Alexander Birrell talks feature version of The Latent Image

Previoulsy we have covered the short horror The Latent Image, and now filmmaker Alexander Birrell and actor/writer Joshua Tonks have adapted the story into a feature film.

We caught up with Alexander to spill the beans all about the new version of The Latent Image –

When was the decision made to adapt The Latent Image into a feature?

I always thought the idea would make a good feature even when the short was just at script stage. I really like tight, self-contained horror concepts and I’ve always been looking for an idea like Spielberg’s Duel or Rope or Dead Calm. I think this kind of story works really well on a tight budget because you can make a big deal and a lot of suspense out of relatively small incidents. Also, in the short, we deliberately left the action elements of the idea out of the film. We focused on character and mood which worked nicely but was literally a necessity because of our budget and schedule – we couldn’t have handled complex stunts or effects. The feature was a great chance to fill in the blanks and include the murders, fights and action that we only hinted at in the short.

What can you tell us about the writing process with Joshua Tonks?

Josh and I collaborated on the short film script but I wrote the feature myself. It actually came from quite a dark moment in my life. Someone very important to me had just passed away and in the grief of it there was a time when I thought I’d never write or do anything creative again. This script got me through a lot of that and it was great because it was an idea I had already spent a lot of time thinking about. I ended up writing the first draft over one long week in June 2019 and then refined it from there. Of course, the whole world then went through a terrible grief process with the Covid nightmare and those two long years of delays, cancellations and lockdowns gave me time to re-draft the script and even tailor it to the location that we’d found to shoot in. The short film grew out of a script I’d written called Blank Page which was conceived as a sort of proof of concept for a feature and then, working with Josh, we created the short. I think the short worked great as a self-contained story but it also left a lot of room for expansion. 

How different was it filming in the UK for the feature?

Filming in the UK for the feature worked great despite the setting of an unnamed place somewhere in rural North America. We had original hopes of a UK/Canada co-production shooting over there but Covid put paid to that. I then found a wonderful US-looking farmhouse outside London and a US-style log cabin in the far north of Scotland. The first didn’t work because of the huge price asked for hiring it and the second didn’t work because of the logistics of getting us all out there. Then, finally, I found an amazing location in Cumbria – a beautiful log cabin built by a Canadian team (even using imported Canadian lumber) next to a river and surrounded by pine trees. It had literally been created to look like it was in the American wilderness. And better than that, it was on a private estate full of woodland and had a large farmhouse on-site where we could house most of the cast and crew. 

The short film was very much a nightmare come to life, was the biggest challenge expanding and bringing new ideas to the party?

Honestly, I felt that the new ideas came very organically from the themes we had already used in the short. There was plenty of room for suspense scenes, action scenes, murder and mayhem and to go deeper into the attraction/revulsion that the lead feels for the mysterious stranger. Also, by adding a new character, Jamie, the boyfriend of the lead, we had a lot of potential for new and interesting conflict and danger.

How much did you enjoy working with Josh again?

I really enjoyed working with Josh again. He’s an amazing actor and has wonderful energy to be around when he’s enthusiastic about something. Like me, he loves and appreciates the horror genre so much and that makes it easier to get to what’s needed in a scene. He really pushed himself as an actor here and he got to do things that I don’t think he’s had much chance to do before with other characters. He literally moved me to tears when watching the monitor sometimes and his work (with our brilliant stunt coordinator) on a huge fight sequence was so convincing that you almost started to believe what was in front of you. I have to give a shout-out to Jay Clift as well, playing the mysterious man, as he did in the short. We had a new approach to the character in the feature though and he is genuinely terrifying in the film but a pleasure to work with on set. And William Tippery, playing Jamie, is also amazing. He kept wanting to check that I was really happy with something because I might only have done one take on a scene of his but that was only because he was so good. 

How long did you film for?

Unbelievably, we filmed for 15 days which I think was an amazing achievement for the film and could only have been done thanks to the amazing crew and cast. Everyone really gave their all on the tight timeline but it was really all we could manage on our budget. We shot for four days and had a day off, then five days and had two days off and then a final 6-day run. And we had our editor and assistant editor on set which was amazing because we could watch cut footage every day and had a full rough cut just two days after we finished shooting. 

When can audiences expect to see The Latent Image?

Hopefully, very soon! We’ve just signed with a very enthusiastic worldwide sales agent who really believes in the film and have a great strategy for it. So watch this space. I can’t wait for people to see the film and I’m very proud of it. 

Look out for more news on The Latent Image soon.

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