“Honestly, we shouldn’t be here,” director Marc Price admits, as he sits down with MyM Buzz on the set of his action-comedy Nightshooters, an abandoned warehouse, located in the sleepy town of Denham. “Our last day should have been Sunday but they’ve let us stay, we have electricity which we weren’t meant to have because this building had the electricity switched off, but they turned it on for us. It’s just one of those times when you’re really appreciative of the generosity of people.”
Nightshooters is a film about making a film, a topic that Marc reveals is one of his favourites to see in cinema. It sees a small crew use a dilapidated building for a guerrilla shoot, much like their real-life counterparts, only to stumble upon gang boss Tarker (Richard Sandling) and his henchmen executing unfortunate victims. They’re immediately seen, and so begins a game of cat-and-mouse between the two groups, as the crew use all their skills to try and survive the worst night of their lives.
Speaking about the many creative ways the crew manage to do this, Marc explains: “I don’t think I’ve gone too far with it, it’s more about them using their filmmaking skills to try and find a way to survive, to try and achieve that or fail to achieve that, it’s little things like that.”
“The sound guy leaving radio mics as a detection system is really fun, the stuntman being this amazing martial artist, the cinematographer knowing her way around the building because she’s studied it and knows where all the light is.”
“There’s even an amusing scene where our actor character convincingly plays dead long enough that the bad guys think ‘shit let’s burn him’, so he’s lying there, and we know he’s fully awake, while all of this is going on around him. There’s a lot of fun stuff that I’ve enjoyed doing in this film, so hopefully it all translates, I’m always too nervous to say it will but I’ve looked at the shots and it looks like it does.”
The director and the cast talk to us in a dimly-lit room which has been transformed into a hair and make-up station for production; itself a part of a derelict building which is set for demolition at the end of the shoot. Light is used sparingly, provided by a generator that switches off on occasion throughout the day, plunging us into darkness even as we talk with the cast and crew over the course of the afternoon. There’s no denying it makes for an unexpectedly interesting interview location.
It’s been predominantly night shoots, we’re told, and today marks one of the rare times they film in the daytime. The warehouse seems like the perfect location to play around with, as Richard tells us: “It’s quite atmospheric making a film in that regard, we are in the middle of nowhere filming something that’s set in the middle of nowhere which is quite good for that.”
Speaking about the set, Marc continues: “Phil Deguara, who was in my last feature Magpie, told me that there’s this amazing building, it’s fantastic, it’s rundown, it’s perfect and I have to write a story for that. I thought about it and realised I could do this Judgement Day type story where this group of characters witness a murder. I thought about who these characters could be, and I thought of filmmakers because they’re stuck in this building trying to make a movie, and [the idea] just struck me.”
Despite the sporadic lighting and December chill, everyone is in high spirits on set, ready to get to work and shoot their scenes without complaint. The first one we get to see takes place in a cramped stairwell, where Nick Aaron’s character, Tarker’s right-hand man O’Hara, and his goons kidnap Mica Proctor’s Kim, to draw out the rest of the film crew members who are trying to find a way to escape. It’s a short scene, though by no means unnecessary, that gives us our first glimpse of the relaxed, yet fast-paced, way in which Marc works. He gives the actors room to improvise, finding it fun to see where they’ll take the character and how their ad-libbing can add an extra dose of humour to the already hilarious script.
Nick waits patiently to start shooting, keeping his eyes closed as cold water is spritzed onto his face. His character is meant to have had cold coffee poured onto his face just moments before, and the actor enthusiastically tells a crew member to keep spraying water on his face despite the cold weather. Once they’re done he steps out into the scene, and it’s then that he chooses to ad-lib by angrily declaring he’s ‘fucking freezing’ because of Mica’s character as he forces her to walk down the stairs. It’s a small addition, but one that Marc clearly likes as he tells Nick to go further with it to make the character seem like a disgruntled worker, despite the dark nature of his profession.
Speaking to us later, Marc says of working with the actor: “He’s been so much fun to work with, he sees every scene, every line as an opportunity. I had to say to him the other day ‘look, don’t think it’s bad that every time you suggest something I say yea let’s do it’ because I will do a take and we’ll get it, if I use it I use it, if I don’t I don’t. I’d rather collect those lovely moments of performance, I don’t really like shooting coverage.”
While, discussing the intriguing character, Nick adds: “O’Hara actually takes a lot of beatings, but it’s all for a good cause because he’s got a job to do and he has to do it. But he keeps coming back, it’s like Terminator 2, every time they go to the next room he’s got more injuries, but he gets angrier as it goes on.”
O’Hara’s determination to see the task through certainly seems evident from the way in which he plays the character, and with the many ways that he receives said beating (a word processor to the head seems to be the most creative). And, when we suggest that perhaps O’Hara can’t be killed, Nick can’t help but smile as he admits: “I like that, O’Hara is unkillable.”
It takes only a few shots before Marc declares that they’ve got what they need from Nicky and the others. It’s time for Jean-Paul Ly, aka JP, to film next, leaping into the scene directly after the others are out of sight before he tries to radio for help. JP plays the film crew’s stuntman – a job he held in real life until a few years ago – who uses his martial arts knowledge to thwart Tarker’s goons in several high intensity fights, albeit unwillingly.
