Christopher Smith and Laura Harris Interviewed – SEVERANCE

     May 16, 2007

The last few weeks have been amazing on Collider. With the added functionality of the embedded flash player I can finally do all the things I’ve wanted to with the site. More specifically, I can now host tons of clips from upcoming movies and TV shows with ease. So what this means for you is… expect way more amazing content in the next few weeks.

But now for the reason we’re here – “Severance.”

The good folks at Magnolia Pictures have provided me with the first three minutes and I’m posting it below. So before you read an interview with the Director Christopher Smith and Laura Harris (one of the stars) you can watch the beginning and see if it’s for you. If you are into bloody movies you’ll like it.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the movie. I actually watched two movies from Magnolia in one day and they were both solid. There was this one and also “Fay Grim” – the new Hal Hartley.

So here is the footage followed by the synopsis. And just to let you know the reason the quality is not better is the original footage I was provided wasn’t as good as I would have liked. You can see what’s happening… but it’s nowhere close to a DVD or the level I like to post.


Working nine to five is a real killer, but teambuilding holidays can sometimes be even worse.A coach lurches out of the hustle and bustle of Budapest and heads towards the mountainous border. Aboard are seven employees of the international weapons manufacturer Palisade Defence, global suppliers of innovative weaponry for the past 75 war-torn years. The lucky group are being treated to a team-building weekend at the company’s newly built luxury spa lodge by their president, George Cinders.But things quickly go awry as the colleagues find themselves faced with the chop when their corporate weekend is sabotaged by a deadly enemy. Forget office politics, only the smartest will survive this bloody office outing.

As always you can listen to an MP3 of the interview by clicking here.

Question: Where did the idea originate from? How did you get involved?

Christopher Smith: The original writer, James Moran, he came up with the idea. He was traveling home from work one day on the tube and there was a bunch of stockbrokers all around him drunk on a Friday night and he got home and he was on the tube and he said, ‘I’m gonna go home and kill me some yuppies.’ That’s what he said. He literally got home and started writing and he kinda came up with this whole thing about six months later. It was his first ever script actually and he immediately got picked up for it and he kind of thought, ‘Hey! This is easy. Just write a script and then people give you loads of money for it.’ He’s now having to forget like everyone else and kind of grasp so [laughs] he had a very lucky run there and then I read the script and I just loved the fact that it was kind of playful. I knew that it was something that I could push into a kind of political vibe which is something I wanted really to have a good go at and I thought I could do something fun and I wanted to get into comedy. I went to the meeting actually for the movie. They’d come to me because they had a funny script and they said they wanted to make it twisted and scary. I sat there and I came up with the idea on the spot. I came up with the idea. I was bored in the meeting. I was listening to them talk and I started to think about this Marie Antoinette idea that I’d had and I came up with this whole scene and I told them the scene. I said ‘I just came up with this idea actually.’ I told them this and the guy looked at me and thought ‘Alright, you’ve got the job.’ It was that easy and I made the film nine months later.

You said something shocking at the beginning of your story which is that English people like to drink.

Laura Harris: {Laughs] What?!

Christopher Smith: [Laughs] Yeah, that’s what I said.

That’s alarming to me. I’ve never heard that.

Christopher Smith: Yeah, we drink a lot. She came to my wedding in the summer and everyone would start drinking at 11.

Laura Harris: I couldn’t believe it. I took a nap in the graveyard.

Christopher Smith: She had to sleep in the afternoon.We just drank all day. [to Laura Harris] Anyway, how did you get involved?

Laura Harris: [Laughs] I just read the script and loved it. I loved so many things about it, the political side, although I just got asked a lot of hard questions about capitalism and stuff and I’m like Jesus, I’m an actress. I cannot answer these questions.

Christopher Smith: Did you pull the actor’s card.

Laura Harris: No, I wish I had actually. I was just trying to think about it. But I enjoyed that discussion and also the hookers really hooked me in at the end. I keep saying that but I just loved them so much and that they lived.

Christopher Smith: Laura’s was a strange casting for us because it was kind of the first person of any person we went to for the role. I’d watched her on ‘24’ and thought she was great and really loved the whole story line. I much preferred Season 2 to 1 because of that. And I go into the office and Bill who is the assistant to the office, you know he’s got a bit of a soft spot for Laura, he was at all the conventions, he does all the… he writes to her all the time, he’s a bit of a stalker, he’s really into debt like me, and he said, ‘She’d be great’ and I said ‘I think she’d be great’ and the casting agent said ‘The first name on the list for casting was Laura Harris,’ and that was it.

Laura Harris: It was lucky.

