Chatting with Ben Wheatley about ‘A Field in England’

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Ben-WheatleyOne of the more interesting and unique filmmakers out there right now is Ben Wheatley. His new film A Field in England just opened (which I found very interesting as well) and after seeing Sightseers at the Sundance Film Festival last year, I’m willing to give a shot to whatever he does. That’s good too, since he seems intent on following the road less traveled. Last week I was able to briefly speak to him about his latest movie while he was off shooting an episode of Doctor Who (that’s why we had to do a phoner), why he does what he does, as well as what’s next. You can see the interview below, and be sure to enjoy. I know that I did!

Here you go…

Joey Magidson: Hi, how are you?

Ben Wheatley: I’m good mate, how about you?

JM: Awesome. I’m pretty good. I wanted to tell you a quick story about when I saw Sightseers at Sundance…

BW: Oh yeah?

JM: After it was over, I was talking to the person next to me about the movie and when I asked them what they thought, they turned to me and said “that was just the right amount of fucked up”. I thought that was sort of the perfect review!

BW: (Laughing) That’s good, that’s a nice reaction.

JM: That was my first introduction to you as a filmmaker too. I went back to see Kill List after that and just recently saw A Field in England, which I liked. That actually puts me in good company with Martin Scorsese too…it’s the only thing that he and I have in common.

BW: (Laughing) Yeah, that’s quite the quote, isn’t it?

JM: How did that come about?

BW: I’d read in the paper that when he was shooting Hugo here in the U.K. he’d been asked what movies he’d seen recently and he said that he’d seen Kill List and he’d liked it, thought it was really good. After that, I reached out through my agent who actually works like two offices down from Scorsese’s agent, they liaised, and we opened up a channel there. When Sightseers came out, he said he’d really liked it, so we sent him a copy of A Field in England and he really liked it as well. That’s basically kind of how it came about. I wouldn’t be making films if it weren’t for him. Everything stems back to seeing Taxi Driver and really liking how cinema could be art. I got interested in cinema through his films, you know, so yeah, he’s a primary thing for me. Also on the U.K. front we had a quote from Nic Roeg too. It’s always nice when critics say good things about your work, but when a fellow filmmaker does it, that means everything.

JM: I can imagine. We do live in an age where you can have access to people in this new way. I remember people being so interested in finding out that Stanley Kubrick liked The Simpsons…

BW: Yeah.

JM: So to be able to find out that an idol liked your movie, it’s gotta be something, especially since it’s such a modern thing too.

BW: It’s also very generous. I’m sure he likes lots of things, but doesn’t speak about them! (Laughs) It was great to put it on the poster. He’s just a massive fan of cinema too, so I’d like to think that with my movies he likes that we’re experimenting and trying to push the medium and using it in ways that aren’t standard. I think that might be where some of the support comes from.

JM: You definitely do tackle things from a new perspective, especially with A Field in England. When you sit down with a new idea, how cognizant are you that you want it to be different from what everyone else has done so far?

BW: I don’t think it’s a choice. You just make things the way that you make them. I wouldn’t be able to make these movies any other way. And with A Field in England, I was able to do it this way because the budget was the way that it was. That film wouldn’t be made at $2 million pounds or $10 million dollars unless it had a major star in it. But with a small cost, you can express yourself without having to explain yourself.

JM: You can certainly count on one hand the filmmakers who don’t have to explain themselves in order to get whatever budget they want for whatever project they want. Basically just Scorsese, Spielberg, and Tarantino these days.

BW: Yeah.

JM: There seems to be this quest to find the happy medium, to make the weird studio film, like Neill Blomkamp on District 9. I have to imagine for example you got a lot of studio offers after Sightseers. Not everyone can do it though, so they wind up making Robocop or whatever. The thing is, I gotta imagine no one sets out to remake Robocop as their dream though.

BW: Yeah, and I think they’re all different challenges. I’m doing Doctor Who at the moment, for example. It’s very different than A Field in England. I completely understand why you’d go and remake Robocop, but you have to go into it with your eyes open and know that it’s going to be a constant communication between you and the money. I always think that we’ve got so many different genres of movies, but we also have different genres of production, going by different budgets and hierarchies. You can’t jump from one to the other and expect them to be the same. If I make an advert, I don’t go in thinking I have any control, I just bring my best game to it and see what I can do. I’ve got no say in it. On my one of my films, I have total say, but on Doctor Who I obviously don’t. I don’t change a word of it.

JM: For your films, and especially with A Field in England, what was the creative spark? What made you know that this was your next film?

BW: I think it was that I wanted to make something that was…basically each film that I make is a conversation with the last one, so this was a conversation with Sightseers, while that was kind of the more commercial and crowd pleasing end of the types of films that I make. This time we wanted to make something that was much more radical and much more art house. Also, we’d made a comedy and a horror film and a crime film, so we wanted to make an historical drama. Also, this particular moment in history changed western civilization, so it really did change everything. It’s a crucible when the modern world is kind of made, you know, so it leads right up to things that we’re dealing with now. It felt like a starting point for all of the movies we’d done until now.

JM: Going forward, are you planning to continue toying with genres like you are right now? You have the ability to make almost anything you want at this point, provided you have the right budget, and that’s a really cool position to be in.

BW: Yeah, I love cinema and it’s a massively broad church isn’t it?

JM: Definitely.

BW: There are so many different types of films to make, I don’t think there’s any genre that I wouldn’t want to try, except maybe hardcore porn, I might draw the line there…

JM: Hey, never say never!

BW: (Laughs) True, who knows, if things go badly, I might end up there.

JM: It’d certainly be a classy looking porn.

BW: (Laughs) Thanks.

JM: Awesome. Well, I’m eager to see what’s next for you.

BW: High Rise is happening for me in July, so I’ll be in post for Doctor Who after we finish in two weeks, but then that’s happening. There’s going to be some casting announcements in the next week or so too.

JM: Excellent. I’m looking forward to it and I was glad to tell you that Sightseers story!

BW: Yeah man, thanks.

JM: Best of luck and it was a pleasure!

BW: Cheers mate.

So that was my chat with Ben Wheatley. A Field in England is out now, so be sure to give it a look. It’s easily the most unique thing in theaters right now…

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!