Luke Massey is an English writer/director who is starting to make waves in the film industry with his first feature film named “Armistice” (previously titled Warhouse) which stars actors Joseph Morgan and Matt Ryan. Luke is working on more upcoming feature films, so I think it’s time that we learn more about Luke in the interview below…
Wendy: Let’s talk about you first. =) Where are you from, where did you grow up, and what influenced you to be interested in the film industry?
Luke: I’m from Stratford–upon–Avon (the home of Shakespeare), which is where I grew up. When we were kids I wanted to be actor, whereas my brother was more into directing. We used to make short films and just mess around with stuff. I think my brother became progressively less interested and eventually, I started doing all of the camera and editing stuff in his stead. The transition was smooth and I eventually forgot all about acting, although I would still give it a go as a wee cameo or some other role in a mate’s film or something (cough, cough, hint, hint).
My brother is probably my biggest influence. We used to get 3 VHS tapes for a tenner from a shop in town most weeks, and as my brother was a bit older and looked near enough to eighteen, he would come home with films like Mean Streets, Reservoir Dogs and El Mariatchi. He’d buy the soundtracks, the making- of books, and film scripts; eventually, I’d start reading them too. My brother introduced me to a world of cinema I’d never seen before. At the time, I was more into Kevin Smith’s films, such as Clerks, or horrors, like Evil Dead. So I’d say my biggest influence, or what got me going on the long road to Armistice, was my brother, especially when he handed down Rodriguez’s Rebel With Out A Crew book. That blew my mind. My brother, Tom Morrison, is now working in politics.
Wendy: What experience did you have with film or television before Armistice? Did you go to film school, do student films, short films, etc?
Luke: I didn’t do the film school route, mainly because it’s very expensive in England and that wasn’t really an option for me. I didn’t have qualifications to go to a college or university either. I managed to get a night job in a small editing house doing all the work no one else wanted to do, but it paid well, and as a sixteen year old, having money was a new thing for me. After a while, I left to work on sets, mainly with a camera crew and for little or no money. I eventually got a job as a camera trainee with the BBC. After that, I worked for a bigger editing house/production company as a camera operator and editor. There was a good vibe there; they encouraged me to use the facilities and equipment on personal projects to advance my learning. After that, I moved back to my home town of Stratford-upon-Avon and, after a few years, started Armistice. In between that time, I shot, DoP’d, edited, directed, and produced dozen’s of short films, music videos, documentaries, etc.. Among those films I worked on is With These Hands, which was directed by Matt Ryan and Joseph Morgan, who would go on to star in Armistice, of which I was the cinematographer and one of several executive producers.
Wendy: What did you learn about while working with the BBC and the Royal Shakespeare Company?
Luke: I learnt how to be professional at the BBC. I went in as a cocky kid and got kicked into shape; it was good for me. In that time, I also worked under an amazing cinematographer and a brilliant camera operator. We all became very close and they really went out the way to show me the ropes and impart to me a portion of their extensive knowledge.
The R.S.C was different. I worked on several shorts as an outsider. Basically, each year they gave several groups of actors a bit of cash to make a five minute film. When I was about sixteen or seventeen years of age, I got involved and helped to film them so that they could concentrate on the less technical aspects. I did the lighting and camera. I learnt a lot just working on these one week shoots and got a great deal of hands on experience. They had really cool bits of equipment that I had never seen before. Only a short while prior, I had still been working on my little VHS camera.
Wendy: Where did you learn your writing skills? Was it through school or other outlets?
Luke: I loved writing when I was younger and really got into Shakespeare, but strangely, none of that transferred to school. I’m pretty bad dyslexia, so I struggled, but after a while it just became normal and you get on with it. School was a bit of a disaster for me, as I was always thinking about films, filming, or telling people what kind of films I was going to make. I remember one kid in our class had recently watched A Long Kiss Goodnight. I was desperate to see it, but it was always out at the video store, so I got him to re-tell the film for me from the first second to the last. I just wouldn’t let up on him and when I watched it, I knew every beat. I was obsessive about film; I still am.
To answer your question, I didn’t really learn from anywhere. I’ve just been writing scripts since I was a kid; I have boxes of them! I started out writing gangster stuff, then teen comedies, then horrors. Now I’m writing about personal stuff. It’s therapeutic, it helps me get through all the bad stuff which, as a kid, I couldn’t deal with. I think I’d have had a happier, or perhaps easier, childhood and young adulthood if someone had instructed me to just write down what’s upsetting or confusing you. I think writing and expressing yourself is important: Even if it’s just in a diary, I think it helps you deal with problems in a manner that is a lot healthier than keeping it all inside.
