Sword of Vengeance: An Interview with Jim Weedon and Tommy Boulding

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Joining us at this October’s MCM London Comic Con, the creators of upcoming medieval revenge movie Sword of Vengeance discussed their film, which is currently planned for release in early 2015.

Set soon after the Norman invasion of England in the 11th century, Sword of Vengeance tells the story of an Anglo-Saxon rebellion against Norman rulers, which is led by a mysterious stranger known as the “Shadow Walker”. MCM Buzz caught up with director Jim Weedon and editor Tommy Boulding (Green Street 3: Never Back Down, The Anomaly, I Am Soldier) during the convention to find out more about the film.

 

For those who don’t know much about Sword of Vengeance yet, could you tell us a bit about the story?

JW: Sword of Vengeance is a period revenge drama set in Norman England in about 1089, so just over 20 years after the Battle of Hastings. The story takes place in an area up north where William the Conqueror committed to an act of quelling any rebellion by killing off the Anglo-Saxons’ livestock and sowing salt into the land so that they couldn’t grow crops. This meant that societies started to fall in on themselves, because they were too busy fighting amongst themselves and dying of famine to worry about rising up against the Normans who were subjugating them. We open on a scene which shows a stranger arriving at a Saxon camp, who then starts putting in motion a series of events that bring about an act of revenge.

TB: It all starts very small and localised and then escalates into something involving all the surrounding “tribes”, for want of a better description. He collects all the local people who have survived the famine and they all gather together to rise up against the local lords who rule the land evilly and take all the spoils for themselves. But it’s all part of the plot of this mysterious stranger who we see at the beginning.

Where did the idea come from? Did you know much about the history beforehand?

JW: Not so much, no. We were approached by Vertigo Films to make the movie. They came to us with the basic idea and then we developed the scripts to bring it to life.

Tommy and I were very aware when we were making the movie that we wanted to do something that was different. We didn’t have the budget to stand against things like Game of Thrones or the bigger, Hollywood studio pictures, so we wanted to make something very independent and visually very different. My take on it was to try to treat it a lot more like a sort of spaghetti western or Samurai movie. We aimed to create a period revenge drama because that’s a very popular genre at the moment, with things like The Vikings and Game of Thrones, and then there’s Northmen coming out soon. So we wanted to make quite a niche movie and I think we achieved that. It’s got its own vision and its own voice. We stripped back the dialogue and made it very visceral. Visually, I think we’ve given it a really interesting look, too. We’ve made it quite monochromatic and very in keeping with the environment that we shot it in, so in a way it’s quite stylistic, although the actual action and the story stay very real. It doesn’t fall into overblown, stylised events: the action is quite brutal and realistic.

Did you have to do a lot of research into the period as you went along or have you taken a lot of creative licence with it?

JW: Well, Norman England was the starting point, but I think once we got into our own storyline, it became more of a fantasy, really. There was someone – I think he was called Harold of the Weald – who was an Anglo-Saxon who used to lead raiding parties on Norman patrols and they would ransack and take what they could. I think he was out in Norfolk somewhere. Anyway, there were instances of these kind of rebellions – there is that reality to it. But obviously our story, once we get going, is pure fantasy. It’s a revenge idea.

You mentioned earlier that you shot it monochromatically in keeping with the environment. It must be tricky these days to find locations that are untouched enough to stand in for something from that period. Where did you shoot it?

TB: We shot it in Serbia for five weeks.

JW: Yeah, knee-deep in mud.

TB: It was about this time last year actually, wasn’t it? I think it was November. So it was cold. I mean, as the editor, I can’t say I was that cold, but these guys were out in a field for five weeks in the ice and snow. Although we were quite fortunate with the rain.

JW: The film has a real authenticity, I think, in terms of the look and feel of it. Everything is muddy, everything looks bleak. We didn’t have to distress too much. We colour-coded the film so there’s not much of any real colour, other than perhaps the blood. All the costumes are quite muted: greys, blacks, greens. So we had a “look”, but then you throw in the environment and the washed out skylines and all the very dirty earth and black trees, and suddenly you’ve got quite a graphic style. So yeah, it played in our favour, shooting in the winter in Serbia, because it does look bloody miserable!

