Thursday 24 August 2017

Interview: Howard J Ford

In the tradition of Taken comes the thrilling Never Let Go, on DVD and VOD this August from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Award-winning actress Angela Dixon (Dead End) stars in a thrilling international action-thriller about a single mother desperately searching for her missing child in a beautiful, but unfamiliar land, following an apparent abduction. Trusting no one, she takes the law into her own hands, weaving her way through the murky backstreets and barren landscapes, now implicated in the murder of a seemingly innocent man, her connections back in the US begin to reveal that there is much more at stake than first meets the eye.
Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Howard J. Ford (The Dead, The Dead 2: India), Never Let Go boasts an impressive supporting cast including BAFTA award winning and twice Emmy nominated Lisa Eichhorn (About Time, The Talented Mr. Ripley), Velibor Topic (Kingsman: The Secret Service), Nigel Whitmey (London Has Fallen, Saving Private Ryan) and Rami Nasr (upcoming Murder on the Orient Express, TV’s “The Night Manager”).

We spoke to Howard Ford about his terrifically fun movie.

How many months have you been on the promo trail for the film now?

A: For the Sony North American release you're one of the fist interviews I've done, but we've had an odd release pattern as the film has been out in 27 countries already and dubbed into 7 different languages so it's been an interesting ride that's for sure! Normally a film comes out in the US first but we had a similar situation to our film 'The Dead' in 2012 and that became a number 1 selling horror movie for 6 weeks, so fingers crossed that Never Let Go finds it's audience too! We were very lucky to be voted best independent film of 2016 in the UK at the National Film Awards, voted for by 2.6Million people apparently and we were hugely grateful for that endorsement!

Is it something you enjoy – talking about the movie?

A: This is actually a great question and no one has ever asked me this! It's nice to get the story out there of what happened during the making of the film, particularly as I have a very personal reason for making this film and it's a hugely important way of connecting with our potential audience who might be reading then go, alright, I'll give Never Let Go a shot. However, I'm much more comfortable doing it - getting out there and making a film or constructing a scene, so in truth I'm not as comfortable talking about it as I am doing it!

In terms of the film itself, how close to it are you? Is it like a child you’re sending out into the world?

A: I have been so close to it, it's absolutely like sending a child out into the world. In fact, the very reason Never Let Go exists is because I very nearly sent my own child out of this world! I was on vacation in Malta when my just turned 3 year old son vanished and I became convinced he had been abducted. I searched frantically all around the resorts feeling ready to do any kind of violent acts to get him back. I was pumped full of adrenalin and shaking with a kind of panic. Then, by chance I found him at the bottom of one of the swimming pools drowning. I thought he was already gone but managed to get him back. That's why I wrote, Never Let Go. It would have been my fault - I was texting when he must have fallen in the pool!

What was it about this particular project that appealed to you?

A: I love the journey movie - I love going on journeys and I don't want my films to just take place in rooms. We see rooms all the time. I bet you're in one right now! I want to go somewhere different. With my previous films - 'The Dead' was shot in Africa (Burkina Faso and Ghana including the Sahara desert), 'The Dead 2, India' of course was shot all across India and I was originally going to shoot Never Let Go in Malta, which is a lovely island, but then I was doing an internet location scout as I was looking for a location like a slaughter house or similar as I wanted a thread about the trade in flesh along side the plot. Then I stumbled upon the 'Tanneries' in Morocco - huge, incredibly looking (But disgusting smelling places) where people dip leather hides into concrete bowls of ammonia. It was such a visual feast I just had to get that in so switched the whole thing to Morocco. It was a very tough shoot, but I hope worth it for the locations..

Are horror fans going to dig it? 

A: I would love to hear what horror fans think of Never Let Go. The thing is, horror fans are extremely smart and also a lot deeper than non horror fans would credit them and whilst it's not a horror, I don't think there is anything much more horrible than loosing one's child - we premiered the film at FrightFest in London where we had originally shown The Dead and then had the honour of being the opening film 2 years later with The Dead 2, India and I was genuinely worried what the UK horror fans would think of NLG, but I was so relived that they 'got it' and one hardcore horror fan came up to the lead actress Angela and I and said it was his joint favourite film of the festival. Even if he was just being kind, I truly appreciated it and I think our horror fans know I'll be back with another for them some day soon so I'd love them to give NLG a shot!

Was there a check-list of things you HAD to have in the film?

A: Well one thing for sure: My surviving son, he HAD to be in the film and in fact he's right there in the opening sequence being kidnapped from right under the noses of our British couple. If you watch the whole film and understand my story of nearly loosing him, I think you will get why...

