The Movie Waffler Interview - I SEE YOU Director Adam Randall | The Movie Waffler

Interview - I SEE YOU Director Adam Randall

adam randall interview
We spoke to the director of the hit Netflix thriller.

Interview by Eric Hillis

Photo credit: Craig Sugden

Adam Randall directed Netflix's first ever UK production, iBoy, in 2017. His latest film, twisty thriller I See You, starring Helen Hunt, has proven a hit since being added to the streaming platform recently. We spoke to Randall about working with Netflix, his views on modern technology and his upcoming project.

Since dropping on the platform, I See You has proved immensely popular with Netflix subscribers. You have the distinction of having directed Netflix's very first UK production, iBoy, back in 2017. Tell us how Netflix got involved with that project.

That project took a long time to get to production. I was sent the book at the top of 2012, and we built it up and were ready to go by 2013. It then all fell apart - as independent films often do - and we slowly rebuilt it as a very low budget film to shoot at the beginning of 2016. About three months before we were due to shoot, one of the producers sent the script to Netflix. Literally six or seven weeks before we were due to start filming, I had a call with them on the phone and pitched the film and how I envisioned it. The next day they said they were in, doubled our budget (still low but much better!) and we were off.

How does directing a Netflix feature compare to an independently produced film? Would you say you have more or less creative freedom? Does knowing it will be viewed on small screens rather than in cinemas affect how you compose shots?

On iBoy it was exactly the same film as it would have been, only we had a little more budget to play with. We spoke to Netflix before we started and then once I’d handed my cut in, so creatively I had the same freedom. On the whole, it’s a much easier process as you’re not worrying about money falling out and they were a great support when we needed them. On my latest film I’m working on now, the budget is bigger so there is more input on every level. They still wholly support my vision and are a great creative partner but there’s more at stake so we work together more closely. I have to say I’ve only had great experiences with them; they’ve been so supportive and are one of the few places making the sort of films - both creatively and at a budget level - that I grew up with and aspired to make. I feel spoilt to have had them as my studio on two films so far.

In terms of how I compose the shots or plan the films, it is exactly the same as if it was on a big screen. I love cinematic imagery, bold shots, intricate sound design and music. I make films to be seen on as big as possible a screen, and hopefully they still work on a small screen. I discovered most of the films I love on a pre HD, 4:3, shitty TV… Blade Runner, Apocalypse Now, Taxi Driver, and on and on… Almost all the classics that inspired me I experienced on TV, VHS or DVD. I may not have had the cinematic experience that the filmmakers wanted or expected, but they still had a profound impact on me and I wouldn’t have wanted them to have changed the film in anticipation of how the audience may view it. With large 4K TVs, and great sound set ups, a lot of people have a home set up that’s getting close to the quality of the cinema. Although I’d love my films to be seen theatrically, I just make them to the best of my ability and create imagery that I find exciting and would like to see.

After directing two features in the UK you made the switch to the US for I See You. What would you say are the key differences between working in the UK and US?

I See You was an independent film so there was in many respects the same hustle as in the UK. You’re still trying to make a film much bigger and more cinematic than your budget allows, so cheating, stealing shots, doing whatever you can to make that happen. I loved the cast and crew in both, and there was the same passion and commitment. The biggest difference I found was the unions and rules you have in the US. It’s very strict and a larger proportion of the budget was spent around the film rather than on it. I See You was a bigger budget than iBoy but we shot for less days as the money did not go as far. We had to shoot I See You in 20 days, which was very tough.

How did you become involved with I See You?

I was sent the script by the sales team, who are a UK based company. I read it that day and then again that night. I could not stop thinking about it. I spoke to Matt Waldeck, the producer, the next day and told him how much I loved it, how I envisioned it and he asked me to come on board. It was as quick and easy as that. The difficulties started further down the line in trying to make the film with the budget and time we had. It was another film that fell apart and had to be rebuilt piece by piece.

The film features a knockout twist around the halfway mark that essentially moves it from one genre to another. Audiences seem to be embracing it, but were you ever worried that having initially led the viewers to believe they were watching one type of movie, they may not react well to such a narrative shift?

I knew that some audience members wouldn’t like it, but that’s OK. You can’t make a film for everyone. Perhaps more so it's a difficult film to sell as you can’t really give away what the film is, so you’re having to promote it as a slightly familiar horror film. Some people may not want to watch it as they assume that is what it’s going to be. Others may want the film they’ve been sold, and then be disappointed by what they get! But I felt that enough would enjoy how it plays with genre and storytelling. I was so excited not just by changing perspective, but flipping genre, style and tone.

In the script the transition was a little softer; the story froze, rewound and then cut to black. You then heard Mindy’s voice and we revealed her and Alec. I wanted it to be as jarring as possible. It felt that if we’re going to do it, let’s just do it in the most shocking way possible. Let’s get you comfortable and then at the point of highest tension, where it almost feels like the culmination of the film, we cut suddenly. My favourite part of seeing the film with an audience was feeling the room when that cut took place.

What are some of your own favourite movie twists?

Oldboy, Fight Club, Psycho, Memento, Dark City, The Usual Suspects, The Handmaiden, The Sting, The Mist, Wicker Man, Seven… could go on and on…

All three of your movies to date integrate modern technology into their narratives. What's your own relationship to technology and its increasing dominance of our lives?

I’m wary and addicted. In many ways I hate it but then I’m constantly using and relying on it. I think it’s had an amazing impact, especially in times such as these; how it’s allowed us to stay connected, provided such ease in communicating with each other, provided such easy access and choice in entertainment, the ability to so easily get whatever we need, to occupy and distract ourselves, as well as keep us informed. But there are many, many negative sides to it, which we all know so I won’t go into… It has changed our world so significantly, and it’s pretty clear - at this moment in time - the world is not in a better place because of it.

On the whole, if we could go back to a pre tech age I’d vote for that. If we put aside politics and the state of the world and just focus on film and the experience of watching, the tech age has brought about this idea of content, just a constant barrage of content to distract us. It’s lessened the value of things. Everything was a lot less throw away pre-tech. In some ways I have a very fortunate perspective in that I grew up in that very brief in-between generation whose childhood was without tech, but then it became part of our lives as teenagers. Literally a couple of years later, and tech became a part of every child’s life.

We're told you're working on another film, Night Teeth. Can you tell us anything about this yet?

We were shooting at the top of this year and then Covid happened so we downed tools for six months, and we're just about to go back into production for the last few weeks. It’s a great project, a “one crazy night" movie, about a young man from Boyle Heights who has to drive two mysterious women from Beverly Hills around LA for the night. But they are not who they seem to be, and things get batshit crazy very quickly..! It’s a hugely fun, funny, action filled film - blending Neo noir, coming of age, romance, crime, horror… It’s in some ways a reaction to making I See You. I’ve just let loose on this one. It’s a Netflix Original film, and hopefully out summer/autumn 2021.

Finally, we've recommended I See You to our readers, but tell us in your own words why they should log on to Netflix and check it out?

Well it’s a unique film, a puzzle piece, and hopefully a very satisfying and surprising watch because of that. It’s a fantastic script from Devon Graye, and a film that engages the audience, rather than being a passive experience. If you’re a fan of horror or thrillers, of crime drama or twisting narratives, hopefully you’ll really enjoy the ride.

I See You is on Netflix now and is available on blu-ray from Arrow Video.