With the impending Video On Demand release of his new film, The Devil’s Bargain, writer/director Drew Cullingham talks to our very own David Watson about the End of Days, no-budget filmmaking and enough nudity to make Charlie Sheen go blind!


DW: What inspired you to make The Devil’s Bargain?  And why set it in 1974?

DC: The ‘genesis’ for the story came from lengthy conversations between myself and the co-producer, Ian Manson.  He had ideas floating about his head based on a story he’d read about two women facing the end of the world, and what they would do in such a situation. Throw into that the notion of the big bang reversing and then translate that into creation mythology and the cycle of death and rebirth and you end up with Adam and Eve effectively returning to Eden and life being gradually snuffed out.

The whole Mayan 2012 apocalypse thing obviously sparked off a trend. Part of the point of setting the film in 1974 was that this really is nothing new, and rather than painting ourselves into a corner by being ‘predictive’ it seemed more in keeping with the human themes of the story to make it a period piece.  1974 also has many parallels with today, and I think any period piece should say as much about today as it does about the period.


DW: You’re probably best known for Umbrage which was a big hit with FrightFesters but this feels like a complete tonal shift.  It’s much more downbeat, less fun.  Were you worried about whether that cult audience would make that journey with you or was confounding their expectations part of the plan?

DC: I believe every film will find its own audience.  This is very different from Umbrage, but it’s also as different from my last two films, ‘Monk3ys’ and ‘Black Smoke Rising’ as they are from each other as well.  I certainly don’t wish to confound any expectations, but trust that an audience is smart enough to take each film on its own terms. 


DW: The first half feels like it shares some DNA with downbeat, intimate apocalypse movies like Abel Ferrara’s 4:44 Last Day On Earth or Don McKellar’s Last Night.  Were these kind of films an inspiration you drew upon?

DC: Oddly enough, not really.  I didn’t really draw inspiration from apocalypse movies.  I definitely had a kind of ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ vibe going on in my head, but also the weird claustrophobia of a lot of eco-horror/’man at odds with nature’ films. 


DW: With the protagonists being parents still grieving the loss of a child and closing themselves off from the world, I found echoes of Von Trier’s Antichrist and wondered if the whole Doomsday scenario was even necessary or relevant.  Was that ever a consideration?  To just play it straight?

DC: That’s a great question.  The whole ‘end of days’ was really where the story began, and was only ever going to be a backdrop for the human story.  I’m glad that the emotional core of the story rose to the surface as it did.  That said, I think it’s an important shadow to have hanging over the narrative, and an echo of what is going on internally for the characters as well. 


DW: The publicity for the film has trumpeted that it’s a “full-frontal apocalypse” and has made the nudity and sexual content a selling point.  To be honest, I sat down expecting something cheesier and more exploitative than I got.  The film itself is actually much darker and melancholic.  How difficult was it to find actors willing to bare themselves that emotionally as well as physically?

DC: There’s definitely a sense, hopefully, in which the viewer should become desensitised in a way to the nudity.  It’s prolific, but it’s also a very natural state – so I’m very glad it didn’t come across as exploitative.  Oddly enough finding the actors willing and able to bare themselves in every sense was simple enough.  All three of them are absolute troopers, and I dare say some of the emotional exposure was tougher than the lack of the clothes.  We shot in a very organic sense that meant few set-ups and little time between takes etc, allowing for long and natural performances. 


DW: You’ve worked with most of the actors and crew before.  Did that help create an atmosphere of trust onset?

DC: Absolutely. Trust is paramount, especially with content like this.  A lot of us know each other very well, so it all felt very safe.  The crew was tiny as well, which really helps. 


DW: The film feels quite raw and loose, almost semi-improvised?  How much input did the actors have in the creation of their characters?

DC: You know what – a lot of that owes a lot to the quality of the actors again.  Most of the words were in the script.  I think what gives it that feeling is that fact that due to shooting through a pinhole the camera became (subject to availability of light!) almost a point and shoot camera.  The pinhole gives you an infinite depth of field so there’s no tape measures, focus pulling, tight blocking and marks for actors.  The main freedom the actors had was a looseness in blocking as the camera was free to move around them in a totally organic way.  That said, I always encourage actors to bring as much of their own ideas to characters as possible. 


DW: The film becomes much more ambiguous with the arrival of Luca.  He’s almost a demonic presence, the serpent in the Garden of Eden, tempting the couple with forbidden knowledge.  Is he real?  Is he a figment of Adi’s imagination?  Is he the Devil himself?

DC: Ha… well I can’t possibly say.  Certainly he’s a devilish character.  And I think the ambiguity needs to remain.  I could answer both ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to all those questions and it wouldn’t change a thing.   


DW: Obviously, the film was made on a very tight budget, you couldn’t even afford clothes, but how tight was it?

DC: Now that’s a question you should never ask.  Or is it a question I should never answer?!  One of the two.  It was a very tight budget, but we had all we needed.  The whole premise of the film was to be stripped back to basics.  No clothes, no lenses, just as organic a process as possible. 


DW: Visually the film is striking.  It has a dreamy eroticism that reminded me of something like Valerie And Her Week Of  Wonders, a hallucinatory nature.  How did you achieve this?

DC: That’ll largely be the pinhole I mentioned earlier.  Basically in place of a lens, the camera wore a cap with a tiny hole in the centre.  This means that very little gets through to the sensor, so you need a LOT of light.  You also lose any depth of field so everything is of equal focus.  As well as that it gives you that fuzzy almost super 8 look and tends to oversaturate colours a lot more.  There was a fair bit of work done in post to accent these characteristics, and degrade the footage further, to get something looking quite retro and raw. 


DW: What’s next for you?

DC: Comedy! Something very different again.  We’re hoping to get into shooting a raunchy comedy drama called ‘Skinny Buddha’ very soon.  There’s already a great cast assembled and I’m looking forward to being back on set again, this time using lenses and clothes and lights etc!


The Devil’s Business will be available to watch from Mon Jan 17, 2014, via www.distrify.com and https://www.facebook.com/TheDevilsBargain for just £3.99.


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