An Interview with Ian Brooker by Dave Wain
Word is slowly spreading about the excellent British horror film The Casebook of Eddie Brewer. I reviewed it on UKHorrorScene [here] this week and marvelled at its subtle, atmospheric tone complete with plausible narrative and intriguing setting. A primary reason for the success of the picture is the performance of Ian Brooker who plays the aforementioned Eddie Brewer. Ian was kind enough to give an interview this week to discuss the film’s production and what he thinks are the reasons for the films widespread acclaim.
UKHS – Ian, thanks so much for taking the time out of your schedule for this interview. Having just seen The Casebook of Eddie Brewer, it’s a film that really impressed me. You must be very satisfied with it yourself?
IB – I am very satisfied with the way it turned out. However we knew that this was a special project from the beginning. We were fortunate to have a very good script (by Andy Spencer) that impressed everyone concerned with the film. It was well researched, intelligent, well structured with interesting, believable characters in believable situations and had very good dialogue; then there was the talented cast of predominantly Midlands-based actors (Peter Wight is London-based) who were assembled by Casting Director, Sean Connolly; then there was the brilliantly creative camera work, lighting and editing of Director, Andy Spencer, and finally the excellent sound-design and score by composer, Jamie Robertson. It was a collaborative effort and the film works thanks to the time, effort and commitment to the project of all the above.
UKHS – Shot in the winter of 2010-11, it certainly seems like an arduous shoot. How do you feel the conditions at Rookery House influenced your performance?
IB – At Rookery House we didn’t have to create an atmosphere of disquiet and discomfort. It was already there. The cellar was particularly unpleasant: damp, mouldy and airless. The three storied house was large and mostly empty. You certainly didn’t want to find yourself alone in the cellar or in a room on the ground or first floors particularly as the light began to fade in the late afternoons. It was bitterly cold too. There was no central heating and just a couple of freestanding modern radiators in the downstairs modern kitchen which doubled as a green room for the actors. As a result, during filming, hands were red and blue and breath was always visible on camera. Very few of the rooms in the house still had working light bulbs and so by the early evening most of the house was dark. All this contributed to the perfect atmosphere for a ghost story and didn’t require a suspension of disbelief by the cast.
We also had a couple of possible paranormal experiences when we were filming. Actress Louise Paris, who played the sceptic, Dr Susan Kovac, and I were filming the first take of a scene in the upstairs kitchen. We heard heavy footsteps ascending the main staircase from below. It ruined the take as it was captured by the microphone. We stopped filming and Louise and I volunteered to find the culprit and tell him to stop. We went into all the rooms on that floor and found no one. We returned downstairs to the modern kitchen where the rest of the cast were keeping warm – and found that no one had left the room. Later Louise went to the toilet upstairs and -in a scene reminiscent of one in the film – heard someone come into the toilet with heavy breathing. She was so disturbed by the experience she screamed. I was in the downstairs kitchen on this occasion when she came in. She thought that one of us had tried to wind her up. But once again no one in the cast or crew had left the room. Rookery House was a perfect location and inspired us to do real justice to the script.
UKHS – You’ve spoken about your preparation for the character of Eddie, be it with the script or the change of accent or the change in physical appearance. Andrew (writer/director) seemed to have a very specific vision in mind for him – how easy was this to embrace and develop?
IB – Andy developed his ideas for the film and the character of Eddie Brewer over a ten year period. I only came in a month or so before filming began. Fortunately, I had met Andy in the 1990s and so he knew me slightly and was aware of my genuine interest in the subject of the paranormal. I had been a non-active member of the Society for Psychical Research at that time and had read about various case histories such as the Enfield Poltergeist. I had long been fascinated by real and dramatised ghost stories. I had also wanted to be a paranormal investigator. So when I first read the script I understood what was going on with the different manifestations, the various theories referred to in the script and recognised that the character of Eddie was based upon Maurice Grosse, the main investigator in the Enfield case. If there was any doubt in my mind as to what Andy wanted I would ask for his advice and usually found that my instincts had been right. When I felt that there was a lack of clarity in the script I suggested amendments to the script – sometimes extra lines – that would enable the audience to follow more easily what was going on or what was being said. Andy was very open to my suggestions and script revisions. As an actor/director relationship it was very harmonious and like-minded.
I also appreciated that for a scene of revelation of horror to work for Eddie it was best to underplay it or to internalise it – to make it as real as possible. I worked hard in advance of the shoot to get the mechanics of the performance right so that when I came to film the scenes I didn’t really have to think about what I was doing. I think that allowed it to seem natural.
UKHS – My favourite quote by Eddie is the brilliant “I’ve never heard anyone under forty say anything remotely interesting”. He’s a real traditionalist who resolutely sticks to his principles – a character very much in contrast to the ubiquitous conveyor belt of screaming teenagers that populate contemporary horror films. How did you think Eddie Brewer will be received by audiences today?
IB – I think Eddie Brewer is a fascinating, complex character. There is lightness and humour in the early scenes and ever increasing darkness thereafter. I think through his vulnerability, humour, honesty and integrity, he’s rather appealing to a general audience. Admittedly he has a temper and is often moody but that goes for most of us. There’s no doubt that as a personality he is flawed, but who isn’t flawed? He is a bit of a curmudgeon, but a likeable one. Eddie reacts to the way he is treated by others. I think he appeals to the rebel – the outsider – in all of us – young and old.
