GS EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Justin Trefgarne, Writer/Director of Upcoming British Sci-fi Thriller ‘Dreck’

Dreck 146Not too long ago we did a preview on Dreck, a new British sci-fi film in development and starring Elliot Cowan, who is soon to be seen on our screens in Da Vinci’s Demons. Joining Cowan  is great assortment of genre actors and  actresses including  Jonathan Pryce (G.I Joe: Retaliation, Dark Blood), Elodie Yung (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, G.I. Joe: Retaliation), Robert Bathurst (Downton Abbey, Pillars of the Earth), James Callis (Battlestar Galactica, Flash Forward, A Town Called Eureka), Lenora Crichlow (Being Human, Doctor Who) and Nicky Henson (Syriana, Vera Drake).

Dreck is set in the near future where natural resources are all but gone and drugs have been legalised.  Trying to keep a lid on this are ‘The Drecks’ an elite unit created by an over-stretched police force to keep the black market dealers off the streets and the licensed drug companies rich. Cowan plays Frank Grieves, a former addict turned Dreck whose latest investigation may be even more dangerous than the drugs he was once addicted to.

To find out more about the film which is shot entirely on location in London and Wales we caught up with Justin Trefgarne the writer and director of the film.

JUNK STILLS SUNDAY 8TH MAY 2011  141So Justin in a reverse style elevator pitch, the elevator is plummeting to 30 floors straight down to a very flat end for the inhabitants and you only have time to get out one sentence that encapsulates everything that Dreck is. What would that sentence be?

When they made drugs legal they said we would all be safe again.  They were wrong.

You have a cast filled with well known genre actors/actresses and with them in tow you could have perhaps got a big studio involved so what drove your choice to go the indie route?

Well you go with what’s there.  When the opportunity arose to retain creative control and direct the film I took it, rather than wait around for an imaginary studio to call me.

One of the first hurdles an indie project, in any medium, is financing. How did you manage to raise the funds to make Dreck?

I got the film developed initially with the support of South West Screen, a regional film agency, and the BBC.  They were enthusiastic for  the idea but they didn’t think I could pull it off for the money on the table.  I had luckily (with their money) made a promo teaser which I had on my iPhone.  I was at a party where I met Eldar Tuvey who had just sold his tech company for $185m.  He told me he had always wanted to get into film production, I showed him the teaser and within 3 months we had a deal for him to raise the finance and me to direct the movie.

JUNK STILLS SELECTED 024What would you say are some of the strengths of working on an indie project over a mainstream one?

Our philosophy has been from the outset to marry independent production methods to a mainstream ambition.  To make this film we needed to be able to work on a very small scale in terms of production, crew, fees etc, but our canvas is very large.  In the UK especially, this makes us different, and we have really noticed that a lot of people simply don’t know what to make of us, which makes them quite suspicious.  We have such a big plan, yet we keep it very tight and small in terms of personnel.   This approach has given me a chance to stay connected to everything in a very personal way and, thanks to the flexibility and intelligence of our financiers, to be able to revisit things that we felt we could do better when needed. I think the dividing line between ‘indie’ and ‘mainstream’ can be overcome when you look at what film makers like Neill Blomkamp, Rian Johnson (to name a couple) are doing.  By which I mean they are looking to the more can-do, stripped down mentality of the indie approach but tackling these bigger, more audience-friendly ideas.  Although we’re not working with a District 9 or Looper sized budget, we are working with a similar-sized ambition.  With a small crew working at times like a micro-budget guerrilla film making unit, we’ve been able to shoot on the fly and grab opportunities that a bigger unit would have struggled to do.  And I love that buzz – everything matters, there’s no time for being precious or time-wasting and everything you shoot ends up in the movie.  It forces decisions and it also makes you think visually as often your sound-recording conditions are rubbish and you need to come up with non-verbal solutions to the story-telling.  You make sacrifices too – there’s never enough time for anything so you’re doing a lot of things on instinct where you’d imagined you’d have more time to prepare, and for the actors there’s very little room to experiment.  And the money is dire!  There’s one other thing that happens though, and I wasn’t prepared for this.  And that’s the support that comes back from ‘normal’ ie non film people.  As well as the amazing support I’ve had from crew, cast and industry people (which is immense) we’ve had amazing responses from people who own locations that aren’t normally used for filming and that has made all the difference.  I think people love the idea of this maverick crew turning up and shooting this ambitious sci-fi thriller on their turf, and without them we simply wouldn’t have been able to shoot about 50% of this film.  So it’s been really encouraging to see how much people want to get behind this kind of venture.  We have been incredibly lucky.

What do you think sets Dreck apart from the current or upcoming crop of the Sci-fi films?