Have either of you ever done any historical drama before or has this experience been quite new to you?

TB: It’s a first for me!

JW: Me too.

TB: But I don’t think that really changed anything. This is the fourth film that I’ve edited and always at the heart of it, you’re telling a story, regardless of the setting, and it’s still very much about the character development and the people and getting the rhythm and the emotion right. So whether it’s an action thriller or a horror or anything else, the genre within which the story is being told doesn’t affect the choices I make too much. I think all of that stuff comes in during the writing and in getting the look and feel of the film right through things like production design, but it doesn’t necessarily affect the editing.

JW: Sword fights are the biggest thing to learn about. I knew I didn’t want the film to have slow-paced action, because long swords can actually be quite boring. So going back to things like Samurai movies, they have quick blades and sharp action, so we were very aware that we wanted to make the action very fast and aggressive and to keep people on the edge of their seats, rather than men with long swords swinging slowly at one another. So that was a big development process for us.

Does the film have a lot of big battle scenes or did you keep the fights quite small scale?

TB: There are a couple of really big battle scenes!

JW: The end battle scene was big. It was a relatively low budget film, but we managed to get about 100 extras. At one point, we set the field on fire and put black smoke through it and shot arrows at them and had them run through this maze of flames and smoke.

TB: And there’s a charging horse. The end battle looks great!

Ha! I bet that was fun for health and safety!

JW: Well, because it was Serbia, we didn’t need to worry too much about health and safety, which was quite fortuitous. We got away with a lot! But nobody got hurt, apart from a broken nose, a couple of fingers and I cut my eye open on an axe. It was a prop axe, though! That happened at about three in the morning while were doing an ambush scene. Everything was against us that night: the wind was up so no one could hear each other and there was just too much to shoot in the time we had. Then I stupidly knelt down on the floor to line up a shot and three blokes just ran at me with their axes, and one of them swung as he went past and cut me above my eye. You actually can’t see it very much now, which is amazing, but I did get a good old clump!

Was that the shot you actually used in the end?
JW: No – I was rushed to the bus to be stitched up, so the final shot was done without me. But we got the shot!

Can you tell me a bit about who is starring in the film?

JW: Well, we have Annabelle Wallis who you’ll probably know from Peaky Blinders, and she’s just done Annabelle as well, a sort of psychological horror film. She is the leading lady. And then we’ve got a young guy called Stanley Weber who is the hero, “Shadow Walker”, as we call him. He’s a theatre actor and he’s great for the part. The character is a kind of unconventional anti-hero, so we didn’t want to fall back on the normal tropes and types you’d expect, and he was fantastic for that.

TB: There’s Ed Skrein. He just did Ill Manors and the new Transporter movie. He’s also in Tiger House which is just about to come out.

JW: And then we had two French lads called Edward Akrout and Gianni Giardinelli. Edward is currently doing Mr Selfridge and Gianni is very busy, though I’m not sure exactly what he’s working on right now. But we’ve got a really great pool of young talent, a lot of actors in their late twenties, all on the rise. We were very lucky with our casting.

What stage is the film at at the moment? Is it finished now?

JW: It’s just finished. We completed it a couple of months ago, so it’s just now going into promotion, and should be coming out around April next year.

TB: We had our first screening two weeks ago at the Sitges Film Festival.

How did it go down there?

JW: Really well, yeah! We got a good round of applause when the first hand was cut off – a Norman man loses his hand in the first couple of minutes and that went down brilliantly! Sitges is a genre-led festival so it was a great launch pad for our film and a good chance to get some feedback. And now of course we’ve done this at comic con. Hopefully there will be some more!

Will there be a wide cinematic release?

JW: Yeah, it’s going out into UK cinemas and abroad – Universal have bought it for distribution in Europe. It’s been sold in the States as well, and in Asia – pretty much everywhere.

 

So there you have it: you can expect to see Sword of Vengeance coming to a cinema near you in Spring 2015. Are you excited for the film? Let us know in the comments!

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