The Holding

12/09/2011

Ali Emm caught up with Susan Jacobson to talk about her directorial debut


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There’s a new UK film that has hit independent cinemas this week.  Starring Nottingham home-grown talent Georgia Groome, The Holding is set on a remote farm in the Peak District.  The story follows Cassie (Kierston Wearing) who has murdered her husband and buried him in the grounds of her farm secretly.  Eight months later and an enigmatic stranger shows up (Vincent Regan) and he wants to know where her husband is. LeftLion caught up with the director, Susan Jacobson, in anticipation of the release…

Would you say that The Holding is more in the thriller or horror genre?

I would call it a burning thriller that edges towards horror. 

Are you a thriller fan?
Oh my goodness, yes, a huge thriller fan - I couldn’t not be.  I would say the ultimate, the perfect film for me, is probably Seven.  If I could make a film close to that I would feel that I’d arrived.

How did you find it, as a director, building up the tension throughout the film?
We were filming in July and I had a long chat with my director of photography about how we were going to portray this film and how we wanted to turn the look of the UK on its head.  Given that there had been such beautiful, hot, sunny weather we were thinking of going down the route of the whole burnt out, claustrophobic.  But then we started filming and it started to rain and didn’t stop for four weeks, so we had to rethink the look.  I still think we did a good job in getting away from the usual gritty, grimy look of the UK.  We’ve brought out the colours and created a kind of tension through that. 

It was filmed in the Peak District – was it always the intention to film have that as the location?
Yes.  The writer, James Dormer, is from Sheffield and he’d spenta couple of years working on a dairy farm in the Peak District.  He set the story there and it was always our intention to film it there.  We had a few suggestions that we film it somewhere just outside the M25, but it’s just not the same.

With all the reviews trickling through now that it’s had its premiere and its general release on 9 September, do you just sometimes think “I don’t want to look!”

Honestly, I had to really work myself up to the whole release, all I really wanted to do was dig a really big hole and bury myself for a month.  But then I realised I had to man up – or woman up – to it and, to my surprise, the reviews have been really good so it’s actually been a really nice journey to go on.  I don’t know why I expected worse but when you make a film you try and tell a story and hope that it comes out well.

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You had your premiere at the Film 4 FrightFest in August, how did it go down with the horror and thriller fans there?
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t was absolutely brilliant.  This is my first feature and I was quite nervous but we screened it just off Leicester Square.  Massive screen, amazing sound and it went down fantastically and the audiences were amazing.  The Q&A after was great, one person in the audience wanted to know why all the men died in the film but, you know, yeah…  It was just me and one other female director at the festival so we were kind of flying the flag.

There aren’t many female directors in the industry, do you have an opinion on why that might be?
I don’t know, the only thing that I can think of is babies.  You have to devote yourself to making a feature film 24/7 for two years and if you have children it’s not that easy.  I don’t know why there are so few though… I think it’s a shame because we’re missing out a larger, different voice out there in cinema. 

It is quite a female centred film – was it that or something else that grabbed you about the script?
There were many elements but definitely having the three main characters as women, of course that appealed to me.  I think having a gutsy female lead was really important to me. But, more importantly, the story and the subject matter.  The writer, James, is so evocative and I love the way he writes, the script was a page turner and it just really grabbed me on so many levels.

Did you have any input into casting the film?
I had loads: the three leads, we offered them the roles without an audition which is quite standard for leads.  Kierston Wearing came on board very early on and hadn’t even finished reading the script before she said yes.  She was top of my list because she’s just a phenomenal actress.  Then we got Vincent Regan on board, he came with so many wonderful ideas.  Then David Bradley, that was suggested by the casting director, he’d just come off Harry Potter and I think he wanted to do something a little softer, a little bit different and he plays quite a different role in this film, he’s a bit of a father figure to the main character.

You’ve worked in a number of roles in the eighteen years you’ve been in the industry…
I started in a production office working for Richard Attenborough Productions as a runner, then I went into sound and then I started in the camera department. 

Do you think your broad background in the industry has made you a better director because you understand a lot of the processes behind making a film?
I don’t know if it’s made me a better director, but it has certainly given me more confidence because I know what I’m talking about from a technical side.  I’m not daunted by technically what goes on but I had to do a lot of hard work with the actors because my training ground is technical.  Working with the actors, I spent a lot of time trying to hone that craft.

This is your directorial debut for a feature film, was it a daunting experience to go into?
I’ve been working up to that point of directing a feature film for so long; I’d directed four shorts, I’d done commercials and corporates and been in the industry for eighteen years so I really felt ready.  I was aware that, as my first time, my only ammunition going into the shoot was to be as prepared as I could possibly be.  So I was ridiculously prepared and I knew every line, everything backwards so that I could go in there and know what I wanted.  You’ve always got to change your mind or work ‘round problems that crop up as you shoot, with all the prep I felt confident because I knew where I wanted to navigate the film.  So, I was ready and I loved the whole shoot process!
 

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Did you shoot on digital or film?
The Holding was shot on RED camera, so it was digital.  But that was my first experience of digital.  My training in the camera department was always film and I think I’m a bit of a purist in that given the choice I’d always use film.  I think digital has been fantastic in opening it up and making it easier to shoot on - I don’t think it quite matches up to film, though, even now. 

What was the most difficult bit about making the film?
It was post-production.  I’d only done shorts previously so the whole editing process where you’re trying to tell the best story you can tell, and find the story in the reams of footage that you’ve got was really, really interesting.  With short films or corporates or whatever, it’s so focused and you have a definite concise thing that you want to say.  But with a feature length you’re building a story.  It was stressful yet incredibly satisfying.

It must take a long time to go through the hours and hours of footage…
It was six months which, realistically speaking, isn’t a long time but it was a very intense process. We were constrained by budget which was good because it keeps the footage down!  Also, I’ve got an amazing editor who did an assembly version so he sorted it all and picked out the good bits for me to go through.  There’s so many ways to tell a story and I the trick was finding the best story in what we’d shot. Of course, the wonderful thing is putting the music on, that really makes it a whole piece. 

Is it an instrumental score?
Totally instrumental. We couldn’t afford to have musicians so our composer, James Edward Barker, did all the composing on his computer and he did an amazing job in such a short space of time.  My one pet hate for this genre is violins because it’s done so much and it’s indicative of a thriller to have violins to create tension. We had a lot of discussions, I was adamant that it would be far more underlying, more subtle - like a heartbeat throughout the film. The unsung hero in film is the sound – it’s such a huge part of making a film yet so unnoticed when you think about the hundreds of tracks that go down; from the sound of cows in the background to the rustle of leaves.  All these sounds are constantly there in a scene and they just add to the flavour of the setting. That was a great part of the post-production, the sound design. 

Do you have anything else in the pipeline?
We’ve got four films in development at the moment.  One of which is called the 38th Parallel and that’s steaming ahead.  It’s a thriller set in North Korea and is based in an ambulance which is hurtling towards the South Korean border.  Also, The Holding has just gotten into Fantastic Fest in Austin, and the After Dark Festival in Toronto, so I’m popping over to the US in October to attend them and see how they go down… 

If you could have directed any film in history what would it be?
How can you get close to Hitchcock, he was the master of storytelling.  But, yeah, I still think Fincher has got something really special.  Even The Social Network is a brilliant thriller and it’s just people talking in a room and he really manages to create tension out of, I don’t know what… genius.

The Holding will be playing at Broadway until Thursday 16 September. Susan will be taking audience questions after the Monday 13 September, 6.30pm screening. 

The Holding official website
 

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