The Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival has come to an end. This year, Bro Knows had the pleasure to watch and subsequently review over thirty feature films. One of the favorites and one of the most highly rated (click here for our review!), was Dogged. Directed by first time feature filmmaker, Richard Rowntree, this little folk horror packs a major punch. With so much subtext and a brilliant visual scope, Rowntree captures lightning in a bottle with his ominous debut. Not much is known about the man behind Dogged, but I got the chance to sit down with him after his screening at the festival to pick his brain about the genesis of his first feature length project that is scaring the hell out of festival audiences all over the country.
(BK) So This is your directorial debut, and for a debut, it was supremely ambitious, but I don’t much more than that. Where are you from and what got you into filmmaking?
(Richard Rowntree) I actually grew up in a little village called Iver, which is about 20 miles west of London and it’s where Pinewoods studios, which is one of the biggest studios in the UK. The studios used to employ people. All of the guys in the village were employed by the studio as riggers and carpenters and all of these things while I was growing up. I grew up without a dad so I was always jealous that all the other kids dads worked at this studio. I kind of developed a fascination with it. I used to watch a lot of movies as a kid because I was an only child as well. My mom used to let me watch whatever she was watching, so when I was 6 or 7 years old I watched The Shining. I remember being completely mesmerized by it and knowing at that point that I wanted to make movies.
Obviously with a film like Dogged, The Wicker Man and other folk horror are clear influences on your work. There are a ton of easter eggs and little references stashed throughout the film and I won’t make you go through them all, but what are some of your biggest influences as a filmmaker?
The honest truth is, there are certain directors that I like to follow. I like Hitchcock, I like Kubrick, I like Cronenberg and I like Lynch. I always try and take something away from every movie that I watch, even if it’s something I don’t like. There is always a shot or some angle or some coloration to a shot and you think “wow i’ve never recognized that before.” I treat it a bit like reading a book, there is always something in there that I feel is new to me.
For those that don’t know, Dogged is actually the feature length version of a 4 minute short you did that played at Buffalo Dreams last year and won best micro short, which I loved. When you made the short film, did you go into with the foresight that it would eventually evolve into a feature or was it always just a short and then you decided later to make it into a feature?
The influence for the short film was just very fairytale inspired. My kids were at the age where I was reading them the classic fairy tales as bedtime stories. Something that really struck me is just how dark they really are. Little Red Riding Hood was one in particular that made me feel quite uncomfortable when you think about the connotations of it. So that was kind of the inspiration for the short film. When we make shorts we always try to make them a snippet out of a larger story and not their own standard 3 act beginning middle and end. We didn’t actually know where this was going to go from there.
The producers and I just sort of sat down and discussed what would be the most appropriate and what kind of film we would want to watch ourselves. It was a real luxury for us being funded on kickstarter because it meant we could make a film we wanted to see and not one that was necessarily aimed at the traditional horror audience. We didn’t want to just put nudity and gore in it for no reason. If it carried the story then sure, but we just wanted to make something that would make you feel uneasy and question what you’ve just seen. We wanted to make people have nightmares.
So how exactly to you go from a 4 minute short to a near 2 hour feature film? What was the process like from conception to what I got to see in the theater?
Well we set about doing the script prior to the kickstarter campaign because we wanted to only do the kickstarter when we were at a point where we were ready to shoot. As someone who backs a lot of projects on kickstarter myself, you see a lot of things that are fairly embryonic. I don’t feel satisfied backing those, because i’ve been burned a couple of times. You have people with these brilliant ideas but they just sit on them for years after kickstarter and they’ve still got my 5 bucks haha. It galls me a little bit.
But we finished the script and did 19 drafts of it and we put it to kickstarter in February or March of last year and did a 2 month campaign. We didn’t think we were going to make our goal until about 5 days before the end when we got a big donation which spurred everyone else on and we were able to make it.
We had already cast some of the actors, some were in the short film. We had to secure locations and do casting. We were really lucky, we had about 500 people interested in the roles and nobody on the film got paid a penny, actors, crew, nobody. We narrowed it down to about 100 and we figured once we sent out the script, like 90 of them would just drop out. Well, we sent it out and nobody dropped out. We were slightly panicked and not sure what to do next so we got them all to do self tapes and we narrowed to 40 for 15 roles and we auditioned everyone from there. We had some really great people. We had some more well known TV actors in the UK, but the people that we chose were just better suited for the roles.
We shot every weekend for 11 consecutive weekends from the end of August to the second week in November with a few days off for night shoots. We went back and edited it and managed to get a trailer out on Christmas Eve, which we were pretty happy with. We went back a weekend in January and did 1 pick up day and had the film completely finished by the 31st of March. So it was really quick going.
Very quick going indeed, which is crazy impressive given the limited budget.
We called in a whole lot of favors. I have none left to cash in.
The end result is amazing, but what made you gravitate towards this project in particular? You have made a number of short films, and Dogged is obviously folk horror, was it just that sub-genre or was it something different?