I think our whole set-up is unique – a world where drugs are legal is a thing that many have debated but no one has really used it as a backdrop for a British movie.  There are many ways you could tackle this but I think our approach will be appealing.  I don’t think I’d want to sit through a movie about junkies in the future – that’s not what we have done.  What we have done is taken the legalisation scenario and then set the majority of the film in a period 5 years after the legalisation occurs, so it’s had time to really integrate into the fabric of the city.  And that makes for a less forced narrative as we are presented with a world that’s already absorbed this idea.  Married to that we have made a really big effort to create characters that have bigger lives than the usual sci-fi movie can allow for.  I am very inspired by films that take you on these big character journeys and I wanted to bring some of that to bear in this film, so as well as a cracking plot we have juicy characters you can really get your teeth into.  

How did you come up with Dreck as a title?

Dreck is a colloquial term in our world for the elite unit of licensed drug enforcement cops that patrol the city.  I guess it’s the 2022 equivalent of ‘flith’.

Dreck Pic

Were there any Sci-fi films, books or TV shows that were influential in setting the tone and look of the film?

I am often inspired as much by the idea of things as I am by their execution, so sometimes it’s enough to see Philip K Dick being interviewed for me to get a whole raft of ideas going.  I didn’t want to consciously emulate anyone, but there are things I have seen and read that inevitably rub off.  As well as Dick, I am very taken with the science fiction of J G Ballard and Alfred Bester, two very different writers, but both really amazing in their own way.  Ballard’s ability to sensualise the experience of the brutal, concrete expanses of his landscapes and the seething undercurrent of sex and violence in his seminal works is really appealing and gave me a way into how I wanted to visualise our city.  Bester just writes the best plots ever and then there’s the whole tradition of flawed detectives that for me kind of peaks with James Ellroy’s nightmare visions of LA.  A lot of that in the background.  And then films, of course there’s Blade Runner which is still pretty much the perfect film, but beyond that (and it’s very hard to get beyond that!), I was blown away by Shane Carruth’s Primer which I still find completely fascinating and actually very moving, even though I know a lot of people see it as a bit cold and intellectual.  But you know alongside all of this I am as equally inspired by the people who strove for an authenticity in their work that often the genre film is not associated with.  The maverick film makers of the 70s provide me with a lot of inspiration; at the top of that tree is of of course John Cassavetes, then there’s Robert Altman and many others who refused to do things a certain way because that was the orthodoxy.  That’s an approach and attitude that has carried me through the toughest of times on this film, these guys who just refused to lie down and play dead for anyone.    Visually I am blessed with the company of Chris Moon the DoP who is one of the most talented people I have ever met.  We love a lot of the same films and he is always pushing me – I brought some ideas as to how I wanted to do this and he absorbed them and then added a whole load of new elements that has meant that the images we were creating were really, at times shockingly, beautiful.  And that matters to us both, a lot.  Just because we are ‘low budget’ doesn’t mean it has to look like crap and we have worked really, really hard to make sure that we only turn over on an image that’s worth turning over on.  For that we took inspiration not so much from films as from other DoPs like Roger Deakins, Robert Elswitt and Rodrigo Prieto who shot Biutiful, which is one of my favourite films.

The premise of Dreck is an interesting one and seems rooted in what going on today in terms of drugs and big business. What was the spark that led to the development of the story?

Lots of things but it was very much from looking for a metaphor for the way we have as a society rushed to allow big companies into our lives.  By which I mean looking at the way we have invited a billion dollar company like Facebook to access our intimate, private lives.  I think legal drugs are a good stand-in for this kind of omniscient social networking – a lot of people think that legal drugs are a good thing and whether that’s the case or not, I think the idea of large corporations being allowed to manufacture and sell us consciousness altering substances needs to be looked at seriously.  As we know, big companies don’t always put the best interests of their customers above the profit motive and I think that, combined with the idea of allowing some pharmaceutical substance to actually change our perception and memory and god knows what else is a really interesting place to jump in for a thriller.  And to make our lead character someone who was an addict and is now actively resisting drugs adds a tension that for me is really compelling.

A lot of British based sci-fi films tend to lean to towards a less is more stance in terms of its special effect usage. Would you say this is true for Dreck?

I think any film that’s trying to create a future cityscape is going to need some visual enhancement.  We have a lot of small vfx shots and a few bigger ones, but overall we have aimed to allow only what we can do really well to make its way into the film.   Again none of it would be possible without the support of some really brilliant entrepreneurial vfx wizards.  

What single thing would you tell an indie filmmaker to avoid doing at all costs?

Taking no for an answer.

Do you have any plans post Dreck?

I have another sci-fi idea I’m developing and about four or five other projects that I am passionate about making.  After the experience and lessons of Dreck I feel very excited about jumping into a new story.  But I’ve got to finish this first!

When can we expect to see Dreck on our cinema screens?

Our plan is to secure a UK sale by the Autumn, with the rest of the world to follow, so I imagine early 2014.

GS Reporter: Nuge


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