Q+A @ Fantasia with Christopher Smith

Brit Christopher Smith is an up and coming young director in the horror genre. Born in 1970 in Bristol, England he has already directed several films. After having directed such films as "Triangle", "Creep" and "Severance" he has now created a horror set during the times of the plague in England.

Q: What do you see this film as being about?

Christopher Smith: It's hard to describe. It's a medieval guys on a mission movie. It takes place during the period of black death – a rich period filled with potential for fantasy – but instead of adding witches and zombies I thought about making a more realistic film. The people of the time believed the plague was sent by God to punish them for their sins or by the Devil to torment them. I wanted to investigate what the characters felt and put them on a journey of "is it real or is it not real." We added a fundamentalist knight, so it touches on fundamentalism. It's a really dark film but still exciting. It's like a dark parable about how things haven't really moved on in the last 600 years. It is in its essence a story of faith. A young, moderate Christian having his faith tested.

Q: How did you get involved in the film?

Christopher Smith: Initially another director was involved with the project. It was really a fantasy film before with the flames of hell and everything. I only got involved 6 months before shooting began. Someone gave me the script while I was editing "Triangle" and when I read its first line "In the year of our lord 1348" I was sold. I wanted to make a film with a more realistic feel to it. My focus with the film was how do you make a witch hunter.

Q: Was it hard to come onto the film only 6 months before shooting?

Christopher Smith: Not really. I got into it quite quickly. I did a lot of rewriting of the second half of the film to bring it from fantasy to reality. That involved doing a lot of research about the period and how they really tried to sell fear. It was an interesting link to today's world.

Q: What was the shooting of the film like?

Christopher Smith: We shot in Germany. Eastern Germany still has a different vibe to it. The old buildings are still all there, so that was helpful. But it is not the type of place where you wrap the film and then go have a drink.

Q: Did you have any trouble with the locations?

Christopher Smith: The shooting in the marsh was interesting. It took us a while to find one and when we finally did we went back the next day and it had dried up. It was just a little bit of water and a couple of reeds. But the one that Osmund/Eddie walks through in the end is real and without his patience and dedication to the film it wouldn't have happened. Odd to think that I abused this actor who is going to do the next X-Men film. I think he is going to anyways; it hasn't been announced yet.

Q: How was it filmed?

Christopher Smith: I filmed it chronologically which helped everyone, myself and the actors, know where they were.

Q: Was the graininess of the film done on purpose?

Christopher Smith: (laughing) Yes, wanted that look. I think it adds to the whole atmosphere of the time and creates some of the tension required in the telling of the story. I shot on Super 16 because it's super cheap and I could film as much as I liked or until they told me "Chris, you're shooting too much."

Q: Are you worried about distribution because of the atheist message?

Christopher Smith: It is not atheist but anti-fundamentalist. I think the distributors will be more concerned over the amount of blood and violence than the religious messages. Like in the film "The Exorcist" the scene with the cross, which I thought was provocative, was not even really talked about. It was more about the violence and vomiting than anything else. It might affect distribution, but I am not too worried about it.

Q: Did you hold back on the gore on purpose?

Christopher Smith: I have had people say it is gratuitous, but I don't think it is. When you see a real video of someone being shot it's a boom and it's over. So I made things short like the hanging scene. It just happens and we move on. It is more realistic, I think. Except for the Sean Bean/horses scene at the end. It is really a scene so it goes on for a bit.

Q: How did you try to portray women of the time in the film?

Christopher Smith: In medieval times women did have some power. I thought it was interesting that the young monk is punished for feeling attraction for a woman. And also the woman who is seen as a witch in the beginning is not at all one by the end of the film. She is loved by the villagers. The village being run by a woman was an interesting idea, I think.

Q: How did you come up with the ending of the film?

Christopher Smith: I really had a hard time selling the ending. The epilogue with him becoming a witch hunter, killing the witch and torturing people I really had to convince the backers about. Some wanted the monk to find the witch and forgive her. A nice Christian scene. But I didn't want to come down on either side of the issue.

Q: Were you influenced by any other films while making this one?

Christopher Smith: "The Wicker Man" by Robin Hardy and "The Name of the Rose" by Jean-Jacques Annaud were the two films I immediately thought of.

Q: What was it like directing David Warner?

Christopher Smith: He's sweet and I don't often get star struck, but I was in this case. It was interesting to note that he was nervous (about his performance) as well.

Q: Why was the release date in the UK changed?

Christopher Smith: Because of "Season of the Witch" and other sword and sorcery things coming out. Doesn't matter because I like to let a film live before it gets to the cinema. Why rush it? The film isn't being changed. We just wanted to take it around to the festivals.

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