As the Horror Channel gets set to premier his first frightening feature tonight at 10.55 we caught up Jonathan Glendening to talk about 13Hrs, Strippers vs Werewolves, his own personal Heritage of Horror and becoming Bruce Forsyth.
LoveHorror – I read when you were 5 years old you saw Jaws 3 times in a cinema in Eastbourne, is this where your love for film and horror first started?
Jonathan Glendening – Absolutely. I remember knowing that ‘Ben Gardner’s’ head was going to pop out of that hole in the hull and grabbing my dad’s arm tighter and tighter. Even though I knew it was coming as I’d already seen the film it got me every time! Jaws was a great introduction to movies and of course horror in general. It has great characters, acting and a classic monster! So then, when films like Star Wars and Raiders grab your imagination as well it destines you for a career in film.
LH – You worked on Kenneth Branagh’s Frankenstein as a research assistant, how did that happen and what did it entail?
JG – Kenneth Branagh saw my short film ‘Roadside’ and invited me to meet him. That was a dream come true as he is so talented and has real enthusiasm and really knows how to give you confidence and inspire you. Then from that meeting he kindly asked me to prepare research notes on historical background for the whole cast. For example, for Aiden Quinn playing the captain of the Arctic ship I went to the Greenwich Navel museum and found the ships log of vessels that had gone the ice routes. For Tom Hulce I found the diaries of medical students in 18th Century Vienna and so on. That led to being asked to make character research video tapes for Robert De Niro. So I had a few meetings with Branagh and De Niro sitting either side of me watching the video tapes. Sadly, I was a bit too star-struck to make a really good impression, my head was exploding with excitement rather than being able to concentrate, but nonetheless it was a great experience that fuelled my ambitions and inspired me to continue in the business. Branagh really is an inspiration.
LH – How did you get into directing?
JG – I didn’t really ‘get into’ directing, it’s just something I’ve always done. I made my first film when I was 11, and that was fuelled by my love of Jaws, Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Back in the day, when there were only 3 channels and no video tape you could only see films if they were on at the cinema or on TV – so to relive your favourite things you just went into the garden with your toys and re-enacted them. One day I saw ‘The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark’ which was a self-contained film-school, so I borrowed my friends dad’s cine camera went into his garden and we shot ‘Star Wars & The Empire Strikes Back’ on a three minute roll of film. Of course, it was out of focus and framed badly, but when we watched it back on a projector five weeks later (that’s how long they took to process) we were spellbound by the image on the big screen. So I made another, and another and kept going. So directing is just something I’ve always done and now I’m fortunate to be doing it for a living.
LH – Your film 13Hrs is premiering on the Horror Channel as part of their Heritage of Horror Season, what where your major influences, horror or otherwise, when making that movie?
JG – It may sound odd but the main influence is really the desire to provide a strong female character like Ripley and Clarice Starling. I think ‘Sarah Tyler’ played superbly by Isabella Calthorpe has been moulded by the influence of Alien and Silence of the Lambs. I’ve always been a big fan of the subjective point of view angle that Demme used so effectively in Lambs, so I was certainly trying to use that influence at times. I also love the way Spielberg moves the camera to tell the story, the moves always relate to the emotion on screen so I’d like to cite that influence, and obviously like Jaws we tried our best not to show the creature until the very end, a decision also guided by our schedule! Actually I was very lucky in that my talented DP Jordan Cushing and I share so many cultural references, we did have a short hand when discussing shots. But ultimately, it’s not about trying to impose other films styles on your film but trying to service the script to the best of your ability and to tell the story in a fresh and innovative way.
LH – The story starts out as a dialogue lead family drama, was it important to develop the characters fully before plunging them into the terrifying situation?
JG – The thinking is that if you know who the characters are properly you’ll care when they are ripped apart. Also, we’re trying to set up a human normality before tearing it apart with something super-natural. The creature is also a metaphor for the seething resentments and sibling rivalries, so you need to set those up for the later revelations to work. You always need a calm before the storm and I think these family scenes help lull the viewer into a false sense of expectation about the rest of the film.
LH – The cast are all relatively young all be it experienced actors, what was it like working with them and what was the atmosphere like on set while shooting?
JG – I have to sing all of their praises. Isabella brought with her an intensity and focus that was perfect for her role. Gemma (Atkinson), Gabriel (Thomson) and Tom (Felton) brought their honed professional experience which not only meant they could hit their marks blindfold but were terrific performers too. And Josh (Bowman) and Peter (Gadiot) brought a fresh enthusiasm and certain bravery to try new things. I loved Peter’s performance as ‘Stephen’ as it is skewed and exciting. Obviously, the only problem is keeping such an energetic young cast focused although you don’t want to stop them having fun. I have to say, Josh was a great lead in trying to get the group focused on their character’s personal stories before the takes. I’d love to do another film with all of them again.
