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Marek Losey on The Hide

Film4 The Hide

The first-time director talks to about actors, adaptations and getting jittery at press screenings.

The Hide contains several twists, turns and revelations - how can you talk about it without giving anything vital away?

How do you talk enthusiastically about The Hide without giving the whole narrative away and when you've only got two people in it? I'm still at a loss as to how I can make it sound exciting without giving anything away. One of the ideas I've thought of is to say that one of them is a killer and one of them is there to kill himself. But maybe that's giving too much away even.

How did The Hide come to be screened on Film4?

As soon as Film4 saw it and said they liked it, I thought it was a great opportunity. It's a very Film4 film, to be honest. The first reviews were in the Radio Times and TV Times. They gave it a fantastic review, both of them. Every critic who's seen it, including Philip French, has liked it.

Did you hold screenings for the critics?

When we screened it at the Dinard Film Festival – its first public screening – the first night it was shown at the festival's blow-up cinema. This is an inflatable cinema in a car park: there was a gale blowing, torrential rain, the screen was rocking backwards and forwards and you couldn't hear a thing. About 20 people turned up. It was hugely disheartening.

The second day they screened it, I was told Philip French was coming along. He's like the godfather of film critics. I was watching to see if he looked like he was enjoying the film, and all the way through he was looking at his watch. Then he left 10 minutes before the end. So after that I was in a dark place. I was there with Phil Campbell and we just thought, “Well, we tried our best.”

That evening, the British Film Council were hosting a cocktail party and a complete stranger came up to me and said Philip French thought The Hide could be one of the best films at the festival. He'd left early because he had to go and present a retrospective on Hugh Hudson. After that someone came up from the Evening Standard, then writers, producers. The next screening was full. It was a bizarre experience.

You have had a very successful advertising career, but The Hide has none of the markings of a film made by someone from that industry. How do you explain that?

What has always interested me is casting and performance. All my advertising work is performance-based. I'm not a photographic advertising director. I don't do over-stylised, sensational or glamorous advertising. I do much more real advertising, with real people.
I also have a history of film in my family. I spent a lot of time on film sets when I was young. My father [producer Gavrik Losey] made The Great Tycoon with Anthony Quinn and we lived in Corfu for a year. Films have always been a great part of my cultural heritage. I've always wanted to be a film director. But it takes an enormous amount of intellectual maturity to direct a feature film, I think. People are always going to compare me with my grandfather, Joseph Losey. This isn't fair, because you can't compare anyone to Jo. He was quite literally an anomaly as a director. But I can't escape that.

I did use my directing experience in commercials with making The Hide. The cinematography of the film makes it look like it's from someone who's had experience as a director. I like a classic style of photography. I like shots to look beautiful. I have enough experience to know that if you're going to try and do anything too technical with your directing you can only do it to drive the narrative. Otherwise you start to look like a cocky director. The Hide has an old-school style of photography. I think too many films have gone into this handheld 'yoof' style. I don't like that. I think it has a lot to do with my background. The most important thing to me is the performance.

The Hide is also DP George Richmond's first feature film - although he was the main camera operator on Quantum Of Solace. My father and his father did two films together. His father also worked as a camera operator on one of my grandfather's films. Three generations down and we've made this film.

When it came to choosing, it had to be the right film and it had to be the right time. I've waited 12 years. Commercial directors often make features that are stylistically of a specific genre. You can usually see where they've come from. They use images to manipulate the audience. But I think you can forgive a film anything if you've got a great performance.

Film4 The Hide

"Sometimes when you hit a real low-point in your life and things get dark, tragically it takes darkness to see what light there is. You think you're riddled with bad luck, then sometimes you have to witness something more horrific to lift yourself out of it."

For a film adapted from a stage play, it has none of the trappings of staginess. How did you avoid that?

Well, I can tell you I changed the original script. In the original play, they both die, and Dave John isn't really there. I never saw the play, I didn't watch it on video, because I didn't want it to affect what I was going to do with the film. The play was really a one-hander, though. I created a sense of purpose for Dave John and gave him a reason for being there. I like the ending of a film to be satisfying – that doesn't mean it has to be a happy ending, but there needs to be some form of resolution. The ending as it was in the play would have been interesting to watch up close in the theatre, but for a film, it didn't work. There was also some dialogue I had to tweak that would have been too theatrical.

How did you and the actors prepare for the shoot?

The only way we could shoot it in the time we had was if I didn't write a shot list. So I worked out where the actors would be in relation to the words they were saying at the time. I was concerned as a two-hander it was going to be very flat. I was concerned about creating motion in such a confined space. So I made the front area of the hide about dominance and control, so if you were stood there you were being dominant. If you were being friendly and sociable you would sit in the middle. If you were confessing something bad, emotional or withdrawing through fear, you'd be at the back of the hide. So they had an emotional motivation to choose where they stood on the set. It kept the whole thing moving in a really natural way.

We did rehearsals at Pinewood Studios. We built the shots around where the actors were standing at that point. I have a friend who directed an episode of Frasier and they spend one day rehearsing and walking through where they're going to stand without cameras, and then they bring the cameras on the next day. So they do it backwards and we did the same. Usually with directing you find an amazing shot, and plop the actors into it. The Hide was shot a bit like a soap opera. Which isn't cheapening it; it's just how we could do so much in a day. I could spend all the time focusing on the actors.

I tried to make the audience feel scared, then reassure them, then lead them to believe it's going to be fine, and then throw a spanner into the works and make everyone nervous again. I'm severely dyslexic, as my father and grandfather were. I imagined all the scenes in different colours - red was emotional, black was violent, yellow was friendly. Each emotion had a different colour and I could look at that pattern throughout the film. I could see a graph in my mind and see how the tensions rose and fell throughout the film.

Alex MacQueen was in the stage production. Was he a definite choice for the film? And how did you come to choose Phil Campbell?

We got him in during the castings but it was definite he'd play Roy. When he auditioned, though, it became apparent that the part was written for him. Alex is an extraordinary character and he's quite obsessive. He's committed, quirky. Roy is an obsessive-compulsive. He's a really familiar character to us all - a know-it-all. He's right about everything and he's a tattletale. If it ever came to confrontation he'd withdraw because he's a coward.

I got Phil to read the 'wasps in the jars' section of the script, and he became so overwhelmed with emotion that he got up and left. He really identified with the character. It transpired, coincidentally, that his brother was murdered in a road rage incident. He read the character and thought he knew this person - that he was like Dave. After his brother was killed, he went off the rails. So for him it was a very cathartic experience. The emotion he packed into the character is real.

The bit when Dave talks about the wasps flying into the jars was written in the play as a bit of banter. But for me that was a time that Dave would be thinking about the death of his brother. It helped the audience begin to wonder why he was going into this dark place, why he was having visions of the birds. The character of Dave John creates a platform for Alex to perform as Roy. Philip's performance is very grounded, and the stuff Alex does would look too over-the-top without Philip. Alex was able to take the things he does to the limit because Philip was there.

What meaning do you take from your film?

Sometimes when you hit a real low-point in your life and things get dark, tragically it takes darkness to see what light there is. You think you're riddled with bad luck, then sometimes you have to witness something more horrific to lift yourself out of it.

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