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On the Set of AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS

Written By:

Martin Unsworth
await further instructions

STARBURST goes on location in Yorkshire for an exciting new film starring the legendary DAVID BRADLEY. Want to know more? AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS…

On the outskirts of a tiny village just outside of York is a hidden gem; a film studio in which the Editors of this esteemed magazine have been granted a visit to catch a day’s filming on a new sci-fi/horror thriller, entitled Await Further Instructions. GSP Studios has seen all manner of productions over recent times and has a fascinating history of its own. Formally a pig farm, it was turned into an acting college before the passing of the owner, and its renovation to the glorious facility it is today. It has a dedicated green screen wall, but that’s not in use for this movie. Instead, there’s a stunningly split-level recreation of a normal, terraced family home. It’s this location that the majority of the film will take place, and as we walk around the set; we can already feel a sense of tension and claustrophobia.

The film in question is the brainchild of writer Gavin Williams, who gained great praise for his short film Sleepworking when it toured the festivals in 2014. With a talented director, Johnny Kevorkian (The Disappeared) and an equally brilliant cast – headed by veteran actor David Bradley (Game of Thrones, The Strain, and Harry Potter) – it’s clear the film is going to be something special. But what of the plot? Short of giving away too many secrets, the movie takes place over a tense Christmas in the Milgram household, where their estranged son, Nick (Sam Gittens), has brought his girlfriend, Annji (Neeja Naik), for the Yuletide get-together. Family tensions flair and old wounds are opened as it’s clear there’s something wrong with the domestic unit. Father Tony (Grant Masters) struggles with his emotions as he tries to keep things under control while Grandad (Bradley) displays what can only be called old-time values and ignorance when it comes to accepting Annji.

await further instructions

As the young couple prepare to make an early getaway from the strife on Christmas morning, they find they are trapped inside the house by a mysterious black substance. It has sealed the doors and the windows. They have no idea what’s going on. Nuclear war? Terrorist attack? Prank? The already overwrought situation descends even further into panic and anger. Hoping for answers, they turn on the television – but there’s no signal; the only thing they can get on there is a simple written, portentous, message: stay indoors and await further instructions.

After being shown around the impressive set, we settle down and manage to grab some time with the people involved. Director Johnny Kevorkian’s enthusiasm for the story is infectious as he tells us why he chose it as his second feature film, “For me, it’s because it was so different to the usual stuff that comes across my desk. It’s a character story about a broken family, and then you’ve got the sci-fi element on top of that, and then we go into the horror territory as well.

await further instructions
There’s certainly an influence of classic genre tales at play here, and Johnny is honest, “I’m a big ‘80s horror/sci-fi fan so films like The Thing and Alien, where it’s an ensemble piece with people’s nerves jangled.” He goes on to explain how that scenario relates to this film, “You have the first incident in the film, and you think ‘where did this come from?’ It’s so sudden. It just continues from there; things escalate far worse than you could ever imagine. I thought that was just brilliant. You just don’t know what has sealed them inside the house.
Writer Gavin Williams explained to us how the idea for the story came to him, “I actually know almost to the half hour when I got the idea. It was New Year’s Eve, travelling home 2007/8 with my then girlfriend, listening to an album – Boxer by The National – I’d bought her for Christmas. There’s a track on it called Apartment Story. A lyric set off the idea – something like ‘Stay indoors until somebody finds you. Do whatever the TV tells you’ and my little writer brain lit up with a spark. If you’re a screenwriter and want films to be made, you have to find ways to contain them or do them in a manageable way. I instantly had this idea about people who are trapped, and just have this little window of information that they’re being given in the form of instructions through a TV.” The story also has parallels to the way people rely on the television and Internet to form opinions and access information, as Gavin explains, “It’s that power that the media has; nebulous authority. Society’s so complex now. ‘Experts’ have differing opinions – who do you believe?” This translates with the movie and how the characters react, “It’s very much a story about authority on all sorts of levels, and the media and control and those sorts of things. Right at the start, I knew it was a horror and dark science fiction idea and had to be about a family, levels of authority and these relationships.

