A24's Free Fire brought its U.S Premiere to South By Southwest. Anarchic Writer/Director Ben Wheatley (High-Rise, Kill List, A Field In England) and cast, Armie Hammer (The Social Network, Lone Ranger) & (the insane) Sharlto Copley (District 9, Chappie), were in attendance. And the film's promotional presence was appropriately subversive. Press had the opportunity to barbecue with Armie and paintball with Sharlto at the explosive 'Stunt Ranch' which featured plenty other daredevil diversions.
The Q&A's on either end were no less distinct. Ben will shoot a dumb question down with his deadpan shorthand, Sharlto with his charming abrasiveness, and Armie with his cool formality. The laughter provoked through the film persisted into the Q&A.
But before things got too rowdy, I was able to talk with Ben a second time (the first a discussion on High-Rise) and with Armie Hammer for the first, about their creative approach to my favorite film of the fest.
Free Fire has concept, character, and arguably something political to say… Do you go out to write something political and design the concept or vice versa?
I think all films are political one way or the other. So in writing this I was definitely reacting to my environment in some way. This movie I’ve been mulling over for many years. It began after reading transcripts from a shootout that happened in Miami between the FBI and some Bank Robbers. The reports were very specific, shot by shot, where the injuries occurred etc. It was very messy, and I hadn’t seen anything like that in a movie before.
Do you find there’s anything consistent that doesn’t translate from script to production on the day?
Do you mean do I fuck up bad in the script and realize later on? [Laughs] No not too often. I’m pretty good at not making terrible fucking mistakes and realizing later. [Laughs]
What dictated camera movement?
Well typically I approach a film like I’m the first viewer of it. I’m a witness to the action and I just roll with it. So I plan it a lot, but then on the day if I see something interesting I’ll go with that. But the action is written into the script, so that sort of dictates things. I wing it a bit the same way actors feel it on the day, but I also have a fallback position, which is a lot of planning and storyboarding.
And you’ve approached all your films this way?
Yeah, it keeps it fresh you know. If it’s too planned it becomes a bit static. You see a lot of films become formulaic in their restraint.
Are you partying down here? Having fun?
It’s one of those all work and no play situations, but all of the work is play, so it works out.
Did you do paintball with Sharlto earlier?
I was there, I didn’t actually partake in paintball. I was too busy cooking.
In pre-pro are you talking with Ben specifically about your character, or the film on a broader level?
Yeah there was a big phase in pre-production where everyone sat around a table and sort of argues about the script. Why did he say this? Should he do this? I don’t think he should say that. It’s a good way of editing, if there’s a good idea it’ll survive.
And are you the type that likes to discuss the script in length, or do you prefer not to ‘less is more’?
No. I mean, I want to talk about the script ad nauseum. I want to discuss everything. I think that that’s a very critical part of getting everyone ready for production.
What sort of environment did Ben create for the cast on Free Fire?
Really collaborative, but also, he knows the material better than anyone, so he know’s and will let you know if an idea is great or absolutely terrible.
Have you developed a preference for acting under a certain directing style?
You know that’s one of the fun things about being an actor, is learning about and adjusting to a director’s style. How he gets what he wants from actors and crew — It’s entirely subjective, there’s no right way or wrong way. There’s ways that can work, and some that don’t. But I get to interpret what a director really wants and needs, and that’s a really fun part of the project.
Is there a specific point where you (and the cast) finally click with that style?
Yeah so it’s normally after the end of the first week of shooting. You gel, you settle in, you get to know everyone on set and what you’re doing… It takes on a life of it’s own from that point.
Check out Free Fire, when it hits theaters April 21st.