Rubber Hammers and Giant Sharks: The Ben Wheatley Q&A

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In the Earth director Ben Wheatley drops by to answer a few questions from Letterboxd members about folk horror, holding your nerve and having great agents.

If you’d like to hear more from Ben, he joined Kier-La Janisse in the first episode of our new ‘Magic Hour’ series on YouTube, where we pair filmmakers with common interests to talk about their craft. And he provided some deeper insight into the process of making In the Earth, with this list of his inspirations.

You’ve worked with Nick Gillespie on your past films. What was it like working with him as your cinematographer for In the Earth? —olddusty

Ben Wheatley: It was a great experience. I’ve shot a few things with Nick in the past including a pop video for the band Editors. It seemed like a natural progression of our working relationship.

How easy do you find it to slip between big-budget productions (such as Rebecca and High-Rise) and smaller-scale products that harken back to your earliest work? —Bradley Fielding 

The only time budgets are a problem is when you try and make a big-budget film with a small budget. I’ve always planned around the budgets that I have had.

How do you maintain the production quality of your film when shooting on such a tight schedule? What were the reasons for filming In the Earth in only fifteen days? —Josh Winnington

I’d been inspired by seeing the production schedule of Halloween. I think that’s around eighteen*… If Carpenter can make a masterpiece in that amount of time, it should be good enough for us. [*Halloween was a 20-day shoot in May 1978.]

Much of your work seems to be psycho-geographical, like the work of Andrew Kotting and Ian Sinclair. Have they influenced you in any way? —Pietheporky

No. :)

Which folk horror have you drawn the most influence from? —ConnorNW

Marketa Lazarová (1967), Hard to be a God (2013), The Owl Service (1969-1970).

A lot of people may be unaware that you got your start directing some very notable British comedians on TV. Which one of those early gigs taught you the most about directing? —Graham Williamson

The Graham Duff-created and written show Ideal taught me a lot. How to hold your nerve. How to direct scenes with dozens of people in [them]. How to be creative under time constraints.

Will there ever be a big-screen version of Ideal? [Wheatley directed the fifth and sixth seasons of this British TV series in 2009 and 2010.] —Mark Cunliffe

Not sure.

Which film of yours came together in the most cohesive and fulfilling way for you? —Legacycost

I don’t really think of work like that. Process is all.

Having loved Happy New Year, Colin Burstead, I wondered about the improvisation process in the film. Was it something that came about in rehearsal or on set, and was it something that was planned from the beginning? Also a big fan of the footage of the crew at the end and wondered what your particular reasoning was for including it? —finnholland

It was like my other films where improv is used. It’s paraphrasing the script, mostly. Or encouraging the actors to go further. It’s not workshopped or rehearsed, it’s all on camera. I’d been thinking about credits for a long time. I wanted to see the people who had made the film on screen.

Being a Boston boy and a fan of your films I’m naturally a big fan of Free Fire. Did you decide to set the film in Boston for a particular reason, as opposed to another US city? —Jacob Jones

It was historically somewhere that the IRA had sympathies.

Which location would be most fun for a sequel to Free Fire? —Felix

We talked about one with flintlocks. And one in space with lasers.

Which historical sources did you use to inspire the story of A Field in England? — benzos_downer

All sorts of spell books that Amy Jump, the writer, dug up. She will never reveal her sources.

How on earth did you pull off the librarian scene in Kill List? —George

We used Occam’s razor… and actually hit the actor with a (rubber) hammer.

How the hell did you get Meg 2? —Billydegge

They asked me and I have great agents.

What drew you to want to make Meg 2? —Chris Brown

Jason Statham and giant sharks.

You play a lot of Minecraft. If budget and rights were no object, which video game would you want to adapt for film? —Stephen

Doom / CSGO / Factorio.

Who are your favorite filmmakers working at the moment? And what was your favorite film of 2020? —Loren

Jim Hoskins, and my favourite film of 2020 is The Greasy Strangler. It’s my favorite film of any year.

‘In the Earth’ is in select theaters now, and available on VOD from May 7, 2021. Thanks to our friends at NEON.