Director Tom Edmunds says 'Dead In A Week' gave him a chance to explore suicide and death in a 'fun and acceptable way'
In this exclusive interview with Meaww, director Tom Edmunds breaks down the hidden jokes in 'Dead In A Week' and the filming styles employed
Last week saw the release of 'Dead In A Week (Or Your Money Back)', a film that brought a fresh perspective to the genre of black comedy. Starring Tom Wilkinson, Aneurin Barnard, Christopher Eccelstone and Freya Mavor, the film draws from the Theatre of the Absurd and tells the tale of a depressed writer who, after seven failed suicide attempts decides to "outsource his suicide" to a hitman who specializes in this sort of thing.
In Meaww's review of the film, we praised it for its close attention to detail and nuanced tone with which it handles heavy subjects like death, the will to live and the monotony of everyday life with a novel approach. In the director's seat for the film is Tom Edmunds, who both wrote as well as directed the film. 'Dead In A Week' marks his directorial debut for a feature-length film and it's a great start for the British filmmaker.
I had the opportunity to speak with Tom and during our brief chat, we discussed how the film's core idea was conceptualized. We also nitpicked at some of the cleverly hidden jokes in the film, the language of cinema Tom employs in bringing the story to life, the challenges of making dialogues seem authentic in a film whose very premise is absurd among other things. Read the full interview below:
'Dead In A Week' is your first feature-length film and the first one is always special, isn't it? Take me all the way back. When did the idea first pop up that ultimately culminated in the film?
"You're right. The first one is very personal and special. It started seven years ago actually. It's been a long process. It basically started with a short film I'd made called 'Is This A Joke?' (2012) with my two producers Daniel [Konrad Cooper] and Nick [Clark Windo]. We had a pretty good experience on the short film, which was quite complex but a lot of fun. We worked really well together and we decided that it would be great to try and do a longer form - a feature-length project.
They said to me, "If you can write something, we will produce it." I had been thinking about the assassin's character of the film. It was a very embryonic version of the character Tom Wilkinson played in the film. I was thinking of a character who wanted to kill only people that already wanted to die. He was like a friendly assassin and I had this phrase in my head - "I'm a one-man euthanasia clinic". And I thought that was kind of a funny thing and gave me the chance to explore some difficult subjects but in a fun and acceptable way.
Then I spoke to Nick and he said "Oh that's funny because I'd been thinking of a character who is suicidal but isn't brave enough to do it himself. And we figured out that these two characters could fit in the same story and were really addressing the same themes and subjects. So I smashed the two together and started to write 'Dead In A Week'.
As I mentioned in Meaww's review of the film, I loved the attention to detail in the film. Particularly in the scene where Leslie (Tom Wilkinson) goes to the office of the Guild of Assassins and receives a brochure for a conference that he's not invited to. I noticed the crest for the Guild bears the motto "Occidere est vivere" which loosely translates to "death is life". It's one of many cleverly hidden jokes in the film - like the little stick-figure cartoons on William's bedroom walls. Did you design that brochure yourself?
I actually studied classics at university. I studied Latin and Greek. I wanted [the brochure] to be authentic. Also, I support The Tottenham Hotspurs football club and their moto is "Audere est Facere" which is "to dare is to do". So I was kinda inspired by that. Leslie has a line in the film which goes: "Killing people gives me a reason to live". I thought I would take that idea into the Guild of Assassins and adopt their (Hotspurs') motto. So "occidere est vivere" means "to kill is to live".
Wow, that's a nice touch. Did you design the rest of that brochure as well?
Yes, I wrote all of the things on the brochure for the Guild of Assassins conference. The idea that Tom Wilkinson would comment not on any of the talks, but the fact that they were providing lunch. I thought that was kinda funny. That appealed to my sense of humor. A lot of the rest of the stuff was a collaboration between myself and our production designer Noam [Piper]. All of the post-it notes on William's wall were drawn by him. He and I would come up with the concepts together and he would draw them. All of Leslie's brochure when he asks William how he would like to die. Noam and I would come up with a concept and then we'd get an illustrator on board to design it. I really enjoyed doing things like that. Honestly, the great privilege of a director is to work with such fantastic experts. The fact that I get to work with a really great illustrator or production designer - this is the great honor of being a director.
I also thought I picked up on some homages through the film. Two shots particularly I felt were nods to Quentin Tarantino. One is a trunk shot with Ivan in the boot as the lead characters open the boot of the car. The other is when Leslie first meets his boss Harvey and when the conversation drifts into the career of Michael J. Fox. Often in the works of Tarantino, the characters are talking about cinema, TV shows and pop culture. And so is the case in this scene. Was that a reference or did I read too much into things?
No, not at all. Definitely! Firstly, I'm not hesitant about using those references and those influences because I feel like so many of the conversations that I have with my friends are about films and pop culture and TV shows and music. So I think it would be completely unrealistic to have characters that don't reference anything in pop culture. Whether it's a direct reference or not... That scene with the trunk shot - I guess it's a way of using the language of that genre of films - the Guy Ritchie, Quentin Tarantino gangster film kind of thing.
And then with dialog writing, there are sometimes where you write stuff that are quite "writer-ly" and you hope that you get away with it in the film. So the whole scene with Harvey was a very fun scene for me to write. I enjoyed writing that character and to have Chris Eccelstone come in and play that character was really terrific because he's someone who's attracted to good writing but he can elevate that writing. He's not at all intimidated by it. He embraces it and goes for it two-hundred percent.
I can't help but bring this up, but in the lone flashback in the film, we see William's parents literally killed by a falling piano. It's almost straight out of a children's cartoon but is much freakier to digest in live action. Why did you choose that particular gimmick?
This is a very extreme moment in the film a tricky one because tonally, it's quite different from the rest of the film. I was thinking of really stupid ways to die. And what would really scar you if you were to witness that as a child? And I talked a lot with Aneurin [Barnard] about it and he was like, "I don't really know how to do this." So I told him that you have to do it as realistically as possible as though... 'How terrible would this be to you if it actually happened to you? This would not be a joke to you. It would be the most awful experience of your life.' So it was trying to take something that anyone else in any other context would see it as funny or ridiculous but treating it with real sincerity. In order to create a mood that would make some question how absurd life is. And that's one of the big things in the film - the absurdity of life. Life is quite uncontrollable and we're desperately trying to control it all the time. But it's just not possible. We have to just laugh and get on with it.