Ahead of the Digital release of his latest film PERIPHERAL, director Paul Hyett talks about the importance of creative freedom, the lockdown and future projects.
Peripheral is your fourth feature as director. When you started on The Seasoning House back in 2011, did you ever imagine your career would be this successful?
Back when I decided I wanted to make my own movie I had my prosthetics company and was doing very well, but I really wanted to tell my own stories. I said to myself, get The Seasoning House made, see if it’s any good. If it’s a success then I would close my workshop and concentrate on directing. When it was selected as opening film for FrightFest 2012, I was elated and decided to go that path. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have directed four films and never would have thought that would happen.
What drew you to Peripheral, which at first sight, would appear to have very different dramatic challenges from your previous films, being set in one location and driven heavily by psychological narrative.
Peripheral really appealed to me. It was so well written, really layered. It had so much to say and was so relevant at the time and even more relevant today! Throughout my career as a prosthetics guy, I’ve had to turn my art to suit other people’s tastes, in a way selling out and just having to be a commercial artist. Even in my directing career I’ve had to bend to please exec producers and financiers. So, I could connect with Peripheral, which was about an artist being manipulated, wanting to be pure but having to sell to pay her bills. And then, on top, a really interesting comment on social media, celebrity obsessiveness, fall from grace, a futile fight against what you really believe in. It was such a draw for me.
Peripheral was written by renowned comic book writer / screenwriter Dan Shaffer. How did you come across the script and had you worked with Dan before?
Craig Touhy, the producer asked me to read it, thought I’d be perfect for it. The initiall pitch was, a girl, in one location, a flat and a computer. I originally thought, after doing the SFX laden movie Howl, that I wanted to continue down that path, bigger budgets, tons of prosthetics and VFX. But I’ll always read a script, just to make sure I’m doing the right thing turning it down. I read it and I LOVED it. It was my first reading of a Dan Shaffer script, he’s a brilliant writer.
For your previous films you’ve been heavily involved in the writing process. How was it primarily working with someone else’s script?
Paul Hyett on the set on PERIPHERAL with Hannah Arterton
It was fine. I’m not at all precious. All I care about is getting the script in best shape possible for day one of shooting. If a script is perfect, and I don’t have to do anything then great. But more often or not you have to do quite a bit of work on a script. But with Peripheral, it was just tweaking for me. The film deals with some topical issues such as the insidious control tech can have in our lives, addiction and mental health. How tough was it to balance this with creating an entertaining, genre-driven thriller? I always think you can take any story, any experience and turn it into an interesting, entertaining movie. When I said to people the plot for The Seasoning House they would just look at me, how is this going to be entertaining? There’s always a way. If you care about a character, whatever they go through, the audience will go through with them. The most important thing was visually, set in one location, how do I make this always entertaining to the eye, to keep people visually interesting. That was a challenge.
What creative influences inspired you? Cronenberg and Bernard Rose have been mentioned in the press.
Cronenberg was a big influence. And people saying there’s shades of Videodrome (which I love) is extremely flattering. I love all Cronenberg’s films. Someone else mentioned Demon Seed, which I hadn’t even thought about.
Hannah Arterton is terrific as a writer dealing with ‘second-novel syndrome’. How did you make the decision to cast her?
We saw nearly a hundred girls for Peripheral. We had very little prep and very little time to shoot this. Hannah had been in the back of my mind as soon as I read the script. She’s a terrific actress and we had worked well together before. I was worried about having an actress that I didn’t know and with Hannah we have a great shorthand. We know what each other is thinking before we say it. And she nailed the screen test. She was so committed to the role, totally surpassed my expectations and was a delight to work with. Bobbi is such a complex character and Hannah and I would discuss at length her motivation, her instincts, Hannah was absolutely brilliant!
The film’s claustrophobic atmosphere feels like the kind of film that resonates with the lockdown. How has the past three months or so been for you personally? How creative have you managed to be?
Yes, it is the ultimate lockdown movie. I’m sort of used to a lockdown life. Most of my time is alone at home, writing, developing projects, Skype calls etc so life wasn’t so different in the last three months. I had just got back from Boston the week before lockdown from a recce, so it was a bit of a pain as my next movie was put on hold. The biggest shock was the supermarkets running out of food, it was proper zombie panic, and I may one day write a script about the toilet roll shortage of 2020!
Have you watched any good horror films whilst stuck indoors?
I’ve been catching up on tons of movies and box sets. Really good horror movies? Gerald’s Game was great, I enjoyed The Ritual, Hereditary was cool, Underwater (I love aquatic horror) and Eurovison with Will Ferrel! Horrific (in a good way)!
You have two productions in development. One is The Black Site with Grimmfest films and the other is Unnatural Selection with Washashore productions. What can you tell us about them?
The Black Site is a psychological horror. Imagine Zero Dark Thirty meets Jacob’s Ladder. Unnatural Selection is set in a sleepy Cape Cod town and is an atmospheric Carpenter-esque New England horror story.
PERIPHERAL is available digitally in the UK and Ireland from August 3 on iTunes, Amazon, Google, Sky and Virgin