Broken - Interview with Adam Mason
By: Michael Helms on April 4, 2007  |  Comments ()  |  Share 
Sometimes a film swirls to the top of the DTV cesspool that warrants something other than a cursory glance. BROKEN positively fits that bill. Just read the consumer information provided by the Australian Office of Film And Literature Classification: BROKEN has High Level Themes. You can't get expensive advice like that from too many sources. Even more impressive is the attitude of filmmaker Adam Mason who spoke down the line from L.A as he finished up his fourth feature THE DEVIL'S CHAIR. Mason has no problem dissing his first two features (DUST & 13th SIGN) and seriously wonders about the audience for BROKEN. You'll also learn about the BROKEN-team ability to heavily edit and re-work their material. A feature rarely accommodated in the no-budget world. You can hang BROKEN on the same meat hook as the HOSTEL franchise or even the forthcoming STORM WARNING, but only if you're a complete lush. Strangely, BROKEN is highly reminiscent of the work of Australian, Mark Savage, especially DEFENCELESS. Just up the intensity.

MH: You've got a truly powerful film here and I'm surprised we haven't heard more about it?

AM: Yeah, yeah but I think it's coming out in a couple of months?

MH: It's going out as the lead rental title for MRA on the 9th of May in Australia.

AM: Right. So you think it's going to get a decent release then?

MH: During May you'll be able to go to any video shop in Australia and rent a copy. But there's no denying it's a difficult film.

AM: Yeah, definitely, definitely but that was on purpose you know? (laughs) Do you know anything about the making of it?

MH: Upon viewing it, I thought BROKEN had been made like a Chinese film completely in a studio but now I know otherwise that it was all exteriors.

AM: Everything! We made the film knowing we could only ever afford to get a couple of actors and one location. Nadja (Brand) and I were married and we lived in the middle of nowhere. So we figured there's a lot of woods and forest and stuff like that so there was our setting. That was the location that we had available to us.

MH: Was there any cinematic precedents to it when you started to write it?

AM: Ah you know I wanted to do something that like a two hander that was straight forward just all based on the drama, just a really intense situation, and see how it played out. All the gore and stuff was shot later on. It was never really meant to be that ultra-violent but when we had a cut together I decided that we needed to go back and do some in order to sell it. So we went back and filmed some gore for the beginning and the end. The end wasn't originally like that it wasn't so dark. Yeah, we went shot all of that stuff.

MH: So was there a true story that it was really based on?

AM: It's kind of based on a handful of different cases. I've always been interested in that slavery kind of thing, the imprisonment idea. I mean, I don't know if you heard about the case last year of the girl in Austria who was abducted when she was eight? That's becoming more and more prevalent and is a disturbing trend in the world at the moment. Also, there's a book from the 1960s by the author John Fowles called The Collector. I read that and it kind of blew me away. I find it inspiring to get so much drama out of a very simple situation. I mean, basically we had no money whatsoever to make the film. Everything was dictated by the lack of budget. We had to keep everything very contained.

MH: Just on its filmic influences had you seen BOY MEETS GIRL?

AM: Yeah, I saw it years ago. That wasn't really an influence though. I'm really more influenced by 70s horror from out of the States you know TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.

MH: Yep, HILLS HAVE EYES sort of stuff. LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT.

AM: Yeah, you nailed it there, LAST HOUSE, HILLS and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE were probably the three main influences for me. I just wanted to do something that was almost documentary style, just unrelenting and brutal but without boundaries, not to hold ourselves back because we didn't have any financiers involved. There were no other producers just me and Nadja, so for the first time we could do whatever we wanted. We just tried not to restrict ourselves.

MH: Well what you've come out with, mentioning all those three films from the 70s is something both menacing and mysterious. I still think CHAINSAW is a bit mysterious but you've really done well with this, for instance I didn't like the title when I first heard it but after seeing the film I understand it to be like, "Who's BROKEN? Certain characters in the film, the audience, are the filmmakers broken? I don't know whether you did that intentionally from the start but it now fits perfectly.

AM: Over two years it probably had ten different titles and we could never find the right one. Then one day it was BROKEN because that's what it's all about. I think it was something to do with a line in the film for a scene that got cut where Hope says to The Man what do you want from me and he says I want you to break which sums up the film.

MH: Well, that's good not to see that in there.

