Calling your first film ‘the world’s first psycho-comedy’ is a sure sign that you know you have something special on your hands and with A Fantastic Fear of Everything director Crispian Mills’ vision of a man possessed by his own imagination is finally committed to film with an eye to a Summer release date.
When we visited the set at Pinewood last year the director was busying himself in the incredibly detailed surrounds of the world he had spent five years creating, a world in which Simon Pegg’s Jack is rapidly losing himself while doing research for a script about a serial killer. Mills too was lost within the muddled miscellany of his set and it would be a few months before he had emerged from the shoot to talk about the history of the film, how it evolved over time and just how difficult it is to get a film made today.
How did you develop your Fantastic Fear of Everything?
It’s been about five years of work, I’d been writing scripts with varying degrees of failure from about 2000 and had a terrible experience with one script which went to the promised land of Hollywood and had turned into something unrecognisable and I realised that if you really, really care about your script then you have to direct it as well. So, I had to find an idea that was pretty simple and would work on a relatively low budget and I found a short story by Bruce Robinson and from the first draft I could see that it could work well with Simon Pegg and luckily for me he saw that possibility too. The first script was more like a short film and then it was developed into an hour long and it grew and grew until it became a mad, three act drama.
Was the original short film just Simon’s character sitting in his home, imagining his fears out loud?
Yeah, it was a guy freaking out on his own, but it grew naturally. It grew because it wanted to and the people who read it wanted it too so it’s had a life of its own, and it becomes an experience where you watch it become a character outside of itself which is really exciting.
How important was the Film Council disbanding and Pinewood’s investment in getting the film made?
At times it was almost impossible. Unless you’ve had a film made, or you’re a brand or a known writer or director it’s very hard. The only film that people want to make are films that have already been made. Anything that is new, people are too scared of the risk. They can’t justify it to their bosses. It can be disheartening but you hang in there and ultimately you need to not give up and meet the right people at the right time.
Having Simon Pegg on board must helped it grow in a new and interesting way, likewise with your co-director Chris Hopewell. How did they enhance the production?
I’d made a couple of music videos in Bristol with Collision Films, which is Chris Hopewell’s company and they had this collective of artists, set decorators, animators and other, sort of, bohemian renegades and it was such a great atmosphere that I thought if I ever made a film then I’d want to make it with these guys and with this kind of spirit and I got romantic ideas with companies like Zoetrope, like a gang of artists. And to a large extent we did it, we managed to make a film which played to our strengths. I knew I had a great animator in Chris so I said – Ok, I’ll write a couple of animation sequences into the movie and as far as bringing alive the fantasy world, this inner world of this writer it’s great to have that. It was a magical experience walking on set everyday, they was so much detail, so much character.
What did Simon bring to the character?
He’s a great actor because you believe in his characters, like all great comedy actors who have such charisma people don’t realise what a great job they were doing. It’s very exciting to be able to write a script knowing you had this personality there, and towards the end of the writing I knew who the cast were going to be and you can have a lot of fun. It’s a very theatrical film, it’s got that clearly defined three act structure and lots of opportunity for Simon Pegg to bounce off the walls. Our Foley Walker said he’d never seen such a manic performance in his life.
Are you happy with the end result after five years in the making?
Seeing it all coming together is pretty exciting, as it’s such an effort to get any film made, especially an independent film that it’s these moments that get you through it. The moments where you say ‘I’m not mad’ and it was all worth it. I’m actually now [November 2011] in Abbey Road, which I haven’t been to for about ten years and we’re finishing off the score which is being put together by Michael Price and it’s a real classic, full-blown Hitchcockian brass section blow out. I had a meeting here with Michael about a year ago to talk about doing this, whether it would become a reality and we talked about spending all of our money on having a great brass section that would get the audience to sit up and say ‘Wow, this is an old-fashioned Hitchcock thriller. This is Bernard Herrmann’ and he’s done the job.