Two years ago word got out that a low budget feature film was being made in the Brighton area and that they were looking for crew. With a few shorts under my belt and looking to step up I somehow ended up one morning in a Hove coffee shop sat across from a man who didn't look very pleased to see me. This man was Haydn West and he was the Producer and Director of Photography of what was to become Nazi Vengeance.
"I think I would be best suited to an entry level camera role. Camera trainee or maybe a 2nd AC" I said a bit nervously.
From the expression on his face I quickly realised that this was not the kind of project that would benefit from a fully equipped camera crew and so I attempted to persuade him that I really was the man for the job as his one and only AC. With promises of impending sleep deprivation, 18 hour days and that he would eventually 'break me' , I was for some reason not dissuaded from the opportunity.
Two years later Nazi Vengeance has achieved distribution in the UK and as of today in the US under the title 'Backtrack: Nazi Regression'. The film stars Julian Glover (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) as the old man who plans to exact revenge on Ralph (Mark Drake), Claudia (Rosie Akerman), Andrea (Sophie Barker) and Lucas (Miles Jovian) for crimes they committed 70 years ago in their previous lives. An intelligent psychological horror flick, the film begs the question 'What sins did we commit in our previous lives and will we pay for them in this one?'
Thankful for my persistence in that first meeting with Haydn I recently decided to have a catch up with him to find out how he managed to pull it all off.
You were Producer and DOP on 'Nazi Vengeance' which was your first feature film. You must have been crazy taking on both of those roles..
For about 20 years I was a press photographer. I started my career photographing criminals coming out of the high court and the Old Bailey in London but I used to go to the Irish Film Institute a lot when I was transferred to Ireland and I knew I wanted to do something more creative but I didn't want to go through..the climbing up the greasy pole process that you need to if you want to be a cinematographer. I knew I had the ability and I flatter myself that I had the talent so I thought that if I produced my own films it would be a way of leap frogging that process. Am I crazy for doing it? Yeah I think that I'm a pretty crazy guy but in a good way. I get things done.
The sheer workload involved in both producing and being cinematographer on a feature film surely took its toll though?
I think if you do something that you love it's never an ordeal. Working in an office doing too much would be worse than working very hard on a feature film so you don't mind the workload. And I think that's one of the good things about the team that you work with, is that the team usually doesn't mind either because everybody has a vocational interest in what they're doing so it makes for a good experience.
Tell me about how you came to start working with Tom Sands (Director).
I went out with a girl and we went to see Bob Dylan and we stayed around her sister's flat and I met Tom's dad's brother. That was 28 years ago or something like that and then I went to their..I think I went for a drink in Tunbridge Wells, where they're from and I met Tom and he was banging on about a film. I made a documentary about beer with him on a whim and then this kind of went from there really..
I produced [Nazi Vengeance] with Tom the Director, who produced it with me and so did Mick Sands to be honest. And he wrote the screenplay..and I bullied them into doing it. They didn't really want to make a horror film, neither of them have got any interest in it. So the shoot was 12 days, 2 of them in Ireland because I had some contacts out there. They gave us a castle and a bunch of Nazis and a couple of motorcycles and a bunch of machine guns for about 500 quid or something like that. There was a military coup in Ireland which was quite funny, not for them obviously, they take it all very seriously with the re-enactors. And now we have a sales agent in Arizona. They're called Acort International and Maxim Media..one of the things that they've done is they've sold the film to a distributor in the states who will dub it into Spanish and sell it to the Hispanic population of America. And then we've got flat sales in Japan, Thailand, Myanmar and Laos and also in Hong Kong.
So ultimately Nazi Vengeance has been a success?
[Laughs] It has been a success, I mean the film got made! Nazi Vengeance has been made and its been sold so it's a success, it's been sold by Mandalay films in the UK and Kaleidoscope in the UK..which is ironic because I offered them to Kaleidoscope and they didn't want it and now they're distributing it so..you know, my advice to filmmakers is to just get out there and make a film and be prepared to..maybe suffer a bit financially and..you're not gonna do it unless you're fully committed. It's a way of life, it's not a career.
With regards to the cinematography in the film, how did you apply your photography experience to it?
Well I'm quick so..all photographers know what the light is more or less..all press photographers know about when you want to underexpose it or overexpose it..they just do it all the time. Most press photographers will do 3 jobs a day at least nowadays and do sport at the weekend too so their exposures are really good. Press guys..they never talk about it because they're a grumpy bunch and you know, I'm pretty grumpy myself [laughs] but that's because of the mindset. I think film making being collaborative you become slightly less grumpy and slightly more outgoing although people that I worked with on Nazi Vengeance may disagree with that [laughs]. It depends who you are.
How were you able to light difficult locations on next to no budget and which was the toughest location for you?
Basically we got a car battery and an inverter and took around a 120 watt work lamp and that was surprisingly effective. I also got a Chinese super torch..I think it was giving me about F4 at 400 ISO at 30 feet which was workable. I think that might have even been diffed or through an umbrella so that was our external locations. Inside we snooted and softened red heads and a 2K light. The only light we hired was the 1.2K HMI for the tractor scenes. What was the most difficult scene? It probably was the tractor scene because the director and the Assistant Director, Phil Harris, kept having ideas about where the tractor should be and I wasn't always happy with where the light was in all of that. I suppose the most difficult scene to light was actually the torture scene because Tom wanted to be able to walk around the set. The close ups and the wide shots didn't match perfectly..I had to put lights in the ceiling as well which meant I had to climb up in the ceiling like a trained chimpanzee and everything was put up with string and wire. It was all perfectly safe but it was pretty ad hoc so I suppose, yeah it was the ceiling rig and the torture scene that was hardest to light.
And how did you find shooting on the Sony F3 with the Atomos external recorder?
I hate the F3 and I hate the Atomos recorder to be honest with you. The colour meter and IRE of both..and shooting flat, all of that I just found it all really confusing. Coming from film I just want something like the Alexa that I can use with a light meter. The file on the F3, if you get it right, yes it's great, it really is good. And being able to whack up the bit rate on the Atomos recorder, really great but I didn't find the controls easy to work with. Other people do and I think that's probably..not really testing the camera enough beforehand so, it's my own fault but then we didn't have any choice, we were in such a hurry. We couldn't afford to hire it out for a week to do the tests, so testing I think even on a low budget I think you should try and get in a good 3 or 4 days testing with a camera if you've never used it before..because they've all got quirks, like people [smiles].
What's the next project for you and how do you think your experience on Nazi Vengeance will help you on future films?
We're making a science fiction film in September, low budget again and my experience on Nazi Vengeance will help me in many ways. The necessity for a consistency of approach, the necessity for a strong key light..just deciding what the look of the film's gonna be and make some more strong decisions, that's how its helped me. Try and have a consistent approach. There's another project call The Road to Ashvem which is a travel movie set in England and India and I'm going to Cannes to finance that or to meet financiers but it's a privately funded project. I mean, we'll get tax credit on the post production which is worth about 50 grand so that's not bad for a budget of £700,000..£400,000 has got to come from private money and with a relatively unknown director and producer the only way to do that is to network and meet people and inspire them to become involved in film. I want to get involved with the yachting community, like there's a guy called Jamie Edmiston that runs his own super yacht company and I'd be keen to talk to him and people like him about trying to set up a syndicate of people that invest in film. To benefit from the community that you'll find around film..networking opportunities and other mutually beneficial opportunities that come out of that.
For more information on the film click here.