AM: Well, there's a whole other version of the film that will never be seen. We shot so much stuff and that was the great thing about not having any investors we could always go away and re-shoot stuff we didn't like. The original draft of the script is very different from the finished film. Anything we didn't like or I didn't like we'd go back and re-shoot it or re-write scenes. The whole first twenty minutes of the film was completely different in the original. The whole ending was completely different as well. That was sort of the privilege of having no money. There was no one stopping us going out. The crew was so small and there was practically no cost involved with filming and the location was free so whenever we wanted to go out and shoot for three or four days and get some more stuff over a period of two years we managed to put the film together.

MH: So what did you actually shoot it on?

AM: We shot it on HDDV. HD with DV quality.

MH: It looks magnificent.

AM: Yeah I know. My lighting guy, I've been working with him for ten years. He's really up and coming now. He did the HILLS HAVE EYES remake and he's just done THE HILLS HAVE EYES 2. We literally had three lights. I've probably done about 70 music videos so that really taught me how to get something out of nothing. To get that look. But that's how we got it after years of messing around, you know, experimenting and stuff like that.

MH: Can you talk about any other influences on the film before you went to shoot it?

AM: Yeah, actually halfway through the shoot I saw WOLF CREEK, which I loved. We went to the UK premiere of the film and I met Greg McLean who is a lovely guy, and I really respected that film, I loved it. It kind of inspired me to go back and make a few changes to the beginning of BROKEN. Before BROKEN actually began with Hope waking up in the coffin there was none of that back-story stuff. WOLF CREEK kind of inspired me to put in that human element at the beginning just a couple of scenes to get to know the character so you feel a little bit of something. That was kind of a very helpful influence on me. Aside from that I've been trying to get stuff made in the UK for years and years and years. In the end trying to get money out of there is almost impossible. So I was doing stuff for the Film Council and all those organizations that promise film finance and I was just getting nowhere time after time for years. It got to the stage where I thought if it happened again I was just going to go fuck it and make a film. I had this one particular meeting with this bunch of complete idiots who just didn't understand anything about what I was trying to do and I walked out of the meeting and said this is it I'm going to go and make BROKEN. And it was just motivated by total rage and impotence about not being able to get anything going in England. I just thought well, there's nothing stopping me I'm just going to go and do it myself. There was a bunch of maybe five of us that made that film and we literally made it for nothing you know.

MH: Is this style of filmmaking the way to go?

AM: I think so. There's so many people in this business who just sit around talking about making films and they never actually doing it. It's not too difficult to pick up a camera and go and shoot something. Technology has really changed in the last ten years and it's now available to anyone. So there's really no excuse. It's just really, really hard work and totally soul destroying, but the reward is that you can end up making something that people really appreciate.

MH: Can you see yourself going back and making something along similar lines?

AM: No, no, no. I would never do it again. It was a means to an end. I've made four features now along with loads of videos and BROKEN was by far the hardest thing I've done. It was an awful experience to be honest with you. It felt like it would never, never end and that we'd never finish it because it was just too brutal. Obviously the subject matter was difficult to deal with. Everyone suffered from that. Then, literally having no money to do anything was pretty horrible.

MH: This frustration that you felt with the industry which you channelled into BROKEN, is this what sustained it's atmosphere? There's just this whole ongoing downbeat atmosphere to BROKEN…

AM: I just wanted to make something that was totally uncompromising, you know. Something that didn't bow to anyone. It was kind of like how I saw the world in a lot of ways. I don't think that life has happy endings. In real life you don't get the girl at the end of the movie and you don't ride off into the sunset. Life is kind of brutal and I just wanted to make something that really conveys that. I think we did. (laughs) In fact, I think we probably went way too far. But you know, as a one-off I'm really proud of it.

MH: Where do you see it sitting in the world of contemporary horror?

AM: We never set out to do that kind of film. We weren't really aware that there was a kind of resurgence of those kinds of movie; survival horror. I loved SWITCHBLADE ROMANCE. I loved WOLF CREEK, the HILLS HAVE EYES remake, and HOSTEL. There is a big resurgence in that type of moviemaking. I guess BROKEN fits in as a low budget version of one of those movies. I guess if people are going to compare BROKEN to something they'd compare it to WOLF CREEK. It's in a similar kind of vein isn't it? But that wasn't intentional we weren't really aware. It's just a coincidence in a way you know?

MH: What was the budget?

AM: I think we probably spent about 5000 pounds. I was paying people on the crew because my wife Nadia and I would probably make two music videos a month. I'd get my crew down and pay them for music videos and say guys can you stick around for another 3 or 4 days we're going to shoot a little bit more for ourselves. So that was how I paid for it. We had a lot of our own equipment from making music videos. We had lights and a generator and all that kind of stuff. We'd buy stuff from what we made from music videos and invest it all back into the film. That was how we did it.

