Ben Young Interview

Hounds of Love is screening at this year’s NZ Film Festival, book your tickets here.

Crimson Celluloid: Prior to making Hounds of Love you’d mainly done short movies and TV work. What knowledge and experience did you bring from these jobs to your first feature film?

Ben Young: The principals of filmmaking are pretty much the same across all mediums, so I obviously learned a lot about the technical side of film making – camera, shots, editing sound. Perhaps the most important thing I took away from it all was experience in working with actors.

Feature films have a different structure to TV and shorts, so I think my developing several feature length scripts before shooting Hounds helped a lot.

It must have been pretty daunting, making your first feature film. How did you prepare and, with the benefit of hindsight, what would you do differently, if anything?

I made a 180 page ‘manual’ on everything I thought we needed to make the film – shotlists, storyboards, visual references and so on. I gave this to every head of department in preproduction to help get them inside my head.

If I was to do anything different, I would probably not be so ridged in my blocking and leave more room for the actors to bring ideas to the scene.

As excited as I am to see the film, the casting of Stephen Curry has me worried. Not because he’s not a fine actor, more because in Australia he is associated with lighter work, often in the comedic mode. What did you see in him that lead him to being cast? Were you pressured to cast a “name” actor in the lead role?

For me a big point of the film is that evil is invisible. By casting someone as likeable as Steve in the role I hoped the audience would come to realise often those capable of evil are incredibly charming when they are not offending. I was also scared an audience wouldn’t by Vicki getting in the car and figured, who wouldn’t want to get in a car with Stephen Curry?

The case of David and Catherine Birnie isn’t that well known outside of Australia, but certainly made an impact in our country. What attracted you to the case and why did you want to make a film based on their crimes?

The film isn’t based on their crimes. I studied nine cases of couples who commit murder together to gain an understanding of the dynamics of their relationships. As far as I know, all the events in Hounds are fictional.

The only other film that has tackled this case is Ursula Dabrowsky’s excellent Inner Demon. Have you seen this film? If so, what did you think of it?

I have not.

As with Inner Demon, it looks like you put your lead actress (this time in the form of Ashleigh Cummings) through the emotional and physical wringer. Did you have to take into consideration her age and any potential impact upon her?  What did you do to make the shoot as comfortable as possible for all concerned?

She was 23 at the time of filming so age wasn’t a concern. I did let her know that what we were doing was just making a film and it wasn’t worth damaging herself for. Ash, Stephen and Emma all trusted each other a lot and that was the key to get to the places we got without hurting anyone.

From her work in Puberty Blues and lots of other TV work, Ashleigh Cummings does seem to deliver a lot more depth than a lot of similar young actresses. How did you find working with her?

She is one of the greatest humans and hardest working actors I have ever dealt with. She’s a pleasure to work with and I’d jump at the chance to do so again.

Emma Booth also has extensive TV credits, what characteristics do you think she brought to the role of Evelyn White that made the role her own?

Emma brings so much depth and conflict to every role she plays. What she did that was beyond the page was bring an empathy to the character which is no small feet given she’s playing someone so horrible!

What were the main hardships you experienced dealing with a relatively small budget?

The hardest thing was time. We only had twenty days to shoot and no money for overtime so anything we didn’t get on the day, we could never get.

Is there a story about where the title came from?

During the writing of the script I was listening to a bunch of music from the era. Kate Bush’s album of the same name spoke to me on the same emotional level I wanted an audience to experience when watching the film so I decided to give a nod to it.

Australia’s leading horror writer, Michael Helms, said that the film would fit nicely between Animal Kingdom and Snowtown. Certainly good company to be in. Was it your intention to make as intense a movie-going experience as possible? He also cited the soundtrack as being very effective in its impact upon the viewer. Were you happy with how all the elements of the film came together? Is there anything you’d change?

I did want the experience to be intense because I wanted the audience to feel the emotions the characters were feeling. This is why I chose not to show much violence. For me tension comes from what could happen, not what does. I felt if I showed too much violence it would distract from everything else.

Because of my background in music videos music was something I put a lot of thought into. There are lots of little things I’d change about the film, but overall I’m pretty happy with it.

Richard Wilkins said that Snowtown was akin to a “snuff movie” (slaps head in disbelief)..are you worried that he’ll give Hounds of Love similar short shrift or would getting a bad review from a pinhead like that be almost a badge of honour?

Like I said I’m pretty happy with the film so I try not to concern myself too much with the opinion of others. Thankfully we’ve had enough generous reviews for nothing much to bother me anymore.

Receiving a good 91% favourable rating on ROTTEN TOMATOES must be a great source of pride. You must be very proud of the way the film has been received? Have you received any surprising reactions from critics or audiences?

I have been surprised at the generosity of reviewers. I felt the subject would divide more people, but surprisingly all but a handful of reviewers were able to seperate themselves from the subject and focus on the filmmaking.

What do you think Catherine Birnie would think of the film if she got a chance to see it? I received a Christmas card from her one year but don’t know her well enough to speculate as to her possible reaction. I dare say she’d probably prefer that she wasn’t in the headlines again and may see it as a possible impediment against her possible release. I assume you didn’t approach her about the film in advance? Each time the film Snowtown has been on TV here in SA the prison that houses John Bunting and Robert Wagner blocks the signal so they can’t see it…I hope Birnie has more luck!!

I don’t give her any thought whatsoever.

What can you tell us about your next film, Extinction?

It’s a big Sci-fi film I shot in Serbia earlier this year. It stars Michael Pena, Lizzy Caplan, Mike Colter and Emma Booth. It’s very different from Hounds but hope audiences find it as intense. I’m in LA editing it now and it’s out in January so it has been a crazy busy year since finishing Hounds!

Thanks for your time and best of luck with HOUNDS OF LOVE, EXTINCTION and your future films.

Thanks for taking the time!

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