Interview: The Devil’s Business director Sean Hogan Ian White July 28, 2012 Features, Interviews 2225 Bio Sean Hogan directed his first feature ‘Lie Still’ in 2005, scripted the movies ‘Summer’s Blood’ (2009) and ‘Isle of Dogs’ (2010) and then returned to directing in 2010 when he contributed to the anthology film ‘Little Deaths’ together with Andrew Parkinson and Simon Rumley. ‘The Devil’s Business’ is Sean’s third feature and originally premiered at London Frightfest 2011. Interview After being suitably traumatised by ‘The Devil’s Business’, Movie Ramblings met Sean Hogan for a quick chat and discovered, yet again, that people who make horror are some of the nicest in the industry. MR: Tell us about writing the script. You’ve said in other interviews that the idea originally came to you after watching Harold Pinter’s ‘The Dumb Waiter’ with its characters of the two hitmen, but there could have been so many ways to take that. Why did you choose this one? SH: Normally I’m the kind of writer who plans out in advance where they’re going. I’ll work a long time planning everything out. With this script I didn’t do that. I knew how it was going to start and I knew there was going to be a story within a story. But I didn’t plan anything out very much. This is one of the times that the characters just took over. When it came to the monologue, I knew it was going to be there but I didn’t know what it was. That story came out and I looked at it and I thought ‘I have no idea where that came from but I think it works!’ I barely changed a word of it after that first time. I tweaked a few things but essentially that was pretty much what I wrote. The film bubbled up out of my sub-conscious really. I settled on the black magic angle partially because it played into the gangland stuff,Crowleyand that sort of thing. It seemed quite evocative. But it all becoming about Pinner facing up to the life he’d lived, developed quite organically. It was almost like an excavation. You’ve got something sticking out of the surface and in the end I pulled this thing out and that was the script. MR: So when you cast the actors, did you ever want to go back and readjust things? SH: We had no time to do anything like that. It was such a scramble to make. We were locked into a shooting schedule, we were locked into dates and there was no time for rehearsals or anything. I basically had to get the best people in I could hoping they would spark off each other. Luckily Billy and Jack had a great relationship. MR: The monologue is so brave. Did you ever look at it and think ‘oh man, what if people don’t sit still for this?’ Do you ever second guess yourself? SH: Not when I’m writing so much. This wasn’t a typical situation where we were looking for financing from official bodies or anything like that. I got to the end of the script and I was well aware that if I was trying to make this on a bigger budget and I’d come through a production company, the first note I’d get back was ‘there’s a guy talking for five minutes – cut it out’. My point was, this is the heart of the film and luckily our producer has exquisite taste (!) and she said ‘I think it works. It’s a bit of a risk but let’s see how we get on.’ The real nerve-wracking point was when I gave a cut of the movie to a few people and I was waiting for the phone to ring and go ‘It’s great apart from that really boring scene when he just talks!’ but it’s one of the scenes that people say is their favourite thing about the movie. In theory you should never write a scene like that in a movie but it just shows you no-one knows anything. One of my favourite scenes in films is the monologue in ‘Jaws’. Somewhere in my mind it gave me the confidence that scenes like that can work. And Billy’s got a great face. He just nailed it. MR: If you’d had a bigger budget, would you have ever considered doing a flashback onto that scene instead of using the monologue? SH: I didn’t think it needed it. The discussion came up early on and I thought if we cut it together and it really doesn’t work, maybe we can go back. But we just thought it worked. Unfortunately now horror is a genre which is mainly aimed at teenagers and seen as something that will make money and you don’t have to spend a lot of money on it to get a return. Most of them are exploitative and generic and rehashes. I thought no, I love what these movies can be and have been in the past. I grew up on seventies movies which were about character and moral ambiguity and interesting offbeat stories and unhappy endings. I want to do movies like that. Whether they’re horror movies or whatever. MR: What were your influences? Did you always want to go into horror? SH: The first screenplay I ever wrote was a horror screenplay. For a few years I fell out of love with horror movies, but it was really the Japanese new wave of horror that brought me back in. ‘The Ring’ etc. I thought someone gets it, someone sees what horror movies can be. That really got me interested again. After that the first feature I directed was a horror movie and that kind of got me back into it. There are solid reasons for making horror movies if you’re an independent film maker on a low budget because you can make them without stars and get them distributed but that’s not the only reason to do it. I wouldn’t be doing them if I had no interest in them. I love them and respect them and I want to do them well. They have so much potential that goes unexplored. MR: Do you write a lot of your stuff from your own point of view? Wherever you are in your life at that time? SH: Possibly, but sometimes you don’t realise that until you look back on it. My first film very much came out of stuff I’d lived through and personal circumstances but I wasn’t necessarily aware of it at the time. ‘The Devil’s Business’… I’ve never been a hit man or a devil worshipper or anything!… but I think there are things in the film that are very personal to me. Some of the stuff that sits underneath the horror story. The idea of how you live your life, do you live your life according to what other people tell you or do you try and stand up against authority and go your own way. Things like that interest me. MR: Because when Pinner talks to the novice, he’s very much ‘This is the way you need to be if you’re going to get on in your life’? SH: Yeah, but we see where that leads Pinner. When his big lie is revealed at the end, what he’s done in his life because he was ordered to do it and where that’s taken him, you can see where that road can lead to. Doing what you’re told is not always the best idea! MR: Did you ever have any second thoughts about the ending? SH: No. The ending seems to get different reactions from people but, for me, it was very much a metaphorical device. It’s chickens coming home to roost for Pinner on a symbolic level. MR: The film appeared at Frightfest last year and has appeared at various festivals around the world, but you’ve had quite a lag time before this release. Was there ever a point when you thought ‘I’d love to go back and tinker a bit’. Or can you put a film to bed once it’s done? SH: I put it to bed. We shot it and then I had to put it to one side to finish my previous film, so I essentially lived with it for a year. In terms of the edit, when it was finished I thought ‘no, it’s time to let it out into the world and try and do something else.’ MR: What are you doing at the moment? SH: I’m actually doing a play. It’s called ‘The Halloween Sessions’ and it will be on in theLeicester Squaretheatre over Halloween. I’m doing it with a bunch of otherUKgenre writers, people like Kim Newman and Stephen Volk who wrote ‘The Awakening’ last year, and ‘Ghostwatch’. A great bunch of writers. It’s an anthology show. I’ve written one story and I’m directing the whole thing. That’s going to be a lot fun. Hopefully I have a film happening early next year but I don’t want to say too much about that yet! MR: You don’t want to jinx it! SH: Exactly! But fingers crossed. MR: Did you ever have a Plan B if this career didn’t work out for you? Or would you have kept just knocking on the doors… SH: I’ve been knocking on doors for several years now. I’ve done two films before this but for various reasons beyond my control neither of them came out in theUK, so this is being treated like my first film in theUKand I’m like “But I’ve been here for years guys!” MR: The great overnight success! SH: I’ve been knocking on doors for several years and probably will continue knocking on doors for several years to come!