Exclusive: Exploring Virtual Reality: A Conversation with First Time Director Charles Barker for the May Release of The Call Up
The debut feature film from director Charles Barker. His previous credits include award-winning campaigns for international brands such as Vodafone, Nokia and Wella as well as FX short, (Indecision), which was accepted into more than 60 film festivals all over the world.
He is also an award-winning genre screenwriter, specialising in action, science fiction and horror. The Call Up, topped the Brit List (British Black List) in 2011 as the best unproduced screenplay of that year, as voted for by industry peers. As a writer in the gaming industry, he recently had the opportunity of developing a new game for the Playstation 4.
When a group of elite online gamers each receive a mysterious invitation to trial a state-of-the-art virtual reality video game, it’s a dream come true and impossible to resist.
Arriving at the test site, the group step into hi-tech gear and prepare for a revolutionary, next-level gaming experience that brings modern warfare to life with frightening realism.
At first it’s a unique and exhilarating experience. But what starts out like a dream encounter with cutting edge technology quickly takes a turn for the sinister.
The Fan Carpet’s Marc Jason Ali had the pleasure of speaking to first time Director Charles Barker about his Directorial debut. He tells us how he feels stepping behind the camera, the inspiration for the film and being a sell proclaimed Gamer...
So it’s fantastic to speak to you today as this is your feature film debut, how does it feel to be stepping behind the camera?
Yeah it’s very interesting that you work on something for years and you obsess over every detail and then suddenly you have to let it free, with this particular project it was quite challenging because not only, I wrote the script but it had a lot of VFX in it, special effects and it had a lot of you know gunplay and special effects and it had an ensemble cast of 8 people who are on a lot of the time we were filming them at the same time, so you know there where explosions, you know we did some filming in New York, it was very conceptual in that we took one floor in a building and we redressed it to make it feel like we were going down 25 floors and we had to redress the floors so they where both game and real world and it was all shot out of sequence because we had to shoot all of the real world stuff first, then come back and once the floors redressed and shoot all the game world stuff. So yes it was a very daunting and thrilling experience and most first time directors choose a film, you know a couple talking in a room and that’s their first project and this was a blockbuster, it had all of the different elements to it.
Brilliant. As you said you wrote The Call Up too which landed on the Brit list, what was the inspiration for the story and do you consider yourself a gamer?
Yes I consider myself a gamer and it came out of playing.....I would hate to think how many hours, I know the average 19 year old gamer has done 10,000 hours of gaming, so I don’t know how many hours I’ve done (laughs) but I usually get beaten by some 12 year old in Idaho (laughs) so I’m not that good, but you always imagine when you’re playing these shoot-em up games that if it was for real you’d be that superhero soldier, you’d charge through the rooms, taking on all comers, saving the day, and I think what really interested me was the gap between your fantasy and reality, if all of those rules where for real you would be hiding under a desk quaking with fear and crying quietly for help and I think that was my inspiration, to take a whole bunch of gamers, how they feel and would behave and put them in situation where the stakes are raised to (legal or lethal)to see that sort of impact as this new reality hits them and how they cope with it and you know it was great fun, lot’s to explore from that starting point.
Wonderful. Touching on the cast you’ve assembled a fantastic cast from Morfydd Clark, Max Deacon, Ali Cook to name a few, can you talk about that process?
Yes it’s very much a genre film so you have these different types, you know you have the caring girl, you know it’s just about getting...you know this film it’s a genre film in the sense that it’s fun, it’s great solid entertainment and you need these characters to be very readable in a situation where they’re not in the their own environment. So you know you’ve got nothing outside of how they act as actors with any back-story or back history, so they’ve got to be good actors and you’ve also got to make them be slightly archetypes, so you have the gamer, the super soldier, you know you have the caring girl like I said and you have the guy with a haunted past and we had like two weeks of rehearsal because I really needed, because of the limitations of the concept, to make sure these characters landed, that they felt 3 dimensional, so we had a two week period where we storied and we work shopped it a bit and there was lots of feedback, you there was a great actor Boris who is from Sarajevo and we changed his story so the character in the film came from Sarajevo as well, use some of his backstory about being an illegal immigrant and all of that process was really good to not just have actors turn up on set and start acting without that space to develop a really solid relationship between these characters.
Looking at the industry, who inspires you?
My favourite directors are Kubrick you know; they’re the usual people like Ridley Scott and Kubrick, but with this particular film because I’m trying to make a break out genre film, what with a very low budget, I’m always really impressed by low budget films that punch above their weight. So there was a Canadian film called Cube that I always thought was really clever in the way that they had the limited resources and made this incredibly big universe which is kind of similar in some ways to what I tried to do and I love the dark atmospheres of Fincher, the old Fincher with Seven and that sort of dread lurking in the shadows, how wonderful cinematography can create a really sinister atmosphere because cinematography can look great and art direction can create great cinematic atmosphere and a great universe. So I’m very much into universe creating, so directors who can make a universe with a very limited budget and get audiences to buy into it, those are my heroes, so even a film like The Raid again was an interesting example of a very small budget which created this big world and that’s......when you’ve got all the resources in the world and you can make anything then you’re in a very different place, when you’ve got a small film and you want it to compete with like a blockbuster then you’re very clever about how you marshal your limited resources and make it feel as big as possible.
THE CALL UP IS OUT IN CINEMAS ON MAY 20 AND DVD AND DIGITAL MAY 23