Nazi Vengeance was the first feature film I ever worked on as an AC and as of earlier this week the film has been released in the US as well as numerous other territories around the world.
With the majority of production based in Brighton and the surrounding area I decided to catch up with the film's Director Tom Sands. I was keen to find out how a man in his mid twenties was able to turn his first feature into a reality, and just on his doorstep too..
When did you decide it was time to tackle your first feature?
Well I've been writing feature film screenplays since I was about 19 and I knew that was always where I wanted to go and essentially 18 months of making corporate films convinced me that you know, times are wasting and you may as well just get on with it and do it. If that means making loads of mistakes on the first one then that's fine and we learn from it and we just keep doing it. Yeah, just do it.
Originally your film was titled 'Backtrack'. Why was it changed to Nazi Vengeance?
(Laughs) So when we conceived the film it was called Backtrack. There are a few issues with that title, the first one is that there's another film called Backtrack coming out sometime next year with a considerably bigger budget than ours, but more than that we found out that while the sales agents liked the title because it started with the letter 'B' - and they like things that are nearer the front of the alphabet - they like to include lots of buzzwords in the title so that means in America it will be released as Backtrack: Nazi Regression and over here Nazi Vengeance. They're just playing on the marketing elements of the film. I have to say that I think they are both terrible titles and I think it would be better if the title focused on what the film is actually about rather than the exploitation elements within it. Oh and just to say..we have no control over what it gets called in any of the territories so..it's out of our hands. To any potential audience of the film out there..I'd like to ask them to judge the film for what it is rather than against the artwork or the way its been packaged because we can't control that.
What to you have been the key reasons why you think the film has sold?
The first reason why the film got sold is because we finished it and that was always a big focus for me, like when we were out on a shoot my shot list wasn't working, I wasn't allowed to do any of these shots I had..my focus was on getting a product finished so I would adapt everything and throw it all out of the window and start again and sometimes that meant that, you know, it didn't turn out as well as it could have done. I was always focused on getting a product at the end of the day because if we have a product we can learn from it and we can get a chance to make another one, so that was always my idea. The second reason I think the film got sold is that regardless of whether you like the story, and you think that the performances are any good etc. it's quite a highly polished film and I think our background in doing commercials and corporate stuff and documentaries really helped to do that and I think that polish is rare in the horror community so I think that's a plus. Plus I think it's quite an original story; I still think it's a solid piece of film making, I don't think it's you know..the Mona Lisa or anything but I think it's alright. I think there's a lot of crap out there..but sadly probably the reason why it got sold is because its got Nazis in it at the end of the day (grins). None of that matters or anything, that's why it's called Nazi Vengeance. Thank God I insisted that Mick write some Nazis into it (laughs).
Do you think the horror genre is easier to sell than other genres or would you say its still got the same challenges?
I think I was quite naive thinking 'oh just make a horror film and sell it because horror's easy to sell'..I'm not a horror buff so that was always my idea to make something that took elements of horror but turn it into something psychological and dramatic. I think it's a mistake because horror fans out there..they've got a lot of knowledge of that genre and they know what they want and if you don't know how to pay that off I think you're in trouble. I think genre films as a whole are easier to sell. I think probably the worst thing you can do is make a comedy or a drama because that means you've got to win at Sundance to get distribution so..there's a big community out there who like genre films as I do so I think making a genre film is easier to sell. I don't know about horror..it certainly wasn't easy to sell [Nazi Vengeance], I'll tell you that much. It took like six months and we took it literally to every sales agent in the English speaking world so..yeah, not easy (laughs).
How did the film's shoestring budget affect your directorial choices and ultimately how the final product turned out?
The actual budget when we started production was 20 grand and when we finished shooting it was about 40 so that was the first mistake - not budgeting anything correctly. I think the second mistake was to be overambitious in terms of locations, so we had 42 locations over 12 days. Admittedly quite close to each other but every one of those required a move and pickup of all the kit and everything and I think my shot list and storyboards were over ambitious so that meant essentially 90% of my prep went out the window and sometimes that generated really good stuff and sometimes not so good stuff. Without money everything will go wrong because you can't control everything, you have to be flexible so..that was another lesson - like losing locations, blowing up lights..thank God it was sunny otherwise we would've been completely screwed. And then the things you forget about that always cost loads of money like the sound mix will take longer than you think it will and so will the grade. I think probably the biggest lesson for me is not putting some of that budget into PR until a year later. You have to be in control of all of the elements from the very beginning and you have to allocate your resources according to what you've got. So it's tricky but I think on the budget we did very well but that's down to the hard work of the crew who were doing it for essentially nothing.
Are you happy with the final product?
Yeah, overall I think it's a flawed but solid piece of film making. I think my mistake was in not understanding the genre correctly and not constructing the film to appeal to the channel of sales and distribution that we have to work with. But overall yeah, I'm happy with it, with what we had I feel proud of it, yeah.
Good, and how did you find directing the legendary Julian Glover?
Julian Glover was a pleasure to direct actually. I was pretty nervous I have to say. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is in my top 5 so directing the bad guy out of that was pretty intimidating. My hands were shaking, but yeah he was a total pro..knew the script inside out and you know, delivered on the first take so..an absolute pleasure.
Did you ever get tongue tied in his presence?
No I didn't actually..my tendencies seem to be..get really nervous about something and then when you do it it all comes naturally so once he was there and in costume it was alright, it was the bit beforehand.
Nazi Vengeance was mostly shot in East Sussex and around the Brighton area. What do you think of Brighton's prospects as a place to make films for upcoming directors and those who are already established?
Brighton is a great place to make films because of the amount of locations we have..you've got the South Downs right next to you and it's close to London. I think that if you've got the right people Brighton is the best place to be, but I think that's the key bit..if you're not in London you've got to have the right crew because it's a smaller pool of people. The downs for me is fantastic because I grew up walking the downs and I grew up coming to Brighton so it was logical for me to shoot a film here because I love it. With a film like Nazi Vengeance it was all about nature as well and nature's a big theme. Having the sea and the hills and the weather, it was the perfect place to do it.
So what's next for you and how do you think your experience directing Nazi Vengeance will help you on these new projects?
I've got 3 projects which I'm attached to, all completely different genres. One is a romantic comedy set in India, one is a psychological thriller about lucid dreaming and another is a low budget action thriller. Without Nazi Vengeance I'd still have no idea what I'm doing so I actually know how to make a film and finish it and now I can start honing my craft. I've made a film and I've done it so now it's about how good can you make it. And having that under my belt gives me the confidence to put that work in.
Are you now getting more interest from financiers and distributors?
Having made a film definitely makes it easier to get the finance together. It's still a huge mountain to climb but I think it does open the door. The reviews of the film have been mixed but if I can present a new project and my vision for it the fact that I've done another film backs that up.
If you were to give a piece of advice to someone who wanted to direct a feature film what would you say?
My piece of advice, which seems to go against everything I've just said, is don't rush it. You know I think if we'd held Nazi Vengeance for another month in development it would've had..it would've been better and it wouldn't have cost us that much so I think that impatience is dangerous. That would be my advice.