I definitely had a check list of things when I was first writing it. Without giving the plot away I had 4 or 5 key 'event's or twists I wanted to get in the film so I layed those out and then found ways of tying them in.  I've tried to put in some deeply personal things for our main character, played by the fabulous Angela Dixon as I didn't want to play-it-straight. You can never please everyone with any plot as it's all in the eyes of the beholder, so it's funny that what affects one person deeply, someone else doesn't even feel it, but they feel something else. I love that about film but it also makes an audience's reaction extremely unpredictable.

It is comforting to see people covering the movie, and genuinely getting behind it? 

A: It really is actually. I'm genuinely grateful for your time in interviewing me and talking about the film and I'm also extremely grateful for anyone reading this then spending some of their heard earned $ on seeking out and watching the film. That act of doing so literally keeps independent film alive. Sadly so many people are downloading films illegally which is rapidly killing independent movies so all we will be left with is huge superhero type movies or TV series. It's all in your hands...

They said that a theatrical release is only a ‘promo’ for a VOD/DVD release these days.  What’s your take?

 A: It's true in many respects. Unless you are one of these huge movies where ten's or hundreds of millions are spent telling the masses what to like. What to go and see and what popcorn to go with it, as an independent movie, the theatrical side generally looses money, but allows you to create a little more awareness and get more 'coverage'/reviews etc, then you have at least a shot of recouping your budget, or doing well enough to make a profit and see you onto the next film.. I really enjoyed the theatrical tour with Never Let Go, Angela and I moved from town to town with it at theatres in the UK and there is nothing like the way it play on the big screen with proper surround sound. I really don't want the cinema to die, but sadly it is dying right now.

Will we all, at some time, be watching films on VOD only?

A: Yes I believe we will. at least 99% of us. There will be some crazy theatre owners with long beards in far flung places that will keep their theatre's open to the end even with three people a night in there to see an old print of something whilst they drink neat whisky from the projection room! Then when they are finally gone too we will all be devastated over the loss of this previously wonderful era, and we will blab to our grandchildren how we once all gathered in a dark room at a specific time and curtains would open and we'd all watch a movie together and talk about the experience afterwards. They will pop their wireless earpieces out for a moment and say F**k off granddad, I'm watching a funny cat's singing on youtube!

How much do you love the theatre, though?  The genre film is almost made for it, isn’t there?

A: I love it so much that I gave up my life to make it my career! I didn't get into this and start travelling all over the world to the most cinematic locations I could find, to watch them on a device whilst giggling around on a train. However, it's become extremely evident that it's nearly impossible to get people to hop into their car, drive to a theatre, pay for parking, pay the entrance fee etc and watch a film with the possibility of someone talking loudly next to them when they have so much choice at home on their couch at whatever time the want and they can even pause it to go make a cuppa. How do we compete with that? The great thing about VOD, and I might be able to answer you more accurately in six months or so when I see the result of how many people did watch Never Let Go, that as a film maker, I have the chance that nearly 100million people could watch my film in North America with all the digital platforms we are now on. I plugged in my 'Oral' streaming device the other day (sound nice right:) and of course for fun I pressed the button talked into it and said 'Never Let Go' and up came the film up. I thought, shit, how can we beat that! Also in the UK we ended up on a section on Netflix 'Women who rule the screen' right next to Titanic and Hunger Games etc. That wouldn't have happened in the theatre!

If a film of yours isn’t getting a big screen release do you usually try and set-up a screening for it in a theatre anyway? Or get it a festival run? So that those that want to see it on a huge creamy screen can?

A: Yes, absolutely right. I have to see my work on the big screen and I want my cast and crew to experience it too after all the hard work and sacrifices to get it made. Even if the majority of folks will see it on Netflix or Amazon etc (Which I'm delighted to say it's can be) but I have to see it on the big screen first. We had an amazing screening in LA at the Artemis film festival where it won best film, best actress and best director last year and you get to feel it differently as there is an energy with the audience. I also stood at the back and watched NLG on a huge screen in Belgium. I watched my own son who I nearly lost on this vast screen and honestly it nearly buckled me. It's very hard to describe.

With film fans themselves being the biggest supporter of sci-fi, horror and fantasy movies, should genre films be excluded from film criticism?

A: I don't think any film should be excluded from criticism. Having said that, what one person loves, another person does not and vice versa. You simply cannot please everyone and of course no film is perfect. I am my own worst critic and I beat myself up about all sorts of aspects of my films, so for me personally I avoid looking at too much criticism as I've already felt it from myself!

Thank you so much for your time on this and if you come with us on the Never Let Go journey, sincerely hope you enjoy the ride!

Amazon Links
Never Let Go [DVD] - Amazon UK
Never Let Go [DVD] - Amazon USA