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Filmmaker Interview With Gerard Lough

Filmmaker interview by Patrick Foley

Following the release of Spears on Amazon Prime, UK Film Review spoke to director Gerard Lough about the film, his influences, and the awesomeness of electronic music...

Hi Gerard, thanks for speaking with us at UK Film Review! Give us a brief overview of your latest film Spears

Spears is just your typical globe-trotting, double crossing, synth scored, snazzy looking, gadget heavy, moody Neo Noir... with a twist. Three desperate men team up to take down another group who has conned them. Once they take the law into their own hands, things quickly escalate into violence and betrayal.

Tell us what the film means to you. Why do you want to tell this story?

I love Neo Noir and wanted to see more of the world. This project killed two birds with one stone once I adapted the structure of Sorcerer (1977), where several dodgy protagonists are introduced in different countries, then all brought together at the midway point. The Neo Noir genre appeals to me because happy endings are not a given and good and evil are not clearly differentiated. There are no obvious heroes or villains by the end of this film, just one big grey area. That’s going to be confusing and uncomfortable for some of the audience who you’ll risk alienating. On the other hand, another section of the audience will appreciate that you are trying to tell a story that treats them like adults. Instead of mollifying them with a false sentiment, you’re letting them make up their own mind after the credits have rolled. To paraphrase Chinatown (1974 ), “Forget it, Jake, its Neo Noir.”

Give us some more detail about the film’s title. A ‘double-edged spear’ as described in the trailer is a striking image…

We have Emily Bronte to thank for that! She had a good quote about revenge being a “double-edged spear” that will wound you as bad as your enemy. There are three characters out for revenge in the film, so they are the “Spears”. The downside of having this cool movie title is that whenever you google ‘spears film’, Britney’s movie Crossroads (2002) will pop up. But you can’t have it everyway...

Spears is set across multiple locations around Europe. Which was your favourite to shoot in and why?

I might cause an international incident if I say one is better than the rest! But honestly, they were all great for different reasons. I have a soft spot for odd locations that can be used in a creative way. A good example being the Ventilation Tower Sculpture outside Pimlico tube station in London. In Spears, we first see it in a close up as Aidan O’ Sullivan lights a cig and right away we’re wondering, ‘what the hell is that weird wall behind him? Where is he now?’ Then the wide shot reveals it’s a sculpture... and anyone not from Pimlico will go... ‘cool’. (see picture below)

Aidan O'Sullivan outside Pimlico Station

What are the challenges that come with telling a story from the perspectives of multiple protagonists? Which of the leading characters do you empathize the most with?

The challenge is telling a trickly story and not losing the entire audience because you have confused the hell out of them. That said, as a writer I’m not beholden to the typical three act structure. Spears is four acts (Florence, London, Berlin, Donegal) with a prologue and a movie within a movie intermission at the midway point... certainly not the norm and pushing my luck a bit. From the cinema showings I observed that some were frustrated with the first half of the movie as it jumped from one country to the next and gradually showed you how these seemingly separate stories were in fact all connected but most had no problem. I’m not saying one group is smarter than the other necessarily. I believe a lot of the audience has been conditioned to the typical three act structure. You mess with that and some people will feel a bit confused. Some will reject the experience but others will enjoy that you’re presenting them with a mystery to solve.

Who do I empathize with? Well certainly not Aide and Bobby’s characters who you could argue had it coming. Probably Kian (Nigel Brennan) who we are told was a social media moderator in the past and the role has left him traumatized. At the start of the film, he is trying to reinvent himself as a P.I. It’s morally dubious work at times but the opening scene showed he was willing to do the right thing even if it wasn’t in his own best interest, something the other two guys failed to do. But we did even try to humanize arguably the worst character in the film, Hidell (Michael Parel). The scene where he (literally) has blood on his hands was there to show he may have been a sociopath but he wasn’t a sadist. He regretted the course of action he felt he had to take.

There is a sense of darkness in Spears that grows as its sinister conspiracy is explored. How do you imbue a sense of dark foreboding in a thriller compared to your previous feature Night People (2015) – a traditional horror?

The dark vibe comes from portraying a very paranoid world where nobody can trust anyone anymore. The effect is then heightened by the low-key lighting, the cold electronic score and recurring themes like how technology trips us up, robs us and invades our privacy. And let’s face it, drones are a bit creepy, right? Night People dealt in the supernatural and fantastic, where is the concerns of Spears are sadly very much real-world ones.

The film’s synth-heavy score by Sigrid Anita Haugen has received a lot of praise for perfectly soundtracking the neo-noir story. Did you shoot the film with this kind of music in mind?

Absolutely because modern noirs that made a big impression on my growing up, such as Manhunter (1986) and Thief (1981), one of their trademarks was a synth score. That cold electronic sound and that moody genre just go together so beautifully in my mind. Obviously, it helps that I am a big electronic music nut anyway with a good ear for great new up and coming artists. Which is why we were lucky enough to get to use tracks by Sleep Thieves, Shaefri, Le Groupe Fantastique and Exit: Pursued by a Bear. The songs were carefully selected, then the sequences planned and edited to them. Nothing was arbitrary about their use; it was done with careful thought. Same goes for Sigrid’s score, that’s why they made such a strong impression in the film.

What is the one lesson you want audiences to take away from Spears?

That playing tit for tat is a game that will never end well... if indeed it ever ends. We’ve seen this conflict play out in parts of the world throughout history, Spears is that kind of conflict but in a microcosm. And like I said... drones are damn creepy.

What are your next projects?

Well, I keep saying (or threatening?) I’d like to do a movie about the New Romantic or New Wave scene in London, 1981. That would present a wonderful setting and soundtrack but what’s the story? That’s the riddle I haven’t solved yet. I have a bout of writer’s block at the moment and probably the way to break it is to do a smaller project such as a short film or music video. So, for now, no idea what film number 3 will be. One thing’s for sure, it probably won’t be a romantic comedy.

And finally, what is it you love most about being a director?

You not only create a world of your own... other people can then enter into it for two hours when it's released in the cinema. And if you’re lucky, the making of it will be an adventure too.

Spears is now available on Amazon Video


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