Crispian Mills on A Fantastic Fear of Everything - interview
The ex-Kula Shaker frontman has directed a black comedy starring Simon Pegg
Received wisdom might suggest that rock stars who try their hands at filmmaking are essentially looking for another way to massage their inflated egos (Madonna’s W.E. anyone?). So the fact that Crispian Mills, lead singer of 90s Britpop sensations Kula Shaker, has written and directed a film – this month’s dark comedy A Fantastic Fear of Everything, starring Simon Pegg – could understandably be greeted with a fair degree of eye-rolling. Yet considering Mills’ film-saturated family tree – he’s the son of actress Hayley Mills and director Roy Boulting – it’s arguably more surprising that he didn’t venture into films sooner. ‘I wrote my first script when I was 10,’ he admits. The verdict? ‘Precocious and awful!’ But talking to Mills it soon becomes clear that Fantastic Fear is neither a vanity project nor an emergency career switch in the wake of dwindling music revenues; it’s a progression he’s been developing for a while. ‘I guess I never properly considered film because it was in my family,’ he says, ‘but the thing about film is that it’s storytelling, and you cannot separate music from that medium. To take up music as a career you have to be a bit naïve and you have to be pretty obsessed with it, and it’s the same with scriptwriting – I’d been writing scripts for about 10 years leading up to Fantastic Fear.’ One of those scripts was acquired by a studio for development, but is currently ‘just buried there’, according to Mills. ‘They keep on threatening to make it and I just pray that they don’t because it doesn’t bear any resemblance to the original idea!’
As Kula Shaker’s star descended, Mills began working with Chris Hopewell, director of the awards-laden video for Radiohead’s 2003 single 'There There', and discovered Hopewell’s community of artists and filmmakers (which Mills describes as ‘as close as you can get to Utopia in Bristol’). He showed Hopewell the script for a short film he had written based on Bruce Robinson’s (Withnail and I) novella Paranoia in the Launderette, and soon they were developing it into the feature that became A Fantastic Fear of Everything. With adaptation advice from Robinson amounting to a cheerful ‘chuck the book in the bin’, Mills and Hopewell set about reshaping the story. ‘It was a pretty illuminating experience writing it. One of the things you learn by writing is how to write. The other thing is whether you’re prepared to give it to someone else to make or not, and if you have a real total vision then you have to go and make it yourself.’ Such was Mills’ feeling, but keen to continue collaborating with Hopewell he not only signed him up as production designer but wrote a stop-frame animation sequence into the film specifically for him to direct. The finished film has Hopewell credited as co-director, and Mills says they ‘had a psychic mind-meld’ whilst making the film.
Given this approach to filmmaking Mills unsurprisingly sees the process as supremely collaborative, a perspective that allows him to draw a strong connection from his musical life: ‘What you’re all doing is like being in a band. It’s about whether you click or not. The auteur theory came from the New Wave, but Jean-Luc Godard said it was nonsense! Because you can’t control everything, anything creative has a life of its own.’
A Fantastic Fear of Everything is on general release from Fri 8 June.