Richard Mundy is a new British filmmaker who recently released his first feature Twenty Twenty-Four, a psychological thriller starring Andrew Kinsler. Richard’s genre tale tells the story of a lone scientist responsible for managing an underground bunker under threat of nuclear disaster. After losing all communication with the outside world the central character Roy starts to question his own sanity, which is perhaps exacerbated by a HAL-like computer Arthur in there with him.
The 88-minute film was well received by festival goers and film reviewers alike and premiered at the British Independent Film Festival last year. Along the way the low budget (made for £20,000!) sci-fi earned nominations for Best Director, Best Music for Harry Kirby and Best Film at the 2016 British Independent Film Awards. Internationally, it won the important Jury Prize at the Los Angeles Film Awards. Prior to his feature debut Richard made the short film trilogy The Little Three which served as a training ground, given he is a largely a self-taught filmmaker.
Twenty Twenty-Four recently had its North American Premiere at SF Indie Fest in February and will continue to screen at film festivals around the world.
New Machine Magazine’s Michael Kelleher recently had a chance to chat to Richard as part of our ongoing First Feature series.
Tell us about your background. How you came to be a filmmaker?
I probably started making films from around the age of 12. They weren’t serious efforts by any means, but having grown up in an era were digital cameras were becoming more and more accessible, I was fortunate enough to be able to experiment early on and begin the learning curve. As a teenager, I began to write screenplays more frequently and so naturally my films became more disciplined and complete. After studying film at University, I felt ready to begin making more serious efforts, which I did in the form of a short film trilogy. All this collective experience helped prepare me to undertake a feature film.
Why tell this story?
Part of the reason I wrote Twenty Twenty-Four was because I’d been struggling for a couple of years to get a different feature made, but it just wasn’t happening. Twenty Twenty-Four was in some ways a cathartic reaction to that. The idea of just one character and one location was very appealing from a production point of view. But creatively it was also an enormous challenge as a filmmaker, to maintain both narrative and suspense. I want to be pushed and challenged as a filmmaker, which I believed Twenty Twenty-Four would do. It’s a story which puts the audience in the same position as the main character. So as events unfold it invites the audience to piece together the mystery and draw their own interpretations. Personally I enjoy that kind of experience from a film, which is why it found its way into my own story.
Can you describe your directing and visual style?
With any project I’m always looking for something which will offer interesting visual possibilities. With Twenty Twenty-Four, the underground bunker location offered a number of opportunities from a visual point of view. I think my visual style is very much built around what the situation requires. Given the scenario and tone of the film, I wanted there to be a balance between realism and a constant unsettling atmosphere. For example, the films washed out color pallet works to both serve the clinical reality of an electrically lit environment, as well as the mood of the character and his spiraling mindset. I think my main objective as a director was to try and really put the audience inside this bunker. I wanted them to see this place the same way the character did. Whether they wanted to or not.
Building suspense with only two characters is difficult. Tell me about your story and character development? How did you attempt to keep the audience engaged with Roy and Arthur, raising the stakes as the story unfolded?
The relationship between Roy and Arthur (the AI Console) is central to the mystery and unease of the film, because it is entirely built upon trust. All they have is each other. They are two sides of the same coin in some ways. Both are looking in on humanity from the outside, trying to understand and make sense of the situation they find themselves in. But when that relationship begins to crack and paranoia sets in, it becomes less clear who’s viewpoint we, the audience, can trust. This lack of reliable narrator only amplifies the suspense as the strange events slowly begin to unfold. The bunker itself could really be seen as the third character in the film, as much of the tension is built around how Roy occupies this space and how the space manipulates him. The fact that the audience is locked into the same viewpoint as Roy, means that they too have to piece together the puzzle as the story progresses further.
How were you able to elicit the performances from Andrew and Arthur? For example how were you also able to give Arthur a personality for the audience to hold on to?
From a director’s point of view, one of the most valuable things that I could do for Andrew was to try and let him really absorb himself into the world of the film. The sets were dressed 360º, so he was always surrounded by the heavy set production design. It wasn’t hard for him to imagine being in such a place, and he was the only actor on set, so I think he was able to channel that loneliness into his performance. The character of Arthur was a real working prop, capable of interacting with Andrew. But it was really through his performance that he gave Arthur a credible personality for the audience to buy into. The way he would engage and react to Arthur is what made the relationship feel real. They’re both distinctively different voices within the story. But both characters were both brought to life through Andrew.
The music plays an important part and is impressive. What was it like working with Harry Kirby?
Working with Harry was one of the joys of the entire process. His music has really helped shape the identity of the film. I feel like Harry really understood what I was trying to achieve with the atmosphere, and his score has become a huge part of the film’s overall experience. We had decided early on that we didn’t want the score to comprise of synthesized instruments. Part of that decision was because we wanted the dark and strange ambiance to have a real, tangible feel to it in order to offer a genuine sense of threat. So to do that Harry basically created an orchestra of one, by playing a number of different instruments himself and then piecing the score together from there. It’s quite a remarkable feat, as there are moments in the score which genuinely sound like a large orchestra. It was a real thrill to be able to watch him create it. I think it’s a truly unique indie film score.
Filmmaking is not an easy path, particularly making a low budget feature. What drives you? What keeps you persistent, focused?
There are certainly plenty of moments when your resilience and dedication can be tested. I have an admiration for any filmmaker that makes it to the other side of a feature film. Especially if it’s an independent, because it really is a tough endeavor. But I think what drives me, is simply just a desire to not be beaten by the odds. Figuring out endless solutions to problems and finding a way to get your vision on the screen will ultimately only make you a better, more accomplished filmmaker. If I’m constantly being challenged by the material and its concept, then the focus will always be there for me.
What are some of your influences as a filmmaker? For example, what filmmakers or films (can be TV or docs) inspire you?
I have a pretty eclectic range of influences. For Twenty Twenty-Four I looked at The Shining, Alien, Eraserhead and Orson Wells’ film of The Trial to name a few. Unsurprisingly they’re all films about being trapped, albeit in quite different ways. But I was also very much inspired by Christopher Nolan’s first feature film Following. I think it’s a brilliant example of what a no-budget film can be. Twenty Twenty-Four also had a remarkably similar production to Following and so I really felt a connection with it. But I think overall, the greatest influences on me are filmmakers who have both a strong sense of craft and bold artistic visions. If I had to pick, I guess Kubrick, Welles and even Chaplin would probably be three of my biggest influences.
What advice would you give to someone about to start their first feature?
My advice would be to just throw yourself into it. There will always be a thousand reasons why you shouldn’t even attempt making a film. But ultimately you just have to ignore those factors and simply embrace the fact that you have an idea. Getting a film off the ground is an uphill battle for sure, but breaking your film into parts will help make it more manageable when pulling it all together. The other thing I would say is that making a film is one thing, getting it seen is another. This is something I’ve had to learn. You really have to work hard to get your film noticed. It won’t stand out on its own. Be prepared to accept the fact that the moment you finish your film, that’s when the hard work really starts.
What’s next for you?
I’ve written the screenplay for the feature film I’d like to make next. It’s very different to Twenty Twenty-Four, but it’s the logical next step and it’s equally as ambitious, just in a different kind of way. Right now, I plan to continue promoting Twenty Twenty-Four on the festival circuit, before beginning work on my next film in the summer.
Visit Twenty Twenty-Four‘s promotional website.