Interview: Johnny Kevorkian, Director Of The Disappeared And Sleep Thief

Johnny Kevorkian's debut feature film The Disappeared is notable as a horror movie that is neither a remake nor a gore fest. It is also distinguished by the depth of characterization it shoots for, and assisted by the great performance of Harry Treadaway in the lead, Kevorkian has succeeded in giving us a horror film protagonist with a little light, a little dark and a lot of soul. I have spoken to Kevorkian about this film, and also about his upcoming second project Sleep Thief. That's another horror film, though one will apparently skew more towards the gore-effect end of the spectrum without sacrificing the atmosphere and ambitious writing. That interview follows, along with a trailer for The Disappeared.

Here's an edited transcript of how Johnny responded to my questioning, subject by subject. The trailer can be found at the bottom of the post.

On finding out that The Disappeared had been given a green light:

It was around November 2007, after making the short film, which still was in post at the time, I showed the cut to a bunch of investors and they really liked it. At that time we were only developing The Disappeared with them. Once they saw the cut they said they wanted to fully finance it – the rest is history.

On the budget and shooting schedule:

The budget was small, it was under a million. The shorts were small as well, so really it wasn't such a shock stepping into the feature with no money, constantly battling with time, tight shooting schedules, lack of resources etc. But I guess that's making films here in the UK.

With a film like this you're free to move quickly and get your coverage of shots and make lots of adjustments on the spot, with script and locations etc. Whereas if your dealing with a bigger picture you need to get clearances from everyone. Also being on a smaller budget I think in a way you're left to get on with it, there's less money at stake.

I had a soft prep period which was just really me and Neil [Murphy, co-writer]. I'm a big fan of soft prep. Then we had a 6 week prep and then shot for just under 5 weeks. I had one week rehearsal with cast. Harry was there the whole shoot, We had to do some rescheduling with Greg Wise and Alex Jennings, they were both on Cranford which was filming at the same time.


On the look of the film and the shooting medium:

[We shot] on 16mm, it was then put into the DI process and we finished on a 35MM print. It looks fantastic, the final print. Nice and dark and grainy, exactly how I wanted it. I worked with DI before this on my short film Fractured. To be honest we didn't really do a massive amount of grading [on The Disappeared], it was more balancing out shots and scenes. Diego Rodriguez, the DOP's original rushes were do damn good that I didn't need to touch them. I think some people like to relight a film in the DI, I'm not a fan of that and neither is Diego. The main thing i really did was grade down the end cave sequences and really push them as far as I could in terms of darkness. Diego was there during the entire session which was really good.

On Harry Treadway, the film's star:

I had heard about Harry before The Disappeared but to be honest I never saw him in anything. He came and auditioned like everyone else, but I instantly saw that he was Mathew no doubt – he simply had the intensity and talent to be able to pull of such a demanding task. It was really a no-brainer and so I went for him.

It took a fair bit of convincing on my side to get him on board. I think his initial doubts were that it was a horror film and about how I was going to make it. I told him that it would mainly be a serious character driven film with the horror being more subtle and classic as opposed to gory or too in your face. I really don't think that many actors could pull off what Harry has done in the film. The film is all on him, virtually every frame.

On how the film was conceived initially:

It really was born out of frustration, from seeing so many bad films getting made and also having scripts which we had optioned from other writers expiring and therefore losing the scripts. We simply decided to write our own. Horror was the obvious choice, and we needed something that we could easily just film on a small DV camera if we failed to secure funding. Also it had to be different to the other stuff. What I mean is that there weren't any horror films which had strong lead characters and believable characters. The UK were not making these types of films. [A film] that relied on traditional scares as opposed to slicing and dicing someone was lacking.

On the horror genre, and the style of horror in the film:

I'm a massive horror fan! I grew up on the stuff. To be honest I'm more attracted to the horrors that are made up of reality-based themes and are also full of strong believable characters – Don't Look Now, Rosemary's Baby, The Innocents. I'm also a huge Cronenberg fan.

The photograph was a nod to Rosemary's Baby, to the bit where she realises that her neighbour has been around for centuries and appears in different forms. Love that.

The horror had to really be set in an everyday world, not a big gothic house. The Council Estate is just something that we pass everyday and its a part of our lives, there's one next to us everywhere in London.


On the film's premiere at Frightfest last year:

I thought it really was the most enjoyable film festival I've attended for the film. Although they failed to let me know there was a Q&A infront of 850 people! No seriously, it was really good. We sold out at the Odeon Leicester square. It was great beacause it was all horror fans, pretty much, and I don't think they knew what to expect from the film, but everyone loved it. For me that was the true audience test for the film and it passed. I felt very relaxed and confident about the film after that.

On his next film, Sleep Thief:

[It will be] hopefully bigger. Still sorting out budget. Its definitely more mainstream but still with strong central charaters and story. More horror and gore, I have to say, but more like Cronenberg. Very visceral. Certain locations have a Gothic look to them. It's set in contemporary times. Its sort of like The Machinist meets The Others.

We will start casting soon, can't say who yet, but we are looking to go into prep end of the year

On the approach to cinematic language, mise-en-scene and camera set-ups  in the film:

I'd say on this project it was 50-50, meaning that I simply didn't have the luxury or tools to go for fancy shots and camerawork and it really worked because as you say, it's part of its strength. But the next one I can and will definitely go for a more stylized look and more complex camera moves as the story expects that and needs that. For example, my short Fractured is a much more visually stylistic piece with a really sunny, bright look with bright colours, which lent something to the Hitchcockian themes.

On planning the shots:

I was directing the scenes while writing them if that makes sense. It's very hard not to do, sometimes. That can be good or bad. But usually once I lock the script, I sit hidden away and start to break down the visual aspects of the entire script.

On Ilan Eshkeri's score:

Ilan was recommended to me by someone I know. Ilan has two styles, he can do Hollywood really well and he can also do something like he did on The Disappeared, something very emotional and moving and yet very unique. A lot of people's expectations were to have a lot of dance music and an urban-type soundtrack to fit with the Council Estate. I just wanted a classic sounding score with heart and I got that from Ilan.

On the sound design and foley work:

You're right, thats one area we spent money on. I have seen it time and time again on any low budget films, the sound is a big let down. I really wanted [The Disappeared] to sound big and the sound really be treated as a character in the film. I really like to get involved hands on with the sound. Mathew Gough who did all the sound has done a fantastic job.

On his debut film being a learning experience:

To be honest I think I achieved more on this than I originally set out to do. I think each film is unique and will present its own problems and challenges and how to overcome them. There are many things but you usually forget them until you're faced with them again, then you remember them and deal with them.

I did really like The Disappeared and while it has a few minor shortcomings here and there, you could (and probably would) do a lot worse by just wandering down to your nearest multiplex this evening. I think Johnny would like us to see this film as something very resonant, a film which gets right into our deepest, darkest fears, but also a horror film in a very classic mode like, perhaps, a British brother to The Orphanage. Personally, I'd more likely cast it as an inner-city step sister to Don't Look Now.

US readers will have to wait for the IFC release of The Disappeared in July, though UK readers will be able to catch the film at the ICA from the 17th of June, including a special screenings on the 17th and 22nd with Johnny and the cast in attendance.

Here's the films's trailer:

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