The Dark Mile screened last week at the 25th Raindance film festival following its first screening at the Edinburgh film festival back in June.
Everything in Gary Love’s The Dark Mile is out of the ordinary, in the most refreshing sense! Breathtaking scenery and stellar performances by female leads Rebecca Calder and Deirdre Mullins is just the beginning.
Here’s Movie Marker’s Marion Donnellier’s interview with director Gary Love and two of the lead actresses Rebecca Calder and Deirdre Mullins.
Gary Love – Director
The Dark Mile is a very unusual film. The first thing that struck me was the mix of genres. It starts of as a romance with breathtaking scenery, than the thriller comes in with bits of horror from now and then. But I don’t think I could come up with the one that prevails.
This is something that slightly concerns me because there are so many labels. The labels are here to sell. But one of the reason I went and started making films in the first place was because I wanted to make beautiful stories, whatever genre they were.
This idea that you need at least three horror moments to be perceived as a horror film is worrying if you are a filmmaker because your are making films to suit a market and if it does not suit, supposedly it is not worth watching or there is no audience for it.
When you look at films like “Deliverance” or “Rosemary’s Baby”, from which there are elements of in my film, it is hard to define in terms of genre. I am not sure what I would call “Rosemary’s Baby”? A thriller? A psychological thriller with horror elements?
The dolls are the fist element of horror that you introduce in the film.
Yeah the dolls are there a bit like the mum standing up in the pub. It is perceived to be a sign of aggression but actually if you look at it with the correct head it’s her own way of saying these women have no place here and should leave.
What was the first thing that made you want to work on that script or with that story?
I was working and living in America for the studios and did not particularly enjoyed working there. The people were lovely and the work was well paid but it was not good fun. I wanted to come back and make films in the UK because there was a market that I understood and I felt I had more support from. So I came back here to make films and set up this company. I was looking for scripts that I felt could get made within a budget with a small group of people but an intense group of people.
What I found exciting working in America was that I would be on a show that costing 7million per episode and the most exciting moment within that episode was when I was in a car with two actors and shooting it. It is not that it tells a particularly good story but it certainly makes you feel that you don’t need the 7 millions, you don’t need the dollies; you don’t need the car chases and the helicopters. I can make it on smaller budget.
I started to concentrate on European films like “Irreversible” or “Il Postino” to understand the size of what I felt was controllable, actor wise. I was looking for smaller scripts in terms of cast, containment and free location.
Just like the landscape in the next film we are doing in East London where there is the new stadium and the new Westfield. It is very diverse but the same people live in the old and live in the new. That is already a backdrop for the film and it is in the script. It makes sense to cultivate the projects around what’s available.
Smaller production, more creative control?
Yes much more. I love the studios, they gave us lots but I am not interested in being another cog in the wheel. I much rather be a cog in my own wheel and do what I want to do. And it either works or it does not.
So why this script?
The locations, which I knew were spectacular.
Was it already Scotland and its Highlands in the script?
Scotland was in the script but what I did not realize was that the writer had never been to Scotland. He said a lot of things about Scotland but when I went there I realized that the location he was talking about in the script was not actually in Scotland but in Suffolk. It turned out my writer had ever been on a boat trip in Suffolk. It was not particularly helpful but when I went to Scotland to look at the locations and see what I could do I realized that it was the perfect location for the film. Amazingly they were doing some work on the bridges in Inverness. Not only was there no one around, there were no one allowed to be around coming from Inverness.
This is something that probably could not have happened with a bigger production.
I went, saw and asked. As everything else, if you don’t have a location manager on 300k a year etc… you can actually have a real conversation with the guy that is running the locks. For most people the closing of the bridge would mean “ Oh my god that is a nightmare” but actually what it meant to me, as a director, was “That could really really work for us”.
Scotland seems to be a character on its own in your film. It creates the most beautiful and emotional scenes. My favorite scene was the scene with the statute of the seven heads. The camera faces the boat with Louise and Claire. The camera follows the boat as it advances and suddenly the statue appears in the foreground. Was that scene already in the script?