Christopher Smith: It was one of those lucky kind of things for both of us.

This film really knows its stuff about all the horror movie clichés from the 80s. How prevalent was that genre in England?

Christopher Smith: So much. So much. Not just for my kind of morbid taste but for a whole generation of kids that grew up in the early 80s going to parties which were video parties where this was before the video nasties bill was passed. So from about 80 to 83 when I was in the first three years of secondary school, we used to have parties at our school where we’d all go around someone’s house and you’d all get into a terrible, horrendous boys and girls and we’d all watch “I Spit on Your Grave” or “Nightmares in a Cabbage Brain” and stuff like that and then I would feed my habit by watching three more with my friends on a Saturday every day. It was a whole kind of thing where you’d all get drunk on a bottle of cider and it was a birthday party. So yeah, those movies from the 70’s were huge in England in that period, those kind of 70s and early 80s movies.

Why do you think no one before this ever thought let’s try it with adults?

Christopher Smith: To put older people in the movie? I know it’s kind of… we realized that at the time. You know I said to someone the other day that these group of misfits are about as good looking a crowd as you can get out of England. That’s kind of like I remember I heard Ricky Gervais when he collected his award at the Grammy’s and you see all these oddballs all kind of stand there. You know that’s our six foot kind of healthy young guys. I knew straight away that we couldn’t play the cynical kind of … we couldn’t have everybody being super young in the movie because of what they’re supposed to do for a living. I say there not a bad looking bunch. We’ve managed to get a few lookers in there.

What made you think of Tim McInnerny? He’s the antithesis of most of his characters.

Christopher Smith: I love Tim. Why is he not in more stuff? I looked through the list. I didn’t remember his name. And then I went boom, done, that was it. He’s so good and I think Blackadder, he’s exceptional in Blackadder and I think that hopefully this will put him back into the kind of … because he was starting to do kind of more seriousy stuff and I think he’s so good when he’s got a tongue planted in his cheek. There’s no one better. And then the other characters, we tried to cast in an even way in a sense so that no actor was clearly the one who was going to make it. We wanted them all to be of a similar sort of level. The casting worked in a number of ways. I mean I think that they’re great on screen as a group. But you’ve also got the kind of… The politics that you seen on the screen amongst the characters slightly exists in real life in a way because you’ve got someone like Tim McInnerny who used to be doing Shakespeare and doing all that sort of stuff and then you have the next batch coming through which is Toby Stevens so those two have kind of got a kind of professional kind of thing amongst them which kind of fits in for their characters as well. Someone like Tim and Toby shouldn’t be with Danny Dyer ever. Now I think about it, I was going to have a line where he says, ‘I don’t even work for the company. I just put up the stands at the trade center.’ I was going to put that in because that’s what he’s supposed to do but then I thought I was being kind of judgmental in a class way. That’s kind of a classist thing because he’s come up from a poor area. He can’t have a job in a weapons company.

Laura, you must know that all of the movies have the girl who perseveres and triumphs in the end. How did you feel about taking on that sort of character?

Laura Harris: I was just glad not to be the bad person, you know, like to turn into the person…like to not be the terrorist or the alien or whatever. This seems to happen with me very commonly so it was nice to just sort of plow through and wake up still alive.

You got to be pretty kick ass there which is very different.

Laura Harris: Yeah, he [meaning Christopher Smith] let me. I don’t know, people put guns in my hands a lot but actually like physically fight was new.

Did you have to do any training, any extra training, workouts, anything like that?

Laura Harris: No, I should have but I didn’t.

This was a very physically demanding shoot.

Laura Harris: It was and I didn’t realize. Now I know for me anyway. I mean here they will maybe set up a trainer or something like that because you might have to have a certain physical …

Christopher Smith: [interrupting] It was our fault.

Laura Harris: No, I don’t mean it that way. I mean that you might have to live up to some sort of physical standard that you don’t … but there it’s just like do a good job. You know like whatever you come with you come with and I mean that as a compliment to your system. [Laughs]

Christopher Smith: Well it goes both ways. You might say just come as you are and you might get an actress who’s been eating those burgers. ‘Just get the trainer, get the trainer.’ [Laughs] ‘Someone tell her. I’m not going to tell her.’ So we were lucky. It was a lucky accident that you turned out okay.

How did you come to pick Ed Wild for your cinematographer? That was a shocker. He’s phenomenal.

Laura Harris: The mere mention of his wonderful fabulousness.

