Down in the HUG-bunker, we’ve been getting quite excited about forthcoming Brit-flick, Heartless. Directed by Philip Ridley, and starring Jim Sturgess, and the lovely Clémence Poésy, the film is set to be one of the first British features to benefit from near-simultaneous multi-platform release, coming out at cinemas on Friday 21st May, and being available to buy the following Monday (24th).
We recently spoke with the film’s producer, Richard Raymond, who provided some insight into just how hard it was to get the film off the ground, and just why he and Ridley decided to cast Sturgess.
Transcription by Ted Leighton.
HeyUGuys: If you could begin by talking about Heartless and how the project came about, and your involvement with it.
Richard Raymond: I’d known Philip Ridley for about ten years. What happened was, when I was about twenty two, I read a short story that he had written called Alien Heart, and Alien Heart was such a beautiful short story, it was basically a story set about a young boy who grew up in East London in 1977, and on the night he’s going to propose to his girlfriend, he takes her to see this movie called Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the movie changes his heart forever; and the experience literally changes him as a person, and he realises that he’s never going to be the same again, that he knows now what he wants to be, and he knows now what he wants to do, and he wants to be a, you know, a film maker, a film director.
The movie changes him so much that he can no longer kinda connect with his girlfriend and the movie in that respect kinda destroys his relationship, and it becomes like a triangle love story between one of Steven Spielberg’s best films, and this guy from East London and his girlfriend called Beth, and I read it, when I was about 22 and I fell in love with it, because I always think that most people who are film makers are artists. They can connect with the fact that you’re a little bit different than everyone else when you’re growing up with people when you’re a kid. S, I wanted to make it into a short film, so I wrote to him, and I said ‘I love your writing’. I didn’t know him at all from The Krays or from The Reflecting Skin or The Passion of Darkly Noon, at that time. He wrote back to me, and we met up. It was actually a short film that was going to happen, but, just, for one reason or another, it disappointingly didn’t happen.
But then I realised that I had actually watched his films on television, when I was younger. I remember watching The Reflecting Skin when I was a young teenager, on BBC 2. I fell in love with composition and I remember on that film, it was the first film to ever be broadcast with 185 bars on the top and on the bottom on the screen, which back then on terrestrial TV was a really big thing, and I fell in love with widescreen composition, just kinda instinctively. Then later, when Phil and I had got to know each other, I realised that his film was the one that I saw, that I fell in love with when I was a kid.
So that’s how we met, then I went on a whole different path of directing and writing my own stuff as well as producing.; and then after I’d done a short film that was in Cannes called The Bridge, I really felt that I wanted to produce and I really felt that he [Ridley] was the only director that I wanted to produce for. Not just because I had a relationship with him, but because I just think that he’s such a great talent and a great visionary, a great writer really. So I just phoned him up and I said ‘Phil, I want to produce. And I want to produce for you’, and he said ‘Funny you said that, because I’ve just finished writing the first draft of my first script for the last ten years’. I went ‘Oh brilliant’.
So he literally, that afternoon came round to my apartment, in East London, and he read me the script from start to finish, characterising all of the acting, all of the characters. I just sat there with my heart in my mouth and thought ‘Wow that’s great’, and I said ‘Let’s make that into a film, we’re going to make that into a film’. That began the longest and the hardest journey of my life in getting Heartless off the ground, and that’s how it began.
HUG: Presumably a lot of that hard journey was raising the finance for the film?
