Joining us on the phone ahead of his film’s English premiere at FrightFest 2017 this weekend, Danny spoke to us pretty candidly about everything from struggling with script changes to making sure every character, no matter the gender, was well-rounded and believable.
So to start at the beginning, this is your’s and Ben Barfoot’s first feature – how did it all come together?
Well it was a really, really long and slow process, but basically in a nutshell: me and Ben had been making these little short films online, just chucking them up, and not many people were seeing them. But the people that did see them liked them, and I always knew I wanted to have a go at writing a full feature-length script. I knew I had to keep it simple because I’m not very clever, and I knew it had to be maybe a few characters, over a short period of time. So I had the idea of the two guys and the two girls and this central concept of a guy who was crippling shy, and nervous talking to women, and the one night he chose to conquer his fears was the one night he really should’ve stayed at home.
Basically, I didn’t really know what I was doing, so I just started writing a very rough first draft, about 6 or 7 years ago. And then I luckily met Matt [Matthew James Wilkinson – the film’s producer], who read it, saw enough potential in it and said it needed work but we could do something with it. And then me and him spent about a year reworking it, and shaping and moulding it; he taught me about structure and stuff like that, and when we had it at a good place, Matt started shopping it around, looking for funding. Then another 30 years later the film gets made! [laughs]
Did you always envision yourself as the lead when you first started writing?
Oh yeah! That was one of the main reasons I made it, no one was giving me lead roles in films. I’m not the kind of actor that you would normally bring in for the leading guy who gets the girl; I’m normally the friend who says something funny and then pisses off. So I thought, fuck it, I’ll write myself one, and make sure that it’s me. I’ll describe myself in the script so they can’t possibly give it to anyone else!
It was a part I always wanted to play and it was a part I felt comfortable playing. I knew it was my first lead role in a film, so I didn’t want to give myself too much to do. I gave myself a nervous character because I knew I’d be nervous doing it, so I figured it’d just look like brilliant acting instead!
Bringing in the other characters too – especially in horror movies there’s such a rich background for great female roles, and you have two of them here in Kitty and Lulu. Were there any goalposts you had in mind when writing them?
As the youngest brother of two older sisters, just don’t fuck up the female characters, they would’ve beaten me up. I didn’t want to have one-dimensional female psycho killers, it was very important to me that they had at least a couple of dimensions to them and were slightly more rounded. They weren’t really based on anyone specific but I was just adamant that they were interesting – I just didn’t want them to turn into your classic slasher psycho girls, with no background or heart and soul to them.
Also a lot of that came from the actors. Someone like Georgia [Groome] for example, there isn’t that much Lulu on the page but with her eyes she can just say so much. She conveys a lot of pain and torment and stuff with the eyes, that makes it look like great writing but actually it’s just an actor saving my arse! [laughs] And Kelly [Wenham] as well, just grabbed the character of Kitty and ran with it. So I just lucked out with actors, but it was very important to me that the female characters were at least one and a half dimensional, if not three dimensional…
With comedy a lot of the time too, you need that natural spark between the actors, and the four leads really bounce off each other well – was that something that came more from improvisation?
The way me and Ben have always worked is we use a lot of improvisation; our short films were mostly improvised. It was just Ben pointing a camera at me and I’d piss around for an hour and a half, then he’d cut it together and turn it into something mildly amusing. We knew we wanted to keep that sort of loose feel to it, and it really helps in a script like this where you’ve got to believe those relationships. We’ve got two best friends, and we’ve got two sisters, which are both very close, loving relationships that go way back. So it was very important to me that those relationships felt believable, and using a bit of improvisation meant we had these moments of very natural rapport.
I mean you get someone like Michael Socha, you’ve just got to try and stop him from improvising, he just gives you all this amazing shit every day, so you just let him go and turn the camera on!
Looking at Double Date as a horror movie too, there’s quite a few moments where you push the envelope quite a bit. Was there ever a moment during the writing where you had to hold yourself back at all?
Actually no, it was sort of the opposite, I wasn’t pushing it far enough! We wanted to make an impression with this film; it’s a small film, we wanted to slap people around the face so they walk out thinking “what the hell was that?”. Ben and Matt were very good at encouraging me to push it and push it, and push it a bit more, and just be confident that you’ve earned the right to take the audience wherever you want to take them. I was always wanting to keep it really small but in the end I’m really glad we did what we did, because the reaction we get during the third act is very cool.
Just to round things off – it’s been a very long journey for you making Double Date, are there any tips you would give to someone just starting off their filmmaking journey, to help them along?
Just be proactive. I’ve been guilty of just sitting around and waiting for the phone to ring, it’s just the thing you always look back on and think “I could’ve been doing something with that time!”. And it’s so easy to make stuff now, all you need is a few mates, a fucking iPhone and someone to be able to cut it all on a laptop and you can make stuff. So yeah, my tip is just to be proactive and get some mates together, make some stuff. Put them up, get feedback, get reactions. It’s so much better than just sitting around waiting.
And if you’ve got a script you’ve written, and you wanna try and get somewhere with it, you have to be brave enough to show it to people, and also be willing to accept it when people tell you it’s shit, or that it needs a lot of work. Don’t take it to heart, or take it personally, just realise that the only way you’re gonna get better, is by people telling you you’re shit for a long time [laughs], but it does get better!
Double Date is screening as part of FrightFest 2017, and will be released in the UK more widely on 13th October.