INTERVIEW: Oliver Nias - Crafting a Brit Film Noir Masterpiece With 'The Return'
Oliver Nias sits down with Box Office Buz to have a quick but informative chat about his feature debut THE RETURN. Having playing at Raindance in London to critical acclaim the feature soon found itself nominated for "Best UK Feature" and it's easy to see why. Our team got a sneak peek at this crime thriller and were blown away by it's visual style and the cast who brought the character's life.
There's currently no set release for The Return but both it and Oliver Nias are ones to watch out for.
BUZ: Where did the concept for The Return come from?
ON: The concept came from fear, the idea that if someone wants to screw you over they can. I started thinking about the nature of secrets, what it is like to be caught on the wrong side of a lie. The Return is an attempt to replicate this sensation for an audience, to really stress test them. I thought it would be an entertaining watch for those who like psychological thrillers.
BUZ: Have you always been interested in the crime genre?
ON: Absolutely. I think the genre has the widest horizon of possibility for characters. And it's ripe for extreme narratives because the criminal landscape is a frontier, anything goes. You can win big and you can lose big. There's room for romance, tragedy, riches and gun fire. That's very compelling. That's very dangerous. The textures of the crime genre has always intrigued me. Michael Mann is one of my favourite directors.
BUZ: The look of the film is a well-crafted piece of British film making. Was the noir style intended from the get go or was it something that developed with the script?
ON: That's down to our DoP Carl Burke. He lit the whole film with a single gaffer and handled 35mm on a shoestring budget - there was no safety net which is further testament to his ability. The references to noir were fully intended - black and white, themes, shadows - but we attempted to update things a little bit. We didn't want an audience to think they were watching something stylised. Our approach was to keep the lighting motivated, keep it natural. The narrative was extreme so the world needed to be everyday.
BUZ: The locations such as the house boat were very contained how difficult was it to shoot in a location like that?
ON: Many of the locations we shot in were tight spaces but we had a streamlined crew and kept a steady pace so we never reached pressure cooker level. It added to the challenge logistically but shooting is always a combination of jig-saw puzzles and by the end of the shoot we were well versed in solving them. But it was tight. I directed the film using a 4 inch monitor so the sense of containment pervaded the whole shoot.
BUZ: How did you overcome that?
ON: There's no overcoming concrete walls! Truthfully, we just embraced it. In many ways the locations made decisions for us because the options were limited. But that was the nature of the whole production so we didn't resist. We had major time and money restrictions so a further spacial claustrophobia didn't phase us that much. We were entirely focussed on the script, the performance and the audience. If that was working then everyone was happy.
BUZ: The cast were superb throughout. Did you work or know any of them before heading into the films principal photography?
ON: The cast were incredible. I had known Sam Donnelly and Amie Burns Walker before but had never worked with them. It was a first film for all of us which was ideal, we really pulled together. We met to discuss the script at any opportunity we could ahead of the shoot and they helped a lot. By the time we were filming it was a matter of fine tuning performances. The other actors were a product of the wonderful Emily Tilleli of ET Casting who put the cast together in 1 day's casting. Robert Goodman, David Elliot and David Sargent were so focussed, clear and easy to work with.
BUZ: If so how did the dynamics work? Some of the cast do get to rough each other up in a truly violent fashion.
ON: Everyone on The Return was involved partly because we knew they understood and were on board with how we were approaching the material and the production. The dynamics were quite straight-forward - we would discuss the scene, rehearse, try some things out and when the actors gave a thumbs up we shot. Most of what you see in the film is the only take we did for that reason. What you see is what we shot. The violence was handled in the same way and more often than not using implied violence as our weapon of choice.
BUZ: How important are festivals for you as a writer and director when it comes to getting your work out there?
ON: For a production of our size film festivals are actually the only way. Being a Best UK Feature nominee at Raindance has built momentum and generated attention way above our expectations. Festivals help people engage with the film and it gives an audience a screen to go see it on. We made The Return to be seen and that's what happened at Raindance. We had two packed-out screenings and the result is that dialogue continues and the film's life is extended. Every film wants that. As a director the interactions have been enlightening and informative. Festivals have proven to be a vital platform for me.
BUZ: What's next for you? It looks like our main man has a story to tell when The Return comes to a close... Will we see more or are there other projects on the horizon?
ON: I'm currently working on a film about a brand new type of criminal, centring on a rivalry and a dangerous new technology. As for The Return, I think the case is closed for now. Although, like you say, that ending...