Christopher Smith: Did you like him? Oh good, oh good. Well we weirdly…what happened was we had another guy, a Polish DOP, whose wife died when we were in pre-production which was terrible so he pulled out. Then you get these guys who’ve done lots of horror and he’s kind of strange and they’re all kind of ‘I’ll do it my way, I’ll do it my way.’ I looked through some show reels and this guy did beautiful. He knows how to make people look pretty as well so I was kind of like…so I just said okay and we get him in and he walks in and he looks like a DOP. He’s kind of big and tall and handsome. He’s a rower. He used to be an Olympic rower.

Laura Harris: My heart is racing.

Christopher Smith: He comes up to Laura all day with his light meter and she’s like ‘ahhh’ you know. And I just thought, you know what, let’s just go for it because it was just an instinct that I liked his stuff and I think that he did a good job and he’s [inaudible] and he’s doing some other stuff next.

Can you talk about something that’s very important in a film like this: the kills? How close to the script was it? How much did you embellish?

Christopher Smith: Everything that was on the script was very much closely to what was on the script really. What’s on the page is what we had on the script but I kind of think little touches got added to it. I mean, for example, the leg trap scene. In the script was he gets his leg taken off by a trap and when I looked at it I thought that’s not going to take anyone’s leg off. So I just came up with a whole thing of clang, clang, clang, clang, clang and eventually it came off because I didn’t want the audience to not believe it came off. And we got one of the funniest scenes in the film because of it. And then obviously the two boulders sequences with Laura. She’s meant to kill someone. What I love is when I watch it with an audience, everyone claps, ‘Go girl! You’ve done it!’ And then she goes off and gets another big boulder and you get a second laugh and what you actually get is a third laugh because she then can’t pick it up. So that not being able to pick up the heavy one came from me watching Laura off set just seeing which boulder she could actually lift. And I went, ‘That’s f*cking awesome. What? What? What? You can’t pick one up so you pick another one up!’

So have you had to trim anything for the American release?

Christopher Smith: No, not at all, just the website, just where they cut the website. That’s all. The website didn’t get an ‘R’ rating because they said it was… it had all blood spurting off. [to Laura] Even your face has been gotten rid of all the blood on it on the website.

Laura Harris: You’re kidding?

Christopher Smith: It’s really strange because I know the internet and you can get a lot of dirty stuff on the internet. So it’s quite weird you can’t see her head coming off. [Laughs]

Laura Harris: That’s wild!

Christopher Smith: It’s really nuts, isn’t it?

You look very pristine on the film’s website.

Laura Harris: Really?

Christopher Smith: Yeah, you do.

Laura Harris: I haven’t seen it yet. [Laughs]

Christopher Smith: So no, not at all. See I didn’t see the funniest movie as violent. It’s weird because I don’t think it’s mean spirited violence. So that’s why I’m surprised when people find it really gory because I don’t really see it.

Laura Harris: I feel the same way. I’m shocked.

Christopher Smith: Yeah, I am too. ‘It’s really violent!’ ‘Is it?’

Would you describe it more as a horrific comedy or a comedic horror film?

Christopher Smith: Well I used to say that it’s right down the middle and I don’t think it is actually. The more I look at it and that’s how I intended it to be but when people hear comedy, they think of comedy and it’s not. It’s just a horror movie that’s got some really funny characters and some funny bits and I think that’s the way it’s best to say that it is. So I think that’s where it is really. It’s not right on the middle of the line. It’s very much a horror movie I think. So yeah, a horrific comedy. Someone said we should have called it ‘Scary Ha Ha.’ [Laugh] That would have just summed the whole movie up. No critic could’ve touched it. That’s it. That’s what it is. ‘Scary Ha Ha.’ [Laughs] Just throw it away.

How did you come up with the combo of Stephen Noble and Jan Sewell to do the costuming and the make-up? Jan is always exemplary.

Christopher Smith: I had Jan from before. I just came across Jan through a friend and we had her for “Creep” and I gave her much more time on this. You need more because her work is so good. And then Stephen was like Black Adder just a lucky accident and I’ll always stay with him there. I think he did a very simple but very good job of how they all look. Their clothes are never a caricature, always perfect. If you look up close, he’s got an Alsatian tie with all Alsatian dogs on it.

Continued on the next page ——–>


Can you talk about how long it took for you guys to make the movie? It looked like you were obviously on location. So how was that?

Laura Harris: Eight weeks?

Christopher Smith: Eight weeks shoot. We like to say the worst thing was bugs, mosquitoes and getting bit and there were loads of big mosquitoes.

Laura Harris: Yeah, I got insect bites.

Christopher Smith: Shall I tell the story about the ticks? Guy comes in and says, “Gotta watch for ticks. Ticks get in your hair. So when you get home, you want to watch your pubes. Wanna wash your pubes.”

