Us Among the Stones is the second feature film from director D.R. Hood. Currently in post-production, the film stars Laurence Fox, Anna Calder-Marshall, and Sinead Matthews, and currently invites film fans to support the project through crowdfunding on Social Screen.
To find out more about Us Among the Stones and what movie lovers can expect from the feature, D.R. Hood discusses the film with our editor Amy McLean.
Us Among the Stones is your second feature film. How does it differ from your first film?
The family live and die on the moors among the stones and their animals. I think there are several differences from Wreckers: it's a wider subject, family life and family history, and with a bigger cast.
I am working with the same editor and director of photography, but with a looser, less 'constructed' feeling about it. It's more colourful. We have ten actors so it's much more free-flowing than Wreckers. Still it shares some things with Wreckers – perhaps something about memory and about fragments of life...
Could you tell me a little about how the idea for the film came about, and particularly the creation of the house itself?
The idea of the film first came about from a house that my sister visited and told me about, which went back to medieval times, and the ex-hippies who lived in that house. So the house and a feeling about the characters came about together.
Then I had a job for a couple of years that involved filming in many historic places in England, and in my mind the 'house' character took elements from all these different houses that I visited, including one that had a history extraordinarily similar to the stories I had already told about our fictional house, and which I fell completely in love with.
However, in the end, the actual house location was exactly like the one I wrote in my script: a Devon longhouse. Its own history was fascinating and we left the paintings on the walls and only added our own art direction – objects are very important in the film, the history of objects as much as of the house.
I am not sure the house is 'personified' exactly but it had a very strong effect on the crew, myself and the actors, especially the actress playing Marianne, who really fell in love with it.
What was the casting for this film like? The casting process was hugely enjoyable, though it went to the wire with one character being cast the day before rehearsals started. In Wreckers the actors were younger than I envisaged them, but in this film the younger generation are actually older than they were first written. I think it gives a bit more weight to the story and the relationships.
We worked originally with a casting director who cast Sinead Matthews (Anna), and through Sinead I started watching a lot of theatre in the year before filming, and met Greg Hicks (Jack) and Anna Calder-Marshall (Marianne). Laurence Fox (Owen) was suggested by my producer and I immediately felt on meeting him that he grasped the core of the film and would have a wonderful rapport with Anna, who plays his mother Marianne.
I mainly cast through meeting the actors and hearing from them what they understood about the family in the film, and sometimes hearing about their own family histories. Jethro Skinner, who plays Danny the younger brother in the film, I had worked with 13 years before. Bill Thomas, who plays Brian, was suggested by our production manager. So casting was itself a family affair with history attached. I also loved considering the group as it evolved, how they would work with each other and bounce off each other.
As the film is now in post-production, are you nervous about the final results? Or do you find that this is the calmer part of the process for you personally?
There is a very intense period of the edit on all my films, where you have to realise that you are now making the film rather than the script. And because our idea was to work with multi-format material including still photographs, designing the eventual edit was a long process with breaks to consider the material – as we had so much of it.
We were always fairly happy with the basic structure of the film, but filling in the jigsaw puzzle of all the elements took a fair while. I always have been in love with this film so it was possible to keep the faith. We very much look forward to seeing how audiences respond to the family and the way we have made the film with all its different elements.
How much of family life, both in this film and in general, resides in the fabric of the building? Can a house - its design, its history, its atmosphere - shape the way a family interacts, and if so can this be seen in Us Among the Stones? There is definitely a feeling in the film about time – immediate past of the family and the 'long history' of the house – including some storytelling by the characters about it.
I do believe that a house can shape the way a family interacts just as the geography of a country affects its people and that is subtly in the film I hope. I think that the character Marianne and the house are made for each other, even though she is the incomer to the house.
You've described using "theatre concepts in a cinematic way." Could you explain a little more about this in relation to the film? Yes. We have used props a lot in the film in occasionally surprising ways. It's quite subtle, not like Lars Von Trier's Dogville though. For example, the family don't have any food at their dinner, it's just the dinner gathering itself that we focus on, which is a family ritual. There's one other major prop that is quite theatrical, I will leave the audience to discover it for themselves...
Did you hit any drastic stumbling blocks during production? Anything that had to be reworked or rewritten due to any limitations or the fact that it simply didn't work out as desired?
We cut some elements of the dinner scene before we shot and one story strand as well. I would have liked to shoot the whole sequence but our shoot was 18 days long so we had to curtail some elements, though painful to do so.
However other than these, our idea was to somehow shoot every single thing in the script and this affected how we shot (with two units, several cameras available, including stills), and this made the shoot very exciting. The edit uses elements from almost every scene.
The film has taken 20 years to complete - how has the film been shaped over the last two decades?
It would have been a different film had we shot it 20 years ago. Because it is about a family, the characters have grown with me, which is one reason why we cast the younger generation older than they were originally written.
Before we shot the film I actually went back to the very first draft, which I liked because it was less structured, and in the final draft I took some elements from that more free-flowing draft. When I first wrote the script all my sympathies were with the younger generation but now I understand Marianne (the mother) much more!
Looking ahead, what do you hope to achieve with this film's distribution?
Our ideal is for it to be seen widely, preferably with festival then cinema release at first then on global streaming services as with Wreckers. We also hope to sell to many television channels such as the BBC. We hope that people will just respond to the family – there are so many characters to place your sympathies with.
If you had to choose one adjective to describe Us Among the Stones, which would you choose?
You can find out more about Us Among the Stones on IMDb and support the film on Social Screen.
D.R. Hood was talking to Amy McLean about forthcoming feature film Us Among the Stones.