At the premier of Yellow Fever’s new acclaimed movie The Last Life, Owen caught up with director George Clarke to talk to him about the movie and also about his Northern Irish based production company Yellow Fever
FTN: How did Yellow Fever come about?
Yellow Fever Productions began as a mission to break the mould for new film-makers in Northern Ireland. I was very angered at the lack of support, wall of politics and typical Catch 22 set in place to stop people showing what they can do, so I worked towards opening the door for unrecognised talent without them having to suffer the unflattering knock backs and a chance to really get their work out there.
In 2007, Yellow Fever Productions LTD was established with the partnership of Battle of the Bone’s (George’s first movie) investor, Andy Mawhinney. I finally got the ball rolling and YFP to begin full production on our debut feature.
Within a week I had put together a team of fresh faces in a bid to filter out, and find, the right team to work with him in this new and original feature. Since then, in less than 5 years, we have become one of the most successful production houses in NI, with the most media covered films playing the big screen, hitting DVD stores across the Uk and Ireland and even showing on Sky.
We have won awards, go to schools from here to New York to do talks and more. And we have yet to spend the catering budget of most major films today.
FTN: What sort of movie would you most like to do?
Jackie Chan has been my major influence in film, life and many other things. To me, he is the greatest human being that I have watched from I was 5 years old. And for that amount of time I have only ever wished to make a film with him or at least something as amazing action-wise to make him proud.
I often speak about how NI does not yet have a established style of cinema, and with that, I aim to create such a genre – a blend of the classic 80’s style Hong Kong madness with my own twist on things.
FTN: Tell us about The Last Light
The Last Light atars Robert Render (pictured below with George) and was shot on location at Cairndhu House, a real haunted mansion that belonged to Lord and Lady Dixon. The film carries a lot of the true history of the building’s past and the hauntings reported on it… I spent 3 or 4 nights with paranormal teams and mediums in the house doing investigations beforehand and whatever we were experiencing I was logging in order to create athe sense of dread in the film.
So a lot of what you see ghost wise in the movie is based on real events.
The aim is to focus on the real scares and less CGI which has become too common in horror films these days.
On top of that, my aim was to catch something unexpected during the filming of the production by recreating these scenes. We did witness a number of strange happenings but as usual these were off camera. I do a very in-depth interview on the DVD which gives a lot more into the background of the film and why it is so important to me.
The Last Light is a violently haunting tale of a (real) Ulster mansion, donated as a war hospital in the early 1900s before turning into a retirement home for the wealthy and old. Even as a listed building, the house was left to waste and soon became a playground for kids who destroyed the original features of the place, upsetting not just the locals and the historians but something deep within the walls. Local handy man Robert Walker is hired to brick up and block all entrances and windows of the place but on his last night gets the feeling he is not alone!
FTN: What are the biggest obstacles to film making in Northern Ireland?
Definitely the funding issues. It’s amazing how hard it is to get help even after the amount of success we have gained in this time. Finally, it looks like things are changing but I’ll still stand my ground. There is a severe lack of help, support and funding for Indies but apart from that, it’s surprisingly easy to make films here.
FTN: What hopes have you for your own future film making?
Until we get the budgets to do what we really want, we will continue the way we are going. Every film is a learning curve, so it can only get better. My films are learning tolls and designed to give new talent a break. I started my company because, for 15 years, I suffered the Catch 22 nightmare of not having the experience to gain the experience to get the job.
I don’t have a day of film education in my life – none of my team do. It’s all pure passion. There’s always a moral in the films but the message would be that it’s okay to follow your dream because it can work out if you really believe in yourself.
FTN: Does your tight budgets limit the type of scripts you can bring to life?
At the moment I know we have those restrictions so I don’t write anything I know we can’t do.
I’m patient enough in knowing that the big ideas will come about soon enough. We don’t have the budget to travel somewhere else to shoot, but I’m really happy not to. My favourite place in the world is the Antrim Coast and I would shoot every movie up there if I could. There are so many untouched and beautiful areas across NI and I know more nooks and crannies than any location scout ,which is why we always get great locations.
FTN: What influenced you growing up and made you want to make movies?
As I said, Jackie Chan has been my major influence in life and many other things. We have one of his top stunt men on board my action movie later this year. Besides him, most other HK stars and directors have been very influential – Jackie just stands out that little extra.
As for Western stars, I’m very old school… I don’t believe there are many great film-makers today from the West – they all focus on visuals to cover their lack of genius, so I still swamp my mind once a week with the genius that is Charlie Chaplin, Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks comedies and learn from Roger Corman as we are often compared.
I now have a personal collection of over 3,000 Asian films on DVD and video and still can’t pinpoint the love. I think it’s appreciating the reality, the grittiness, the danger that these films portrayed that no Hollywood film could deliver. I have never watched a Hollywood film where I wanted to be the character afterwards but with these films I was always bursting to kick ass! So that love has now spread to a natural want for everything Asian; food, culture etc and it’s how I live my life.
FTN: If you could cast three leads for one of your movies from any time who would they be?
Jackie Chan obviously, Charlie Chaplin is a must and my son Leo! He has had only a couple of extended cameos in the Last Light and Splash Area but he’s going to be good!
FTN: Have you found it difficult getting your movies out to the general populace?
It’s been difficult, hence why I decided to start my own DVD label. I don’t mind gaining the cult audience that we have the minute but when we make the right movie that goes big, brilliant!
We get international orders online for our films (released via my own DVD label). Our major downfall is that we get to this point of having a bunch of great films but don’t have the finance to get to stage 3 which is international markets for selling abroad. Japan loved the Knackery but it was too short for them (74 minutes) and the US is looking at the Last Light at the minute with a positive outlook. The loss of all our DVD stock in the Sony warehouse fire in the London riots has set me back massively, but I keep going.
FTN: What have you in the pipeline for the future?
We recently made a return to our original horror movie of 2009, Splash Area with a brand new cast and a fresh approach to the story.
The story is quickly gaining a large audience and will premier at the 4th Annual Yellow Fever Independent Film Festival which runs this year from 7th-9th September at the Stormont Hotel in Belfast.
To accompany this, we are leaving this week for Norway to shoot my new feature ONUS. Late summer will involve my first full-blooded martial arts action movie, The First Mission with me back in a starring role, co-produced by Mike Leeder and will feature fight action from one of Jackie Chan’s top stunt men, Andy Cheng.
The film is set to be the biggest action flick to ever come out of Ireland and sees beautiful locations from all over the country put to good use.
The Fall period brings real life drama Billy to life which tells the story of a mother’s love and struggle for her sick child who is denied the right to live by leading doctors and health ministers. The film will focus on her journey between Ireland and Chicago as she fights for her son’s life and challenges the politicians of Stormont to keep Billy alive. It’s quite a change from the usual YFP style….