Laura Harris: Or stay covered.

Christopher Smith: Or stay covered but watch your pubes because they’ll get in there.

Laura Harris: Or, if you’re not covering your pubes. Other than that, the kind of Hungarian idea of stuntmen is a lot different. They’re kind of more like the Fall Guy. Over here now and certainly in England as well, it’s more of a science. It’s all done with- – those guys just get in the truck and take off. So that big truck scene, we only had one coach. We were more worried about the stunt not working and the coach getting broke than the guy because he turned up with his motorcycle helmet on and went, “Where’s the coach?” We flew a guy in from England to work it out properly and he said, “You should do it 30 miles an hour. That will just tip the coach onto its side and be a perfect crash.” And he just went, “Nah, me go 60.” Like that, real big, just went over at 60 and took off. It was such a spectacular crash he knocked himself out cold, then his friend, another stuntman came over, pulled his crash helmet off and started slapping his face. His neck was just going like that, he sort of came to and went, “Ah ha ha. Good, right?” Then we had to dress the bodies more bloody because the crash was more than we- – we’d already shot the bits to go after so we had to go reshoot them and kind of put more blood on.

What are you each working on next?

Christopher Smith: Well, I don’t know what I can say.

Laura Harris: He loves it when I say I’m under contract with ABC. We just finished a James Patterson that might be a series into a pilot so if that doesn’t go, I’m still under contract.

Christopher Smith: I’m doing a psychological thriller, kind of a horror movie set on a ship or an ocean liner in the Caribbean. Yes! Tough racket but yeah.

On location?

Christopher Smith: On location, no doubt. I keep on having demands that you have to be able to walk the camera from the interior to the exterior with no cuts. Otherwise they’ll put you in some dirty little studio. It’s very important that we have no cuts.

What’s the story?

Christopher Smith: It’s kind of like Memento. It’s about a girl who gets trapped in a time loop. You don’t realize that things start repeating so it’s kind of like a nightmare. It works like that. I don’t want to say too much more because I’m scared that if I don’t get this thing completely finished- – we’re just finishing the finance now. We don’t have it finished, so “That’s a good idea, Bermuda Triangle movie.” It’s not a Bermuda Triangle movie but it kind of hints that there is kind of explanations for why things go missing and where people go and it plays on that. So it’s kind of a weird film. It’s kind of like Memento is what’s going to happen. It all works in reverse.

Who is it financed by?

Christopher Smith: We’re probably hoping to get an American release deal so we get the American money for the release in America in advance of the film, which loses you money if you- – the way it works is that, I didn’t know this before, but you go to festivals, it’s best to hold back your American release because then you can get a big payday for it but the other way, they pay less, we get the money for the film and they get the film released in America. So that’s hopefully what we’re going to do.

Is your pilot a half hour, an hour?

Laura Harris: It’s an hour. It’s a straight one hour drama, four women solving crimes, solving murders actually.

That’ll have guns probably.

Laura Harris: I play a DA, Angie Harmon plays a lieutenant and there’s a court reporter and a coroner.

Christopher Smith: In ’70s clothes? Is it in ’70s clothes like Cagney and Lacey? That’d be cool.

Laura Harris: It would be cool.

Is it weird to do a pilot and not know?

Laura Harris: I call it paid vacation because that’s my perspective on it. But it is weird. It kind of bides you time to not have to think about doing anything else which I use that as a privilege at the moment. Otherwise you focus on working. But you have to wait. You’ve got to wait. You can’t do anything else.

Christopher Smith: Can you do films?

Laura Harris: Well, I can. Like realistically, in the next two weeks, we’ll find out if the show goes. If it doesn’t and something massive came up, I could ask them permission to get let out of the deal.

Christopher Smith: I like the sound of that. It’s like an old Hollywood [deal].

Laura Harris: But then they can withhold payment. They pay me for a year. There’s scheduled payments.

Christopher Smith: So you’re paid to not work. It’s great.

Was it hard to be in a horror scene and switch back and do comedy?

Laura Harris: I think the way it was scheduled, I didn’t feel like we were flipping back and forth. And also, I was always just responding to the situation as it was. There was never a comedic version of Maggie and then a horror, scared version of Maggie. It was always just her responding to the circumstance. So it was easy because of that.

Christopher Smith: Yeah, like the beat in the pie scene which is kind of the most kind of funny comedy scene is that they’re all just playing it like this idiot has got a pie. That’s it. However you play it, you could do it broader but with each person, we tried to keep it sort of played straight even though it’s ludicrous as a plan. “You found a pie.”

