Rather than be influenced by any particular films, I’ve been influenced by styles of movies. Mainly Film Noir of the 40s and 50s and the documentary style of the films of the 60s and 70s.
DEVIATION is precisely that: an innocent person thrown into a dark, bleak world in which there seems to be no way out. This in itself is a very film noir concept (THE SET UP, SUNSET BOULEVARD, etc). So I chose the shadowy, bleak world of the film noir and treated it with the more visceral and realistic storytelling of the 60’s and 70’s films (DUEL, EASY RIDER, etc.)
To be fair, I have not seen any movie in which protagonist and antagonist spend an hour and a half in a car, driving around town so I couldn’t possibly say that DEVIATION was inspired by any particular film. However, I could cite films like COLLATERAL and THE HITCHER as distant references.
Why did you choose the title DEVIATION?
That’s because it personifies the film on two levels.
First meaning is obviously that the whole film is a deviation for our main protagonist Amber (played by Anna Walton): she’s on her way home after a long day at work and she’s randomly kidnapped by a nutcase on the run (played by Danny Dyer).
Second meaning relates to the character of Frank played by Danny Dyer. As already mentioned, he’s a psychopath on the run. His psychopath nature could be construed as ‘deviant’ behaviour or a deviation from the norm.
How did I keep the tension going? Easy. Create a formidable antagonist for our heroine Anna. That’s about it.
The premise is already strong: how would you feel if you were kidnapped randomly? This already helps greatly in creating tension from the start. Put yourself in Anna’s shoes for one second: who is this guy? Why am I being kidnapped? What does he want? Does he want to kill me? Rape me? Where is he taking me? And as you progress in the story, well, you provide answers to her questions.
So the first step for me was to fling my protagonist in the worst possible situation. In Anna’s case, I threw her in the hands of a very dangerous psychopath with a record of murdering women.
The second step to keep the tension going was the antagonist, ie: the psychopath. I had to make sure that he was unpredictable, volatile and yet capable of utter generosity and gentleness. This way our protagonist never knows what she’s up against. Second guessing her enemy leads to nowhere as well: she can’t fathom or predict him. And this is important: this heightens the danger our protagonist is in.
Nothing new here. This had been done since the dark ages of storytelling which is awash with heroes having to fight some unknown, strange dark monsters. Our good old friend Ulysses had to deal with a few of these beasts.
Nobody. If you have to kill / sleep with / blackmail to get funding for your film, you are going about the wrong way to get your film produced.
I just went down the usual, well proven route: write (hopefully!) a killer screenplay, get some known actors on board by using the screenplay as a lure and then sell it to potential investors.
Oh, and try to keep your costs low so that means that you should work with a very good producer. In my case, that was my producing partner: Lara Greenway.
What makes a "good" Thriller in your opinion?
What kind of thriller? There are many kind of thrillers. The Bond thriller? Yes, it’s thrilling but it’s a rollercoaster more than anything as we all know very well that Bond is going to come through his ordeals unscathed. Same with the Bourne movies but they have a darker tone. So, in that kind of thriller, you better come up with a real rollercoaster of a ride in terms of stunts, special effects, chases, etc. etc.
Or you have the smaller types of thrillers, such as DEVIATION. For me, that kind of thriller works only if a) it has a strong, PRIMAL premise and b) it has strong characters. The reason is obvious: unless I did it illegally, my budget wouldn’t allow me to blow up the Parliament or have a car chase in Leicester Square. Also this kind of character-based thrillers tends to have an element of horror too.
Again this is what I’ve tried to do with DEVIATION. Anna, a nurse, has just finished her shift. She heads for her car as she speaks to her partner and then her daughter on her mobile. She gets into her car about to drive off. Bang! A psychopath barges into her car, ties her hand to her seat: she is abducted.
Strong characters are of utter importance. Your protagonists have got to be people that we care for, feel for and love. If they are not, you are dead in the water. Who is going to care about someone who is unlikeable? Take Amber in DEVIATION. Who is going to give a flying monkey about her if she is introduced as some kind of dour, bossy and sarcastic head nurse?
As for your antagonists, they have to be scary. Really formidable. Would you be scared if you were kidnapped, terrorized, pursued by a Teletubby or a Womble or Mickey Mouse? Nope, I didn’t think so either.
Hannibal Lecter, Norman Bates, Annie Wilkes, Max Cady or Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci in GOODFELLAS) are the kind of characters you want. Would you like to be locked up in a room with them? I know I wouldn’t.
One word of caution though. Too many dangerous criminals I see in films tend to be a rehash of other movie psychopaths. Net result? They are so ‘unreal’ that they wouldn’t scare a 2 year old baby.
Without revealing too much about Danny Dyer’s character in DEVIATION, I based him on Raoul Moat (read and watched everything about him) and a real life ex-killer that I know. (He’s still alive so, out of respect, I am not going to name him. Also for those of you worried about my safety, he has gone straight a long time ago. Last time he killed was during a holiday in Cyprus. A pesky mosquito had the misfortune of entering my friend’s hotel room but I digress...!) Some other traits of his character were added after an extensive research into the sexuality of real-life psychopaths (Yep, I’ve got nothing to do with my time.)
THE HITCHER (the original!) had a great PRIMAL premise: young guy picks up a hitch-hiker and within minutes, the hitch hiker promises to kill him. And throughout the film, the hitcher – played by the suitably sinister Rutger Hauer – proves to be a formidable antagonist.
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (the original). Yes, I know some see it as horror. However, one should also see it as a great thriller too. That bunch of young people were up against a seriously deranged man.
HALLOWEEN. Same thing. Sure, it had its horror moments but I see it mainly as a thriller as we watch young people in small town America being stalked by a psychopath on the run.
And of course, the wonderful BURIED. Now here’s a thriller that didn’t even have an antagonist. Well, maybe it has the semblance of an antagonist in the form of the Iraqi kidnapper but we never see him. However, this is a great example of bold screenwriting by Chris Sparling: a bloke wakes up and finds himself in a coffin, buried somewhere in Iraq during the Iraqi war. The result is not only terrifying but thrilling.
What are you working on at the moment?
Deviation, Deviation, Deviation! We are about to lock the picture edit and to proceed with the sound, grading, etc. Other than that, I am finishing a rewrite for a film which is due to go into production next month. If DEVIATION is a hit and I am allowed anywhere near a camera, I am also toying with a few ideas for my next film...