Who Needs Enemies is a new independent, low-budget British gangster movie described as a cautionary tale about psychopaths. FilmJuice’s James Hay spoke to lead actor Michael McKell and the film’s Writer/Director (among other things), Peter Stylianou about the process of putting together a film on a miniscule budget …
Who Needs Enemies is an interesting and ambitious film. Peter, can you tell us a little about the process of getting it made and how long was it in the making?
It took about three months to make. It was ambitious – obviously it was a low budget film – we pretty much had nothing to work on so we just wrangled all our mates together and a few friends that are into acting and… just went for it. We didn’t want to waste time fundraising. We could have spent time on that, but I wanted to show the world what I could do on no budget.
This was your first feature film as a Director, Peter. You’d done short films before, what was the difference this time and what new challenges did you face?
It was a lot more work. It was much more time consuming, especially in post-production because I was covering everything myself. I’d never want to do it again on that budget …but when I do my next film, I’ll have that experience now.
Looking at the credits, as you say, you did a lot. Was there anything you didn’t do on the film?
Peter: Acting?! … Like I said, I won’t do it again because it was such hard work. Every one was mucking in but there was only about five of us on the crew, so when it came to lugging stuff around, I was the one bending over and carrying stuff around. It was about as raw as it gets.
Michael, can you tell us what it was like from your perspective, working with a first time Director like Peter?
Both Ian [Pirie] and I thought it was very important to work with people who were doing it for the first time – who were brave enough to put their money where their mouth is – and I think it’s very important to support young filmmakers. I’ve done other short films for the same reason. It’s great to do the bigger projects and I’ve got a movie out this year called Rise Of The Spetsnaz, which had a big budget … but it’s very important to support young talent, as everyone’s got to start somewhere.
Looking at all the names in the film, it comes across as a real family affair. Was it a very close-knit crew and was it a fun film to make?
Peter: Yeah, it was. Because nobody really got paid. We just took what we had and with the more known name actors, like Michael McKell and Ian Pirie, they have children that are trying to break into the industry, so as a favour to them, and also to us, they came on board. It sort of did become like a big family … Some of the cast are newcomers, like Kris Johnson, but he’s a natural actor. I’m not sure if we’re exaggerating but we think he’s going to blow up at some point. I think he’s got a lot of talent.
Michael: It really was but because of that there’s a real bond between you. It’s quicker to work, everyone has that shorthand and, you know, when you’re on a budget [like this film was] then you need that and we shot very quickly as a result. I think with that family thing it makes it feel real, it gives it a reality.
The subject matter is very dark. Where did that came from?
Peter: I knew people would be like, ‘oh God not another gangster film’ but at the same time I wanted something that … [commercial] … without being generic. I’ve always been into documentaries and just before writing the script I was watching a lot of documentaries about child abuse.
There’s some pretty black British humour in there. Did that develop as you were filming or had you written it that way?
Peter: The film is actually based on a short film I wrote called Tony And The Dead Man …which is that opening chapter. It was originally meant to be a short film of about ten minutes but then the film grew around that story. I thought if I could make seven more short stories based around that original one, then make it into one feature film. Essentially I wanted each chapter to be it’s own short story, so you could watch each chapter and it would be its own self-contained story. Because that first short story had that black humour, I think it translated to the rest of the film. So, yeah, that was a conscious choice.
Your character, Michael, is grotesque and easily despisable. You seem to be good at playing the villain. I wondered how you approached your performance and how that compared to other characters you’ve played?
I wanted to make him a family man. He loves his wife, absolutely loves her, and he loves his children. He’s a businessman. In his mind, he’s as straight as the manager of the local bank. With that mentality, where he thinks he’s right, it’s just business to him. The fact that he’s talking about children isn’t even in his mind. It’s just business. But he’s lost it. That’s the clever thing with this film – it doesn’t sell you the plot at the beginning. You don’t know that he’s wrong yet. He might be all right!
What first attracted you to the project, Michael?
The script. Without a doubt. I’d been cast in the gangster roll before, so when I looked at the script, although it was within that genre, it said a little bit more. Initially I was going to play the role that Ian Pirie played. Ian and I are friends and have worked together before and we were having a coffee and I asked him if he’d looked at this other character, the one I was playing, and so we talked about it. He rarely gets to play the hero and I was interested to do something different so we actually switched characters because they were more interesting for both of us to approach.
Peter, what’s it like having put so much into the film, and then it finally comes out? How are you feeling now that it’s out there and starting to be seen by audiences?
It feels great. It’s gone further than I thought it would, to get distribution, even a small release, then the world’s going to see it now, which is great. But also, the other side, I had to compromise on so much. There are a lot of things in there that I wish I could have done better, but the budget just wasn’t what I needed to work with. So I’d like to work with a bigger budget next time so I can achieve everything I need to.
So what’s next for you both? Are you planning a holiday to recover and see how this film gets on or are you straight into production on the next one?
Michael: I’ve shot the very last Miss Marple, which screens [on TV] in December, I’ve shot a movie called What’s the Score? which is a celebrity football movie which comes out next year during the World Cup and I start rehearsals next month for the Rod Stewart musical, Tonight’s the Night.
Peter: I’ve actually got a script ready right now to get out there to investors. That’s essentially what Who Needs Enemies is: a calling card. Something we can show and say, ‘we can make films’ and that’s what it’s doing for us and that’s really good. I’m confident we’re going to be able to fund raise and get this next project together which is a psychological horror. In my eyes it’s going to be the one that’s really going to blow up. Hopefully we’ll get bigger distribution for that one and we’re hoping for a Halloween release in 2014. I think after the next one I can take a break!
Who Needs Enemies is on limited release from Friday 29th November.