No it was not. We saw it when we were there but its story is not the one that was in the film, it is a very old Scottish story. We had to invent the story because we did not know if there was any family member still alive from the original story.
If you are Warner Brothers, you track down all family relatives or you come up with a similar story based around the seven heads.
What was your relationship to Scotland? Have you been there before?
I worked there on this and I have been there before.
You were very lucky with your location and the light. Most scenes depicting Scotland in your film are breathtaking and are filled with light.
I just looked for the sun wherever we were. If the boat was going down that way in the film but the sun was going the other way, I just turned the boat around. Then I would go close on the girls because we would have already established where we are going on a previous wider shot. What we really want is a beautiful shot. As a filmmaker, you are looking for beauty.
Also for me the hope was that it would depict the calm before the storm. When they have the orgasm scene, everything is pretty and beautiful but then there is someone watching through the trees.
In this film on the one side you have beautiful landscapes and a sensual relationship but it is still a thriller with bits of horror. Did you want that contrast? Did you work with the DOP before shooting to work on those scenes?
Yes I spent a lot with the DOP. But lots of time, with our budget, we would get what we were given. We were blessed with the weather. But boats, water and no budget is an incredibly difficult situation. You have to be very well prepared and organized. We always planned as much as we could but lots of things went wrong. The engine broke down, the gearbox broke down…There is nothing you can do, you just need to work around it.
With such beautiful surrounding, did you also get a few nice surprises? Did you ever saw something that made you want to shoot it right there, right now even though it was not in the script?
One evening, we finished shooting and we were going back to base and as we were coming through, the sky happened. The sky was literally pink cerise. We did not have any scenes to shoot and I just said let’s just do this. This was the scene where Louise looks at the stag miniature in her hand and throws it back in the water. We will have the water sound when she throws it, sucking it back into its world but she will look absolutely serene as if she got over the problem. She threw it out and that is how we could get on to ACT II of the film.
Filmmaking, especially at this lever, is all about preparation. Preparation is everything and after that it is luck.
Another thing I wanted to discuss was the ending. You shot three possible endings and switch ending following the screening at the Edinburgh festival. Why did you decide to shoot three endings and why the switch?
Budget. We had a very big lack of funding for the special effects. Some of the special effects did not work for me and we needed to find an alternative ending that would work. Unfortunately with this ending, the audience missed out on too many plot points and it left them feeling ambiguous.
The film not only has female leads but they have no male counterparts. Did you want to make a film with so many female leads?
It came in the script and the first time I read it I thought it was a fantastic idea. I used to be an actor. I started when I was 12 and I stopped when I was 30 and all I ever heard from actresses was there is just not enough work. And it is true! Every girl, Sienna Miller included, all played the “girlfriend of the guy”.
(Notes: Deirdre Mullins comes over to hug Gary Love.)
When you read this kind of story, two things come to your mind. The first thing is that it is going to be great because it is two girls and how often do we see that? That is a selling point for the movie. Secondly, it could potentially capture some imagination. Rebecca and Deirdre had no idea who each other were before we got them together. But these girls got along so well immediately. The chemistry was amazing.
Hopefully you will make more female centered movies in the future?
Wouldn’t that be good? I have an undercover cop story written as a guy at the minute but it would definitely work as a girl and it would make it much more interesting. It would make something that I have not seen before!
Rebecca Calder – Lead Actress/Louise
The Dark Mile is such an interesting but unusual film. It goes from romance, to thriller with horror bits. How did you come about to be part of this project and what interested you most when you first read the script?
The mix of different genres was definitely a factor, it made the project very unusual. I have done romance and thrillers but I have never done all these genres together. Another thing that attracted me was that there were so many female leads in the story.
Louise is a complex character. From the start she is not very approachable to her lover, Claire, but also to the audience. She first comes across as passive. She does not say much and yet she smiles at everyone around her. What attracted you to this character?
