Wales Interactive and Making Horror in a Lock Down

Wales Interactive is an odd duck. It makes interactive movies. If you take out the branching narrative, you’re still left with a solid movie. We recently sat down with Wales Interactive founder Doctor David banner, Good Gate Media Owner John Giwa-Amu, and Night Book director Alex Lightman to talk about their newest game, Night Book, and also to discuss the challenges of making a game during widespread lock downs in Europe.

[Note: Edited for length and clarity]

DXP: So I finished the game and I thought, “it was very short”, until I saw that I’d unlocked one of many endings and realized I’m just dumb. How difficult was it to essentially film multiple feature length movies during a lock down?

Alex Lightman: It was a riddle, for sure.

DXP: We recently spoke with Jed Shepherd, writer of HOST, and he outlined the challenges of working through lock down. What kind of challenges did you all personally come across?

Alex Lightman: So, just about anything you can think of, right? [laughs] The challenge is not being there, so the actors have to set up their own cameras, and bring their own props. That’s something we’re not used to doing. If someone’s got a problem, you can’t just go in and help them; you have to patiently, helpfully, direct them to helping themselves. That was a new challenge.

John Giwa-Amu: For us with David; Doctor David Banner I should say [laughs]

Doctor David Banner: [laughs] Thank you John, thanks a lot.

John Giwa-Amu: We’ve worked a lot together. we-

Dr. David Banner: Doctor David Banner MB John, I’d like to mention [laughs].

John Giwa-Amu: So anyway, Doctor David Banner MB and I, had worked on a couple of titles previously: We got involved with Five Dates, a dramatic comedy we shot on Iphones. We’re talking about challenges; we kind of wanted to step up the fidelity on this film, and really push the production design further, and do it in a way that was kinda credible, and not stretching things too far, so we ended up shipping 4k cameras all over the country, and even to Paris, where the lead actress was based. We had to make a different location in different countries into the same house on-screen. We had to ship large amounts, significant amounts of production design, which completely filled a significantly sized cupboard in our actresses house. I don’t mean a kitchen cupboard, I mean like a closet. Bless the actress for tolerating our studio and jamming up her flat with more and more gear.

All the actors did that, and they were great at shipping stuff around. They were essentially dressing their own set, as Alex said. They’re obviously doing their own makeup. We’ve never leaned on an actor as a practical collaborator as much as we did in Night Book. They’re incredible. Colin Salmon – brilliant actor out of James Bond and Resident Evil – completely trashed his basement for us. Bless him. Amazing guy, like such a good sport. All of them [actors] were doing unique and interesting stuff.

DXP: It’s a fairly seamless experience. I caught myself thinking the actors were all in the same house. It’s that seamless. It must have been difficult to accomplish. It doesn’t feel like many actors in many different locations. If that makes sense.

John Giwa-Amu: Alex worked very hard to blend that because it is a worry. I’m 16 or 17 films shot now in my career, and I’ve done all sort of different things production- wise. This is the first time reading the scripts that I’ve been like, “before you cast it, of course you’ve got no idea where these actors are gonna be.” Where in the world but especially Europe. Literally, in Europe someone could be living in a modern flat, in Paris lets say? Someone in the UK could be living in a run-down terrace house in Nottingham. Architecturally, radically different buildings, which are very hard to match, but we accomplished and got over those hurdles. There were very much script considerations and Alex had to use some tricks up his sleeve to make that blend as seamless as possible.

Alex Lightman: I’ll also say it’s very lucky that white walls are on-trend at the moment. If someone suddenly had crazy wallpaper, i think that would’ve been harder. Particularly with Alexis [lead actress], taking the father’s room and covering it with a lot of drawings, which of course is part of the story as well. I think a lot of that helps. Keeping the door off-screen so you can’t see that they’re completely different. Little tricks like what you show and what you don’t show are pivotal to match. He was in a completely different building. We managed to put that together. I’m very pleased with the result.

DXP: I think people are going to respond very well to Night Book. It’s got that really good almost 80’s haunted house feel. It feels like, if you want a good haunted story, in a sense, it’s right there. It’s just a solid haunted house story. Now, Wales Interactive, based out of?

John Giwa-Amu: [laughs] It’d be quite funny if we were called Wales Interactive and we were based out of Shanghai.

Dr. David Banner: My biggest accomplishment was probably convincing an Englishman to name the company Wales Interactive [laughs]

John Giwa-Amu: We’re all probably only 20 miles apart right now. We met in Wales. We were both in the Welsh filmmaking scene.

Dr. David Banner: We’ve sort of known each other for years. John was in film and I was in video games. We had a respect, but we didn’t really understand each other’s industries. The journey of Wales Interactive was being an indie games developer that self-published essentially. We did a lot of narrative stuff in the video games space. We started helping other indies as well, byproduct of us being on stands next to indies. Going out and getting drunk in Tokyo an San Fransisco. It’s a cool time traveling the world. So we got friendly with other indies and started teaming up and helping publish. It become apparent that we knew all the platforms very quickly and then we started – as well as making our own stuff – representing other indies.

in that journey around the world we met some filmmakers. We made our first game called The Bunker, which is our first FMV title. It went pretty well, so we thought “oh this is really interesting” and then because I knew John, and I knew that his background is he was an accomplished filmmaker. I said “John, look at this, we should really try to team up and do something together.” So that’s what we’ve been doing the past few years. Not just making one, but making a spate and trying to define I suppose the area of interactive films.

This interview continues in part 2! I’d like to thank all three participants for sitting down and talking with me. Night Book is out now, and you can check it out here.