Director Ricky Wood discusses David Hayman-starring horror Sawney: Flesh of Man
The film is a modern retelling of the legend of Scottish cannibal Sawney Bean
Sawney: Flesh of Man is a new horror film based on the life of Sawney Bean, the infamous head of a Scottish cannibal clan in the 15th or 16th century. Starring David Hayman in the title role director Ricky Wood has brought the bloody tale up to date in this labour of love filmed over several years around Aberdeen and the West Coast.
Could you give us a brief synopsis of Sawney: Flesh of Man?
It’s a modern day version loosely based on the legend of Sawney Bean. What we did to update it was instead of Sawney robbing and eating travellers many years ago, he goes round the cities of Scotland in a black cab, mainly picking up young women and he takes them to his lair up in the Highlands, where his family torture and cannibalise his victims.
The main protagonist is a journalist Hamish MacDonald [Samuel Feeney] and he’s investigating disappearances in Scotland, his fiancé’s sister turns up mutilated so he has a personal involvement. And his investigations into these missing persons leads him closer and closer to Sawney.
Why did you go for a modern retelling of the Sawney Bean legend?
Mainly for budgetary reasons, and it being our first feature we wanted to be realistic as well. To do Sawney ‘The Legend’ - and we’re developing a script for that - would take more resources, because the family was said to be 48 members strong, to do it justice it would need a bigger budget.
Can you just explain who’s who, as Ricky and Rick Wood are both listed in the credits?
We’re father and son. I’m Ricky, he’s Rick and my brother’s Ranald so there’s three Rs. We work together as well so there can be some confusion.
Is it difficult all working so closely together?
It’s got both advantages and disadvantages but we make a good team. We work together full time at TVP, what we mainly do is corporate productions, TV commercials and animation, sometimes there are differing opinions but we just put it behind us and get on with it.
How did you make the leap from TVP to directing a feature?
I joined TVP as a trainee sound recordist and cameraman from school at the age of 16, then I started spending more time editing. So I’ve been doing it for about 20 years. In 2007 we did a short film called Forgotten Souls and that did quite well at film festivals, it was a narrative drama running at about 24 minutes if memory serves. A few years went by and we thought ‘let’s have a go at a feature film.’ A short film gets you a lot of recognition and experience for doing a feature film, but there’s no commercial interest. Myself and my brother always wanted to make a film and this Sawney project we just worked on part time, weekends and early mornings in-between the day job really.
Am I right in thinking it took several years to shoot the film?
We started shooting in 2010 and it was completed for FrightFest in August 2012 and that was because we were just working downtime and weekends. It was quite a project getting all the actors together at the same time, so we had to schedule around that and do TVP work in-between. So it threw up problems with continuity and people’s availability, but that was the only way we could do it. We had to keep the momentum going to keep that high quality so we made it a lot more difficult for ourselves. We also had lots of effects: rain, smoke, snow, which also slows you down 25% in terms of shooting. But we were shooting in real locations, we found some great locations in Aberdeen to double as Sawney’s basement because in the story they are out in the middle of nowhere but we managed to find some old underground tunnels and chambers, which were horrible to work in but looked great. That’s why it took so long really, if we did have a bigger budget we could have put TVP to one side for a couple of months and really cracked on with it and spent a couple of months on the editing.
Did you always have Hayman in mind for the role?
I’d been learning bits and bobs of the Sawney story though my dad and reading about it and there’s so many variations and the dates vary, sometimes by hundreds of years, but we came up with a script and at the time we’d started doing some corporate work with David for Scottish and Southern Energy. He did some voiceover work for us and he’d just been in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and we’d just finished work on our short film 'Forgotten Souls' which was also a Holocaust-based piece. David was really impressed by it and we had a chat and he started doing even more work with us, then he read the script for Sawney and said he’d be delighted to do it. At the time we could only think of a couple of people who were actually Scottish and could play Sawney, he’s one of the best and he totally suited the part. We thought of keeping Sawney mysterious and not letting you really see him but David Hayman was one of our main assets so we thought 'let’s get Sawney straight up and in your face on screen,' because we couldn’t afford to not use him.
Sawney played at London’s FrightFest in 2012 - how did it go down with the audience there?
We met Ian Rattray from FrightFest out at Cannes the year before when we just had the trailer and still had half the film to shoot, he said ‘let me see it once it’s finished.’ It got picked up as one of the official selections for FrightFest and it was one of the first films to sell out. We were a bit apprehensive as it was the first time that anyone had seen it who was a total stranger. Friends and people who had worked on it had seen it but you never really take what they say seriously because they know you and they can be biased or they’re just impressed that you managed to finish a film. So we were a bit nervous but the audience seemed to like it and we had some great responses online, some said it was in the top five of festival, so really good and fingers crossed - so far nothing too negative, no bad reviews yet.
Do you think that has been helped by the dedication of horror fans across the globe?
We chose horror as a genre that we thought on a low budget you can get a lot of bang for your buck. But I was surprised at how fanatical fans are when it comes to horror, the amount of websites and blogging people do, it’s got an even stronger following than I initially thought. I’m discovering that as I go along and meeting some of the fans at FrightFest was really good. Some of them came up asking for photos and one person even asked for an autograph which felt really strange.
Sawney: Flesh of Man screens on Fri 22 Feb, GFT, Glasgow as part of FrightFest at the Glasgow Film Festival.