“I’m very Zen these days!” An Interview With Adam Mason and Simon Boyes

By Keri O’Shea

It’s no real secret that I’m a big fan of director Adam Mason’s work, so when I was offered the chance to take a look at Adam and long-standing writing partner Simon Boyes’ latest film, Junkie, of course I said yes. I’ll be posting my review of the film very soon, but in the meantime, I nabbed Adam and Simon for a quick chat about their take on this latest film, the state of play for indie filmmakers, and what we can look forward to from them next…

BAH: Firstly, congratulations on Junkie – it’s a really innovative film and it’s bold in how it steps outside different genres, most notably moving away from pure horror. Was this move a conscious decision on your part, or did it happen organically as you and Simon wrote?

AM: After the experience Simon and I had doing Blood River and Luster, we made a very determined effort to move out of that sandpit. It wasn’t that we didn’t enjoy making those movies, ’cause we did – but the business end of it was so shady that it got to the point where we had to take an honest look in the mirror, and question what the point of it all really was. If you are working hundred-hour weeks for ten years or whatever it was by that point, to essentially live below the poverty line… you’d better REALLY enjoy what you are doing. And unfortunately the knocks started to really undermine the enjoyment I felt in the process itself. Especially when you start to see other people profiting greatly from all your hard work, and none of the people who actually deserved it getting anything.

In hindsight I can see why it happens – as soon as you have incredibly passionate people trying to achieve something, the probability of exploitation rises dramatically.

Simon and I also very much had a master plan to break into Hollywood… and it was a one step at a time type deal. Broken was so harsh ’cause we needed to bust the door down with a sledgehammer, which we certainly did… Devil’s Chair was a big step forward, as it was a much, much bigger budget, with Hollywood players involved… and getting into Toronto etc. got us signed to CAA, and made getting visas to move to LA a reality at last…

From that point on, we basically worked on impressing people within the studio world whilst still making some kind of a living making indie movies, which we did for a couple of years, until the studio-level specs we were relentlessly writing finally got us noticed. And we haven’t really looked back from there…

Junkie was a movie that we really just did for our own sanity, kind of like a hobby, to erase the sour taste Blood River and Luster left. So we just did it all for the hell of it, really. The studio stuff we write is extremely structure heavy; everything we do is outlined to the nth degree and everything is figured out, loads of character work… it’s basically what I guess you’d call the craft of writing. So with Junkie we just threw all of that out of the window and wrote it stream of consciousness style. We’d write ten page sections completely independently of one another, then flip them across and the other person would take over. We were just trying to make each other laugh, really.

And it really did prove to be very cathartic and fun. We always intended it to be the last movie we made in that world.

SB: Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it. I don’t recall us even really discussing what genre it would be. The screenplay for Junkie came together very differently from the way Adam and I normally write. Usually we outline everything before we start writing pages, but with Junkie we had a really loose idea and just ran with it.

We were pretty much writing ten pages each and flipping it, and it became a game of trying to make each other laugh with more outlandish stuff, which is probably why the movie gets progressively weirder.

All the core themes kind of grew out of it organically. It was a really liberating experience to not have to stick to any conventions of any one genre so there’s some drama, some horror, hopefully some comedy and tons of really weird shit on top for good measure…

BAH: So are you pleased with the results?

AM: Yeah, I really am. Most of the stuff I’ve done I look at with some disdain, although I’m proud of all my films for different reasons. I think Broken and Devil’s Chair are just bananas… Blood River came out pretty much as good as we hoped, then Luster was really a fuck up, and the less said about Pig the better.

Also along the way we had realized that we were kind of making a version of the same movie over and over, with the themes of duality and so on, so we just set out to make the ultimate iteration of those themes.

I was also really pleased with how the actors worked out. We shot the movie in seven days, which is at least a third of the time we usually shoot our stuff in, but it was all very liberating and freeing. It really felt like the end of an era, and not really caring what anyone else thought lent the process a beautifully anarchic energy that everyone involved dived into.

SB: Yeah definitely. We knew from pretty much the first few pages we wrote that it would be divisive. It was never going to be for everyone, but it’s fun to read the reactions and see who’s into it and who isn’t. Adam shot this whole movie in seven days on a minuscule budget and yet in my opinion the movie looks amazing, has fantastic performances, and to me is a really fun ride, so personally I couldn’t be happier.

BAH: To date, your filmography contains some pretty intense material: something which springs to mind for me is the opening scene of Broken (2006), which if I say ‘razorblade’ will no doubt be familiar to those of us who have seen it. How conscious were you that you were filming some potentially very shocking material? And have you been well-served by that material, do you think?

AM: Like I said, Broken was always reverse engineered to be a sledgehammer movie, and it certainly served that purpose well. Neither Simon nor I wanted to be making stuff like that really; it was just done from a place of impotence and anger at the UK film industry. It was really hard to ever get noticed there, as it’s pretty much an old boys’ club, and they guard the doorway with their lives. So Broken was about kicking in that door, bypassing them altogether and heading to Hollywood, where they actually make movies as a business not a charity.

I’d personally also become a very angry and bitter individual, and I think that sensibility found a mouthpiece in the movies we made. I was seething with anger for a long time at a lot of different things, mainly personal stuff from my past. But as I’ve grown older I’ve mellowed a lot, thank God, and I no longer feel bitter or resentful. I’m very Zen these days!

