Writer/director Tom Edmunds makes his feature film debut this week with the release of black comedy Dead in a Week (Or Your Money Back).
The film is picking up strong reviews ahead of its release (read my 4 star review). It features an all-star cast that includes Tom Wilkinson and Christopher Eccleston and tackles some pretty taboo subject matter.
I caught up with Tom to talk about the film, find out the inspiration for the story, and discuss the challenges of bringing it to life.
What was the initial inspiration behind Dead in a Week (Or Your Money Back)?
I’d just made a short film ‘Is This a Joke?’ with my producers Dan and Nick, and it had gone pretty well and we all wanted to work together again but this time on something longer form. They said that if I wrote something they would produce it. So I started playing with an idea about an assassin who was also a really nice guy – he was killing people but he was actually doing them a favour. I got a phrase stuck in my head – “I’m a one-man euthanasia clinic.”
What idea came first – the over-the-hill assassin or the suicide outsourcing concept?
That was serendipity. I was talking with my producer Nick about my idea for the assassin character and he said ‘oh that’s funny because I’ve been thinking about someone who is suicidal but isn’t brave enough to do himself so he needs someone else to do it for him.’ We realised that these two things were looking at the same themes from different angles and could work in the same story.
The film combines the more absurd aspects with some wonderful domestic scenes, especially in Leslie’s home life – where did the inspiration come from to mix in these elements to the main narrative?
I had read a news article about how one of the FBI’s most wanted men was finally discovered after being on the run for 20 years living in Pinner, a leafy suburb of London. It was so incongruous and I thought that was really funny. That was the key to unlock the character of Leslie, played by Tom Wilkinson. I liked the idea of someone with such an extraordinary profession having a very ordinary home life. Someone who could be so cold and unsentimental professionally, having this warm and sentimental private life. Also I’m a huge fan of the film Fargo (and the Coen Brothers in general), and I just love the relationship between Marge and Norm in that film. It provides real heart and a counterpoint to the violence.
The film makes light of a taboo subject, but in a way that isn’t offensive – were there any jokes or gags that didn’t make the cut on grounds of being too risqué or too insensitive?
Hopefully we got the balance of that right. I wanted to make a film that was funny and entertaining but was ultimately about something. I think we have a very uneasy relationship with death and suicide particularly is a very taboo subject, but it really shouldn’t be. It’s the biggest killer of men under 40. We have to start talking about that if we want that statistic to change. I think comedy is a fantastic way of breaking the taboo. Nothing should be off limits, its just about finding the right way of looking at something. Comedy is a matter of perspective.
HOWEVER, there was one joke in the film that we shot but ended up cutting on the grounds of good taste. It was when William tells the story of his parents’ death and his dad originally did say some last words (which were wildly inappropriate but based on a friend of mine’s actual experience) but we tested it with an audience and they totally rejected it. It just wasn’t what they wanted in that moment. I actually think that it’s credit to the way Aneurin plays that scene, that the audience were really going with him and didn’t want to be jolted out of it by an inappropriate gag.
The performances are excellent throughout, particularly the scenes with Christopher Eccleston as Harvey – was there a lot of improvisation on set or was a lot of the humour already in the script?
There was no improvisation – at least not intentionally! I wasn’t completely tyrannical about every line being word-for-word but I was politely insistent! If you ask actors I’m sure they’ll tell you that if a line is well-written then it’s easy to remember and easy to deliver. I spent a LONG time on this script, there were a few things that developed on set and obviously in the edit but I think the script was pretty robust by the time we went to camera. What you’re looking for then is actors who can do something with that dialogue and bring something extra to it. That’s what we had with all the actors but particularly with Christopher. Those scenes were written deliberately for someone to come in for a short time and totally tear it up. That is exactly what he did. He was fantastic on set and is magnificent in the film.
What for you was the highlight of the film?
There are many but two particularly stand out.
One was when we shot the scene towards the end of the film when Chris’ character Harvey comes to Leslie’s house. I’m pretty honest and generally critical of my own writing but that is a scene I am incredibly proud of. That scene was everything I wanted the film to be. And then I’ve got three truly great actors – Tom Wilkinson, Christopher Eccleston and the wonderful Marion Bailey – to play it and say these words I’d written. I remember watching the camera rehearsal, nearly in tears – I just couldn’t believe how far we’d come and this scene I’d been so excited about was finally coming to life in front of me, even better than I’d imagined because of these fabulous actors.
The second was actually my birthday and our last day of filming. We shot the opening sequence of the film, where William jumps off Chelsea Bridge. We’re a pretty low budget, very independent film, and closing London bridges is not normally something a production of our size even tries to do. All the way through pre-production and the shoot I was waiting to be told that the bridge wasn’t happening and I’d have to re-write the scene, but it got closer and closer and no one said anything. Then I was on the way to another location and I saw the advance warning notice of closure on the bridge and my producer Dan told me that was for us. I couldn’t believe it. We shut Chelsea bridge and put a techno-crane on it! For one night only we were a proper big budget film! It was the best birthday present I could’ve got. And it rained! I wanted rain for the scene but we couldn’t afford rain towers but luckily nature provided!
Was there anything that was particularly challenging in making the film?
In fact there was nothing particularly challenging about making the film. There are challenges of course and you have tough days but you’re making a film! It’s exciting!
What is more challenging is all the time you’re NOT making the film. All the time you spend putting the film together (casting, financing etc) when you constantly fear it’s not going to happen.
Then releasing the film has been difficult. Independent film is having a tough time at the moment, particularly in the UK where audiences are not going to cinemas in the same way they used to. People who love indie films have to keep going to cinema otherwise soon it’ll only be the big studio movies available, and that will be such a shame. I’m so excited that Dead in a Week is being released into cinemas and that people will be able to enjoy it together. To witness a room full of people all laughing at a joke I wrote whilst sitting at home on my own is just the most wonderful thing to experience. It’s truly humbling.
Dead in a Week (Or Your Money Back) is released in cinemas on Friday 16th November 2018. Watch the trailer below: