Dead Shot – Interview with Film Directors Charles Guard and Thomas Guard

Dead Shot - Interview with Film Directors Charles Guard and Thomas Guard.
Quiver Distribution
Dead Shot is a British action-thriller film that tells the dramatic story of two men on opposite sides of a war zone in 1970s London. Based on an original screenplay by Ronan Bennett and inspired by the book The Road to Balcombe Street by Steven P. Moysey. The film stars Aml Ameen, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Colin Morgan, Sophia Brown, Máiréad Tyers, Mark Strong, and Felicity Jones. Thomas Guard and Charles Guard both co-wrote and co-directed the film, and the pair sat down with Borrowing Tape to talk about their production design, having a brilliant plot work in a historical setting, as well as who their filmmaking inspirations are.

Watch, listen, or read the interview transcript below — edited and condensed for clarity:

Hello. I'm Tyler Geis with I am joined here today with the co-writers, directors Charles and Thomas Guard. Thank you for joining me today. Dead Shot is an incredible film.

CG: Thank you for saying so.

You're welcome. I want to kick things off here with some of the historical context of the movie. Dead Shot is a crime thriller, but I got the vibe that there was a cool, I don't want to say cool, but a really interesting historical backdrop at it. Can you maybe just kind of explain that for me?

TG: Well, our film is set during the Troubles in 1975, and it begins in South Armagh, which is in Northern Ireland, and there's a border ambush that goes wrong, and it sets off a chain of events that takes us to London, where at the time, the IRA, the Irish Republican Army were. We're in the middle of a very intense campaign of terror, essentially bombings, assassinations, and murders on the streets of London to give the UK a taste of what was going on in Northern Ireland at the time. And whilst that was the political, historical background of the period, our film isn't so concerned with the specifics of that. And in the writing of the script, we were interested in looking at [a] more universal take on it in terms of more universal ideas of revenge and redemption. We tried to stay very authentically true to the period and to the Troubles, we lifted ourselves out of two specific references to individuals or events.

I do want to talk production design because I thought you guys pulled off the 1970s so well in this part of the world. I mean, you see so many films these days where you're like, oh, that's on a soundstage, that's a green screen, whatever. They made up a city on a soundstage. But you guys, I think, pulled it off really well. Just talk to me about the production design on the film.

CG: Well, when we were prepping the movie, we were actually about to shoot the movie before the pandemic struck, and so when we ended up shooting it at the end of the pandemic, but it gave us an amazing opportunity. We started sifting through images and we looked at a lot of street photography, a lot of documentary photography from the time. We also referenced a lot of movies that had been shot at that time on location in the real streets. And it was fascinating. I mean, things started really jumping out to us in a very clear way. Rubbish, having junk on the streets, like furniture. Not just rubbish bags, but trash bags, but just crap. There were just piles of crap that were people clearing stuff out. And there were fires in wastelands where bombs from the Second World War had wiped out whole city blocks and the damaged buildings had just been cleared, but nothing had been built in its place. So you had these big muddy wastelands in the 70s, where you would often get bonfires going on. You would often find lots of children just playing on the streets in the day and they would always be sort of inappropriately dressed, sort of in, like, shorts when it was really cold, or they'd have black eyes and they'd be playing with sticks and stuff. And it felt like a very different world to the world that we live in now, where you would never see a child, or a group of children playing without their parents or without some sort of adult supervision. So in many ways, the production design — it really grew out of that, this idea of a city that hadn't quite come online, it hadn't sort of made that big leap into the world that we now associate London to be.

TG: We shared a lot of those ideas when we got to Glasgow, and we shared them with our production designer, Tom Sayer, who just completely ran with them and nailed the realization of a lot of that stuff and brought so much to the project. He and his team were amazing in Glasgow and they had a brilliant attention to detail down to wallpapers and everything you could imagine. It just really brought it all alive.

Yeah, everything felt very I think the term is, everything felt very lived in. And I thought that was kind of cool. I always like seeing that in the production design of any movie, basically. But I love the pacing in the film, and I want to just touch on that. For a film about 90 minutes long, it takes its time getting to where it needs to go, at least in that first act, act and a half, first two acts, and then it really goes, I guess I could say, gangbusters in the third act. Do you think the build-up in those last 30 minutes was important by the time you hit the third act?

TG: Interesting question. Yeah, we'd never really thought about it like that, but I guess we felt that there was a momentum building. For sure through the story and the worlds of the characters and the options that were available to them became narrower and narrower until both leads are essentially in corners, I suppose. Yes. That requires that speeding up of tension and time. You're right. It was a good question.

Thank you. Well, to branch off that a little bit, you got two leads, lead characters that are on a collision course with each other. In terms of directing their character arcs. What did you two bring to the table and what did the actors bring to the table with crafting that?

CG: That's another good question. There was an interesting thing. We were really interested in these two arcs and how these two arcs how Michael's desire for revenge, his burning desire for revenge at the beginning of the film sort of thaws as the film unspools and the sort of Tempest's, by contrast, his was a different arc that seemed to cross over with Michael's arc as he became more he begins the story, obviously, with this horrendous event that he feels considerable guilt for. But. Out of that, he moves towards, as you're saying, the third act where he's fed up and he's angry and he has this burning rage to actually kill Michael because he feels such a strong sense of injustice. And so in a sense, the two characters cross over. Yeah, I think that was very important to us when we were working on the script. And then when it came to working with the actors, we would talk to them about these kinds of things. But really, they were amazing. They brought so much of their own personal experience to these roles and the issues of identity and the injustices felt by people who found themselves forced into this kind of life. They were very much things that Colin and Aml really, really responded to and really took and ran with. And they were absolutely amazing to work with.

Let's talk about you guys for just a sec. You guys are co-directors. It's not the first time I've interviewed co-directors before, but I just always like to ask who does what on set. Are both [of] you guys very close to the actors? Is one working with cinematography a lot more, like who's doing what or who's taking on more of what?

TG: We keep it quite open and fluid. It's the only way we can describe it. We don't divvy up any of the roles. We're always there with the actors together talking, as a group. We're always together when we're speaking to the production designer or the cameraman or the editor, our brother Ted, on this. So there's always just an openness and a spirit of collaboration that really sums up the relationship.

Okay. In terms of filmmaking inspirations, who are your guys go to, and did you bring any of that to the table with making this film?

CG: Definitely. We love the movies from the 70s and we were really excited about making this film in the spirit of those types of films. So films like The French Connection and filmmakers like Billy [William] Friedkin. That kind of freewheeling, immediate, spontaneous storytelling, that puts audiences right on the edge of their seat. That felt very much to us. It felt opportunity to bring the audiences back to that type of experience.

Okay, great. Well, I guess I'll still ask it just in case anybody wants to elaborate here, but in closing here, what do you want audiences to take away from Dead Shot?

TG: Well, how difficult it is to break free from cycles of violence once they start and once you get trapped and once you get involved in those games, those cycles, it's almost impossible to break free of them because they have very unintended consequences, which just more often than not, lead to more violence, and that creates the next ripple. So it's just this never-ending cycle.

All right. Okay, great. Great. Well, look, Charles, Thomas, thank you for sitting down and talking with me. I really enjoyed the film. I've been on a bit of a binge of 70s crime thrillers or films that take place in the 70s crime thrillers. So this is a good addition to that for me personally. So I appreciate it. It's a great movie and good luck with anything else coming down the road with it.

Watch Dead Shot