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The Red Riding Trilogy

This British series is a new kind of trilogy—3 directors for 3 films. Julian Jarrold (Brideshead Revisited) and James Marsh (Man on Wire) talk about this unique working experience. Catch it on DVD today!

 

9/1/2010: This interview was first published during the film's theatrical run in February 2010. The Red Riding Trilogy is currently available on DVD and Blu-Ray.

 

Andrew Garfield in Red Riding 1974
Andrew Garfield in Red Riding 1974

 

Conceptual multi-director films usually manifest themselves as omnibus projects, a style of filmmaking that was immensely popular in the 1960s and has regained some traction today (New York, I Love You; Paris, je t'aime). However, the UK's Revolution Films has thrown something a touch different at us this time around: not an omnibus film, but something like an omnibus trilogy. Red Riding, a trilogy adapted from three of David Peace's four Red Riding novels (1974, 1980, and 1983) features low-budget neo-noir filmmaking from directors Julian Jarrold (Brideshead Revisited), James Marsh (Man on Wire), and Anand Tucker (Hilary and Jackie). The films, all scripted by Tony Grisoni (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) revolve around a group of child murders in northern England's Yorkshire County, where all is not as it seems. Using a stable of characters that recur in each film, yet following three different protagonists, the films manage to provide a sense of cohesion despite the different directorial styles. We sat down with Jarrold and Marsh, directors of 1974 and 1980, respectively, to get their thoughts on what the unique working process was like.

 



Tribeca Film: It's not common to have a situation where you have two different filmmakers working with the same startup material. Could you each talk about your own points of entry into the scripts?

 


James Marsh on the set of Red Riding 1980

 

James Marsh: I knew about the projects for years. I thought that 74 was a really great script, but I wanted to try and do something that was a bit more classical—74 had a lot of dream sequences, a lot of delirious reveries. In 1980, I saw a more mature protagonist and felt a stronger affinity to him—the good man in the bad world. That felt like something interesting to explore. 83 never appealed to me because it was just too daunting, too complicated, plot-wise. The middle script spoke to me. It was really classically controlled filmmaking, as opposed to something more experimental.

 

Julian Jarrold:
It was Revolution's idea to have three directors, but something coherent as a whole, which I think was sort of counter-intuitive. A lot of people thought: wouldn't it be better to have one director do all three? I kind of thought that at first, but like the books—they're set in different decades, they're coming at it from different perspectives. I think in a way, it was a brilliant idea. It's been a fascination for people and kind of added traction to the piece. I liked all of the scripts, but I thought 74 was really one I could do. I'd just done Brideshead Revisited, and I thought that 74 would be a nice antidote to that; it was kind of raw, quick on its feet. It was a mixture of gritty realism and texture of very particular places. Incredibly specific, noirish sensibility, dreams and nightmares. Very interesting elements, interesting sound design.

 

Tribeca Film: If you take a step back, both of the films have a similar structure—a horrific event occurs, the system calls in one person who is more principled than the rest of the lot, who thinks that they can somehow take this chaotic and irrational situation and turn it into a rational one, but ultimately the very forces that brought them into the situation conspire to destroy them. That's the typical noir story. What is it about that story that makes it work time and time again, over all these years?

 

JM:
I think a lot of it has to do with how, in film noir, there's always a subjective viewpoint you share with the protagonist. There are a lot of things arranged against that character. In classic film noir, you enter the film through the eyes and experiences of the protagonist, and the world he's in is the world you have to understand. Chinatown is a great example. It seems that the genre flares into life at certain times, over the last 50 years. I wouldn't know why that's the case, but there are times when it feels like film noir is the appropriate way of understanding the world, and I think that's often when the world feels like it's very unpredictable, and you live in times when your paranoia is justified. Like the great 70s paranoia thrillers. You're right to feel paranoid.

 

JJ:
It does tap into that feeling of the individual against these overriding, faceless, Kafkaesque forces, which I think people identify with, as you say, in unpredictable times.

 

JM:
And film noir always has the flawed central character—in Julian's film, it's very clear that Eddie (Andrew Garfield) is not an overtly sympathetic character.


Andrew Garfield in
Red Riding 1974

 

Tribeca Film: It does seem like the downfall of the characters in each of the films comes from a naive belief in the strength of principle.

 

JM:
And the strength of curiosity. And what they realize is that they are, in the face of what they've gotten themselves into, utterly powerless. There's something really scary about that in art, when a character realizes they are totally without power. Every person Hunter meets has an agenda for him.

 

JJ:
The moment Eddie looks outside his ego is the moment he realizes he is doomed, frankly.

 

Tribeca Film: The first film was shot on Super 16mm, the second on 35mm, the third on the RED. Was it intentional to have the shooting formats progress like that?

 

JM:
No, that just happened to be the way we chose our formats. But it did feel, in hindsight, to show the passing of time, that it was aesthetically appropriate. For me, 35 was for the widescreen, and for the night shoots.

 

JJ:
My image of the 70s is grainy film, and it was suggested at the beginning to shoot digital but that felt completely wrong. One of the images I got from the book was seeing things misted up, grainy, distorted, and film felt right for that.

 

JM:
It's funny that both Zodiac and Public Enemies—both carefully constructed period films—were both shot on high quality digital.


Director Julian Jarrold on the set of Red Riding 1974

 

JJ: Zodiac looked better.

 

JM:
I thought so too.

 

Tribeca Film: It's interesting that you chose Super 16, because even though it was grainy, there was a lot of softness, whiteness to the light—it felt like a cleaner Super 16. Was that intentional?

 

JJ:
Yeah. The DP showed me a lot of these William Eggleston photographs, I think they were from the 70s. They weren't sepia, but they had a sort of sunsety-browny feel. We used them as a kind of guide for the texture. I've shot a lot of Super 16, I think it's a great medium, but the subjective quality of being with Eddie, plus setting these characters within this environment, seemed very much part of how the environment causes them to do what they do. So those were the twin ways of going at it. I did flirt with it being grainier, more handheld, but this felt like the right balance.


Jim Carter in Red Riding 1980

 

Tribeca Film: Speaking of the environments, it's interesting how Yorkshire is a character in all the films. How did you go about bringing the environment in as a character?

 

JM:
I suppose there's a general character of weather, action through the elements. A specific character of the institutions—the police stations, the places where the power is. Also a landscape element—we used the moors as a metaphor for journeys being taken. But that's true of almost any film you make, quite honestly. Part of your job is to understand how they should work in a film. So there's nothing particularly unusual about it for me as a director, to understand that as important. The mere fact of it raining all the time means that people will be hunched over, umbrellas up, people are wet, uncomfortable. That was an important part of Julian's film too, I thought. Each of the films has that interesting way of organizing.

 

JJ:
It's interesting, because there was a sense that there's something about Fitzwilliam that is disquieting, off. It's at the center of these things that are going wrong. Obviously we revisit it in each film, and in the third film you understand why. The post-industrial atmosphere, the time, it's all part of a mix. It does seem to be that individuals don't have much power there.

 

Tribeca Film:
Did you begin to understand the script in a different fashion when you were location scouting?

 

JM:
When you read a script, you're looking very much for the spatial geography of the film. There's a real sense of the raw fabric of the film. It's not a properly discussed part of the process. It's a mixture of knowing what you want and being aware of what's there. We often went to some of the same locations, and used different elements. Each of us had our own response to these locations. We did a lot of driving around, and found a lot of the locations ourselves—me, the DP, and the production designer.

 

JJ:
It's interesting, because in the UK, certain tax breaks and financing will influence where you can shoot. For us, we had to shoot in Leeds, within 20 miles of it. But fortunately, although Leeds is being massively modernized, these little satellite towns, they've been quite deprived. Fitzwilliam seemed to be one of the places that spoke to this evil atmosphere. Ironically, Anand shot somewhere else. But yes, there was lots of searching. We had to find locations that were era-appropriate because we didn't have the budget to do locations over as of the period.

 

JM:
Bradford, for example, looks just like it would've looked in 1980.

 

Tribeca Film:
How did the casting work? Obviously, you had to share actors across the films.

 

JJ:
The actor that had the biggest part in each film, that director cast. So I cast Sean Bean, for example. And cast David Morrissey. There were a few parts—like Peter Mullan, who goes through all three—that we had to agree on.

 

JM:
That's what was interesting—we all agreed on who was a good actor, and who wasn't. Even though we're all different types of directors, we were able to agree on who we liked. That was reassuring for me, as I'm not as experienced director of actors, of drama. We had the cream of British talent coming to this series, the writing was very attractive. The level of acting was very strong throughout the series, I thought.

 



9/1/2010: The Red Riding Trilogy is currently available on DVD and Blu-Ray.

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