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Q&A: Director Ryan Haysom and DP talk neo-giallo short “YELLOW”

by: Samuel Zimmerman on: 2013-01-11 13:25:37

Undeniably stylish—hypnotic even— Ryan Haysom’s neo-giallo short YELLOW is currently garnering strong praise across the globe as it slides
through festivals, finding a sweet spot between reverence to its cinematic idols and modern construction. The director and cinematographer Jon Britt spoke with Fango about the film and their own spin on the hunt for a black-gloved killer.

FANGORIA: In making something like YELLOW, was there a story
you decided to work out in a giallo-esque manner, or was your first thought to
make something with that aesthetic?

RYAN HAYSOM: I’m a massive horror fan and I grew up watching
a lot of Italian horro; Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento are big heroes of mine.
When I was fifteen I saw SUSPIRIA on TV, and it really captured my imagination
as a young filmmaker, and since then I’d always dreamt about making a giallo-styled
film. It wasn’t until I started collaborating with my cinematographer Jon Britt
(right with Haysom and producer Catherine Morawitz below), after I’d moved to
Berlin from London, that I felt it was a possibility.

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We both have a very strong Euro art house sensibility, so we
complement each other very well. When we started talking about making a film
together, a giallo just made sense and the ideas we were discussing were very
exciting. I always liked the idea of normal characters thrown into
extraordinary circumstances and that is a usual plot point in Italian horror,
so when we cast Stephen M Gilbert, things really started to take shape. The
main focus was to make a giallo in our own style, and to not try and make
something that’s pretending it’s from a bygone era.

JON BRITT: The initial idea came from the love we had for
the aesthetics of giallo films, but it was a combination of both. We wanted to
make a film that was very visually striking and atmosphere-based, and for this
to be the primary way we told the story; to have a sparse plot and dialogue but
include a lot of the classic giallo markers.

FANG: Obviously, many genre fans speak the language of
Italian horror, but how do you find the line between nods and homage, and it
getting in the way of the story you’re telling?

HAYSOM: We financed our budget through a crowd funding
website, so there was some pressure to deliver classic scenes for the the
Italian horror fans who supported us. We tried to come up with some stylish
death scenes that would please them, but overall we made a point of not
watching a lot of the old films. We were really focused on trying to create a
fresh take. A lot of our influences for the film also came from outside of the
genre. David Lynch, Francis Bacon, and Michael Mann were strong inspirations,
but the backbone of the film were the things I love about the genre—the cut
throat razors, black leather gloves, and stylized violence. I also really love
the Italian actresses who appeared in the films. They were these beautiful,
iconic women who oozed sex appeal. We were very lucky to cast Hester Arden, an
incredibly talented actress from the U.K. She really embodied what I think a
classic Italian horror actress is.

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BRITT: Personally, because I was not as much of a giallo
geek, I was coming to it from an outsider’s view. I’d only really seen a few
key gialli prior to shooting, so a lot of the visual elements were influenced
by our own ideas and other films like LOVE IS THE DEVIL, MANHUNTER and FEAR X. We
were still really aware that it was a fine balance, knowing if and when enough
was enough, especially with it being a crowd-funded project.  We knew there was a real desire to see the
classic stuff in there.

FANG: YELLOW is bold with its use of color. Can you break
down your choices a little, and the mood each represents?

HAYSOM: One of first things people think when it comes to giallo
is very stylised lighting—and this is something that we really wanted to utilize—but
as stylized as it can be, we wanted YELLOW to feel like there was a touch of
reality in there. We didn’t want to go over the top like INFERNO, with
artificial lighting everywhere. It was a fine balancing act of creating an
atmosphere that felt slightly unreal, but also kept one foot firmly in reality
so we feel a connection to the main character and the lonely world he inhabits.

BRITT: This was one of the visual elements we wanted to emphasize.
It wasn’t so much that the colors represented something with a specific meaning
but about trying to create a mood that just felt right. It should set the main
character’s view of the world and the viewer’s way into it. It seemed right to
really try and keep the darkness and neon feeling of a city; the thing you find
in a lot of slick Michael Mann films. Again, it was trying to judge when we had
the right balance, and when combinations of colors worked together. But because
we both love surreal films, and especially AMER as an example of a modern
sensation-based giallo film, this was another approach we really wanted to try
and use too. This language feels immediate but at the same time has mystery in
its images.

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FANG: Is YELLOW standalone? If so, what’s next?

HAYSOM: Jon and myself are currently working on our first
feature film, which is a mix of European art house cinema and classic
Hitchcockian Hollywood. We are moving away from another giallo for now, but it
will incorporate the mood and style of YELLOW in a character study. Antoni
Maiovvi, who created the fantastic original soundtrack for YELLOW has already
started creating music for us and it’s very exciting to see it all coming
together.  For the moment, YELLOW is a
standalone piece, but one day I would love to revisit what we created with a
bigger budget and bring a giallo feature to the big screen.

BRITT: As Ryan said, I think it’s a one-off, at least as
such a direct giallo-inspired film. With YELLOW we started working on mood and
image ideas that we want to continue developing, taking you deep into a mystery
involving another curious character.

YELLOW continues its festival run throughout 2013, with the
UK, Germany and Brazil up next at the following dates. For more on the film,
visit its official site.

January 19 Horror-on-Sea Festival – East Sussex, UK

March 13-18 Landshuter Kurz Film Festival – Landshut, Ger

May 4-20 Fantaspoa International Fantastic Film Fest – Porto
Alegre, Brazil

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