The filmmakers that made those films forged their own paths. I heard Tobe Hooper say once that he wanted Chainsaw to work like a flare going up from Texas to Hollywood, something that could not be ignored or denied. And he certainly achieved that. So in that sense horror films influenced me a hell of a lot.
HK: Was there a particular film or films you feel influenced the tone of A Reckoning, either in story or style of cinematography?
Andrew David Barker: Robinson Crusoe was a big influence. Matheson’s I Am Legend – that’s a great book. What struck me about that one was Robert Neville’s day to day existence, how he spent his days preparing for nightfall, and the coming of the vampires. Robert Zemeckis’ Cast Away was another one. But also Cormac McCarthy’s The Road had quite a hold on me when I read it.
I also wanted to play around with the dreamlike quality of Terrence Malick films, right through to the eeriness of Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls. I pulled from all these places.
HK: I understand that the film was conceived under the name Straw Man, for obvious reasons, but did it begin life as a film concept or a written piece?
Andrew David Barker: It was written as a film, designed to be doable on an extremely low budget. I wrote the story around the location I found. I discovered an abandoned RAF base just outside of Nottingham, England. It was an entire village just left to ruin and I loved it. I’ve always loved derelict places.
I knew I wanted to make a post-apocalyptic film as my first film, that much I did know, so when I found the location and I just went for it. I wrote to my limitations. Like I say, it was designed in such a way that it would be very possible for me to make on a tiny, tiny budget.
It all happened very fast really. I think I wrote the treatment in the August and we were shooting in the January of the following year. Structurally the film didn’t change much from my original treatment, but dialogue and narration was very much worked on with Leslie Simpson, and he came up with a lot of great lines.
HK: How did you go about selecting Leslie Simpson as your main actor?
Andrew David Barker: I met Les the year before we made the film when I interviewed him around the time Neil Marshall’s Doomsday came out, which Les is in. Later when we had the script, we took a chance and sent it him and he really liked it. I went up to Middlesbrough to stay at Les’s flat soon after and we talked it through. He totally understood the character and the film, and he brought a hell of a lot to the table.
HK: Did Leslie have much input into how scenes were conceived? Was it a collaborative process?
Andrew David Barker: Very collaborative. We were still changing the script a year after we’d finished shooting when we came to record the voiceover. It was always ongoing. We worked well together. When you’ve got someone as good as Les, you can talk it through, set up the shots, and just let him go.
I was very happy for Les to find the scene during a take. He took any given scene to a new and exciting place and we were always moving, always creating, always finding something new to do. It was a great shoot.
HK: What was the process for actually getting the film produced with yourself as director? Was it a finished script that was sold or was it more of a concept pitch?
Andrew David Barker: I set it up for me to direct and I wanted to keep it very small, controllable. Not that I had much choice really. No one was banging the door down wanting me to make a film. I had to generate this myself. I lived with this film for two years, but I didn’t make any money from it. Never have. In fact, I sunk into a lot of debt making this film, one of the factors that derailed me for a number of years.
But this is it… it’s never easy to create anything, and you have to be your own generator, motivator, and, as is often the case, benefactor. Of course I couldn’t have made the film without the initial bit of funding we did get, nor could I have done it without such an amazing crew. It was a labour of love.
HK: How long did the filming take and did shooting during “the worst British winter in 30 years” hinder or help the film ultimately in your opinion?
Part of the way I designed the story was for it to be flexible. I knew I wouldn’t be able to control the elements, obviously, and I knew the location would throw up its own problems. There was no electricity, no running water, and certainly no health and safety, so I often have to bend the story to fit the problem. This happened daily, several times a day. We shot very loose and free, so when the snow came, and boy did it come, we could adapt to it, meaning, the story could adapt to it.
Personally I think the snow added so much. It gives the film an epic scope – it looks wide and vast and brutal. And that works very well for this story.
HK: You use many different styles of lighting and camera effects to evoke the unraveling psyche of your main character throughout the film. Was this mixture of styles planned or were there technical circumstances that led to the visual changes from scene to scene?
Andrew David Barker: A lot of the lighting in this film was natural. We caught almost all of the film in camera. We didn’t have a lot of equipment, and certainly no money for any effects work, so everything that’s in the film, by and large, was captured in the moment. Plus, we shot this entire film in two weeks, so we were up against it and just had to shoot the shit out of it to get it done. We moved fast and caught what we could in the moment.
HK: The most striking moments are those in the classroom as the protagonist erupts in violent rages against his straw students. Were these based on your own school experience in any way and how you view authority?
Andrew David Barker: Ha, well I do have a problem with authority, and growing up in the 80s, school could be something of a battleground, but I’m not sure there’s too much of my schooling in there. There are, however, many of my old school books in the classroom laid out before the straw kids. My work books from when I was about six or seven. There’s a couple of close up’s of drawings by my six year old self.
HK: How did the name “A Reckoning” come to replace “Straw Man” as the title?
Andrew David Barker: Because of the problems we had during post-production, the title Straw Man became tainted for me and I wanted to start afresh. Plus, I thought that this was indeed the lone man’s reckoning, the moment that all he’s lost and all that remains of him is stood in judgement.
HK: I understand that the film was “lost” for many years due to a disagreement with the financiers. Was this a creative dispute that you fell you ultimately won, despite the fate of the film’s delayed release?
Andrew David Barker: The film was lost in the sense that it ended up in legal limbo. It’s still there to be honest. I’m just using the film as a showreel. It still hasn’t had an official release, not in the traditional sense anyway. But what I’m seeing now is that the traditional ways of doing things – the industry standards that were in place when we originally made this film – are now changing so fast that the landscape is almost completely different.
As for who won, I don’t think anybody did. I was derailed for years and am only now returning to filmmaking. People never got to see all that hard work from the cast and crew. Nobody really got to see Les’ utterly incredible performance. If an A-Lister had given that performance, I feel they would have been nominated. It’s a real shame we lost all that time. But I’ve always believed a good story will find its way into the world eventually.
HK: Has this experience soured your desire to continue making films or are you simply wiser from the experience?
Andrew David Barker: It did indeed sour my taste for filmmaking for years. I walked away from this film and filmmaking in general for about six years. I wrote novels and I had a great time doing that, but now I am returning to filmmaking.
I do feel I’m wiser in the sense that I’m in a very different place in my life. When I made A Reckoning I was in a pretty dark place. I was living in bedsits, had no money and was sinking deeper and deeper into the debt hole, plus I was going out and drinking a hell of a lot.
So the film was absolutely everything to me, it was my entire life. That mindset did get it made, but it’s also a dangerous place to live because when it all fell apart during post-production, the hit was hard and lasted years. Now my life is very different and I’m in a lot healthier place to create.
HK: What is your hope for the film’s future now that it is available for all to see through YouTube?
Andrew David Barker: I just hope people find it and see it. Nothing more than that really. I hope they have a good response to it. I see YouTube as any other steaming service really. You can get it on your TV and watch the film as you would any other film. Times are different now. People watch films on their phones, on ipads, whatever. I’ve had to shake off my Gen X way of thinking of how movies are distributed and viewed. Everything has changed and I’ve now fully embraced it.
As for the film, the recent reaction has been absolutely wonderful and I hope it continues to find its audience.
HK: Are there any upcoming projects that those just now becoming aware of your work can look forward to?
Andrew David Barker: Well there’s the two novels out there already, The Electric and Dead Leaves, both film-related coming of age stories. The Electric has a supernatural flavour and is about a cinema that shows movies made by ghosts and that novel has been picked up by a company in the US for a movie version. It’s currently doing the rounds in Hollywood and is getting a good response, but we’ll have to see on that one.
Dead Leaves is a darker book, set during the video nasty era we had here in the UK about a group of horror fans who go in search of a copy of the notorious ‘nasty’ The Evil Dead. I’ve written a screenplay for that one that I’d love to make someday.
But up next is me is returning to directing. I’m going to start small. I’m shooting a short film in the New Year and do have a feature script I’m hoping to shoot in the spring. It’s a very different beast to A Reckoning. More of a Joe Swanberg type of thing.
I want to embrace this new age of consuming stories. I love what Neill Blomkamp is doing with Oats Studios. I think the model of movies, their structures, their standard length, is all up for change. I’d be happy making 45/50 minute movies. Content that people can view in and around their increasingly busy lives.
I think we’re going to go back to how it was when films were first invented – short, experimental films that push the boundaries of how we tell and view the stories of our species.
Thank you very much to Andrew David Barker for this interview. You can visit andrewdavidbarker.com to find out more about his work.