MH: You've already mentioned how making BROKEN was personally torturous but would you recommend this sort of piecemeal filmmaking to anyone else?

AM: Yeah. As a way of learning it was absolutely amazing. The film I'm making now THE DEVIL'S CHAIR, which we're making for a Hollywood company is putting us under massive pressure. I have to deliver it on a certain date. There is then a point where you have to say it's finished despite having things in it that I'd liked to have changed or tinkered around with. Because of the business behind it I don't have the luxury of any more time. With BROKEN we could just spend all the time in the world and that's why it took two years. I could've released the original version that was shot in a month which we then had ready four months after that but just saying that this wasn't what we really set out to do, lets ditch half the film and go back and re-write the film and take our time with it. That's the wonderful thing that I don't think we'll ever experience again.

MH: Any other lessons that you can talk about that you've learnt from BROKEN?

AM: Yeah, quite a few you know, like how not to get ripped off in distribution. I made two really low budget horror films when I came out of Film School. They got released worldwide and I wouldn't recommend anyone to watch them. They're student films as far as I'm concerned but they ended up getting released in like 40 countries or whatever and me and Nadja didn't make one penny out of them. We just got so ripped off so with BROKEN we learned a lot more about the business side of the industry, which was really helpful as well. I'm mates with a lot of filmmakers in the UK and all of us have been ripped off, hideously ripped off, over the years. That's an important lesson to learn I think if you're going to spend two or three years of your life making something then it's nice to know that you're going to get some sort of reward to make it worth it.

MH: Absolutely, so you've seen some money back from BROKEN already?

AM: Yeah, yeah. It's going to come in now because it's getting released all over the place so hopefully we'll make some money out of it, which would be wonderful.

MH: Has it been released in the States?

AM: The Weinsteins have picked it up. It hasn't come out yet but the contract has just been signed. It's going to go straight to DVD but at least it's going to get a really good release which is fantastic really.

MH: Have you done much on the festival circuit with it?

AM: Yeah, it's played all over the place in the last year or so. I think it premiered in Edinburgh and then it's playing at festivals every month and seems to be going down a storm.

MH: What sort of industry feedback do you get towards BROKEN?

AM: Obviously it's a very, very brutal film. We got an incredible review in Variety that kind of opened so many doors for us and started to get us taken seriously. I mean the guy obviously loved it. Generally the reviews tend to be 10 out of 10 or 0 out of 10. They really love it or absolutely hate it which is great with me because all the best films I know they divide people. I don't want to make a film that's a 6 out of 10 because that to me is like failing. I mean, I love the fact that so many people hate it, especially in England a lot of people really hate it and that's fantastic (laughs). They tend to hate it not because it's shit but because it really gets to them.

MH: Yeah, well it starts at crescendo and then only calms down a bit but wow.

AM: Yeah, that's exactly what we want to do is make it to grab people and then force them to watch this car crash of a film. It's just a hideous spectacle really. I don't know what anyone would get from watching that film other than disgusted. What is it really saying? That the world is a sick, sick place?

MH: They might appreciate daylight a bit more?

AM: Well, yes exactly, exactly. I'm ridiculously proud of it you know. It was a total labour of love for all of us.

MH: Is there any funny things that made you laugh while you were making it?

AM: I can't think of a single time that it was funny honestly. It was awful. None of us enjoyed making it at all. You know there were probably a few days when it was alright but generally it was a complete nightmare. It was just hard. We had no running water. No food. We had no toilet. We were shooting 18 hours a day. One day we shot for 28 hours straight just with nothing. Nadja was freezing it was four degrees and we were shooting out in the snow. No heaters, nothing. When you do that for two or three months it really starts to get to you.

MH: What the Hell did sustain you then?

AM: Just this drive that we had to make something that was good that we were proud of. It was made outside the system and wasn't funded by one of these idiot London companies just to show that we could do it. That drove us through right to the end.

MH: There's two directors listed how did that work?

AM: Yeah it was great. I mean Simon is a lot younger than me, I think he's only 26. Simon is my writing partner so we write everything together and when it came to making the film I really needed some help. Because of the size of the crew me and Nadja were doing every single job production-wise. Trying to organise the shoot was a complete nightmare every day so it was great to have Simon who I think is a great director in his own right. Just the guy to take some of the heat off. He kind of ended up my best mate as well so there was never any fighting between us. Because we wrote the script together we both knew what we really wanted out of it. Yeah, it was real pleasant working with Simon.

