The Movie Waffler Interview - CRUEL SUMMER Director Phillip Escott | The Movie Waffler

Interview - CRUEL SUMMER Director Phillip Escott

Director Phillip Escott discusses his disturbing thriller.

Now available on VOD from Wild Eye Releasing, Cruel Summer is the disturbing true story of Danny, a teenager with autism, who escapes the inner city for the beautiful countryside as part of his Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme. Little does he know that bitter Nicholas is hunting him, stemming from a lie created by the enamoured and envious Julia and Calvin. As the three close in on Danny, Nicholas' behaviour becomes increasingly erratic and violent, and Julia and Calvin must decide whether to go through with Nicholas' deadly plan to see him suffer. An exploration into the harrowing consequences and impact one tragic act of seemingly random violence can have on society at large.

We speak to director Phillip Escott about the very confronting thriller. 

Is filmmaking what you do for a living?

I wish! I earn more through producing special features for various boutique labels like Arrow Video, 88 Films and 101 Films than I do from traditional film work. But I do get to speak to heroes of mine along the way, which is a nice bonus. Just yesterday I was speaking with Daniel Pearl, who is the cinematographer of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (both versions), which had me geeking out a little bit to be honest as I’m a huge fan of the original.

And I guess that’s one thing most folks don’t get about independent filmmaking – unless you make a Jumanji or a Greatest Showman you’ve still got to ‘pay the rent’ by working for the man. 

Absolutely. I had to take time-off from work to work on Cruel Summer! There are people out there who think we’ve made millions from the film though, which is hilarious. It just goes to show how little is understood about the indie film industry. This wasn’t a Warner Brothers film, this was made by a few determined people in South Wales with a little money they’d saved up. Granted I wish Warner Brothers had paid us millions for it, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

You also need a strong support system behind you, I imagine?

Oh yeah, I drove my girlfriend insane with this film. I was glued to my computer for months and months editing this thing. It’s a hell of a lot of work, perhaps more than was anticipated when we started putting the wheels in motion for it. Passion is infectious though and I was lucky in that regard; she let me get on with it and wouldn’t yell at me and tell me to go to bed when I was up editing until four or five in the morning.

Do you have a lot at stake – even personal investment - tied up in your productions?

Cruel Summer was funded, in part, by myself, so I do have a lot on the line in that regard. However, if you aren’t willing to invest in yourself, why should anyone else? Or that’s how I like to rationalise it to myself!

When do you consider the risk worthwhile?

It was never deemed a risk to be fair. The amount I spent investing in the film was cheaper than getting a degree at film school. So in that regard I think it was a sensible investment as I got schooled in areas of the business that university courses don’t offer - especially in terms of the distribution side.

Do you have a plan for your career?

I’d love to get another feature off the ground; hopefully Cruel Summer does well enough to make that a possibility. As with most things in the industry, luck plays a huge part in it, so I hope I can get lucky a second time.

Would you prefer to keep working on original productions or would you be quite happy if, say, Paramount knocked on the door and offered you the chance to direct the next sequel to Transformers?

Haha, I would love to work on a big studio feature. Will that ever happen? I highly doubt it. If far more successful Welsh directors like Gareth Evans, who directed the Raid movies, isn’t making Transformers 12 or Jurassic World 9, then what chance do I have? 

That being said, I wouldn’t object to a Blumhouse project. I love what those guys have done for low-budget horror. Or who knows, maybe The Asylum will let me direct Sharknado 54 - the disco shark movie I created this very moment!

How much do good reviews mean to a filmmaker?

I wish I was cool and could say they don’t mean anything to me, but that would be a lie. Making something to be seen, and hopefully appreciated, by a large audience is important for me. To know that you’ve made something that others have found worthwhile is a great feeling, but I also understand that you can’t please everyone, so I appreciate the negative views as much as the positive. All feedback is good feedback as far as I’m concerned. Unless it’s of the “these people deserve to burn in hell’s fire” variety, then I just giggle to myself and carry on with my day.

And do they also open doors for you as a filmmaker?

I’ll have to get back to you on that one; the film has only just started to reach outside of the UK. So, fingers and toes are firmly crossed that it gets a few doors nudged open a little.

How did the film go when it played at festivals?

It’s a difficult film to say the least, and as such there was inevitably going to be some backlash, and that’s understandable - it deals with a delicate subject matter and some people attend film festivals to be entertained; even horror film festivals. 

When they are confronted by something as bleak and as grim as Cruel Summer, it shocks them and they react accordingly. Luckily, the majority of the audience understand that horror is a vast genre and not all films are designed to entertain you in the traditional sense.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given from anyone?

I think the many, many, many reassuring chants of “it’s all going to be fine” and “we’ll get this done” from the likes of Paul McFadden at Bang Post Production and Chris Crow at Dogs of Annwn are up there. Having those guys in our corner made the impossible seem possible… and it was true, we did get there and it’s all thanks to them and everyone else involved in the making of the film.

Did you reach out to anyone else that’s made a movie like this before tackling the subject?

I wish we would have had the foresight and the connections to have been able to do that before we made Cruel Summer. Unfortunately we didn’t, and as a result every day was a learning curve. We knew from the start that we had to justify the 'based on true events' angle of the film, because it’s been used as a gimmick in the film world for too long now, but this film genuinely is inspired by actual crimes - which makes it all the more tragic actually.

What type of research did you do before writing the screenplay?

We researched various crimes that have taken place in the UK involving teenagers, in particular the knife crime epidemic that still plagues us here. We also researched autism as it was important that we portrayed the condition as realistically as possible. It’s a broad spectrum, and for the most part what exposure was given to it focused on the negative aspect of it - the violent bursts, the self-harming and the struggles of dealing with severe cases. 

We wanted to show it in a different light and lucky for us Richard Pawulski was 100% dedicated to the role and brought with him his own research, as he’d spent time in classes with autistic children to help get a sense of the various mannerisms the condition has.

Where can we see it?

The film is currently on Sky Cinema, and on DVD, here in the UK. The US VOD release rolls out on the 27th of February thanks to the fine folks at Wild Eye Releasing, and it’s available in Germany, Australia and New Zealand now too. Expect more announcements for the rest of the world to follow shortly!