SB: Broken was a pretty specific case, I think, because it came about at a time when we were pretty fed up of trying to get movies made in the UK system and so we decided to go it alone and make a movie ourselves. We chose horror primarily because it’s a genre that you can work well in even when you have little to no money. Period dramas and action movies are hard to do on a ten grand budget, but in the horror world you can actually pull something off for that insanely low budget if you work hard – which we did. At that time, horror was going through a gory phase, with movies like Hostel and Saw proving popular, so I think we felt pressure to have some really nasty ideas in there, but for me, the heart of that film is actually a much quieter drama and it works best in the dramatic scenes between Hope and the Man, rather than when it’s being ultra-violent.

I think that material worked for that time, and it’s served us well in the sense that Broken’s success allowed us to do more films, which has gotten us to where we always wanted to be, living in LA and writing studio movies!

BAH: With regards to moving Stateside, and having had experience of making films on both sides of the pond, how would you say the UK and US compare?

AM: I’ve been in LA for seven years now. Its black and white; there’s no comparison…there just isn’t a film industry in England. Anyone who makes something that gets noticed in the UK ends up working over here.

SB: Short answer from my perspective…the process is the US is way better. A lot of it depends on what kind of movies you want to make, of course, but there is no doubt that Hollywood is the epicentre of the kind of movies we like to make and the kind of scripts we like to write. Trying to get anything made in England that isn’t gritty East End gangsters, period drama or lavish romantic comedies is very tricky and there are far fewer opportunities there.

The UK has a very insular industry, epitomized by the UK Film Council, whereas in LA there are literally thousands of prospective avenues through which to pursue getting something made. Of course, there is also a lot more competition but for me it’s an easy win for the US…

BAH: Since you started your careers, the online presence of film fans has increased dramatically, this site very much included; is the amount/accessibility of fan writing online a boon to independent filmmakers, or just white noise?

AM: All the online stuff, especially in the horror world – it really reminds me of being at school… and not in a good way. It’s bleakly ironic to me that alienation is usually the reason niche communities like the horror community come together in the first place. People who have been bullied and feel like outsiders find comfort and acceptance with like-minded contemporaries. Or that’s what you’d hope would be the case. The reality is that these ‘outsiders’ are often the most twisted and bitter bullying personalities you could ever meet. The venom you see daily on the internet, the trolling and spite is completely disgusting. And worse than that, it’s cowardly, because it’s anonymous. It’s given people who, fifteen years ago wouldn’t have had a voice, a way to stab people…

From my point of view – I take every good review the same way I take a bad one – with a pinch of salt. For every person who loves one of my movies, there’s another who hates it. Who do you listen to? The answer is you can’t listen to anyone really, because at the end of the day, who’s to say which opinion is the right one? In reality the internet is just a small bunch of people making a hell of a lot of noise. The rest are out in the real world.

But I will say that the internet has been a great way of connecting with like-minded people from all over the world. Some of my closest friends I have barely met, but I speak to every day. I also think it’s great that guys like Todd Brown from Twitch and Brad Miska from Bloody Disgusting have forged very successful careers for themselves in the industry. That in itself proves the power of the internet.

SB: I think it depends on the individuals, their agenda and whether they are criticizing or simply insulting. There is no doubt that the internet has massively opened up the floor to a wide and vocal group, but if it’s simply about being negative it doesn’t interest me. On the other hand, it’s fantastic that there are now forums out there, like your site, that champion independent film, and give a platform to films, like Junkie, that are not intended to operate in the mainstream. Some of the abuse people rain down on stuff is pretty weird to me because I don’t get why they care that much, but on the other hand, when you get a sense of how many people out there are supportive it’s great to see.

It’s also not just about whether someone liked our stuff or not. Bad reviews are as worthy as good reviews if the person has their reasons and can articulate them, but there’s a big difference between a bad review and a load of random abuse. That’s a lesson some ‘critics’ would do well to learn. Everyone’s entitled to a voice, but that doesn’t mean every voice should carry equal weight…

BAH: Are there any particular themes or topics you’d like to explore in film which you haven’t yet?

AM: I feel like Simon and I have done the duality thing to death now. It also lends itself to movies with anti-heroes, so we’re veering away from all that now. The studio stuff we are writing now is big action, sci-fi; the kind of movies we grew up loving. We haven’t written a horror movie in a few years now… but I’m sure we’ll get back to it sooner or later.

SB: Always, but for me the themes aren’t usually the starting point. Instead they tend to evolve out of an idea and the characters, so it’s hard to pinpoint specific themes and say this is a theme we should explore in our next movie. A lot of the movies we have done start out as ideas or concepts, and then we realize halfway through that we’re exploring themes of identity and duality and that’s clearly a theme that we are drawn to, so it comes out in the work that we have done so far.

One of the best parts of the process is that Adam and I get to take the kernel of an idea, discuss it, build characters around it and then map themes onto it which organically make sense to them and to us. A lot of this happens subconsciously I think, based on our own interpretation of the world we’re creating for that particular movie.

BAH: And lastly – what can you tell us about Not Safe For Work, your current project?

AM: That’s a movie Jason Blum produced that Joe Johnston directed for Universal. Its basically Die Hard in a legal office! It was one of the great days in our lives when we got the call telling us our script was going to be Joe’s follow up to Captain America…

We had a great time working with Joe. You couldn’t hope to meet a nicer guy.

SB: It’s a very fun thriller, kind of a throwback to the days of Die Hard, and we’re very proud of that script. As Adam says, working with Joe was a fantastic experience. This is a guy who directed The Rocketeer and Captain America so it’s hard not to be impressed, but he’s also a super cool guy and we were honoured that he loved the script and wanted to direct it!

BAH: Massive thanks to you both for taking the time to speak to us!

Read Keri’s review of Junkie here.