Metaphorical Landscapes

Moon Dogs is a new British feature film directed by Philip John, a former punk musician who turned to filmmaking. Scripted by Scottish writers Derek Boyle and Raymond Friel, it’s the story of two stepbrothers – the lovelorn Michael (Jack Parry-Jones) and the musically-inclined introvert Thor (Christy O’Donnell) – on a trip from Shetland to Glasgow. Co-starring Tara Lee as Caitlin, the girl they meet en-route who comes between them, we spoke to the director about exploring teenage kicks.

What appealed to you about this story of two mismatched stepbrothers?
PJ: It was the stepbrothers who drew me in. I saw the film as a manifesto for rebellion. I saw myself as [the] young punk in Thor and his single minded pursuit of the noises in his head. I also connected personally with Michael’s hapless exploits with girls. I was always useless with dating, and my awkwardness and confusion around women during my teens gave me a direct line into his character.

ASFF: It’s tough to make a road movie in Britain, as we don’t have the expanse of landscape like the US. Did that give you concerns making Moon Dogs?
PJ: I wasn’t concerned about the lack of scale in the UK. Shetland is pretty isolated and remote, and a great metaphor for the strangulated desires in the stepbrothers – Thor is looking for an audience and Michael wants to escape to Glasgow with his girlfriend. Scotland is vast, and you can get lost in that loveliness, and we found some really unique locations in all that countryside.

ASFF: Did you audition your three leads together to test their chemistry?
PJ: There wasn’t a chance to test the chemistry of our leads, but I always knew our new cast would be great together. Most of the success of a movie is achieved in the casting process. Get that right and everything else should fall into place.

ASFF: You come from a music background. Did you relate to the story from that point of view?
PJ: With Moon Dogs, right from the off, I wanted to work with Anton Newcombe of the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Thor needed a sonic identity. I didn’t want to go to a composer to get a version of Outsider Music. I wanted to go to the source. I got Anton’s email from a mate, and invited him to join us. I was amazed when he immediately agreed. I just could not have been happier. He is a genius, has a massive frame of reference, and is fantastic to work with. In my estimation, Anton’s score has improved the movie by about fifty per cent. He has breathed fire and soul into our project.

ASFF: You’ve directed a lot of television – not least episodes of Downton Abbey. Is the process very different to making a feature like Moon Dogs?
PJ: Making television is a collaborative process. You are surrounded by producers and execs, offering up support and advice – an amazing resource. You feel supported and encouraged and it generally feels safe and controlled. Making Moon Dogs was like, every day, boarding a bus at the top of a hill and have it career without brakes towards a brick wall. Producer Kathy [Speirs] hadn’t made much before this film, and I really felt the fear. It was a good kind of fear though.

James Mottram

Moon Dogs opens in cinemas on 1 September. For more information, visit:

1.Still from Philip John’s Moon Dogs.