Wendy: Armistice is a unique story. Unforgettable, in my opinion. Who came up with the idea for it?
Luke: Benjamin Read, who I write with. It was an idea for a graphic novel he pitched to me for a film. The original concept was a man trapped in a house where, every morning at nine, something unnatural comes in to kill him. The house always resets itself by morning, so he can’t change anything and, of course, there’s no escape (or is there? haha). Ben said it’s Gladiator meets Ground Hog Day. I told him “if you can chuck Cast Away in there in terms of the isolation, I’m in.” I’m all about isolation.
Wendy: It’s not always easy putting together talent to make a film. It seems the stars aligned for you. How did you meet the cast/crew of Armistice? Who did you meet first, next, etc.? Did you bypass the traditional casting/hiring routes?
Luke: I can’t deny that I’ve been lucky. In many ways, I’m a lucky person, but I know that and don’t take it for granted. I was working on With These Hands when Ben and I first were talking about making a movie together. I asked Joseph and Matt if they would head the cast, not even knowing what film we would make. After I got pitched Armistice, we spent a few weeks on it and then I pitched it to the boys. They loved it! If they hadn’t, I probably would have backed out, as I was so desperate to direct Joseph and Matt. I think that was my aim. They’re both incredible actors, and even if I was working on high-end budgets, they’d be my first-call as actors. They never stop surprising you, which is both nice as a director and tremendous fun. Plus, the four of us are very close, so it’s like making a film with your family.
As for crew, it was pretty much all new people, apart from the day make-up by Michelle Webb. She was also a part of the crew for With These Hands, and so we’ve been friends for a while now. I couldn’t imagine being on set with out her. She’s probably the nicest person you’ll ever meet; she’s like my rock on set.
Wendy: Which one of you had the most experience in filming when you started making Armistice?
Luke: Joseph, I guess, but that’s only in terms of the number of films he’s worked on. Matt hadn’t stopped working since drama school but that also included a lot of theatre and TV. I think it’s Joseph, but it’s pretty much the same between the both of them. I had a lot of experience at the indie level but visiting Joseph on the set of Ben Hur in Morocco or Immortals in Montreal was an eye opener. I’d never seen anything like it. It’s actually quite scary but for me, at the end of the day, it’s all the same when you strip it all back.
Wendy: What roles did you take on for filming Armistice? Seems you were multi-tasking?
Luke: I was the director, co-writer, DoP, camera operator, one of three editors, and executive producer. I said I wouldn’t do that again but I have on my latest film. I enjoy all of the jobs, apart from maybe editing, and I find it hard to stop being behind the camera. Maybe one more film and I’ll just direct. I think I’d like that better.
Wendy: Armistice is an independent film. What type of budget did you have for filming?
Luke: I honestly don’t know the exact number, but around 250,000. I wasn’t massively involved in the budget part of Armistice.
Wendy: What type of equipment was used (cameras, etc.)?
Luke: JVC GY HD 110 with a Letus adapter and 35mm Nikon primes. It gives the film an almost retro 80’s look, which is where the film is set. I loved it but it was huge. My back was done in by the end of it. I’ll send you a picture with it all kited out. I’m being serious about my back as well; it’s still knackered.
Wendy: Armistice is 80 minutes long. How much footage time did you have to work with? Did you have to cut anything you wish you could have kept within the movie? If so, what was it?
Luke: This will lead on to a whole other line of questions, and when the film is out lets do it, but in short the first cut of the film was roughly 3 hours 45 minutes long. About five other characters where cut out and several of my favourite scenes. It had to happen but it broke my heart doing it. A lot of people’s time and effort had to be sacrificed, but hopefully we’ll get them up on some DVD extras. There’s knights, vikings, kings and more in there.
Wendy: The location has a nice texture to it for the telling of the story. Can you tell me more about the house you used for the filming location? And I’m curious, do you have any photos of the outside of the house?
Luke: We went to an estate agent and said we needed a big house for a few months to film this movie. The house had been empty for a while so the landlord was happy for us to take it short term and enjoyed seeing how a film was made. The front of the house is actually featured in the next movie, for a brief second, as a little nod to Armistice, so you’ll see it.
Wendy: How did you deal with lighting for the basement scenes?
Luke: It’s actually a farm shed on the back of the house. The set guys did it up real well and left enough room for lighting so it was like a set actually; a pleasure to light and was nice to get out of the Armistice.
Wendy: Oh wow, I had no idea it was a farm shed! That’s movie magic. : ) What were the hardest parts of filming Armistice and why?
