We caught up with director Paul Hyett to discuss his latest movie Peripheral ahead of its August release...
STARBURST: Peripheral is a bit of a departure from your other films, what drew you to the project?
Paul Hyett: I always try to do something different with each film. Originally, the producer, Craig Tuohy called me up and we had a meeting. He said I’ve got this script: one girl in a room, one location, about a computer that's kind of taking over. I thought something on that pitch is not where I want to go, you know, I had just done Howl, which had big effects and I was looking for a bigger budget and bigger in challenge. He said just read the script, and I was like wow, this is like a really well written, really interesting movie - like a comment on the way we live, social media, celebrity obsessiveness, but also about the struggle that an artist has. I've had that all my life in my previous career in prosthetics, you always try to do something and everyone says you're a commercial artist, you got to do this, do this first, and do that first. And you always compromise and now directing, I'm seeing that as well. Sometimes I get great producers that say just do what you want to do. Other times you've got execs that said oh can you cast this person or that person, or what about if you change the ending, and such. So when I got the script to Peripheral, I was bidding for American movies and I suddenly felt what the character of Bobbi was feeling. And I thought I can relate, I understand her struggles. I understand it all and it would actually be nice to make a really interesting comment on everything from called for Britain to the artists struggle with. Essentially obsessiveness and stalking. It just really just really touched me. So, I thought you know something, I don't, I don't care that it's just one person to blame because I just got, I had to get that out of my brain and just concentrate on a really interesting story.
There’s more than one person in it, of course. Fortunately, so you've got a great cast in there again.
Yeah, absolutely. It was lovely to work with Hannah [Arterton] before and I kind of knew that it was going to be a brutal four weeks shoot. It was such a layered character and you know we didn't have much prep, and I mean, we saw, probably 100 girls. And, you know, there are some really great actresses. But we had a kind of shorthand where we worked together before and we knew each other. So many labels work really fast because there just wasn't that much time to develop a character, and if I had to solve actors that I had to work too much with, you know, you're constantly putting all your energy into one person and be aware that this film had to be very visually interesting, you got one room. Rosie [Day] is always wonderful. She came in and she did her stuff and she was as brilliant as she always was. And it was really great to work with Jenny Seagrove, we had chats about The Guardian. She was totally into it, and she liked it and Tom Conti was great to work with. Connor Byrne was great, he played the installer and has so much dialogue. He came in and he nailed it. There was a lot of chat about what the installer should look like, should it be like a geeky guy with glasses? I liked the idea that it was someone intimidating, someone who looked threatening, but was actually the complete artist, and he would come in and he would talk about Stephen King and these great writers, and it was lovely because that was my way of saying don't judge a book by its cover. And Elliot [James Langridge], who played Bobbi's ex-boyfriend was brilliant he did it with a little bit of Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Carribean and I would never thought of that. So yeah, I was just really lucky to have a good bunch of actors.
Were there any influences for the visual style?
In the back of my head was Videodrome, I love that film, but I didn't want to go for that dirty, grainy, style, I wanted to give it its own look. I kind of wanted go to sort of Cronenberg-esque tinge. The director of photography, Peter Taylor, was Ridley Scott's camera operator of choice, and worked on Gravity, Gladiator and stuff, and we talked a lot about how we should do this and give it its own personality. It's a hard when you've got one person in one location in one roon, trying to give it a weird look.
What was the hardest part of filming?
To be honest with you, it's quite my easiest shoot to date. I think the hardest thing was trying to get the emotional level of Bobbi right. It had to be a completely descent. She has such a character journey; her arc, she goes through a massive change of self-realisation. It was work with Hannah to make sure all those beats hit on the right level in emotional tone. Out of all my films that character Bobbi had to be perfect in that what you're feeling with her, what we're seeing on screen. So that I think, for me, was the biggest challenge - just making sure the emotional beats were right.
The time between filming and release has meant that the technology has almost caught up to the film.
Yeah that’s the great thing about it, it's more relevant now than it was three years ago, sometimes it’s the other way round. You know, why are people so obsessed with celebrity? What is it, do people want to live those lives? I was horrified to read that most kids when asked what they want to do replied they want to be a celebrity. They don’t want to be nurse or a doctor or a cardiac surgeon, lawyers or architects, all these amazing jobs. They want to get up onto X Factor, they want to be famous and they want to have Instagram followers and YouTube followers, I just think, really?
It’s interesting seeing it when we’ve all been on lockdown…
Yeah, it's like she's pretty much locked down as well, with that claustrophobic feeling.
We think people will relate to that! Do you miss doing the makeup?
I put down my makeup brush in 2012. And I made that decision to step away. Do I miss it? Not really. I mean, sometimes I miss sculpting, and, but to be honest with you, I've started to do more trying to build up my skills on pre-vis on the computer - I get my creative fixes, you know, there's a part of me that sometimes misses the banter in the workshop with the other guys and your chatting away and sculpting and talking about life. Directing’s a very solitary life because you're at home you work, and you got to film, great social, and then back in the edit room with one person and back to your house with no one. I had a great 20-year career, but it's finished I put it aside and, you know, I'm much happier where I am.
So what's next for you?
I yeah I've got two films in development one that was very close to going. One is called Unnatural Selection. It’s very much a sleepy, New England horror set in Cape Cod. We went out there and reccied it was great. It's basically about a late-night, sort of trashy TV show about conspiracy theories, you know, flat-Earthers, anti-vaxxers come in and talk. There's a host and they try to debunk stuff and one day, a mysterious man walks in and he claims to be a fallen angel. He's deeply charismatic, manipulative, extremely intelligent, and he starts talking about stuff that only historians will know and more and more they thinking, you know, is this guy for real? Later on is his agenda comes and it’s very dark and nihilistic - I won't go any further!
I have another one called The Black Site, which is the second part of my war trilogy, which I started with The Seasoning House. That's about an intelligence officer who gets back from Iraq, it was a particularly brutal tour and she's got a traumatic injury, and she's at home trying to revert back to civilian life in the UK, and she's having these horrible, bizarre, and violent hallucinations and she puts it down to her PTSD, but as they get worse and worse and she starts to worry about her own sanity and that she could hurt her own family. So she goes into regression hypnotherapy, and that opens up all these memories that she just doesn't remember actually happening, and the deeper they go, the darker they go. Basically, she worked at a black ops interrogation site - a black site - and she goes on this journey to find out what really happened. And obviously, it doesn't go well.
Well, we hope things start opening up in the production side of things.
I kept thinking maybe I should really get out of the camera and shoot all those empty supermarkets and empty roads, if I had a nice RED camera I would have!
Peripheral is released on VOD in the UK by Blue Finch Films on August 3rd.