RR: Yeah, oh yeah. It is the hardest thing – well, I’m sure there are other hard things in life – but raising finance for a British film that is trying to be different and ambitious is very hard. But at the same time, I’m very positive and I believe in the project whole heartedly. I knew we had something that was really special, and it was also attracting a lot of actors. A lot of actors were reading the script, and wanting to work, and when other great actors and artists that you admire are responding and connecting to the work that you’re doing, it kind of makes you realise yes, I am happy, I’m right in my instinct about this project. This is something worth telling. So yeah, it was very difficult, but we did get there in the end, even though there were a few times where I spent, like a year pushing this enormous boulder up a mountain, and just when it had reached the very top, and I’d spent all my time, all my blood, and my energy and my passion and my money: the whole thing collapsed. The boulder ran all the way back down to the bottom of the mountain; and literally, I’m standing at the bottom of the mountain, going ‘oh, you’ve got to be kidding’. But, you only wallow in disappointment for a fraction of a second, and then you’ve got to pick yourself up, and get on with it, because people are looking to you to be a leader. So I did. And with a lot of support from a lot fantastic people, especially Pippa Cross, my co-producer, we pushed the boulder back up to the top of the mountain and with the help of one Jim Sturgess, got it made.
HUG: So was it a case of, sort of, the funding was there, it was pulled away, which I understand happens quite a lot, and then you went and picked up Jim, and used him as a fund-raising tool?
RR: Yeah, something like that. I think every project goes through a period of ‘Should we have this actor, or is this actor interested’, and nothing was really gelling for a long period of time. We weren’t really finding our feet with any of the actors that we were thinking of, or in talks with. The screenplay was also going through a lot of changes, and Phil was constantly revising, and changing it, and I think there were two kinds of moments that changed it. The first was when I met up with Steve Norris who was the British film commissioner, and then went on to become the Managing Director of the Framestore.
Now the Framestore are a company that do all the visual effects for James Bond. They do all the Harry Potter, they did Avatar. They did the Mech suits in Avatar. They did Clash of the Titans. Steve had put the company in such a position that they had done so many amazing Hollywood films, that they were now able to reinvest in British movies. Which I thought was brilliant, because the types of films they wanted to do were the types of films that we wanted to do, which were visual effect laden movies, but films with a heart, and films that weren’t too ambitious. They were containable in a sense.
So we met up with Steve, and Framestore were the first company to sign onto Heartless before we had any actors or anything. So we knew that we could do the demons, and we knew that we could be ambitious visually with the movie. That was the first change, where we knew we could go for what we really wanted to go for. And the second thing was, I was in a wedding in Prague. I was sitting next to the producer of Across the Universe, Jennifer Todd, and she was telling me all about this young actor that I hadn’t really heard of before called Jim Sturgess. I hadn’t seen Across the Universe, it hadn’t come out yet, and then I remember seeing the trailer for it with my girlfriend at the time. She was like ‘That guy’s amazing’. So I saw it, and I also saw Jim’s other work on Touch of Frost, and some other British television shows that he had done. We felt that he had all the correct characteristics, and Phil felt the same way, and only once we had offered him the film had we noticed 21 and The Other Boleyn Girl and the other films that were coming out. It was still a struggle, but we found a person that we wanted to work with creatively in the lead role.
Then it just so happened that 21 came out in the States and was number one for two weeks. It was a smash hit. I think that was the final – I mean, it was still a huge push after that – but that was the final element that convinced the financers that we could go for it, and do it. You’ve got to question yourself. It’s a contemporary Faust story. Donnie Darko meets Pan’s Labyrinth, in the East End of London. And even though to me, and to many young kids, it’s like ‘that sounds really bloody cool, I want to go see that’, there’s a lot of financers, work really hard, and they come from a studio background, and are not totally in tune with what audiences want half the time, so it’s difficult for them to take that leap of faith, that they did with Jim and the success of 21.
HUG: You received some funding from the Isle of Man. Is that a connection from Phil there?
RR: None at all. None of us had even been to the Isle of Man. The company, Cinema MX had an executive there called Jessica Parker, and I knew Jessica, and she read the script and really loved it and championed it within her company. Marc Samuelson, who was there got really behind it. They were really passionate and they were really pushing for the film. I think the deal there and when they came on board, they were the big main financers for the movie, and they came on board. You get their money, with the stipulation that a minimum of 50% of the movie has to be shot on the Isle of Man, because it’s Government money, so they’re reinvesting in the economy of their land, which is totally fair enough.
