If you’re a regular reader of The Velvet Onion you’ll know that we’ve been getting pretty excited about Steve Oram‘s unique simian comedy horror AAAAAAAAH! for a while now. Thought-provoking, hilarious and frequently downright disgusting, AAAAAAAAH! enjoyed a triumphant World Premier at Frightfest last month and is being screened at a number of festivals over the coming weeks. Trust us when we say that you really need to see it.
Earlier this week Steve kindly found the time to chat to us about the film.
AAAAAAAAH! portrays a world in which humans behave like apes – but how accurate are those ape-like behaviours? Were you down at the zoo, taking notes, Steve?
The idea of them behaving like apes isn’t strictly what I was intending – they’re actually more like cavemen. I was creating a world where language, in particular, isn’t so advanced in evolutionary terms. So they don’t have all of the things that language gives us, and those subtleties are played out in different ways.
I think AAAAAAAAH! a very open thing that exists in its own world, but we decided to describe it as “behaving like apes” because it’s a concise and easy way of describing it. It’s for everyone to interpret how they wish.
We see some pretty out there behaviours on screen. If your intention wasn’t to directly mimic the ape world, how did you come up with them?
There’s a strong internal logic to it – they’re all slightly-skewed social rituals. For example, the fact that they use their hands to eat [instead of cutlery] is about etiquette; that’s just what they do in their world, it’s a custom. And when Toyah and Lucy [the mother and daughter of the family] poo on the floor, that’s just something that mothers and daughters do; it’s social ritual bonding thing that they do when they’re cooking.
With AAAAAAAAH!, are you trying to say something significant about modern society, or is the construct simply an idea that you liked?
It’s just something I found funny; I didn’t set out to make something that was a satire or a commentary. I just really enjoyed creating an intricate world, and creating the interactions and the characters – making them do silly, extreme things.
You’ve worked with many of the cast members multiple times before, but how did you decide on which new faces to bring on board, like Toyah and Julian Rhind-Tutt?
With Toyah, I loved her work in Jubilee and Quadraphenia – I’ve been a massive fan of hers for years. I was trying to cast a lady in her 50s who wouldn’t mind having to do embarrassing sex scenes and have blancmange thrown at her face. There’s not that many of them! I didn’t know her before, but I sent her the script and she loved it.
I was working with Julian on a TV film called Wipers Times over in Northern Ireland, coincidentally while I was writing AAAAAAAAH! on my days off.
I started thinking about him for the film, and he was one of the first people I attached to the script. He was keen to play against type – as a horrible washing machine repair man!
The dynamic between you and Tom, who plays your beta male, is pretty special. Do you think anyone else could have played that role apart from Tom?
Absolutely not, and not just because of his balls – although that is always a consideration [Tom’s familiar testicles have a supporting role in the film]. I was so pleased to work with Tom on this, and it was so much fun doing it with him. There’s a shorthand for the things we do and have done for years; when we started the film it made me feel really confident and happy that he was in it and that we were doing something together.
There’s no actual speaking in the film, but you wrote a script for the actors to follow. How did that work?
The script was all written out in English. The scenes had English dialogue in them for the actors, so that they got a sense of what each scene was about and what they were trying to do and say. On the day we read it through with the dialogue, and then we ‘went ape’. We threw the scripts away and instead of speaking everyone went “Ughhhhh”. No one will ever know what that script contained because it is full of filth!
Did your experience on Sightseers influence how you approached AAAAAAAAH!?
In terms of writing, I got better at it with this film; I did it very quickly and spontaneously. We had a long drawn-out development period with Sightseers, and this was a chance for me to do something very quickly and to do it myself.
I learned a lot from Ben Wheatley about being quick. With Sightseers we moved about a lot, so we had to do the scenes very quickly. That really influenced me, and I started making more short films after that which incorporated a fastness of movement. If you’re not standing around repeating everything fifty-million times, but you’re shooting scenes in one or two takes, it gives the film energy.
What do you prefer doing: directing, writing, acting, stand-up?
I love them all! At its heart it all stems from writing – that’s probably the single thing that links it all together. As an actor you need to understand writing and interpret scripts…they all feed into the same thing.
So what’s next for Steve Oram?
I’m writing the next one, which we’ll hopefully film next year. It’s another weird, dystopian comedy sci-fi…believe it or not!
I’m really driven by people saying “You can’t do that, it’s too strange”. I just go “Of course you can,” and do it. Film is just a collection of sound and images – you can do whatever you want. It’s sad that we’re so paralysed and narrow in the way we make films, and art generally. If someone says you can’t do it, just do it.