“He’s a hero in film, but he’s not a hero in real life,” the actor explains. “So, when they have to make decisions with critical choices, he’s not going to be the first to step up and say ‘okay, I’m going to fight’, actually that’s not the case. I wouldn’t say he becomes the leader, but he gets the crew’s confidence and so he’s the one fighting the bad guys.”
But that’s not all that JP does. Off-set, he acts as the film’s fight co-ordinator with the help of his crew of stuntmen. It was this, more than his role within the story, that proved the most challenging: “The thing is we got the green light for this film quite late, so I had to come up with the fight choreographies in two weeks which is very difficult because I’m trying to bring a feature-film level of fights.
“I try to make the choreography based on the story, and I also provide the action design – so, how we would shoot a scene, the angle and such – there’s no shaky cam so that it’s easy to see the performance, and we try to find a way to make people laugh. There’s a different vibe for each one, so we try to make a fight like Jackie Chan for one, like John Wick for the other, The Raid, and more. I try to do martial arts that are like my style, my kicks etc, but we have a different homage to everything, so I think people will like it.”
While we don’t get the chance to watch any of the action scenes, everyone on set praises the actor for his work, as he says of the location: “This building is going to be destroyed very soon, so we can break anything and it’s so good. Can you imagine? They give us a set and say we can break everything, we’re breaking glass and everything. If people ask if this is special effects, no, this is real glass and we broke it! So, it’s crazy.”
One thing that seems evident is the genuine comradery between the cast and crew on set as everyone talks amicably in between takes, they make coffee for each other, and prep their lines. The latter takes place just before Richard and Nick are joined by Ben Shafik and Richard Corgan to film two scenes together. The first is a tense yet unexpectedly funny scene where Tarker chews out his men for not being able to kill “six film students”, while the second sees the mob boss call on the help of three professionals, played by Karanja Yorke, Markus Shakesheff, and Hung Dante Dong, to step in and get things done.
Before the cameras begin to roll, the two Richards, Nick, and Ben huddle with Marc to go through their lines, adding things and discussing the scene as they go. We stand close by, and the collaboration within the moment is self-evident as everyone gets stuck in to try and bring more to their character, as well as listening to Marc’s suggestions. Of this process, Marc admits: “I think these guys are great, and I really enjoy that. I love it when an actor sees an opportunity and seizes it because it’s interesting.
“I’ll never get to see this as an audience, I’ll never get that chance, the only opportunity I’ll get to be surprised in the way an audience might is when I look at these pieces that we shoot, I’ll see something and go [gasp] ‘oh that’s great’ so that’s why I always listen to ideas and Tom[Barker, the film’s cinematographer] knows how I shoot, so he always comes up with these things.”
Adding to this, Ben, who plays Tarker’s out-of-depth brother-in-law Noodles, says: “It’s a real hub of activity and it’s been great, everyone’s been chipping in and being creative. The shooting has been tough, the duration, the length of the shoot is tough, but everyone believes in it, so you don’t mind getting stuck in and getting what you need.”
This is the scene where Richard gets to shine as Tarker, as he goes into full villain mode to shout at his gang for their ineptitude. He brings a sharp wit to his character, and pauses his angry monologue to ad-lib by asking his -clearly uncomfortable- brother-in-law if ‘he’s alright’ and ‘having a good time’, and, when Noodles mutters that this ‘whole gang business isn’t fun’, he loses it, telling the group to get out of his sight and finish the job.
The moment has both Marc and us in stitches, and we have a hard time holding in our laughter as the scene plays out so that we’re not picked up by the sound recording equipment. Richard, who is also a comedian, brings a lot of great attributes to the character and it’s interesting to see him play such a malevolent villain who can deliver a comedic line with ease.
It’s not the kind of role he’s used to, Richard informs us, as he explains: “What’s nice about Marc is he sees something in me. I never get to play gangland bosses because I always play the comedy relief or the clumsy weirdo nerd type character, which I don’t mind doing because it’s my thing, but it’s nice to be a baddie.
“Can I not theoretically be funny and scream and shout at people? And he said yes! It’s nice that someone lets you try something that you wouldn’t normally get to do. He wouldn’t let me if he thought that I couldn’t do it.”
But the actor is clearly happy with the opportunities to be creative on set, as he adds: “[Marc’s] very keen on collaboration, he lets the actors improvise to a certain degree. If an actor is in character, and he feels like the character would say a certain thing, and it’s funny then he’s happy for them to try and make it as fun as they can make it. Rather than be precious over it and be like ‘these are the words, you must do it like this.’ It’s healthily flexible in that way.”
All too soon the scene is over, the actors having given it their all while Marc works quickly and methodically to get all the shots as their time to leave the set looms closer. Night has well and truly fallen outside, though it’s not as late as we expected. Even after the long day of filming everyone is happy, helping to clear the warehouse of their equipment and getting ready to leave. Only one more night until the building comes down for good, and it’s hard to imagine. But, for a time, it’s bustling with the energy of the Nightshooters cast and crew in their final days of shooting, and we can’t think of a better send-off.
Nightshooters is available on Limited Edition Blu-ray throughout December, and Blu-ray and DVD from 26th December. Order exclusively from: https://tribal.film/nightshooters/