It’s great because when you get there, you realise that you’re the only movie shooting there at the time, so everyone is just focused on helping your production. Because it’s a very small and quiet place, it really allows you as an artist to just focus on the movie. If you don’t really have any distractions there, it’s kinda like the whole crew is on a holiday. So it was really great fun. We stayed in a great hotel, and we’d go to work, come back, and we’d all be drinking at night, which was lovely. So all the interiors were set built on the Isle of Man and all the exteriors were shot in East London. 50/50.
HUG: Nice. Would you be able to talk a bit about your function on the set because obviously a producer’s role is partly raising funding, but also getting everything together. The logistical tasks and all that.
RR: I like to see myself as kind of a bigger picture producer, a creative producer. I work with Phil very closely on the screenplay, on all elements of casting. For instance we shot the Genesis HD Panavision, and I have a relationship with Panavision that stretches back 15 years. They’ve always been supportive and fantastic with me. So I was able to bring on cameras from Panavision that we would have never been able to afford, through the relationship, and also just introducing HD to Phil, introducing VFX to Phil. In many ways this was Phil’s first film. He hadn’t been behind a camera in 14 years, and the Industry has changed, so I was reintroducing him to the film industry in the sense of all the new technology that was coming out. I brought on board Pippa Cross as my co-producer and she’s fantastic and very experienced so I was learning a lot from her on this, my first film.
I think my role on set really, if you could compare it to anything, it’s like a teacher watching pupils in a playground. You’re there, and if there’s a problem, someone comes up to you and you’ll fix it. You’re there to support the director, you’re there to support the cast. Every hour of every day in an independent film, there’s lots of problems that are coming up, and the producer is the one that everybody goes to. The director has to remain focused, you have to protect your director, allowing him or her to really remain in their bubble, in their creative bubble, to keep the thing moving. I’m on set every minute of every day. I’m there from the first draft of the screenplay through the twentieth draft, and I’m still editing promotional videos to get out two years later for the film’s release. But you really are there from the first second to last seconds.
HUG: Philip isn’t exclusively a film maker. I know this was the first feature project, but how does working with Philip, who has experience in so many different media compare to working with somebody who is a little more specifically field oriented?
RR: Well my background, I’ve worked on many, many feature films in different capacities. I’ve had a great period of time looking at other film makers and the one thing I love about Philip is he is absolutely 100% focused on nothing other than making the film. I know sounds a bit – well of course the director would be – but Phil isn’t one of those people that once, you know, when lunch is called, he won’t leave the set and go to the bus and have lunch, he will remain on the set, in the moment. He’ll have food, but he’ll just be working, and when you’ve called wrap, he goes straight to his hotel room, and literally look at the script, make notes on the next day of filming, you won’t ever see him in the bar, or socialising, he’s very focused and very professional, and it really sets an incredible tone, because when you step onto the set, when actors step onto the set, they know this is serious, this is business, we’re creating a great piece of work. I think that attitude really gives the actors a lot of confidence. There’s no kind of playing around and having fun, it’s we’re here to make a – hopefully – a great film. He does set that great professional tone.
He’s also a man of great experience. He’s someone with incredible stories and he knows what’s happening. So he’ll always be the one to advise and to listen to, he’s a great guy. He’s fantastic at metaphors. A book could be written just on the metaphors of Philip Ridley. He’ll always say things like ‘This scene has to be like a hot knife cutting through butter’, or ‘shark fin zipping through the water’, like, he’ll always use the most fantastic metaphors. His books are great, he says lines like ‘I love you so much I could burst into flames’. So when we’re making a documentary on the making of Heartless, and Philip is like ‘No, we’ve got to call it Dynamite Sky‘. That’s Phil for you. His imagination is on fire. I love it.
HUG: Perhaps that’s the next project, you should do the Philip Ridley Metaphor Book. Obviously as well as working with Phil, you worked with a lot of top end talent in terms of certainly the British Industry, not just British, but people like Clémence Poésy. How was that?
