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Hal MacDermot [Film Festival 04.26.11] United Kingdom thriller

The Veteran opens in UK cinemas Friday, April 29, 2011.

Before attending an early screening Mathew Hope's new urban thriller The Veteran, our own Hal MacDermot sat down with the director to pick his brain about the film.

Read the entire interview with Mathew Hope after the break.

"Hal: Talk to me about the inspiration for The Veteran.

Matthew: The inspiration for The Veteran is twofold – the story came out of conversations I had with the co-writer and technical advisor Robert Craft. He’d spent 24 years in the military. We were talking a lot of about soldiers returning from Afghanistan and it was born out of those conversations. Also I was inspired by Taxi Driver, the anti-hero and first person narrative. I was also into Paul Schrader’s ideas from the mid-70s – the man in his room waiting for a mission - Also, Schrader’s interest in Bresson’s movies Pickpocket and A Man Escaped and the realness of those films and technical reality. I knew that with Robert we would get that technical reality and that was very exciting to me.

The idea was not just to show men shooting one another, but to show guns as tools, to show tradecraft. Michael Mann does this a lot, especially in Heat – which still boasts the best urban gunfight [editor's note: hear, hear]. My DoP Philipp Blaubach and I looked at that shoot out for how we wanted to shoot our end gunfight. Our gunfight is a true collaboration between me, Robert, Toby, Philipp and my editor Emma Gaffney. It’s very real without being too stylized, yet still dramatically exciting. We wanted to show the awfulness of what it’s like to be in a gunfight and how one well-trained man can take apart a group of men who have no training. Emma and I actually counted the amount of shots Toby fires and edited the scene around this. He fires the correct amount of shots before reloading. Emma had worked as an associate editor on Children of Men which I love and which we looked at in terms of style. Other inspirations were movies of the 70s like The Conversation, French Connection, and Rolling Thunder.

"Hal: Who is your favourite movie anti-hero?

Matthew: Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver) and William Munny (The Unforgiven).

"Hal: Travis is mine too. Would you call yourself a political director?

Matthew: No. I think the story has to come before the message. I’m certainly into political films like JFK, Z, and Battle of the Algiers. I also think all films are political to a certain extent. Obviously anyone who sees the film and knows me sees a lot of me in it. I wanted to deal with a side of the War on Terror that hadn’t been dealt with in films to date – namely the conspiracy angle. How it’s not just us vs. them, it’s not black and white. I think we’re living in one of the most turbulent and exciting times in history and I wanted the film to reflect that. The soldier suffering with PTSD was another interesting subject and how that is treated in the film, because obviously you have to portray it visually and I think Robert’s insight helped but a lot of credit has to go to Toby, who is just incredible in the film.

"Hal: The movie is shot on a housing estate in SE London. Is life really that crap in Southwark?

Matthew: It’s like anywhere, it has its good points and bad points. I actually loved being on the Heygate estate. It was like having our own studio. They’re tearing the place down so when we were there, there were very few residents left, so we had the run of the place.

"Hal: What were the technical challenges in shooting The Veteran?

Matthew: The biggest challenges are always money and time. We had quite a few locations all over London, but I had a great crew who really worked hard to help me get everything I was after. We shot on location, which brings its own set of challenges, dealing with the general public, traffic, the constant planes. I don’t think you can go anywhere in the UK and not hear planes. Philipp and I had a plan of how we wanted to shoot the film and what coverage we wanted vs. how much time we had. I think we got away with a lot. The end shootout was shot in 6 days. 3 days for the exterior and 3 days for the interior. By far the hardest scene to shoot was the fight in the car. We had one day to shoot it and it was technically complex and we needed to make it work dramatically. Our stunt coordinator Julian Spencer designed the fight. He also designed the bathhouse fight in Eastern Promises.

"Hal: How did you come to choose Toby Kebbell for the lead?

Matthew: I knew Toby’s work from Dead Man’s Shoes and Control and I always thought he was an extraordinary actor and would be perfect to play Miller. We sent him the script and he responded. He was an absolute joy to work with. I remember watching him on the monitor the first day of principal photography and just being so excited. He really got the character. It was also a hard role mentally as well as physically but he never complained and we ran him ragged. But all the actors were great from Brian Cox, Tony Curran, Tom Brooke, Adi Bielski, Ashley Thomas. It was quite surreal at first to be directing someone of Brian’s stature but he was very graceful with me and a constant professional.

"Hal: How do you see the relationship between Miller and Alanya?

Matthew: On the one hand it's an unrequited love story, on the other hand it's Miller's obsession to save her, because he failed to save a girl in Afghanistan (which I took from The Conversation) - but I also think Alayna is the smartest person in the film and when she disappears at the end I think her fate depends on your point of view - dead or alive? I also think Adi Bielski's portrayal of Alayna has a lot to do with the character. She really brought Alayna to life. We did have a scene where they were intimate with each other, not physically, but in the end we decided to take it out because by removing any intimacy between the Miller and Alayna it makes their relationship all the more tragic.

"Hal: I heard you are mates with Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates?

Matthew: I am. We’ve been friends for a long time. I use to live near Kevin and Mike. They made the Zombie Diaries the same time as I made The Vanguard.

"Hal: Will we see more horror/zombie movies like the Vanguard?

Matthew: To be honest I’m not sure. I would like to do another PA film at some point in the future.

"Hal: Any news on a US release for The Veteran?

Matthew: No news yet but hopefully there will be soon!

"Hal: What are your next projects?

Matthew: I’m currently writing a couple of things which are in the same genre as The Veteran. But nothing’s official until it’s official.

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seriously.. (10 years ago) Reply

The most God awful movie I have seen since Ryan Gosling ruined hi career in the movie "Drive".

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