We caught up with Alexander Black director of the new British crime thriller Lycanthropy to talk about the film which has already been selected for over thirty film festivals.
Lycanthropy follows two detectives the troubled Mark Kessler and his partner John Mills, as they search for a missing girl in a suspected case of child abduction. When the case comes to standstill, Kessler decides to take matters into his own hands.
Alexander Black works as a Director/Writer and Creative Producer in London. He was born in Germany, to Romanian parents, giving Alex the chance to experience various cultures. His focus is on telling stories with a broad appeal that have an underlying commentary about our society. Black is currently developing his first feature film “New Washington”. He has worked for VICE, The Economist, Google and several production companies.
Lycanthropy’s upcoming festivals include Sarasota Film Festival, Fastnet Film Festival, NYC Independent Film Festival, Romford Film Festival and the Russian International Horror Awards.
What gave you the idea to create the film?
My partner works in the field of forensic psychology and has advised on many cases relating to child abuse over the years. It was shocking for me to hear just how prevalent the problem really is and how difficult this issue is to deal with, not just for the victim and the perpetrator, but also for the police as an institution and professionals who deal with the aftermath. Whilst Lycanthropy is of course somewhat dramatised, I wanted to highlight the wider psychological impact of child abuse cases.
Sadly there seems to be an increase with child abuse during the quarantine, was there a specific news story that inspired the film?
The story was not based on a specific case, but I researched a variety of news stories involving paedophile rings and child abductions to shape the narrative as truthfully as I could. The 2009 Plymouth child abuse case, involving Vanessa George, for example, showed that female offenders can also be involved in cases of paedophilia, and I felt that the general public did not commonly know this. This partially informed the character of Dutton in Lycanthropy.
Whilst the film was completed before the covid-19 quarantine started, the increase of cases just proves again that this issue is not resolved and demands further resources and attention.
The film has a wonderful thriller element, how did you create the pace in the film to give the film this feel?
I’m personally a big fan of David Fincher and his meticulous way of planning and creating films. Whilst this is a short film and we of course had to deal with many constraints, including a not so comfortable budget, the DoP Kurt Riddell and I very much tried to plan for and control every visual aspect of the film. Depending on the intensity of the narrative in a given scene, we would adjust elements such as colour, camera movement or composition. “The Visual Story” by Bruce Block is a wonderful textbook on how to do this. It was hard work, but we’re glad to hear that we were successful in our efforts!
Do you have a specific way of working with the actors as a director?
I think it is incredibly important for actors to have a thorough understanding of the story, the characters, the relationships and the subtext that they are bringing to life. I therefore like to do table reads and work through the script with the actors, discussing it beat-by-beat.
Most of my initial training and experience came from working on theatre productions and I still like to work according to the theories of Stanislavski & Co.
What would you like the audience to take away from the film?
I would love if the audience leaves with some open questions that keep them engaged with the subject. I hope that the film raises some awareness about child abuse and just how complex this topic really is. This is a harsh subject that we would often like to avoid, but the more attention it gets, the more likely it is that our governments work on improving the given situation.
Already you have been making your mark in the film festival world, what do these accolades mean to you?
As a filmmaker it is always lovely to receive any kind of positive feedback. It is extremely reassuring and plays a part in encouraging us to continue making movies. Most of us craft our stories in isolation. It starts in your head and continues on a blank piece of paper, which can be incredibly intimidating. I’ve also learned that everyone has an opinion when it comes to film. You get good, bad, useful and useless feedback, sometimes all in one. As a filmmaker you need to be confident enough to constructively review all these viewpoints without getting discouraged.
Having worked for various publications, how is directing in comparison?
I usually work on branded content and advertising projects and my continuous challenge is to tell compelling, creative stories that also fulfil the relevant business needs. This can be quite tricky as many businesses are very risk-averse. In that sense, directing narrative projects is very liberating, but there are other challenges such as tight budgets and intense competition.
The film could easily made into a feature or indeed, a TV series. Was the film made as a proof of concept?
Lycanthropy was always planned as a standalone story, but it is certainly a proof of concept for me when it comes to telling complex, thriller narratives. I therefore aim to use Lycanthropy to get my first feature film off the ground, but of course I would not fully rule out a longer version of Lycanthropy if there is the demand and if the opportunity arises.
What advise would you give to young directors starting out?
I believe many young directors are looking out for a golden opportunity, whether it comes in the form of winning a competition, getting a big budget or being discovered. In most cases that’s a bit of a pipe dream. Most directors I know who are successful are incredibly entrepreneurial and persistent. Get work created, in whatever shape you can, and don’t give up. Keep going, onto the next project, and the next and the next. Soon you will have a strong portfolio and budgets will come, people will take you more seriously.
I also believe it is much better, especially when starting out, to both write and direct. Finding a good or even an acceptable script can take forever and is a great excuse to waste time without creating anything.
What is next for you?
I’m currently completing my script for a sci-fi/thriller feature film called “New Washington”. Similar to Lycanthropy it is an investigative thriller, but the underlying theme focuses on institutional racism and the story is set in a post-apocalyptic world. Once the script is finished, I will be looking for a production partner and I hope to also direct the film.
In parallel, I’m currently in pre-production on a short film project as a director, and I’m also producing a short film called “Ndixakiwe (I’m Confused)” by writer/director Augusta Wicht.