MH: Were there any particular films that you and he got together to watch?

AM: Yeah, I think we saw SWITCHBLADE ROMANCE which was quite an influence and LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, obviously. THE HILLS HAVE EYES and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE were also big influences. Everything really did come out of having nothing. How are we going to do this? How are we going to do something as good? It's just unbelievably sick that's what motivated us. We just came out laughing at how hideous it was. If we could freak out each other then brilliant! If we could out appal each other then we knew we were onto a winning idea, that's generally how it worked.

MH: Can you nominate a favourite appalling moment from the film?

AM: I think the end with the child is absolutely disgusting. How we could make that I don't know. Just that absolute darkness, no hope whatsoever, that's the darkest moment in the film.

MH: Was she meant to have had her tongue cut out?

AM: Yeah, yeah the kid had her tongue cut out obviously which is also horrible as well. I think that's my most horrible moment in the film.

MH: What work went into making that device at the end?

AM: My art director knocked that up in about ten minutes. That was funny he just made it up out of old nails that we'd found out in the woods. It was a tin can with wires (laughs) there wasn't any method behind it.

MH: Was STRAW DOGS another influence there?

AM: Well STRAW DOGS is one of my favourite films but I'm not sure whether it influence BROKEN particularly but I guess it did and I do love that film.

MH: And what about the sound of BROKEN?

AM: That was a combination of a guy called Mortiis who's Norwegian, I'd made a video clip for him. He wrote the end credits music and some other parts. And then there was a composer called Gavin Miller who's worked with me a lot over the years and who created a more ambient score. It changed so much over the years that in the end it just gelled into one. Although we'd been through so many different versions of the music that I thought it would never end then one day it was just finished.

MH: When did you say stop on this film?

AM: Basically we'd go through it and any scene we didn't like once we had a whole film that worked, if it didn't work then I'd say we're going to re-cut it or re-write it or re-film it until it's good. But it got to a stage where it would be like a bunch of good scenes then a few bad ones. Eventually it just ended up as every scene we could sit through we were happy with and that was the end.

MH: Are these scenes you've shot but discarded are they ever going to see the light of day?

AM: I'd like to put some of them on a special edition DVD. Some of my favourite scenes have been cut because we changed the story. Actually my favourite scene of all has been cut. I'd like to get that one on DVD at some time.

MH: What do you think an audience can get out of BROKEN?

AM: I think they can get a pretty honest film. I think it's a very true representation of what it would be like to be in such an extreme situation. It's not Hollywood bullshit. It's not pandering to 13 year olds who are going to go and buy a load of popcorn and coke in a cinema. It's definitely the opposite of that kind of film. I think that's kind of rare these days. People are making lowest common denominator cinema just to try to appeal to everyone but like I said you can't appeal to everyone and that's why a lot of people hate BROKEN. I'm more proud of that than anything.

MH: You're proud of people hating it?

AM: I don't want to make a film that everyone likes I want to make a film that divides people and I think we really achieved that with BROKEN.

MH: You mentioned a film you're working on now…

AM: Yeah, I've got three weeks to go on THE DEVIL'S CHAIR then that's finished. It's about this guy who goes to an abandoned lunatic asylum with his girlfriend. It was closed down on the 1950s. They get there and they kind of screw around and take some acid. As they're tripping out they go up to this big room and find this weird old torture looking chair in the middle of the room. They start fucking around on it and one thing leads to another and it all goes horribly wrong. The girl gets taken by this chair. It drains her of blood and she just completely disappears. The guy is just tripping off his face and the cops turn up and arrest him. He's covered in her blood but they can't find the body and he's raving on about the chair taking his girlfriend. He gets put in a mental institution for 4 years and while he's there this Cambridge University Professor finds out about his case. He's obsessed with this asylum because the Professor used to run this asylum in the 1950s. He decides to take the guy out from the mental institution to the asylum where the crime happened to find out what really happened to his girlfriend. Of course they get there and everything is not as it seems. The guy's been telling the truth all along. There is this chair which takes them into another dimension where they get hunted by this demon that drains them of their blood. It's a lot more commercial than BROKEN but then the last ten minutes are way more violent than anything in BROKEN. The most shocking thing I've ever seen I think.

MH: So do you intend to keep working in horror?

AM: Yeah I think so. The next film I want to make is really, really dark as well. After that I'm not sure. Yeah, I'd like to do some bigger budget stuff eventually but I'm happy doing this level right now. I feel quite comfortable with it.

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