Extra Interview: The Devil’s Business Director Sean Hogan

‘I thought you could do a really great horror version of that play The Dumb Waiter.’

One of the best films we saw at 2011's FrightFest is getting a deserved cinema release on 17th August.

The Devil's Business is probably the most effective horror, British or otherwise, to be released so far this year (an otherwise bad 2012 is set to improve with the likes of Berberian Sound Studio this month). It's the third film from writer and director Sean Hogan - a stagey, nerve-shredding chiller that's Faust meets Harold Pinter.

Billy Clarke and Jack Gordon are the two hitmen who lay in wait at their mark's home, waiting for him to return. As stories are told, confessions are laid bare, the pair's fear increases as they uncover the nightmarish secrets of their target. Read our full review here.

We met up with Hogan in London for a chat about The Devil's Business.

It's fantastic the film is finally getting a theatrical release.
I'm very gratified and relieved it's getting a theatrical release! Essentially this film was very DIY from the get-go. We made a film on a fairly low budget because we wanted to keep control of it, so we owned it ourselves, called in a lot of favours and probably wore everyone's patience very thin! Even when it came time to sell it - and a lot of this follows on from the last movie I did, I had such a nightmare on the sales agents with that - I said to Jen, my producer, 'Look we know enough people in the UK, let's just try and sell to the UK ourselves.' Because we premiered at FrightFest that gave us a great launching pad, and got a few people interested in it. Metrodome came out with the best overall deal.

FrightFest was a big help - how involved are you with the event?
I always go, and I've been going for years as a punter. In the course of going and starting to do stuff, I met the guys, I like a drink and they do too, so we're now mates. They are the hub around which the UK indie horror scene revolves, and when they support you they really support you. They were the first people I showed the rough cut of The Devil's Business. At that point I had no idea what anyone was going to make of it, because it was so small, and had things in it such as the monologue. I gave the disc to Paul McEvoy and he rang me the next day and said he loved it. But the real test was Alan Jones - I got an email saying 'Well I never thought I'd say this, but I really liked your film.' I've made it - I've got Alan's seal of approval!

The Discovery Screen was rammed and I was lucky to get a ticket!
They put it in the Discovery Screen as they thought it was an intimate film and it would play better there, and as the response was so good, they were kicking themselves for not putting it in the big screen!

You've been pretty open about what influenced The Devil's Business, i.e. Harold Pinter.
I never thought it would be the kind of thing people would rumble me on, and I thought eventually someone would go, 'It's a bit like Pinter.' And right from the get-go it was, 'Oh it's like a Harold Pinter play,' so I thought I may as well admit it! I'm not unhappy about being compared to Pinter! Pinter was a big influence on me when I was growing up and learning to write. And yeah, it was a very random thought when we were discussing doing a movie - I thought you could do a really great horror version of that play The Dumb Waiter.

I love how wordy the film is - you said you were worried about the monologue, but that's the most memorable part.
It was a gamble. I like writing characters, and I like writing dialogue. It's not for everyone, but I've seen enough horror films where it's just effects and someone throwing blood up a wall. So I'm happy to try something different. I always knew I wanted there to be a story within the story. I didn't know what it was going to be when I sat down to write it, but it kind of spilled out on to the page. Billy Clarke delivered it brilliantly. It just always seemed to hold. Nine out of ten people like it, but there's always one that falls asleep! I can't help those people!

I take it the wordiness and dry humour is important to you?
I was never a big comedy person, and never had aspirations to write comedy, but it sometimes just sneaks in there, and in this film it definitely did in the early stages. I just went with it. When you write funny lines, you're not entirely sure how funny they are until they're in front of an audience. It was really gratifying to see it working in front of an audience, even more than the horror. I've seen it with foreign audiences where it's subtitled, and they were laughing. It helps build the characters and the relationship, so when things go darker and nastier it packs more of a punch.