Was there a test screening process in England?

Christopher Smith: No, we don’t have as much to lose in terms of budgets so it’s not as kind of- – it doesn’t go on like a big studio picture, on and on and on. We did some kind of off the record without our studio knowing kind of tests with friends of friends and things like that, in small screening rooms so we could get a vibe for it. And then once we did that, we then did a proper big test because obviously the studio had [release?] fears over there. Like is the airplane scene going to offend people, and all that kind of stuff. So we did a bit of that but all the things we worried about came back on top really for us. The whole situation of doing tests is only scary if you haven’t finished the sound yet and someone says, “I didn’t jump there” or “I didn’t do this or that,” you’ve got some executive that really doesn’t like that scene and you sort of say, “When I put the sound on it…” Those things are tricky if you don’t get a good sound job done before you do it. The sound is a lot.

Laura, did you go through a teen horror phase? If not is it nice to go back as a grown up?

Laura Harris: I was sort of involved. I did a movie called The Faculty with Rodriguez in a moment when those kind of movies were hot. But it was- – I guess we did like a Tommy Hilfiger campaign and it’s definitely part of that mojo. But I’m glad to come back to it now having watched the thing and having watched Invasion of the Body Snatchers and appreciating the genre which I didn’t take advantage of Rodriguez’s total passion for the genre at the time. I would hear him mentioning things but he didn’t actually say, “Here’s a movie. Sit down and watch it.” I’m so glad that I’ve done that now because the appreciation for it has just so deepened the experience of getting covered in blood every day. Not that that isn’t deep unto itself because it is and I love it, but yeah.

Do you enjoy roles that are physically demanding?

Laura Harris: For a purpose that feels good, sure, yeah, definitely.

Is it more fun?

Laura Harris: Yeah, it’s like I was saying to Chris earlier, I learned on this movie that I don’t really have a lot of- – I’m not a trained actor so I don’t feel like I’m in full control of my body physically. I’d like to be able to use it as more of a tool than I have so far. So it’s neat to have that experience and learn like where you can grow and do better. Definitely that’s part of something that I can do better at.

Did you do your own stunts?

Laura Harris: We had a stunt double but just I think for the yanking up into the thing.

Christopher Smith: All the fighting, everything like that, was all them.

Was the airplane scene the biggest effect in the movie?

Christopher Smith: Yeah, well, we spent a lot of money on little things, clean up jobs. Sometimes when you’re shooting at a bit of a faster speed, we have a little of that. But yeah, in terms of- – it was weird how just getting that right was weird. We’ll just hope nothing bad happens now. It’s not like I’ve given anyone the idea. The idea’s out there. I got the idea from the idea being out there so I guess we just wanted that little scene that just went outrageous. We had this missile in the scene, originally he fired it and it was going to come back and blow the house up and I’ve seen that before. So I just went, okay, what’s the most outrageous thing we can do with this missile? What if it just took out a passenger jet? And it made me laugh. I sneaked it into the script and waited for the notes to come back and looked at the notes and they weren’t on there. Or no one would notice.

Talk about doing the CGI?

Christopher Smith: No, we got a 747 to fly… What we did is we filmed the plane and put it in. All we did on the day was the guy went [imitated the kickback] and we just turned the camera on and fired up in to the air. It’s so broad that scene really.

Are notes in England just as bad as in America?

Christopher Smith: Yeah, the only problem you get, the problem is imagine you guys are the execs. Everyone’s got to feel like they’ve done they’re little work. That’s the problem so everyone’s got to give their notes. They’ve all got to do their own notes. So you’re not just going to go, “You know what? I thought the whole thing was great.” If that’s you’re note, you might feel “Well maybe it wasn’t” so you pick on the thing you thought was least great. I think what happens is, if you just stare, I think people will have to say something. So some of the notes were terrible. You’d get one note, “Should we cut out the foot in the fridge thing?” Seriously because they think it might be just too funny after the tension starts. I go, “Ignore that.” Just obviously. Then you find that you’ve ignored so many of the notes that you get the note saying, “Chris, stop ignoring our notes. We’re not doing this for fun. At least try our notes.” So I said, “Well, I’m not going to try taking the foot out because I’m never going to take it out.” What happens is if you get a good note next to a load of ridiculous notes, you miss the good notes. So what they should do, which I’m doing on the film I’m just writing, they have to have someone edit their notes. So I’ve requested to have an editor of their notes so they’ll go, “I think your note’s good and your note’s not as good.” And then they just put the ones that they all agree with as a good note. So that’s what we’re trying.

Latest News