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Sundance Interview with Sean Ellis for 'Eight for Silver', a fresh take on the werewolf story

Sean Ellis interviewed by Emmanuel Itier

EIGHT FOR SILVER BY Sean Ellis SUNDANCE 2021

In the late nineteenth century, brutal land baron Seamus Laurent (Alistair Petrie) slaughters a Roma clan, unleashing a curse on his family and village. In the days that follow, the townspeople are plagued by nightmares, Seamus’s son Edward (Max Mackintosh) goes missing, and a boy is found murdered. The locals suspect a wild animal, but visiting pathologist John McBride (Boyd Holbrook) warns of a more sinister presence lurking in the woods.

Writer-director Sean Ellis follows up his audience award–winning feature Metro Manila (World Cinema Audience Award, 2013 Sundance Film Festival) with this gruesome gothic spin on werewolf lore. Eight for Silver is a beautifully crafted period piece and a supremely effective horror tale. Moving from the creepy candlelit interiors of the family manor to the misty woods beyond, Ellis conjures a clammy atmosphere of doom and dread, punctuated by waking nightmares and sudden bursts of body horror. As Holbrook’s haunted hunter comes closer to his quarry, Eight for Silver takes an unflinching look at the monsters that lurk inside of men.

Q: Tell us about the inspiration and why you wanted to write and direct this film?

 

Sean: Initially I just had the idea about a remote village in the late 1800’s. And it was being plagued by some sort of wolf attacks with several missing children. And I was intrigued by a “secret” that the villagers were hiding about all of these murders. This were the only ideas I had at the beginning. Very quickly I saw that the story was going into “werewolf territory” to make it fun! And this became a challenge to “re-inventing” the werewolf legend. Not such a simple affair. Then I did lots of research and I looked at lots of movies. From ‘The Brotherhood of the Wolf’, the French movie, to ‘La Bête du Gévaudan’ which contains historical references like in my film. I watched also the 1941’s ‘The Wolf Man’ written by Curt Siodmak and with Lon Chaney Jr. It was written by a jewish writer and this was a metaphor about being jewish in Europe during the mid 30’s and being persecuted for your religion. And I was wondering what was the modern version of being persecuted for your religion. And it came to my mind that a slave to addiction would experience a similar persecution. It’s about not being able to resist the things we do when we are not supposed to do them. And so the vision became that someone would not change into a wolf but become a slave to the wolf. You become a slave to your addiction. And this started to infuse into the story of ‘Eight for Silver’.  I thought this was a fresh take on the werewolf story. And then I worked with several concept artist to get a visual approach of what I was trying to achieve.

 

Q: How challenging was it to make this film?

 

Sean: Actually, the financing came to me quite easily as the producers of my previous film, ‘Anthropoid’, were asking me to come up with some horror film. I shared my one-page idea about ‘Eight for Silver’ and they went for it. After delivering 60 pages they loved so much the atmosphere and the storyline that they put my film in active pre-production. I remember this was in September 2018 and they wanted to take advantage of the winter. We decided to shoot in two blocks: beginning of 2019 and then we would edit over the summer and see what we got. And we had in mind to complete the filming at the end of 2019 or at the beginning of 2020. What was challenging is that by shooting in two blocks you didn’t have everything you needed to make it work until you shoot the second block. But when we edited the first block, we saw what was missing and what was there, which helped us better prepare the second portion of the shooting. We got lucky to film 20 final days at the beginning of 2020 just before the pandemic started.

 

Q: Is this the perfect movie for the times we are living in with the pandemic, the new “plague”?

 

Sean: Yes, in a way. Just because it’s a period film this doesn’t mean it doesn’t comment on the current situation. A lot of things that happens today are sources of inspiration for this film such as people being displaced, war refugees and illegal immigration. Racism and division between people of different backgrounds are also at the core of our film. It’s also about wars created about land and about religion. The fact that our elders have left the younger generations angry because of the sad state of the World they created. There are a lots of poignant subplots in the film echoing what we see in our world today. The only thing that is a coincidence is that the film talks about a pandemic, a plague even so we created and filmed entirely this picture before covid 19. But, having said that, when we went into lock-down I reshaped certain scene to evoke even more the current situation. We recorded certain ADR (additional dialogue recording) lines like “What should be do? Let’s all stay in our home and let’s board our windows”, which is exactly, in a way what we had to do during the covid lockdown.

 

Q: Was there a particular challenging scene to film?

 

Sean: For sure, the gypsies massacre at the beginning of the film. Because I just wanted a large master shot of the massacre and no coverage, no close shots. Everyone got worried about my vision and it was quite an undertaking, logistically to coordinate such a massive set piece. It took weeks to rehearse this scene with over 50 stunt people, some of them on horses. And there were lots of special effects and fire! But I felt this was the only way to convey the horror of this event. With cuts into close up and coverage you would let the audience off the hook and not be as focused as it should be and being the witness of this atrocity. There is only this long carnage and I think this is so effective.

 

Q: Tell me about promoting such a movie during a pandemic and a virtual Sundance?

 

Sean: This is a very strange time but I’m so glad that Sundance was so well prepared to do the festival remotely and virtually. I’m glad lots of people will see it because of the many virtual screenings. I’m grateful that Sundance picked us up, especially because there were barely any effects when we submitted our cut back in September. The insanity is that I delivered the movie just a week before Sundance! But we made it and I’m glad we are “here”!

 

Q: Ultimately do you identify to the werewolf?

 

Sean: Yes, I do identify to the werewolf. As I explained, the werewolf is a metaphor about addiction and how you become a slave to that addiction. I identify to the werewolf as I feel it’s easy to become a prisoner to your impulses. I do understand and identify to the werewolf.

 

CREDITS

  • Director(s) Sean Ellis
  • Screenwriter Sean Ellis
  • Producers Pete Shilaimon Mickey Liddell Sean Ellis
  • Composer Robin Foster
  • Editors Yorgos Mavropsaridis Richard Mettler
  • Casting Director Elaine Grainger
  • Production Designer Pascal Le Guellec
  • Costume Designer Madeline Fontaine
  • Director of Photography Sean Ellis
  • Special effects supervisor: Christian-Axel Vollard
  • Executive Producers Jacob Yakob Alison Semenza King
  • Cast: Boyd Holbrook Kelly Reilly Alistair Petrie Roxane Duran Áine Rose Daly
  • Year 2020
  • Category Feature
  • Country U.S.A./France
  • Run time 115 min
  • Company LD Entertainment
  • Sales: CAA, ICM
  • Website https://ldentertainment.com

 

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