Director’s Chair Introduction: Ben Wheatley

by Tony Cogan · September 4, 2018 · Director's Chair · 3 Comments

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Hello everyone, it’s time to announce the director being highlighted for September and, since I saw Sightseers recently at the Screenplay Film Festival in Shetland, I thought it would be good to cover the films of Ben Wheatley.

Now Wheatley got his start directing short films, viral videos and commercials, one of which he won a Lion Award for at the Cannes Advertising Festival. With these shorts, Wheatley started getting noticed by mainstream media companies and started doing work for them. During this time, he mainly worked in dark comedy for TV, mainly Modern Toss for Channel 4, series 5 and 6 of Ideal and every episode of The Wrong Door, along with directing segments for Armando Iannucci’s Time Trumpet and episodes of BBC Three’s Comedy Shuffle. Through his work in comedy, mainly with The Wrong Door, Wheatley got his first experience working with actors who would go on to work in his films, mainly Michael Smiley, Neil Maskell and MyAnna Buring. After he started making films, Wheatley still did occasional TV work, including the first 2 episodes of Peter Capaldi’s run as The Doctor in Doctor Who, an episode of Strange Angel and he has a sci-fi series, Silk Road, announced for HBO.

Following his TV work, Wheatley went into films with Down Terrace, shot over 8 days, winning Wheatley acclaim, winning prizes at Fantastic Fest in Austin and Raindance in London. Following the experience Wheatley had with Down Terrace, he used the skills he learned to direct the horror film Kill List, which is more a showcase of Wheatley’s style, involving minimal exposition, shocking violence and keeping elements deliberately vague to create a more foreboding atmosphere.

Following Kill List, Wheatley’s acclaim rose so that, when Paul King dropped out of directing Sightseers with Alice Lowe and Steve Oram after he got the offer to direct Paddington, when Lowe and Oram approached Wheatley to direct the film (due to their experience in comedy together) and Wheatley agreeing to direct after understanding the script in a way none of the other directors Lowe and Oram met with did, Sightseers got greenlit. Alongside Wheatley’s wife/collaborator, Amy Jump, working on the script with Lowe and Oram, some of the darker elements of the film, including the gore, were suggested by Wheatley. The collaborative work between Wheatley, Lowe and Oram led to Sightseers seeing high acclaim and was the most successful film of Wheatley’s career at that point (and is still my personal favourite).

Alongside directing a segment for The ABC’s of Death, Wheatley returned to horror with A Field in England due to his interest in both the English Civil War and the use of hallucinogenic drugs in the 17th Century. The result is a film that feels like a drug trip more than any other film I’ve seen. A Field in England was also noteworthy for its release, with it being released in cinemas, on DVD, streaming and on Freeview TV on Film4 on the same day, which I don’t think has happened for any other film before or since.

After those films, Wheatley got interested in acquiring the rights to do an adaptation of JG Ballard’s High Rise. After learning that the rights were with Jeremy Thomas, who had wanted to make an adaptation of the book since it was first released, Wheatley contacted Thomas and led to them working on the film, along with Jump who wrote the script. High Rise represented the highest profile film Wheatley made up to that point, with a much higher budget than he normally worked with and with high profile actors like Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Elisabeth Moss and Luke Evans, alongside regular collaborators Neil Maskell and Reece Shearsmith. High Rise remains the highest grossing film Wheatley has made up to this point and was another critical success, garnering multiple nominations at the British Independent Film Awards.

Following High Rise, Wheatley went smaller scale with his next film, with the help of executive producer Martin Scorcese, with Free Fire, which was another all star cast with Cillian Murphy, Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley, Jack Reynor, Noah Taylor and regular Michael Smiley. This also represents a bit of a big step towards commercial technology being used for films, with Wheatley using Minecraft to set out his initial designs for the warehouse at the centre of the film.

For the future, Wheatley currently has 2 confirmed films. The first, which is due to premiere at the London Film Festival next month is Happy New Year, Colin Burstead (originally filmed under the better title of Colin, You Anus), which takes him back to Down Terrace territory and reunites Wheatley with Neil Maskell. After that, he has Freakshift, a supernatural action film staring Armie Hammer and Alicia Vikander.

For those of you who want a quick reminder of Wheatley’s films, I’ve listed them below.

  • Down Terrace
  • Kill List
  • Sightseers
  • A Field in England
  • High Rise
  • Free Fire

I look forward to any features you send me on Wheatley’s films.

3 Responses to Director’s Chair Introduction: Ben Wheatley

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