Luke: Everything near the end. You’re basically running on empty, sleeping a few hours in-between shooting, rewrites, rehearsals, production meetings, make-up tests etc… When I finished I slept for a few days straight since it had gotten hard near the end.
Wendy: Were there any ‘behind the scenes’ details you wish had been captured? Do you have any specific memorable moments with Joseph, Matt or crew?
Luke: I can’t remember specifics, it all mixes into one haze.
Matt was doing Hamlet in London with Jude Law at the time, so he had one day off a week. He would grab the early train down at six to get to us to film fourteen hours straight then go back. I don’t think he realises how much we all appreciate what he did for us (maybe I should tell him sometime, haha). Matt is a force of nature as an actor. He came in and did his stuff, most of which was either highly emotional, killing this monster, or playing some piano, then head back to London to do Shakespeare. I don’t know how he did it. I saw the play as well, and he knocked it out the park. He’s the kind of guy who could act in two films at the same time and it wouldn’t phase him.
Joseph and I had worked on this film for nearly a year in terms of the character. We were ready to shoot but he got Ben Hur, so we delayed it until he was back. I think we started shooting within a week of him finishing that job; the day after we wrapped he went to LA. He sacrificed a lot for the film but it was his baby as much as mine. I know most of the people will know him as the bad guy on The Vampire Diaries but he’s really the nicest guy you could meet. The crew love him and he loves them. When he came back for the next film there was real excitement from everyone to see each over again. I think he’s like the cool brother or cousin everyone likes to hang out with at xmas. He’s a good laugh. As an actor, he’s something else. Ray Winstone said he reminded him of Gary Oldman and I wouldn’t say much more than that, apart from he is his own man. He’s dangerous as an actor; you never quite know what he’s going to do, like Heath Ledger in The Dark Night. He’s also one of the most intelligent people I know. He can do anything he wants as an actor: He’s that good! It’s rather annoying at times; I’m a very jealous person, ha ha.
Wendy: What was the timeline for shooting Armistice?
Luke: One month and some pick ups.
Wendy: Was Cannes the first film festival you’ve been to? And was it the first one for presenting Armistice? How was your experience?
Luke: Cannes was my first festival, which I attended when I was about seventeen or maybe eighteen years of age. I entered a short film there. It was fun and inspiring for me as a kid. While there, I met Tarantino, which at the time was kind of like meeting Jesus to me. I went back last year with Armistice. It was productive but I don’t like being around a lot of people talking about making films now. I prefer to be around people who are actually making them. In today’s world of digital technology, if you want to tell your story, you can.
Wendy: Were there any lessons you learned for future film festivals?
Luke: Be more open I guess. I’m a shy person. I keep to myself a lot and if I’m not there with a Matt or a Joseph, I struggle to meet people. I’m also bad about bringing up my work. I find it easier to concentrate on the performances, or the music by John Fletcher, which still blows my mind. If I have to talk about my directing, I’m a little embarrassed.
Wendy: What film festivals would you like to get Armistice into next? (U.S., U.K., etc.)
Luke: Any. As long as they have a good football team playing near them, I don’t mind, haha. I need my football. I’m also desperate to visit Russia!
Wendy: When will the Armistice film be released and what locations will everyone be able to purchase it?
Luke: It’ll probably be released before the end of the year and it looks like it’s going to be world wide, which is very exciting.
Wendy: What other projects are you working on?
Luke: Well, I’m in post-production on 500 Miles North, which, while completely different from Armistice, also stars Joseph and Matt as brothers. It’s a road trip adventure movie with a few good laughs and cries in it. It looks like it’s going to be a lovely film, which I’m really proud of, and it means a lot to me on a personal level. Because I’ve been busy overseeing Armistice, we had to put a pin in the post production of 500 Miles North, but it’s going to start again, so we’re all excited.
As for next, next, I’m taking a bit of a break for a few months. As we started 500 Miles North while still finishing Armistice, I haven’t had much of a break in around four years, so I need some sun or something. Benjamin is going to start writing the next one solo, which will make a nice change. He’s an incredible writer. If anything, I think I slow him down and hinder his fine work, so I’m going just do that in the directing of the film instead of the co-writing of it.
Oh, and Joseph has directed an amazing short, starring Persia White, which I did the cinematography for. In addition, Matt Ryan and I collaborated in doing the camera work, which was a blast! I’m so proud of everyone’s work. Joseph is a fine director as well, which sucks, but maybe he might chuck us a cameo next time. *cough cough* Check out the trailer here…
Oh cryptic! Cool! It’s awesome learning so much about you Luke! Thank you!
Here is the Armistice teaser trailer…
Here are the Armistice links…
— Interview co-edited by @ErickEShepherd