Writer and director D.R. Hood, whose first feature Wreckers starred Claire Foy and Benedict Cumberbatch, talks to us about her new feature film, Us Among the Stones. The film is about Owen (Laurence Fox) who goes to see his dying mother, Marianne, (Anna Calder-Marshall). He is recently separated from the woman he loves while his extended family also return to the house and slide back into their childhood roles and rituals.
My description doesn’t do the film justice, so can you tell us a little bit more about Us Among the Stones?
It's about a man who comes home stuck and leaves liberated... it's also about a family's longer history and presence in a house. The story came about first of all through a visit my sister made to an ancient house in Cornwall when she was a student. She described to me the owner, who was an ex-hippy, and the ancient origins of the house. Although I only got to visit the house 15 years later, somehow this sparked a story along with some thoughts I was having at the time about relationships and parents.
It sounds like an ambitious project. How did you go about financing and getting the crew and actors on board?
The film has been made independently. Although it's ambitious thematically, it's quite a contained story in terms of locations. We decided we would shoot everything in the script except for a few scenes but in order to do so we would need to use different formats and several cameras, and the main shoot would be very swift, topped up with multiple insert shoots that did not involve actors. It gives the film a very particular flavour - it's like a mosaic.
The actors came on board at the last minute knowing that it was only a 3 week shoot, crew similarly, except for the director of photography Annemarie Lean-Vercoe who was on the project for 2 years, shooting development pieces and landscapes, and my editor Claire Pringle. I think the length of development time in the end enabled us to shoot quite a complex piece very swiftly.
This isn’t your first feature, so what did you learn from Wreckers, that you brought into Us Among the Stones?
I learned an enormous amount through Wreckers but it is hard to quantify as every project really does present new challenges. I think Steven Spielberg says that every project is like diving off a high diving board? It was great to work with Annemarie again as we had developed a language together over Wreckers and I think this enabled us to be freer with this film, which suits the subject matter. Sinead Matthews, who plays Sharon in Wreckers, also signed up to play Anna in Us Among The Stones.
How did Wreckers come about?
I grew up in a village and had wanted to make a film about village life for a long time. I was trying to write a comedy on a completely different subject and had taken a couple of weeks off to dive into it - when I found myself writing Wreckers instead!
You’ve also done some short films, apart from length, what do find the main difference is between them and features?
In some ways I think making shorts is harder than features because there is less lee-way and also you have to set everything up including cast and location for a short too. Shorts have to say so much in so little time. I would find it an incredible discipline to go back to making a short that works.
Is working on shorts a great way to learn the art before moving on to features?
Definitely so. I made many shorts that have not seen the light of day before the two that were more successful. You learn a lot about casting, finding a visual language, and working with a team.
What came first, writing or directing?
Probably writing - it's the engine room.
And, finally, can you tell us about any future projects you have planned once Us Among the Stones is complete?
Yes! I have two comedy projects that I am very keen to get away - one about ex-footballers (!) and one a rom-com with fantasy elements about a young woman who has to go and fetch her lover from the underworld. I also have a theatre project, a very dark piece based on the Medea story.
To find out more about D R Hood's upcoming projects visit likely story.