Audience Engagement

Having screened as part of ASFF 2016 in the thriller strand, Truck is a high-octane thriller is set almost entirely in the back of a moving vehicle. The film introduces a range of characters and follows them whilst they attempt to flee the big city. Director Rob Curry delves into the influence of arthouse thriller and psychological narratives.

ASFF: Truck follows the lives of a set of characters as they attempt to flee a city. How did the storyline for this piece begin to develop, and how has this manifested into the visuals?
RC: The film started as an inverted refugee story – instead of people on the outside trying to get in, to get here, it’s people here, in the safety of the Western world, trying to get out. We wanted to tell a story about the city today. What is it? Who is it? How does it function. In a way, what we’ve done with Truck is turn the city inside out. It’s decanted into the back of a truck. The single take idea came from a desire to put the audience in the same position as the protagonists, and to implicate them in the action with no time to breathe, to think, trapped within a narrative you’re not in control of. We came up with the concept during the development process, then a few weeks later, just after it had all been storyboarded, we saw Birdman. And a few weeks after the film was finished we went to see a film on at the London Film Festival called Victoria. There must have been something in the air.

ASFF: How do you think that the genre of thriller has expanded and developed?
RC: All the fiction films Anthony (the writer) and I had made before Truck probably fell loosely into the category of “Psychological Thriller.” This best fits the “Dystopian Thriller” sub-genre, along with films like The Road, Children of Men and Mad Max. It’s such a broad classification it’s almost unhelpful to talk about it at a genre at all, but for me the most interesting thing to happen to it recently is when it merges with other genres and gives them a narrative drive they otherwise lacked. It happened in the 1970s and 1980s with solidly arthouse films like Repulsion and Possession, but now it’s happening with social realist material. Films like Winter’s Bone and Mystery Road contain really serious examinations of society, but within a narrative structure that really keeps an audience engaged.

ASFF: What does a successful thriller encompass in your view?
RC: There’s two answers to that question. In terms of whether it succeeds as a thriller or not, the answer is simply whether the unfolding action keeps you gripped and guessing till the end. But for me it has to be more than that to be a worthwhile watch. Along with dramatic tension, sociological relevance, and something that is exploring, either explicitly or implicitly, the fault lines that exist within the society in which the thriller is shot. If not, you’re just witnessing the mechanics of a screen writing course.

ASFF: How did working with Creative England and BFI help you to develop the piece?
RC: Truck was financed under a strand that funded the creation of a short film that also doubled as a pilot for a feature project. When we submitted it, they really liked the feature, but it took a while to find a story within it that worked as a standalone piece. We were initially given a tiny development budget to rework the story, but this proved to be one of the most rewarding parts of the process. The focus of the story changed significantly, but we both think it emerged stronger, so all in all a very positive experience. The BFI also insisted that we work with more experienced producers instead of trying to do it ourselves, which is how we ended up working with Endor Productions. Looking back, if we’d tried to write / produce and direct/produce something on this scale it would have been hugely to the detriment of the creative process, so again good advice. When we were awarded £50k for production we were initially delighted, but the shooting style we chose probably should have cost ten times that, so it’s fair to say we made the most of the opportunity.

ASFF: What do you think these funding models and support does in terms of furthering the careers of contemporary filmmakers?
RC: The fund we received was for experienced filmmakers to make something that was a step up from previous projects in terms of scale and ambition, and in that way it was invaluable. Why would someone trust you to make a 1/2 million, 2 million, 10 million pound film without proof you can handle things on that scale? For a goodly while, since the end of Cinema Extreme nearly 10 years ago, there was nothing like this available in the UK, so the rebirth of the high-end funds came at just the right time for us. That said, the core rationale for funding has to be at a more grassroots level, to let people starting out have a chance to show what they can do.  It’s not talked about much, but the ability to meet your peers, and build a collaborative team is almost as important as the money itself.

ASFF: What is your biggest source of inspiration?
RC: There’s a bunch of filmmakers at the moment that I think are really exciting. I’ve just see Raw by Julia Ducournau, which was phenomenal, and I’ve also loved films by Josephine Decker, Ana Lily Amirpour and Lucile Hadžihalilovi? this last year. In terms of personal inspiration, it’s the world around us that inspires all our projects. And for better or worse we’re living in a time when there’s a lot of inspiration out there to be had.

ASFF: What do you have planned in terms of future projects?
RC: Off the back of the short, we’re just finishing a full development process for the feature version of Truck, again with Creative England and the BFI’s support. And we have as many ideas for future projects as there are days. One that has a lot to do with Truck’s aesthetic is set around the time of the 2008 financial crisis, and is about a building that is affected by Sick Building Syndrome.

1. Trailer for Truck. Courtesy of Vimeo.