It is true that Louise is a complex character. Most of the women I have portrayed before were mostly victims and I can understand how Louise could come across as one as well. She has suffered trauma and she is traumatized but throughout the film she develops into a much stronger women. The scene where Louise learns that she is pregnant is a turning point I think. It is from this moment that, although she has lost a baby before, she realized that this time it could work out and she enters into pure survival mode for herself and for the baby.
What about the ending? What is Louise state of mind during that shocking final scene?
I think this ending is a very emotional scene for Louise. There is a lot going on in her head. Setting fire to the boat is a bold move but she is not a murderer and even at that moment she does not believe herself to be one. Of course then she has no way of knowing that Claire was in the boat. She is in survival mode. I think what she is feeling is mostly rage that the trauma she suffered from when she first lost a child could actually be happening again. She wants to save the baby.
You have played leads before but you always had a male counterpart. What was it like to be surrounded by two other female leads?
I had a wonderful and unique experience. Working with Deirdre was very easy. Gary had us both leaving together so we could get to know each other and make our on-screen relationship as realistic as possible. Most of the crew was made of women which made the whole experience, and in particular the intimate scenes, much more reassuring.
What is next for you?
I cannot say much but what I can say is that it is a TV Series!
Deirdre Mullins – Actress / Claire
How did you come about to be part of this project? What was the first thing about the story/script that got you interested?
We got the script when it was ready to go. Like Rebecca the fact that it was two female leads was tremendous. Also the fact that it was not a gay film or a film about being gay but that the two main characters just happened to be gay was very interesting to me. It was not about being a woman either. It could easily have been two guys or a guy and a girl. It was refreshing.
What about the mix of genres? How did you react to it when you first read the script?
It is a lovely mix and very unusual. It was particularly interesting in terms of acting. You had those beautiful relationships scenes and then at other times there was full-scale shock and frightening things happening.
Was it very challenging role for you?
Yes and very physical too, especially the scenes in the water. One of the endings we shot was Claire swimming to shores and coming out of the water. Another one was in the waterfall when she comes to rescue Louise. We were supposed to be jumping around in the water but the water was freezing and there was little acting needed!
Did they bring you the role of Claire directly?
Interestingly no. They brought us the script and asked me which role I would like to audition for. I have never been asked that before. Most people would think Claire is a horrible character but I felt more drowned to her. I thought she was a lot of fun, quite provocative and confrontational. In most situations she wraps up the tension.
How did you prepare for the character of Claire?
You always start from the script. You don’t want to impose something you would like to play and you need to start from a non-judgmental place. My research brought me to a lot of random places. I asked a lot of my gay friends to make sure I got it right.
Was it the first time you played a gay character? Did you find it challenging?
Yes it was the first time but I did not find it particularly challenging. In fact one of the great thing about playing a gay part with such an amazing person as Rebecca, or maybe it was that we became such great friends, was that it made it so easy to do intimate scenes. There were never any issues with those scenes. It was actually easier in lots of ways.
The film has three female leads. Was it a first for you?
Yes of course! That is such an amazing thing to make. I am so impressed with Gary for almost not noticing that this was the case. I remember asking him if he had to fight for this idea and he would answer that it was simply a great script. I am a core member of Equal Representation for Actresses (ERA), a Campaign group looking to change the male to women ratio. At the moment on kids TV in the UK there are three male characters for every female character. It needs to change!
Did you also find it reassuring to have many women on the crew?
We were shooting on such close quarters, on this tiny little boat, that it was really nice to have many women on the crew. When crews are very male heavy, it creates a particular kind of atmosphere and when you are doing intimate scenes, it is much better to have sensitivity to that and they were all tremendous.
What about the ending?
I have actually never seen the rushes on this ending so I am very intrigued to see it tonight. From all the endings we shot, this would have been my favorite so I am very glad. I think it makes sense and fulfills the arc of the story.
What is your connection to Scotland? Have you been there before?
I went to university in Scotland and in fact since making the film I have been back. I was on a motorbike tour of the UK for a month and I passed through the Highlands. The DOP, John Pardue, made such a great job at capturing the mystique and the mystery of the place.