Today: April 25, 2024

Director Neil Mcenery-West On Containment

From a film-hungry teenager hijacking abandoned college edit suits, to working on his debut thriller Containment … director Neil Mcenery-West spills the beans to FilmJuice’s Janet Leigh. WARNING: Spoilers Contained within the article.

You wrote and directed Containment. Was it everything you envisioned it would be when working on the script?
Actually I didn’t write it. That was our brilliant scriptwriter David Lemon. The original premise was mine, and David and I developed the story together. In terms of the story development, the core themes remained the same. The primal side of human nature revealing itself in the face of social collapse and confusion. The family unit. The notion that there are no good or bad people, just ordinary people faced with difficult choices.

How did you come up with the idea for the script?
The premise was kicking around for about fifteen years in one form or another. I love the claustrophobia of contained stories. The cabin fever aspect. And for quite a while it felt as though it would be a logical fit for an independent debut feature.

It was shot in predominately in one location (the flat), what kind problems did that present?
Structurally it was always tricky. It’s harder to keep the plot as interesting if you’re limited to one space. Logistically, the hardest part was shooting on location in a pretty cramped environment. Particularly once you get the cast, crew and equipment in there. It was a challenge for Arthur Mulhern (our DOP) because I wanted a lot of camera/movement freedom within the flat. So he came up with a brilliant scheme for lighting. Using a combination of source lights that you can see in the film, and lights outside of the flat, through the windows. Meaning we were able to get away with having almost no lights on set.

A few other films have done that in the past, like Phone Booth and Panic Room. Did you draw inspiration from any other directors?
They’re very useful reference points in terms of looking at what worked and what didn’t. I don’t think stylistically I really borrowed anything from those two references. Bigger stylistic inspirations for Containment were films like The Thing. Which had a similar scenario and a constant sense of entrapment and unease. Or Seven. It was a great visual reference for how the filmic world disintegrated into a hellish and surreal vision of the characters psychological landscape.

Containment is your debut film. How hard was it getting to the point of a finished, screen-worthy product?
It was quite a journey. Seven years in all. I was very fortunate to have interested investors quite early on. And I was even luckier to have such a great production team to push it forward, and a brilliant writer to collaborate with. When Bandoola Productions came on board things moved very quickly.

Did the actors deliver their roles in the way that you’d hoped?
They went far beyond my imagination. That’s what is so great about working with a brilliant cast. You start with a clear idea in your head of how you want the roles performed, and then a great actor will inhabit the role and give you something unique that you weren’t expecting.

Who is your favourite character in Containment and why?
Very hard choice. Enid is a joy because she’s so funny and frank. Hazel is fascinating because she’s such a survivor and shifts and changes according to her circumstances. But Sergei is probably my favourite character overall. He’s fascinating to me because he’s in some ways the chief antagonist of the piece. And he’s certainly set-up to be an almost stereotypical thug. However, there’s lots of character elements that make him much more rounded. He’s a complex character and very intriguing.

There’s a pretty dark ending for your some of your characters … Did you always envision it that way?
I did. I’m a big fan of dark endings, and to be honest, this film was screaming out for one!

Has filming always been something you’ve been passionate about?
Since I was about thirteen. My neighbour bought a camcorder in 1989, and my friends and I started making films then.

How did you get into it?
I always loved films and making short stories with my mates. Then when I was about fifteen or sixteen I saw Taxi Driver and started to realise what a film director does. We made a short film every single weekend for about three years. And I discovered an edit suite at college that nobody used, and locked myself inside it all day every day. I’d miss classes just to edit our weekend films.

Were the films any good?
Truth be told, I haven’t watched them in years. The early ones are bloody awful but hilarious to watch.

What was the first film you made?
God, I can’t actually remember. Mostly it was just skits like ten minutes of an action movie or a fight scene or something. The first ‘proper’ film which I made and actually edited was called Self Portrait. It was a horror film about an artist trying (and failing) to complete a self-portrait. But every time he erased a part of the picture he wasn’t satisfied with, he got searing pain in that part of his actual face. Let’s just say when the picture gets ripped up it doesn’t end well for him. That was a story my friend Matt came up with.

What directors have inspired you?
Kubrick and Scorsese are two favourites. As is John Carpenter, Antonioni, and more recently Jonathan Glazer and Peter Strickland. I love Walter Murch’s work. His picture and sound editing is remarkable. And some of Paul Schrader’s writing in the 70’s is unparalleled.

What is your favourite film?
My favourite films are probably Taxi Driver and The Shining. But I’m a sucker for Pixar too.

Does that mean you’ve seen Pixar’s Inside Out yet?
Yes, and I absolutely love it! I think the premise is genius, and the execution is one of the most imaginative films I’ve ever seen. That said, I still think Toy Story is the most perfect of the Pixar creations, so that one still tops my list. But Inside Out is brilliant.

Who would you most like to work with and why?
That’s a tough question. To be honest, just passionate and creative individuals. So long as the journey is interesting that’s mainly what counts.

Containment is in UK cinemas and VOD from 11th September.

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