By Leo Collis.
Russell Owen has worked in film and television for almost a decade. Through this time, he has done countless jobs and worked on numerous projects with a whole range of directors. Taking all that he’s learnt over the years, Owen has ventured into the world of directing with his first full-length production, Welcome to the Majority.
Leo Collis: Russell, tell me about Welcome to the Majority.
Russell Owen: I developed the story from a short I’d written several years earlier. The script needed developing and I liked the concept and environment more than anything. So I went on to develop that, which then turned into a feature-length script! It follows nine missing people trapped in purgatory with only one way out — to face their demons.
The initial script was set in a post-apocalyptic world, but I found that environment wasn’t a challenge enough for the characters. So after a heavy re-write in pre-production, I changed it to purgatory which opened up a whole new level of ideas.
LC: How daunting was it to complete the project, considering that it is your first full-length picture as a writer and director?
RO: I have worked on many films and television shows ranging from big budget feature projects to no-to-low budget shorts. I’ve been a storyboard artist for many of them, which taught me a lot about staging, lighting, and — crucially — directing and visual storytelling. I’d also studied screenwriting as I love storytelling. I set out writing my first scripts about six years ago which led to my first short (Anglesey Road) which was daunting. I made it as a segment of a big budget feature, shot on 35mm in a sound stage with several set builds, and a big location shoot in London which used quite a few VFX. That covered most of the ground I had a lack of experience in.
When it came to shooting Welcome… I was competent enough to know what I was doing budget wise. I’d storyboarded and designed everything months in advance, so the shoot and the process became fairly straightforward, which gave me more time to concentrate on working with the actors. The crew was tight, though, so on some of the location shoots and pick ups, there were very few of us. I doubled as driver, runner, cook, art director… you name it! But it was very good fun. The most important thing was to cover all the bases and get the film in the can. It was a huge amount of work but I was very lucky to have a very driven and enthusiastic team.
In the film, purgatory is not what you’d probably expect. It is not a blank canvas, rather dark greys and blues give the landscape an eerie, post-apocalyptic feel — but the scenery is truly stunning, creating the impression that this is not the end of the world, rather the beginning of a new one.
LC: How and why did you choose the shooting locations?
RO: I wanted to open the scope of the film; originally I was going to shoot it in derelict industrial estates using VFX and spending a lot of time building that world. But when the script changed I needed a more haunting, bare and darkly beautiful backdrop with few human influences in it. We shot in Snowdonia National Park in North Wales which is an incredibly beautiful part of the world.
LC: Some of the content in Welcome… has some religious basis. Although the film isn’t openly supportive or critical of religion, have you heard of any misunderstanding over its content?
RO: I don’t see WTTM as critical of religion, but more of the characters within it. It doesn’t focus on any particular religion, even though the finale takes place in a Christian Anglican church. The film’s focus is on a much broader idea, that of purgatory. It never ventures fully into the afterlife, rather it’s the perfect environment to challenge these individuals and push their character and inner strength to the limits. We see at the end who has passed and who has failed, but who is to say where they all go from there? Rather than being critical of religion it’s critical of each character’s faith, which is why they’re trapped in this world, to force them to change, face their fears and come out the other end where ever that may be.
I’ve not yet had much criticism of the religious side but it’s only just hitting the screens so we’ll see what the coming months bring! But certainly it’s there to open the debate so I’d welcome criticism of the ideas the film portrays.
For more information on Welcome to the Majority visit www.castlevalleyfilms.com. The film is currently in negotiations for release, but the next screening will be at The Cinema Museum, London and will be followed by a Q&A with Russell. Keep checking the Upcoming Events section on www.cinemamuseum.org.uk for dates and times.
Leo Collis is a Film, Media and Journalism graduate from The University of Stirling. Now an aspiring film writer, Leo is looking for projects that will challenge him and further increase his love of film.
Read Leo Collis’ review of Welcome to the Majority here.