Well, there is a director called Ben Wheatley.
I was going to make that comparison eventually.
Well that’s incredibly kind of you. He made a film called Kill List which got a really huge reception, but to me isn’t necessarily folk horror, though it certainly leans on it very heavily, but A Field in England (also Ben Wheatley) is complete folk horror. Everything about it is perfect folk horror and it got a really mixed reaction. It’s like making a comedy-horror where you either like comedy-horror or you hate it. It’s what we call in England like a marmite audience. Marmite is is like a yeast extract and you either love it or you hate it and there is no in between. So yea, we’ve been really blown away by some of the reactions people have had to Dogged.
The Wicker Man is another film I watched a lot as a kid and you don’t get the implications of what you’re seeing until you become an adult and you realize the subversiveness that exists in the adult world. There is a little nod to The Wicker Man in the film apart from seeing the DVD case. The tea room is called the How Do cafe which is the song that Brett Ecklund sings in The Wicker Man.
Well, I’m very happy you brought the film to Buffalo for someone like myself to have a chance to see this as it was meant to be seen, which is on the big screen. So what made you submit to this festival in particular?
When we started with the short film we were sort of inexperienced in terms of the whole festival thing and so it was just this scattered approach to submit it to as many as we could afford to. When we got picked we started to read up on the festivals and you realize how important this one in particular is. Greg [Lamberson] and Chris [Scioli] get a lot of praise from other festival directors about their programming and how they run the whole thing. As soon as we finished the feature we immediately knew we wanted to submit it here. This sounds really bitchy haha, but a lot of the big festivals, like really big ones like Fantasia and Montreal are kind of pre-programming stuff and might be getting leaned on by distributors, who may be sponsors of that festival, to show their movies. I helped run a festival back home and for me it should be about finding those movies that aren’t going to get that chance and showing those to an audience.
As we’ve seen even just the last couple of days that i’ve been in Buffalo, there are so many of those great movies out there that deserve to be seen by a receptive audience. When you’ve got something that’s called the fantastic film festival it brings in the right crowd because you know you’re not coming here to watch some period piece drama about something like cholera. You know you’re going to watch something thoroughly entertaining.
Couldn’t agree more. I’m grateful these guys put on such a great event so someone like me can see a film like yours in a theater. That said, I know you’re probably bound by what you can reveal, but what’s next for Dogged? When and where can mass audiences see it?
So yea, we are talking to few distributors at the moment and hopefully sometime next year we’ll get to see it. Obviously because of the scale of it, we won’t be competing against films like It or Get Out in theaters, but it will hopefully be out there on demand and possibly on Blu-ray.
How about yourself? What’s next for you as a filmmaker?
We have like 4 different scripts we’re developing. One is at the super ambitious part of the scale and one much less so, as far as budgetary requirement. We are probably going with a sort of home invasion movie next. We were thinking about a zombie movie that we got a way down the road with, but I read an article recently that sort surveyed festival directors and one of the questions was what they wanted to see less of and almost every single person said zombie movies, so we might put that one on the back burner until that sub genre comes back into fashion.
Well whatever you do next, I’ll be looking forward to it. I try to ask this question to every director I speak to. It’s the desert island question. If you were stranded and only had access to one filmmakers catalogue for the rest of your days, whose library would you choose and why?
I like to put people on the spot with this one.
I don’t think I could live without Spielberg’s movies. I love Kubricks movies and I can watch them over and over, but with Spielberg you’ve got everything from Jaws to ET to Schindler’s List. You’ve got everything in there. And you can’t go wrong wih Jurassic Park
Richard is a budding superstar in the making. His ability to craft a narrative not reliant on effects or jump scares and his innate ability to create atmosphere from angles or lingering shots, show signs of a man whose vision and prowess are akin to a veteran and not someone directing his first full length film, for almost no money. Dogged doesn’t look or feel like a micro budget film and Rowntree and his crew provide audiences a visually stunning horror/thriller that is packed to the gills with subversive social commentary. Every frame is meticulously crafted with distinct purpose.
It should also be noted that this interview was interrupted a few times by people who loved Richard’s film so much that they had to step in a tell him how meaningful it was to them before they headed out. Not only was he incredibly generous in giving me the opportunity to interview him, but he was unbelievably kind and hospitable when speaking with festival goers and fans alike.
To keep up to date on Dogged and Richard Rowntree’s upcoming projects, follow the film and him on all social media. Also follow Ash Mountain Films, which is the production company run by the Dogged crew. Also hit up their website http://www.ashmountainfilms.com. Be sure to check out Bro Knows review of Dogged HERE. We will have our master post containing all of our micro reviews from this years Buffalo dreams up tomorrow and our final recap of the festival on thursday, where we give out some awards of our own, separate from the Dreamer awards that the festival gives out, which you can find by checking the website http://www.buffalodreamsfantasticfilmfestival.com.