And it’s this family dynamic that will cause a lot of the turmoil in the early stages of the film, and make the latter part even more difficult, as Grant Masters, who plays the father, explains, “Tony is damaged right from the start. You find out in the first act why he’s like that. He’s got a very uncomfortable and disturbing childhood history. His past has caught up with him emotionally, and these events take place and force them to come up.” The inter-family squabbles make the situation worse, “There’s a lot of social power plays taking place throughout. They can’t get out of the house; it’s sealed up. It’s like a pressure cooker, they’re in there, there’s nothing you can do, and you’re just going to have to take it.

await further instructions

The key reason Grant’s character Tony is so messed up is having to grow up in the shadow of his father, played by David Bradley. The highly-respected actor gave us an insight into his role, “He’s the grandfather of this dysfunctional family, and he’s quite unforgiving, he doesn’t empathise with anyone else. He’s got a damaged son, who he’s ridiculed since day one. He calls him squelcher, probably because the kid wet the bed when he was ill, and got the hell beat out of him by dad. It reminds me of that Philip Larking poem: ‘They fuck you up your mum and dad, they may not mean to, but they do. They fill you with the faults they had, and add some extra, just for you.’ I think the grandfather’s behaved like this towards his own children because that’s what he suffered.” Hearing the instantly recognisable voice of the actor recite the poem is a ‘hairs on the back of the neck’ moment and makes us all the more excited about seeing the final film. David continues, “The fact that in his career he was a military policeman, it says a lot that he chose a profession that was very much about control. And that’s how he sees himself – if you don’t keep kids down, they’ll get one over on you – or anybody for that matter. So he’s got this harsh view of the world. That’s his way of staying on top of things. By having the power and control over his family.

await further instructions
David clearly has a handle on the character as he tells us, “He can sense that his turn is coming as he gets older and older, he’ll start to lose his physical powers. I suspect he was quite a streetfighter in his day; physical and that’s what interests me rather than someone saying ‘oh he’s a bad bugger, he’s evil’ because that’s making a judgement. As soon as you start making a judgement about a character it becomes one dimensional that’s all it becomes about. If you think about why they do what they do; what they want, then you see a more human side. Everybody’s like that; we’re all capable of having an off day. But every day for Grandad seems to be an off day! He can be quite ruthless; I suspect it comes from a deeply rooted fear of being overpowered or being outwitted.

One of the early conflicts in the film is the son Nick’s girlfriend, Annji. A quick-witted paramedic, she is the voice of reason, even though that in itself causes more conflict within the family. Played by Neeja Naik, Annji is very much the audience’s ‘in’ to the situation, “She’s definitely a fish out of water. There are points at which things get so bad, she lets go of that to try to be accepted, but she’s never disrespectful in any way. She’s still just trying to do the right thing by everybody; pretty much the whole way through, even when she doesn’t agree with actions that certain characters are taking.
Grandad finds it hard to accept Annji, which makes him an almost villainous figure, as David explains, “He’s not a well-educated man, he’s racist, homophobic; but if you can find some kind of reason for these things, there’s a chance you can make him more human, which is what people want to see.
await further instructions
However, there’s something humorous about him, which is important to keep the story grounded, as Gavin explains, “There is a lot of dark humour in the script that’s intentional to give that balance against how monstrous and terrifying it can become. But it was really important; we’re not a comedy by any means, but a certain sense of lightness.” David agrees, “The director’s allowing the occasional bits of grim humour to creep into the story. It’s sort of tragi-comic in a sense. Take Grandad, he’s monstrous, but some of the expressions he comes out with or the way he puts people down are kind of grim humour, and I like that. I like characters who’ve got some kind of comic energy, no matter how bad they are or what they do. I love stepping into his shoes, in more ways than one.

The climax of the movie promises to be a spectacular explosion of visual effects in the vein of early David Cronenberg, and everyone involved was glad to hear that as far as possible, physical props and prosthetics will be used, with just the occasional digital enhancement. Johnny teases us, “We have a massive amount of VFX, lots of things that go on in the end that will just be ‘wow’. There’s a hell of a lot of practical effects, which is great; lots of physical elements to it. We have a lot of animatronics.” It’s something Gavin appreciates as a writer, “With practical effects, it all comes back to truth, for an actor to have something there in the world, treat it like a real event is so important. You can see it in the performance. It is more of a challenge to do things practically, but it’s absolutely the right thing to do because an audience feels that engagement, you just can’t fake that. Computer effects can do amazing things, but if there’s nothing there, the connection isn’t there.

Actor Sam Gittens, who plays Nick, is equally enthused by the thought of filming the climax, “When you get to the special effects, it’s like a whole different thing. It’s more like playtime! You get to see some very talented people do some beautiful stuff.” Neeja teases the finale even more, “Johnny showed us the stuff we’d got, and it was amazing.

Our appetites well and truly whetted, we hoped to get a sneaky look at what they had planned, but like all professionals, they were tight-lipped and kept spoilers out of our way. Which, to be fair, is just how it should be.

AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS screens on Horror Channel on March 12th.

For more information, head over to http://www.horrorchannel.co.uk

Tune in on Sky 317, Virgin 149, Freeview 69, Freesat 138.

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