LH – There is some great gore and excellent effects in the film, how did you achieve them on a relatively low budget?
JG – I’m delighted you’ve said that as it gives me the chance to sing the praises of John Schoonraad and his company ‘LifeCast’ who made the creature. Arcadia FX provided the on-set effects and between them we managed to come up with some really special moments. On low budget movies you never have the time or money to really go over-board on the FX but they both came up trumps for us. My favourite FX though is when Isabella’s transformation happens and her spine is ‘cracking’ vertebrae… all that was – was a line of socks dragged under a T-shirt and then reversed in the edit, but with a few cracks on the sound track it looked painful and brilliant.
LH – 13Hrs is being released in America this April under the new name Night Wolf, why the name change and how do you think it will be received by the American horror fans?
JG – It’s not a name I like but hey, if Lionsgate think that’s the way to reach a new audience then so be it. However, I think it gives a for-warning of what’s to come which may do the story a disservice. I prefer 13hrs as it’s a discussion point and draws the audience in rather than just telling them straight what you get: it’s set at night… with a wolf. I’ve found people who don’t know it’s a werewolf movie prefer the movie and its revelation than people who know in advance, so I think it’s a bit of a shame. As for reaching the US Audience, well, Tom Felton has a huge following there so I’m sure they’ll like his performance if not the duration, and Josh Bowman has suddenly exploded out there, so maybe… just maybe… even though, its perceived as basically about a bunch of posh Brit-kids… they’ll give it a chance.
LH – Some plot strands and characters are left open at the end of the movie is there any chance of a sequel at all?
JG – The writer Adam Phillips came up with a fantastic treatment for a sequel which I’d love to do. From the darkness of an isolated country house to the sunshine of an exotic temple but with the same dark secrets that spiral out of control… but that’s very much in the early stages yet. However, it’s a fantastic story and if I was to go back to the werewolf genre that would be the one.
LH – Your next film is Strippers vs Werewolves, what is it about werewolves that you love so much?
JG – It’s not really the werewolves that attract me; I mean the wolves in SvW are so different to the creature in 13hrs. In 13hrs, the creature was a representation of an inner disease that was ripping a family apart. It was furless, white, opal and luminescent and looked as though it had been birthed through pain… it is a savage beast. Whereas in SvW, the werewolves are sentient beings and being a werewolf is a lifestyle choice, it just marks their gang apart as ‘a pack’. So both are polar opposite in terms of their takes on a werewolf…. But I can’t deny I love a bit of prosthetic fun.
LH – How did you get involved in that project and what should we expect from your film?
JG – After the incredible success of 13hrs at frightfest I was simply approached and asked if I’d like to do a movie! Eventually I was given Pat Higgins terrific, irreverent script and I thought it would be fun to make and hopefully a good fun romp to watch.
LH – The movie is a horror comedy, what are the differences and challenges in directing something that is meant to be funny and scary as opposed to a straight up horror?
JG – A lot of the humour was in the terrific dialogue and a lot of the horror was in the gruesome scenarios. Then again, a lot of the comedy comes from the visuals of the ridiculous werewolf vs stripper face off in a strip club… honestly, you can’t take this film seriously. Fortunately, the cast did take it seriously and Martin Compston, for example, gives a wonderfully intense performance which I hope really highlights the comedy elements. Robert Englund’s performance for example is terrifying and yet he’s chewing on some very amusing dialogue. I just hope its fun.
LH – The cast for Strippers vs Werewolves features a combination of some super sexy ladies including Ali Bastian, Adele Silva and Lucy Pinder, some great British actors such as Billy Murray and Steven Berkoff and the legendary Robert Englund, what where they all like to work with?
JG – Because Ali was in ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ I used to quote Bruce Forsyth to all the cast and tell each of them ‘You’re my favourite’. It was just a gag, but honestly they were all fantastic. Guest stars like Sarah Douglas, Alan Ford, Steven Berkoff and Robert Englund were obviously very exciting to direct. I have such a huge respect for them all but my favourite moment came on Berkoff’s last shot of the day –
Jonathan: Mr Berkoff sir, do you mind if I squirt blood up your nose through the take?
Berkoff: Oh go on then… if you must…
LH – What’s next for you?
JG – I’m now in a fortunate position where I don’t have to rush into my next project. I want to take my time and develop the next project properly, assemble the right team around me and make the film properly and fulfil a vision to its maximum potential. To that end, I’m proud to have been attached to direct the fabulous new script by Adam Phillips, for a very supportive Producer but that’s early days yet. I’ve got several of my own projects in development that are more ‘drama’ orientated with several companies but I’m in no rush, I just want to get it right.
Jonathan Glendening thank you.
13Hrs is part of the Heritage of Horror Season on The Horror Channel is on Sky 319 / Virgin 149 / Freesat 138 Check out www.horrorchannel.co.uk and twitter.com/horror_channel for more info.