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Interview: Director Perry Bhandal tells of his North East-filmed thriller

STANLEY Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut holds the Guinness World Record for the longest constant movie shoot, at 400 (16-hour) days.

Film director Perry Bhandal
Film director Perry Bhandal

STANLEY Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut holds the Guinness World Record for the longest constant movie shoot, at 400 (16-hour) days.

Perry Bhandal, you’d imagine, might have been going for the record for the shortest when it came to making his feature film debut in Newcastle last September.

“It took 18 days,” the writer-director tells me.

They might have been long ones but the fast-working director had the whole thing, from writing the script to shooting, done and dusted within 14 months.

The thriller stars former Bros pop star-turned-actor Luke Goss as the hitman, Viktor, who comes to the UK from Romania. This is his first film in this country, though post-Bros – which saw him and twin Matt hit the big time with 1987’s When Will I Be Famous – he’s appeared in several, including Hellboy and Blade sequels, in America, where he now lives.

One of the reasons for Bhandal’s speed was that Goss was available for only three weeks; another was that it suited his way of working.

“There were only two scenes that were not hand-held cameras – an aesthetic choice,” he says.

And the Newcastle settings were close together: “we could move from location to location really quickly.”

It was filmed here thanks to support from Newcastle-based Northern Film & Media’s creative content fund, in partnership with investment company Northstar Ventures, with night shoots taking place at locations such as the Union Rooms in Westgate Road and Hoults Yard in Byker.

But, says Bhandal, “it could have been anywhere”.

“We had scenes around 12 or 13 locations. Most of the film is shot in dark places, warehouses, like a seedy underbelly.

“Newcastle is a beautiful city but it also has these fantastic locations like Swan Hunter shipyard which was absolutely amazing. They opened up areas for us that no one had been in for 10 years.

“I just walked in and was like a child in a sweet shop. I wanted a place that was timeless, locations that didn’t have landmarks like the bridge and the art gallery across the river.”

Goss perfectly fits his vision for the lead in his character-driven story.

“I loved working with him. He’s a great actor, bringing out nuances and detail and becoming the character.

“I was talking to him halfway through filming and he said he’d have to do a romantic comedy next, to exorcise the character from his psyche as it would stay with him!”

Bhandal hadn’t wanted to do a typical hitman movie; he isn’t interested in gore and violence but more the consequences of violence.

While his film has a lot of action, it’s a character piece, he says, following Viktor from his childhood to show the making of the man.

“I wanted to get out what makes a hitman and explore questions like should he have a second chance, is it the right thing to take action for revenge?”

He adds: “I had a vision and I’m very happy to have achieved that vision.”

Bhandal, 44, has long wanted to be a film director but his ambitions became a bit more distant when he took on responsibilities in life, marrying and building up an IT consultancy company.

Now divorced, it was when his father died in 2009 that he reassessed things.

“He’d worked all his life to give us opportunities and he’d never have wanted me to sacrifice my dreams.”

So within a couple of months he moved from his IT business to set up his own production company and “immersed myself in all aspects of filmmaking”.

His business experience served him well and he approached his film as just another product to take to market.

As a first-timer, he doubted an initial story idea he’d worked on for years – which he’d pictured almost scene by scene in his head but would have required a bigger budget – could get backing. He wrote Interview with a Hitman straight off then got a script editor on board and looked to cast it.

At first, in Viktor, “I’d begun to think I had written someone that was unplayable”.

But Goss loved the script on sight. Bhandal laughs: “He got it first, read the first 30 pages and wanted to do it. I had to say to his manager, ‘It might turn into a sci-fi rom-com on page 31 so can you ask him to finish the script first!’”

Again “I had everything visualised in my head. It was a case of getting that on screen.”

But on the first day his very first shot worked exactly how he’d hoped and they were off, 13 hours a day, six days a week.

He says: “The crew were absolutely exhausted but when they saw what were getting on the rushes they were very excited and we powered on through.

“We had a fantastic crew and great cast.”

Interview with a Hitman is on release now at selected cinemas but not the North East, at least not yet. Why not?

It’s down to the distributors it seems but Bhandal admits: “I was quite surprised.”

There’s a showing of it here tonight for those involved in the film. But the rest of us will have to have to wait for its release on DVD, due this month.

Meanwhile, it’s back to work for Bhandal on that original idea, the film he’s always wanted to make.

“Interview with a Hitman was an opportunity to prove I could do it,” he says.

This one’s a revenge thriller: a darker film, yet also uplifting, about a man’s search for absolution.

“The theme that runs through all my work is the search for justice.”

The idea is to make it in Hungary for tax break reasons and this time he’d love US actor Edward Norton in the lead role, even writing it with him in mind.

At his current pace of working, it probably won’t be long before it too hits the big screen.

:: Keep an eye out on the Culture pages for a review of Interview with a Hitman.

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