The film works on several levels: as a ghost story, character study and as a psychological drama. Even those who don’t particularly like the genre appreciate the film as it offers so much more than the usual run-of-the-mill horror films. They like Eddie as a character.
UKHS – It’s been interesting reading reviews for the film where critics have namechecked such iconic British horrors as The Innocents (1961) and The Stone Tape (1972). I myself related the picture to similar fare such as Dead of Night (1972) and Saxon Logan’s Sleepwalker (1984) with the films ability to create horror from a seemingly ordinary situation. These comparisons relate the film to a different era of filmmaking – do you think this ultimately will make The Casebook of Eddie Brewer a film that will be etched in to the landscape of British horror for years to come?
IB – The biggest fans of the film tend to be those who like a literary basis to their horror as with the tradition of the English ghost story (M.R. James and his successors) or the original television plays (and adaptations) by Nigel Kneale. These traditions are by nature “old fashioned”, but, in my book, the best adaptations of ghost stories for TV, film and radio, and original plays on a supernatural subject were written and produced between twenty to forty years ago. Today in modern horror films I think there is a tendency to show and tell far too much. Nothing is left to the imagination. And the plots invariably do not make a lot of sense and the explanations offered for the paranormal manifestations are often risible. The Casebook of Eddie Brewer, by contrast, does not spoon-feed its audience. If anything, it puts the viewer in the position of a paranormal investigator who is presented with an array of unexplained data. As with Eddie Brewer, it’s up to the viewer to interpret that data and come to their own conclusions as to its meaning.
I hope the film will find its way into “the landscape of British horror” and that it will eventually achieve a cult following. Many people who have seen it say that it’s a film that stays with you long after you’ve seen it. In my opinion it’s a film that repays several viewings as there are several things going on in the plot that are perhaps not evident on first viewing. It’s a complex film that brings the viewer as close as is possible to the reality of a paranormal investigation. It’s a film about the values of belief, truth, decency, respect – admittedly old fashioned but sound values – in a modern world that places greater value upon the glib and shallow opinions of glitzy television charlatans and dishonest ratings-hungry production companies. There are no easy answers when it comes to the paranormal. At the end of the day, it’s a field that is highly subjective. There is no objective truth in this subject. The paranormal is ultimately unknowable. Eddie Brewer understands that fact, but he comes closer than anyone else to understanding that truth.
I hope word of mouth will enhance the reputation of this film.
UKHS – You’ve chosen self-distribution for the film – or have you? Was this the only means of UK distribution on the table or was it a conscious decision to try this avenue? How is it working out?
IB – We chose self-distribution in the UK. Doing it yourself gives you total control of the product – the artwork for the DVD and bluray covers, menus, discs and the theatrical poster and the content and direction of the marketing campaign. It is hard work – particularly when your main job is as an actor. But when you believe in something – as we believe in this film – it’s worth sticking with it. The film has been available for streaming with the HorrorShow TV since last September. Otherwise, the film is available to buy in the UK on DVD and Bluray through Amazon.co.uk. Both the DVD and bluray packages come with special booklets full of background information on the film and the production including interviews with the key personnel. So far sales have been very good. Later this year the film will be released on DVD and digital media in the USA. For the American campaign a distributor based in Baltimore will be responsible for the promotion of the film.
UKHS – It’s almost four years now since you got the role of Eddie Brewer – it must seem strange when so many projects come and go that you’re still talking about this film and introducing it to people who have not yet seen it?
IB – The Casebook of Eddie Brewer has always been a special project for us. As co-producers, Sean Connolly and I have put a lot of our time and effort into marketing the film and we are delighted with the success that has been achieved. It’s been an Official Selection at seventeen film festivals (ten in the USA) and has won six awards. I don’t know of many low-budget films that have enjoyed the success of our film. But there’s still a lot more work to do. We are always on the lookout for new ways to promote the film.
UKHS – As for yourself Ian, what’s next on the agenda? We saw you playing Harold Shipman in a docu-drama recently – what can we look forward to you working on?
I have a number of projects on the go. I have still to complete my scenes as a priest for a Sci-fi feature film: Kaleidoscope Man. That will probably be in mid September. I have also recently recorded six one hour audio dramas of Pathfinder Legends: Rise of the Runelords for Big Finish in which I play the dwarf ranger, Harsk. We are looking forward to recording the second series. I also have an ongoing part in the new BBC Radio 4 drama series about WW1, called Home Front, which starts this month. I play the captain of a steam trawler in Folkestone in 1914. However, regarding the paranormal, I am now working on another film. I have been developing the story for a feature, working title Familia, with the horror writer, Simon Kurt Unsworth, who is writing the script. It’s quite different from The Casebook of Eddie Brewer. It will be much darker and very disturbing. It’s still early days but Simon and I are confident that we have an excellent and unusual story that will definitely appeal to horror fans. Watch this space……
My thanks to Ian for taking the time out of his busy schedule to chat to me, and I urge you to visit Amazon to pick up a copy of this fantastic film. In a genre over-populated by an endless supply of ‘six teenagers in the middle of nowhere’ styled films, this film gives us something different and we should stand an applaud the tenacity of Ian, Andrew and the relevant people associated with this film to buck the trend.
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