RR: At the end of the day when you’re working with someone like Phil, as well as being ambitious and working with good material, you’re going to naturally and hopefully attract great talent. I don’t want to make a film without great talent, but great talent doesn’t necessarily have to be famous talent. We’ve made a real effort with making sure that, like Trainspotting, we cast new young incredible British actors, from the stage. We had Luke Treadaway and John MacMillan, and Jack Gordon and Nikita Mistry, a whole host of wonderful young up and coming British actors that in ten years time will be like household names. We wanted to just expose them in great roles for the first time.
Joseph Mawle is like Sean Penn is the most incredible actor, so intense. You can’t take your eyes off of him, and putting them in a role where most other films would be saying that we’ve got to get this actor, or this actor, but we balance it out with having names like Jim Sturgess who also, at the same time, is one of the most talented young actors we have in the UK.
Working with them is great, it gives me confidence. You’re working with people that you find a balance with, they’re on the level. They’re excited by you, and you’re excited by them, and just by being around people like that, you all inspire each other to do better. I sneaked onto a film set when I was 15 years old, so I always pinch myself, and I love it. Totally love it, and I just want to continue working with great actors.
HUG: Fair play. I understand you did sneaked into things, you did the Steven Spielberg school of getting into film making there, didn’t you?
RR: That’s why I did it. I read the that about Steven Spielberg.
HUG: At what stage, because I know you have directed and written some shorts in the past, at what stage did you decide ‘No, I’d rather be a producer’?
RR: When no one came up to me on the short film The Bridge and told me how much… let me start that again. Basically, it’s what you’re not told by people. When I screened The Bridge, so many people had come up to me and said ‘Wow, how did you manage to get that?’, and ‘the production value!’, and ‘it looked incredible, and the visual effects!’, but no one came up and said that my film had moved them, or that they loved the story. I realised that I had a long long way to go as a director, but I also just felt that my natural calling, even though it took me a lot of short films to make me realise that my natural calling was actually as a producer.
I do feel that it’s all still film making though. I’m a very, very creative producer, and I get on very well with the actors, and my eyes don’t glaze over with budget. I enjoy all of that, and I do look forward to getting back behind a camera at some point as a director, but for the moment, I’m really happy producing. Also as a producer, I want to make movies, I don’t want to sit around for years and wait for my next job. You can do a few different films at the same time, and that excites me a lot, and there’s a variety of different stories, and working with different people. There’s no rush.
HUG: This next question you may not want to answer, and that is absolutely fine, to not want to answer on tape, and that is giving details of what you’re working on now, what’s forthcoming?
RR: I can’t go through it yet, but I can say there a number of new films that Philip Ridley and myself would like to do. Two in particular. They are very different to Heartless, but are at the same time very exciting. At the moment, we’re really focused on releasing Heartless and making sure that’s a hit. It’s looking quite successful already. I’m getting so many emails from people, there’s such a clamber to see the film , because Heartless is one of those films that, at the beginning when we screened it, 50% of the audience, thought it was the best thing they’ve ever seen and the other 50% didn’t quite know what to make of it. It’s really funny, that over time people have started to be won over by the film, and that’s really heartening, and we love that. We’re just focused on doing Heartless. Obviously I’ve got a number of projects in development, and hopefully, we’ll announce something by the end of the year. Not just working with Phil but doing other things as well. I’m a big one on ‘Don’t jinx it publicly, until it’s actually green lit’. I think you can really get egg on your face when you do that.
HUG: Although I think you may be the only producer in the entire Industry with that attitude, unlike everyone.
RR: Well that’s the thing. We had Heartless for two and a half years, before we ever announced it, and when you get to the top of the mountain, with the boulder, and it rolls all the way back down, you’re glad you never announced it. Then it carries on and you have a launch party for a film that hasn’t even been shot yet, and it never ends up happening. It’s really embarrassing. You just focus, get the film green lit, and then don’t tell everyone.
Heartless is released at cinemas 21st May, and on DVD/Blu-Ray 24th May.