In Conversation with Ben Wheatley, Alex Zane & Edith Bowman and an Update on "High Rise"

Last Saturday I went along to the Jameson Empire Done in 60 Seconds Global Final which as expected turned out to be a great evening celebrating the aspiring filmmakers whose 60 second films ran in the competition. The DISS competition culminated with David Smith being crowned the winner at the prestigious Jameson Empire awards the following evening for his incredibly entertaining Done in 60 Seconds version of There Will Be Blood.

Along with some other film type people I was fortunate to chat with some of the the Done in 60 Seconds judging panel specifically Edith Bowman, Alex Zane and the man in black himself - Ben Wheatley.

The chat was lighthearted with lots of laughs being generated by Alex Zane's sharp wit and Ben Wheatley's black & bone dry humour, whilst Edith Bowman kept it grounded and focussed. Ostensibly we chatted about the importance of initiatives like the Jameson Empire Done in 60 Seconds competition, their judging criteria, recent films they have enjoyed as well as the status of the film industry. But I couldn't resist sneaking in a couple of cheeky questions to the notoriously (albeit rightfully so) very reserved* Ben Wheatley about his much anticipated upcoming adaptation of J. G. Ballard's influential novel High Rise. I have met Ben a couple of times and is never too keen to talk specifics or details - so I was really quite chuffed at his frankness when discussing things at the roundtable.

*Wheatley actually expands on his reserved approach towards the end of the chat.

Wheatley follows Steven Spielberg who adapted Ballard's Empire of the Sun and David Cronenberg who took on the controversial Crash. With a tale that seems tailor written for Wheatley's style, things are going to get insane.


From the book's synopsis:

The unnerving tale of life in a modern tower block running out of control. Within the concealing walls of an elegant forty-storey tower block, the affluent tenants are hell-bent on an orgy of destruction. Cocktail parties degenerate into marauding attacks on 'enemy' floors and the once-luxurious amenities become an arena for technological mayhem... In this classic visionary tale, human society slips into violent reverse as the inhabitants of the high-rise, driven by primal urges, recreate a world ruled by the laws of the jungle.

Ben you recently announced some big news with the casting of Tom Hiddleston in your adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s High-rise. How did this all come about and what can we expect?

Ben Wheatley: Well there’s a book that has many clues in it.

[Much laughter ensues, but I guess the subtext is that Wheatley may be aiming to stay very true to the book, or possibly in spirit at the least as he gives it his own original Wheatley flavour.]

OK! What took you so long seems as the material seems written for you.

Ben Wheatley: Yeah. Well it has always been a favorite book of mine. It was really random how it kind of happened. You know, sometimes you have to be a bit of a chancer with these things I saw it on my shelf and thought that’s good no one has made a film of it I wonder why? I phoned my agent and within three days I was talking to Jeremy Thomas who said - Yeah I’ve got the rights to it.

And I went oh okay that’s cool, and he said yeah. It was that quick really. We looked around to see who would fit the part - Tom Hiddleston. So then we asked him and he said yeah I would love to do that.

He had just made Only Lovers Left Alive with [Jeremy] Thomas as well, so all the planets were very much aligned. Which was great.

I’m hoping it’s going to be pretty crazy, the film. It’s back to the Ken Russell days if we can.

Edith Bowman: When are you filming?

Ben Wheatley: I’m not sure yet it’s a little merry dance of regional financing at the moment. We keep looking at the script and thinking I can’t quite believe we’re getting away with this - but we’ll find out.

I was hoping to delve into what level of pressure of expectation, if any Ben felt in his approach to adapting High Rise as J. G. Ballard and particularly the much loved/admired High Rise has a fanatical following, additionally amongst recent Ballard adaptations two were taken on by two giants of cinema Steven Spielberg with Empire of the Sun and David Cronenberg with Crash. As well as if any other casting decisions had been made yet. But we took a different but as interesting route.

Why did you think Tom Hiddleston was perfect for the part?

Ben Wheatley: If you read the book the Robert Laing character is very Hiddlestoney or very Hiddlestonian, I suppose. It’s that thing of control, but there’s a spark behind Hiddleston of perversity as well. Which he plays full-bore with Loki. There is something about him which is establishment but is also wild,which is what we liked about him a lot.

Part of the joy of the Jameson Done In 60 Seconds competition is seeing which scene entrants choose to turn into a 60 second film. Thinking about your films have there been any deleted scenes like to see turned into a 60 second film?

Ben Wheatley: Well I of try not to put deleted scenes on the discs because I don't believe in deleted scenes. I always think they are depressing when you watch them on other films. I kind of think - Oh that's what happened with that then or that's really boring. It doesn't really move the story on. There are some, on the Sightseers disc just because they are quite funny and we thought you might like them. But on Kill List and others I have actively fought against it.

Which is a long way around to say I'm not going to answer your question because I try not to talk about any of that side of it - I don't want people knowing how how I approach things, as much as possible. Also we don't give the scripts out so no one has seen our scripts so they can't pick the scripts apart and say ooh they didn't film that bit, or they wrote all that that sh-- and didn't put it in. I wonder why that is?

I'm trying to protect the process as much as anything. Because there should be some mystique in this stuff. Otherwise film becomes a bit like sport and its partly to do with box office sh-- that goes on with people comparing movies and whether they succeeded or not by how much they have made.

Film is kind of an art and shouldn't be analysed like that, as soon as you go here are my workings, this is what I did, this is where I made mistakes people read things into it, like oh they don't know what they're doing.

Read the rest of the interview @ the source.