A director who caught my eye a few years back with his visual powerhouse of short DEVIL MAKES WORK, Guy Soulsby joins us to today to discuss his latest epic – GOD’S KINGDOM. A tale of Good v Evil set on the Yorkshire Dales, Soulsby shares insights on the importance of working with a talented cast and not force feeding an audience.
Jack and Ella travel alone, taking the path less trodden. Dishevelled and dirty they keep away from people, towns and cities, off the grid. They are hiding and on the run, but from what and why?
On the surface, GOD’S KINGDOM plays like a classic thriller featuring a hunter chasing his prey, but there’s more than meets the eye – can you introduce your narrative to our audience and tell us a bit about why you wanted to tell the story.
I was researching the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse for another project and became consumed by the book of Revelation and the Whore of Babylon. There is an enormous amount of imagery, ideas and thoughts that get conjured up when reading the book. I wanted to translate a part of it into the present by wrapping it in a story that the audience could relate to more easily. When you break it down the film is a tale of good versus evil, somewhat like a western and the Yorkshire Dales are my version of the wild west.
The film walks on somewhat of a knife edge with regards to its plot, you reveal just enough to keep your viewers totally hooked but never too much to fill in all the blanks, how much did you focus on this when creating the film and was it hard finding the right balance?
Originally GOD’S KINGDOM had more scenes and dialogue but at the read through myself and the actors agreed that we should take parts out and let other parts be told through looks or actions. Finding the right balance is tricky, a film I think does this really well is Thelma from the Norwegian Director Joachim Trier, and the way in which he gives the audience just enough to make them think, ponder and question the narrative and visuals. The audience has to work it out and not be force fed everything.
It was hard to lose scenes and change things around.
This was something we realised more and more in the edit. I wrote the film as a linear story and the first cut was as written and we were really pleased. Then my editor Nick Armstrong at Cut & Run said let’s cut the film as if we never had the script structure and see what scenes work side by side, which ones can pay off others and which we might have to drop. That’s the cut you see today. It was hard to lose scenes and change things around but it was for the best, as we played with structure, place and time, setting up one scene that wasn’t paid off until we’d seen another. All of which made for a more engaging and layered story.
Without giving away too much, the film concludes with a powerful (narratively and visually) ending – what do you hope an audience leaves a viewing of your film with?
I hope they leave wanting more, not only in story and duration but wanting answers to their questions, and with the desire to look into the subject matter themselves.
The production on GOD’S KINGDOM is stellar throughout – did you set out with a particular aesthetic in mind when creating the film and how important is atmosphere and tone in your filmmaking?
I watched lots of films – The Road, The Witch, It Comes at Night, Panic Room and one of my favourites Angel Heart – as they all have the presence of dread or pending doom. This was something I set out to create in each area, the dialogue needed to be heavier and brooding, locations imposing, the music that Echoic Audio designed had to be emotive and eerie, and the final grade by Yoomin Lee at Jogger Studios dark and bleak. We also chose to shoot at the end of the year so the trees were bare of leaves and we were more likely to get overcast days, and for the final maize field scene I wanted it to be dry and dead, not the classic lush green we’re used to seeing.
Can you take tell us a bit about your production? How long did the film take to create, how big was your crew, what equipment did you use?
I knew the film wasn’t going to be easy. We had a 22 page script that was to be filmed across numerous locations with a child actor, a lead actor that required heavy prosthetic work for two thirds of the film and we shot on some of the shortest days of the year. If that wasn’t enough we were shooting in remote parts of the Yorkshire Dales so our preparation had to be bang on. Leaving London each time with the kit and cast was an event in itself.
In total we shot for 10 days but this was split up due to location access and the actors’ schedules. The crew wasn’t huge and with all the cast added-up the production totalled about 20 people on the biggest day. We had enormous support from Ben Mitchell and Focus 24 who provided all camera gear and equipment, Alexa, full lens set and more.
Although it’s hard not to watch your film and focus on the production, the driving force on screen seems very much your talented cast – how important where the likes of Alistair Petrie and Anthony Flanagan in the success of your film?
I needed to do my homework and be fully prepared with a film brochure to convince both Alistair and Anthony along with the rest of the cast, as they would be giving their time and talent for free. Making a short film with established actors can help open doors to people who might otherwise not be as interested, when you can say your lead actors have been in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, The Terror and The Night Manager it’s a plus.
That said I want to work with both established, new and undiscovered talent. Someone to look out for is Jack Johns who plays Asmodeus. He’s a brilliant theatre actor whom I cast after seeing him in his one man show The Dog and the Elephant. For Leah this was her first film, we found her at a kid’s class run by Matt Zina at The Yorkshire School of Acting. She stood out straight away and we cast her as Ella. I then had to have discussions with her school’s head teacher as we wanted to film in term time. It was a funny experience being sat outside the head teacher’s office in a school in Bradford at the age of 34 years old waiting to be called in to convince her to grant our request.
What are you working on next?
I have a couple of short film projects. One of which I plan to shoot in the New Year, it’s a story about a kidnapping set on a quiet suburban street and the other is a period film about a soldier returning to Paris at the end of World War One.