D.R Hood’s debut feature film, Wreckers starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy, was met with critical acclaim. For me, Wreckers was a film that clung to me weeks, even months after I watched it; simply put, it was an emotional sucker punch that blindsided me with just how powerful the story was. D.R Hood focused her directorial eye on the fractious nature of human relationships and kept her finger on zoom until watching each scene unfold became unbearable, yet I was unable to look away.
Her latest feature film, Us Among the Stones promises to be a brooding, raw tale about family and the significance of history and place. Movie Metropolis spoke to Dictynna Hood to talk about Us Among the Stones, what it takes to make a feature film and how she creates her characters.
Firstly, could you tell us a little about yourself and your new project?
Sure, I’m a writer and director just completing my second feature, Us Among the Stones. The story is about Owen (Laurence Fox) who comes home to visit his dying mother (Anna Calder-Marshall) and the whole family including his ex-partner arrive at the house too….the film is a mosaic of family life and family history including their history in the ancient house they live in.
Why did you decide to make Us Among the Stones?
The script just would not go away. Every time I had a week or two free from other projects, the story kept coming back and waving at me. 20 years on, I sat down with my director of photography and discussed how we could make it. I think it’s important to me, and to the people who have collaborated on it, both cast and crew, as a reflection of family life, and also of family history and how that relates to longer wider histories. Everyone brought their own story to it. Our hope is that audiences also find in it things they can enjoy and reflect upon about family and family history.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
For Us Among the Stones, my inspiration came from family and also from the place where we shot the film on Dartmoor in Devon. Overall, I’m inspired by the people I meet and the places I visit.
What’s your process for developing your characters?
I spend a lot of time observing people and their interactions. I like asking people questions. I tend to read newspapers more for character than for the news sometimes. Ideas about characters and story can pop into my head from a variety of sources. Then I sit down and really study the characters in depth. A screenwriting guru shared a kind of ‘character passport’ with me which I fill in quite religiously, sometimes multiple times over the course of writing a script. Then a whole other layer is added when we come to cast.
How do you work with the actors on set?
I don’t do a lot of work with actors on set, but I do rehearse beforehand by setting up relationship improvisations that help us all understand the key relationships in the film. Casting is a fascinating process. When I meet the actors, I listen to how they are responding to the script and for their relationship to the script. Then I begin to understand what they can bring.
Every actor will make the character you have written totally specific and it can be interesting to cast a little bit ‘off’ what you intended in the writing or by contrast completely ‘on’ the character. For example the casting in ‘Wreckers’ is younger than I originally intended, which gives the film a strange sort of innocence I think; and some of the casting in Us Among the Stones is a little older than intended which is also intriguing.
Is it important to you to try and work with the same people on each project?
I’ve not necessarily made a point of working with the same people but I have built up a trust and an enjoyment of working with Annemarie Lean-Vercoe (Director of Photography) and Claire Pringle (editor). It’s exciting when you have built up a language with a collaborator and nothing is wasted between you. Not every collaborator is right for every project, and people also move on for a variety of reasons, but it’s wonderful to have several people who would like to work together again.
How much would you say your work is influenced by your own personal history?
Every writer and director has themes they return to which must be driven by things they are trying to resolve. However my work is entirely fictional and I am often surprised by where characters and stories seem to come from, some other place I have no prior knowledge of. Although I have also worked with documentary, I like writing fiction precisely because it gives a space to work on themes and stories and characters in a form that is away from the personal, while remaining intimately involved with my concerns and passions.
What’s been your experience of being a female in the film industry?
I am sure there is more opportunity for diversity and happily a lot of female directors are coming through now. As many actors have mentioned however, I doubt there’s as much diversity of background entering the industry as could be hoped for. I’m certain there’s more to be done to create opportunities. My own experience has almost always been positive on set.
Two questions we always ask: What’s your favourite film?
Ah, it really depends on my mood! Today let’s say ‘The Good the Bad and the Ugly’.
And what’s your favourite cinema snack/drink?
Chocolate and water.
Finally, what will your next project be?
I have two comedy projects that I am working on – one about ex-footballers and one a rom-com with fantasy elements about a young woman who has to go and fetch her lover from the underworld. I also have a theatre project, a very dark piece based on the Medea story.
Check out the trailer for Wreckers below: