INTERVIEW: Director Harry Lindley on Techno-Thriller ‘CTRL’

CTRL will be playing at Frightfest London 2018.

The screening will take place on Saturday 25th August at 2:15pm at The Prince Charles Cinema.

Tickets are available here!

The first feature length film from writer and director Harry Lindley, CTRL will be having its world premiere at this year’s Frightfest. The film centres on a reclusive programmer’s attempts to create an intelligent computer virus. As the virus evolves, we follow his sister and her boyfriend as helpless onlookers. The possibilities of artificial life are explored further as the brother and sister rediscover a disturbing familiarity.

We caught up with Harry to talk about the project.

Naomi: With CTRL being your first feature film, were there any challenges moving from shorter pieces to feature length?

Harry: Come the shoot, it felt much the same – like making one short film after the next – week in, week out. The key difference was maintaining the tension and escalating the drama over a sustained period of time. This started with the writing, and myself and collaborator Julian Mack [who co-wrote and produced] spent a long time structuring the story. There’s a lot of secrecy, with everyone having their own reasons for keeping their cards close to their chest and their emotions in check, and while the audience is initially several steps behind, by the end we are more informed than characters.

Naomi: The evolution of artificial intelligence is explored increasingly often in sci-fi and horror. What drew you to the concept as a filmmaker?

Harry: The seed was Kevin Kelly‘s Out of Control. In his book, technology and biology collide to create a world where machines birth machines while humans cheer optimistically from the sidelines. We felt stripping away the anthropomorphic qualities from the AI was an interesting angle, and perhaps a more plausible one – it doesn’t take a human form, or even have a discernible personality. Something that’s fiercely intelligent, but completely unapproachable from a human perspective, is perhaps more alien than a computer you can converse with.

Naomi: You’ve mentioned that Out of Control was a key inspiration for the film. What was your experience adapting the material of a scientific non-fiction book into a narrative film?

Harry: In one chapter, Kelly outlines the ‘Nine Laws of God’ – a manifesto on creating something from nothing. I imagined a character – a programmer – who took these laws both as Commandments and a call to arms. We abstracted the laws and condensed them down to five. As a result, some of the original meaning is lost, but hopefully this says something about the illusions of grandeur of Leo, a programmer who builds this romanticised abstraction of intelligence in his own image.

Naomi: You’re known for creative camerawork and visual trickery. Can you point to any influences on your visual style?

Harry: Gaspar Noé‘s approach is fascinating – his camera is like a restless spirit that can pass forward and backward through time; it gets distracted by lights and winds up hovering on the ceiling. It’s an unsettling way of seeing. David Fincher uses VFX less for spectacle, and more to achieve a precise, often invisible effect. He knows how to use it to elevate the emotional impact of even the smallest moments. Both their approaches are inspiring.

Naomi: CTRL is set in one apartment and uses a very small cast. What influenced your decision to shoot the film on such a small scale?

Harry: Necessity basically. The original script was much more ambitious. It was more like Dr. Strangelove, with a situation room and an ensemble cast, although instead of nuclear weapons the danger was a runaway intelligence explosion. When we decided we’d like to shoot the script ourselves, we focused on a single story-line, the Dr. Frankenstein programmer who gives his monster life.

Naomi: The relationships between the three main characters Lex (Saabeah Theos), Leo (Julian Mack, who also co-wrote produced the film) and Dru (Hainsley Lloyd Bennett) are very intense. As someone who worked closely with the actors, can you provide any insight into how they prepared for their roles?

Harry: Julian had a good insight into all three of the characters. I know he likes to examine the script analytically, going over and over the scenes and making notes. He found a lot of humour between the lines, which was important in making this punchable character more sympathetic. Saabeah is an instinctive actor who breathed a lot of warmth into the film as a whole. She was able to offer a lot of range from take to take, which made editing her scenes a joy as there was plenty there to shape. Hainsley is a true professional and after having many discussions about his character in the run up to the shoot, I was happy to let him do his thing. We were shooting in the same house for five weeks, which built a good level of trust between us all.

Naomi: The trailer shows off some body horror and impressive effects. Were there any sequences that were particularly challenging or noteworthy to shoot?

Harry: I was really looking forward to shooting the slot car sequence, but it turned out to be a massive headache. A key scene has them perform a long circuit of the house in one take with some hidden edits. We’d bought the Scalextric track second hand so it was fairly unreliable. We also had it doing things it’s not designed for, like going up and down steps. On top of that, we had to shoot out of sequence, which led to continuity disasters. Long after principle shooting finished, myself and Julian were working into the night doing 60+ takes trying to get the red car to overtake the white car at just the right moment so that it would fit with the rest of the sequence. Never work with animals, children or slot cars.

Naomi: Lastly, do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to tell us about?

Harry: I’m working on some music videos, while finding time to write a second feature. It’s a sci-fi/horror adaptation of Romeo and Juliet set in South London – but that’s about as far as I’ve got at the moment!

We’d like to say a huge thank you to Harry Lindley for speaking with us! You can keep up to date on his website and with the film on Twitter. Check out the trailer for CTRL below.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.