SUNDANCE INTERVIEW: ‘Eight for Silver’ Director Sean Ellis
Eight for Silver is a period horror film and spin on the werewolf myth by British writer-director Sean Ellis, which stars Boyd Holbrook, Kelly Reilly and Alistair Petrie. Ellis’ previous feature films are Cashback starring Emilia Fox and Michelle Ryan, The Broken starring Lena Headey, Metro Manila starring Oscar Ramirez and Anthropoid starring Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan. Eight for Silver had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival 2021.
Why this particular spin on this myth?
I just didn’t want to do the same thing. I think if you’re gonna go into werewolf territory, you need it to be a new take on it. I think that’s why I did a lot of research and figured out a new approach. It seemed redundant to go there and do a man sprouting teeth, growing hair and howling at the moon again. I think we’ve seen it so many times. So I think the idea was to change the playing field a little bit.
Why did you want the setting of this particular time and place?
It felt like it would add to the mood and it was also give it a greater sense of foreboding. It also removes any modern-day technology tropes. I think it’s an interesting time period for audiences to actually see the modern problems facing us all reflected back in the mists of time.
You worked with costume designer Madeline Fontaine (Amelie, MicMacs, Jackie) on this film. Costume design and production design are obviously huge elements of any period piece, so I want to ask you about the collaboration with her and what kind of discussions you had about the costuming?
The conversations were obviously lengthy and the research was very time consuming. It took a long time for us to have every one of those costumes hand made. When you’re doing a period drama, the time that the film takes place in, Madeline was fantastic at getting that sort of detail. And then there’s the workmanship that goes into those costumes, they really were beautiful garments. They gave the actors a good head start, so it was easy for them to feel the reality of their character.
And again, the production design, Pascal did superior production design. He worked incredibly hard to get the right palette for us. Wardrobe and production design colours were tested – I think – for six weeks before principal photography. So, colours of wallpaper and the costumes that Madeline was making on mannequins. We were testing them with candlelight, daylight, shade etc. It was a very long, arduous period of making it look the way that it does in the film.
You used the same composer as you had on Anthropoid and I’m wondering what you were looking for in the score for Eight for Silver?
Yeah, it’s my third film with Robin, so obviously we have a shorthand. I didn’t want to do a traditional score on it, it didn’t feel like it needed a massive orchestrated piece. So, it’s very subdued and a lot of the score actually feels more like sound design. So in this case, probably, less is more. I know when we were doing the mix, we took quite a lot of the music off because it felt like the music he had done was quite scary, so it felt like it was playing to the orchestra a bit. It was interesting when we took it off and had complete silence, sometimes that’s scarier and it’s got those dark elements to it.
To what degree did you use practical effects, make up and stunts, as opposed to CGI and is that something you have strong feelings about?
I do have very strong feelings about CGI and I think it’s like any other tool, it can be done well and it can be done badly. I think obviously when it’s done badly, you notice it and I think when anything in a movie is done badly, you notice it, if it’s a bad edit, you notice it.
We did a lot practical effects in camera, all the make up effects are all in camera, all the pyro effects are practical. The only thing is that the beast is what we call CG augmented, so we had a practical beast, but then they used CG on top of it and make it move in a certain way that it didn’t move on set.
So again, it’s a very long process, trying to figure it out. The eye detects CG very easily, so you have to do it in such a way that it feels photorealistic. It’s a very difficult job, not everybody can make it look photorealistic.
Is it correct that you filmed some of this post-pandemic, what were the challenges involved in that?
The first part of the film was filmed in April 2019 and then we emptied over the Summer and we looked at where the film was strong and looked at where it was weak. We then scheduled another twenty days and I rewrote another 20-25 pages, then in February 2020, we shot those pages and we finished a week before lockdown. So we were done by the time we went into lockdown and headed into the edit at that point. My editor Richard was based in New York and we’d already planned to edit remotely. So in actual fact, once we went into lockdown, nothing actually changed for us. We were just editing the way that we would have done anyway, it’s just the fact that the rest of the world was in their houses, as we were in our houses. I guess that’s when you realise that your lockdown life is the same as your normal life.
And obviously the film is premiering at Sundance but it’s in different circumstances to normal. How do you feel about the big screen experience and the fact that people are going to be seeing this film for the first time in a different way. Are you pleased that it’s out there, regardless?
I think it’s a double-edged sword, it’s great to be out there and to be at the festival again. I mean, it’s not the world seeing it, there’s only a few thousand tickets for the screening. And it’s primarily buyers and industry people, it’s not as if the whole world is looking at the film. The whole object is to try to sell the film. Obviously my hope is that distributors will look to release the film at the cinema because it’s designed to be seen in the cinema. That’s how we made it and it’s a shame that the premiere is not going to be shown that way, but I hope the film will be strong enough to be shown that way because as I say, this something that should be shown at the cinema.
But there are some people who have got massive TVs and they get to watch it almost like a cinema and there’s other people who are going to be multi-tasking. It’s one of those things that’s completely out of your control, but first and foremost, it’s an industry screening, Sundance is for industry and distribution and that’s what we’re hoping for, is that it gets a distributor and will have a life beyond. The upside of this year is that there’s twice as much need for content because people are burning through their Netflix accounts, so it’s interesting times for sure.