Interview! We talk to Rebels Without a Clue writer/director Ian Vernon
Like all good journalists, I managed to get hold of Ian Vernon just when he was trying to go home. I’d just attended the UK première of his first feature-length film Rebels Without A Clue at London’s Raindance Film Festival, and I mercilessly laid in wait for him in the foyer in hope of cadging a choice quote or two for my review. Happily, we managed to rendezvous the next day for a proper chat over a soothing cuppa…
You spent years as a successful photographer – what provoked such a huge shift from that field into full-blown filmmaking?
Ian: For as long as I can remember I’d wanted to make films, but that just wasn’t an option when I was younger so I went to art college – I was on the same course as Ridley Scott, but a year or two behind him. I came out and realised there was nothing in TV for a 20-year-old at that time, so I joined a photography studio and ended up travelling round the world on still life and fashion shoots. I’ve always been very into technology and had various early computers, so when digital camcorders first became widely available I snapped up a Canon XL1 and started making movies.
Did you always plan to write your own scripts?
Ian: No, not at all – but when I first got involved in short films I didn’t know anyone who wanted to write me a script, so I just got on with it. I’m actually dyslexic, but I discovered I really enjoyed writing so I kept writing short films [Ed: Ian has written eight short films and directed nine]. I spend a lot of time in LA these days, I used to go for photoshoots and now I stay with friends over there three or four times a year, and I just sit in coffee shops and write. I can’t write scripts over here, but I’m prolific when I’m in America. I’ve got all my own equipment and LA’s swimming with actors, so as I got to know people there was a lot of “Oh, I have a friend who’d be great in such and such a part.” The shorts were great fun, but I felt like I was wasting myself on them when I could be doing features so I started writing those instead.
Even so, there’s a big leap between writing and directing. How’d you make it across?
Ian: I had several projects that nearly got off the ground – one film was offered UKFC funding which never materialised, and another script actually made it to a major Hollywood agent because I bumped into Michelle Pfeiffer in a BlockBuster in LA. Unfortunately, it was a first draft and full of spelling mistakes, so nothing came of it. In the end, I raised the capital to make Rebels by remortgaging my house and accepting a hefty contribution from executive producer Julie Monfils, who was instrumental in helping the project come to fruition.
So you had your funding and your script. How long did it take to actually pull the film together?
Ian: We were supposed to film in May 2008, but the Red [the 4k Red One camera on which the film was shot] didn’t arrive until October. We also had a lot of trouble casting some of the characters, and once we found them not everyone was always free – Cat (Dowling, who played the role of Beth) was still at college so we had to work around that. By the time the camera finally arrived it was October, so we had to go up onto the moors and shoot in sub-zero temperatures. The shoot overran by five days to a total of thirty, and the actors were having to pretend it was summer when their breath was clouding and there was snow on the grass; we just had to drive up into the mountains and sit in the van with the heating on.
Speaking of automobiles, that car is spectacular. Wherever did you get it?
Ian: It actually belonged to a local chap who lent it to the production, but he wouldn’t let anyone drive it so all the driving scenes were going to be made on the back of a flatbed. Until someone stole it. After that, we had to shoot the rest of the driving scenes with a portable greenscreen – the owner itself drove for all the wide shots of the car moving.
God, drama upon drama. Mind you, this was all two years ago – what’s happened since?
Ian:Well, it took over a year to edit – I had to try and disguise the weather, and then once we got it onto a computer we realised the Red hadn’t recorded the sound properly. We had to go back and dub 90% of the dialogue, so that took a long time, and some scenes had to be completely reshot. One scene with Hylton (Collins, who plays the primary antagonist) was only shot four months ago, and he’d lost several stones in weight since then so we had to be really inventive in terms of lighting the shot to disguise his new figure. That was one of the biggest practical challenges in shooting the film, along with getting all the aerial shots – it was just me hanging out of a tiny helicopter (below) with our only camera, willing myself not to drop it.
Well, we didn’t notice the magical shrinking thug. Obviously, Rebels is now doing the festival rounds whilst it waits for a distribution deal – what’s next for you?
Ian: I’m working on my next feature, which is called The Best Little Whorehouse in Rochdale – it’s basically a way to involve all the friends who’ve asked me for a part in a film over the last few years. Production’s going quite slowly because we’re just filming on odd weekends when everyone’s free, but we’re hoping to have a rough draft by about May of next year and be ready to take it to festivals in 2012.
We’ll be looking forward to it. Rebels Without A Clue will hopefully be hitting a cinema near you soon, and we’ll keep a beady eye on Ian’s future exploits – read about them here first!
Next week, read an exclusive interview with Rebels star Cat Dowling!