Billy Clarke is incredible - what was it you were looking for?
I'm hoping to use Billy again in some stuff, and I know he's done another horror movie off the back of this. Billy's done a couple of things in the genre, but he just responded to the script. He said it's not the sort of thing he would normally do. I'm just looking for good actors. I needed someone with that kind of stillness and coldness about them, and had a certain sense of authority about them. Billy when you meet him is the sweetest, loveliest guy. You wouldn't walk into the room and think, oh my god there's my killer, I've found you. Also his face - he's got a face that looks like he's lived a life. I thought, yes, I want to film your face. I knew he could confront his demons.

Jack Gordon is also brilliant, especially when he's called to get emotional.
That was a mad scramble to shoot. The biggest problem we faced was the weather, as we shot in nine days so it was planned out when we would shoot outside at night. We had to keep changing it because of the rain, so that scene was a last-minute change as we had to shoot something inside as it was raining. Jack hadn't prepared it, and said he didn't really know his words! I said, just go with it, we'll do as many takes as you need, and we stood by with idiot boards. But he knew it well enough that the emotion carried it, and his breaking up worked anyway. Classic low-budget filmmaking!

Can you tell us about the make-up and old-school special effects?
Dan Martin does the special effects work and Jenna Wrage does the make-up. I've known Dan for years, and did my last film Little Deaths. I'd always wanted to work with Dan - we met each other hanging around in Camden. A lot of it was going through Dan's workshop saying, we can use this, we can use that! The baby and all the guts were all Dan's, so I wrote the script around Dan's effects! The main thing was the Homunculus. I gave Dan a Salvador Dali etching, and said I want something like that. It was a woman with two faces jammed together, so I wanted a 3D version of that.

Do you think the low budget make you more creative in a way?
I just felt like I was... It was real seat of my pants thing. I felt I needed twice as much time. But there is definitely an energy to it - 4pm to 4am shoot, and everyone just bandied together to do a good job.

How did you meet your producer Jennifer Handorf, as I get the impression you have a great working relationship?
She's actually married to Dan, the effects guy! That's how I met Jen, and when I first met her she was doing a masters in producing, and working on shorts and promos. I historically have a very bad relationship with producers - I think most of them are frauds and crooks. But when I met her, I instinctively knew she was good. She was originally meant to produce Little Deaths but then produced another film that I wrote that neither of us like to talk about... [Isle of Dogs] But The Devil's Business brought us together. I couldn't have done it without her - that film exists in large part because of her. We lost our location three days before we were meant to shoot, and conned her in-laws into letting us shoot at their house. We had to move everyone from the Welsh border to Winchester, and she worked her arse off to get it made.

So there were no sets, even with the blood and guts?
No sets. She sent me a floor plan so I could plot out where everything could happen, so I rewrote the script to fit. It's on a reasonably busy street, but it looks quite isolated.

Can you tell me about the distinctive light design?
One of the original ideas was that it was going to be quite noirish style writing, but what we did was take a different approach to each room. One room is very blue, the dining room has a greenish light. It was a real mix of noir lighting and Italian movies like Argento. It was really me going, yes, this movie could look stagey, but I want it to look really nice and got the best DP we could for that reason. With cameras now, there's no excuse for making a low budget film that doesn't look good.

Finally, I have to ask - what's the status of Little Deaths?
It's out pretty much everywhere else, played at SXSW, and sold worldwide. It's essentially damaged goods in the UK now. It was meant to have a UK release, but it got screwed up as the execs tried to pull a fast one. So the original distributor backed away. We got a decent deal three years ago, and the execs are trying to get the same deal now. You're not going to get that as the market's changed. You have to take what you can get and just get the film out there, but they don't seem to be doing that. I had to get lawyers involved just to get paid for it. It's a shame, and it's weird for me, as it's the third feature I directed, and it's the first coming out in the UK, so everyone's treating me like this new director. I've been knocking around a few years guys! This is the smallest film I've ever done as well. If some enterprising director wants to pick it up, give me a call!

Watch a clip from The Devil's Business below.


Subscribe to DIY

Buy Now