Hammer Films CEO Simon Oakes Interview LET ME IN; Plus Info on THE WOMAN IN BLACK and HANDLING THE UNDEAD

     August 4, 2010

In Let Me In, an American remake of the Swedish film Let the Right One In, an alienated 12-year-old boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) befriends a mysterious young newcomer (Chloe Grace Moretz) in his small New Mexico town, only to find out that she’s hiding an unthinkable secret. At its heart, the film is a tale of adolescent longing and loneliness, wrapped up in a haunting and provocative thriller.

While at Comic-Con to promote the film, Simon Oakes of Hammer Films talked at a roundtable interview about why they wanted to make an American version of this film, what Matt Reeves brought to the project and doing such heavy, intense material with young actors.

He also explained what interested him in adapting The Woman in Black for the big screen and said that he would like to turn Let the Right One In author John Ajvide Lindqvist’s zombie novel, Handling the Undead, into a feature as well. Check out what he had to say after the jump:

Question: Why did you decide to make an American version of this film?

Simon: We saw the film very early, and we were knocked out by it. I read the book and it was phenomenal, and we made a very early decision with Hammer that we were going to make what we call “smart horror.” We want to try to enlighten and re-ennoble the genre.

How did you decide on Matt Reeves, as the director?

Simon: We didn’t look around for directors. Matt was right on board immediately, and we knew he was going to bring some element that was over and beyond or different to the original, in terms of personal experiences. John Ajvide Lindqvist wrote a book where he wanted to tell a love story within the context of this gothic story. And then, Matt laid his own personal experiences on top of it.

What was your reaction when the Swedish film became so popular?

Simon: I had that bittersweet feeling, when the [original] film began to get bigger and bigger and bigger. My offices are in Haymark and in London, and the cinema was right there, with a massive poster of Let The Right One In, and I was going, “No!” Truthfully, it was bittersweet because I was thinking, “My god, this is terrible! But, this is wonderful because this is exactly why we bought it.” It was such a great movie and, if we weren’t sure that we could bring something different to it, then we wouldn’t have done it.

And also, the reality is that in Pittsburgh, Idaho, Liverpool, Manchester, certain parts of Germany and the outback of Australia, they haven’t seen the original, but they are going to see this, for obvious reasons. We have put a lot of money behind it, we’re marketing it properly and we have a big release in the UK and the U.S., and around the world, so the story is getting to more people. I’m happy with that, and John’s happy as well. It was very important to me that the original author is happy with what we are doing.

let_me_in_poster_iceSpecifically, what did you want to do to make this version different?

Simon: I think people who naturally love, understand and connect with the language of film will find the original something that’s accessible, but there are other people who don’t, for whatever reason. They don’t like the genre, or they wouldn’t go see that sort of film, for whatever reason. They might think, “Oh, it’s a vampire film, I’m not going to see that film,” or, “Oh, it’s a horror film, I’m not going to see that film.”

I think Matt’s version is a little more accessible. The relationship is drawn out a little bit more. There is more of a tactile nature in their relationship, where they hug each other. Abby’s (Chloe Grace Moretz) relationship with The Father (Richard Jenkins) is more drawn out and rounded. That’s one of the things we’ve done. We’ve made the story more linear. The original, which I absolutely adore is slightly different in tone. He’s bringing his unique vision to it. I call it his version. I don’t call it his remake or his re-imagining of it. I called it his version of it, almost as if another director could do another version of it, and come up with something else. That’s how I feel about it, anyway.

How do you prepare for doing a movie like this with such young actors on set?

Simon: That’s an incredibly good question. I think what you do is play it straight. You just play it as it is, off the page and you let people interpret what they want to interpret from it. You have to be careful. I think these two young actors are incredibly insightful. They know something’s going on, but aren’t quite sure what it is. I think you worry about that. It’s not remotely prurient, in any way, and there is nothing suggested that is wrong. It’s just that there is a feeling of danger in this film. There is something lurking under the surface, and you just leave that. You have to let people make their own mind up about that.

Are there any novels by this author that you also might want to adapt?

Simon: Yeah, there is a wonderful book called “Handling the Undead,” which I absolutely adore. There are plans afoot, but we have to see. He is an extraordinary man. I’m actually going to go to Sweden in early September and take the film to show John, which will be really, really  fun.

Do you feel that novels make the best source material for films?

Simon: Sometimes. The old adage is that bad material often makes a good film, and vice versa. I think we’ve been lucky in the sense that with Susan Hill’s book, “The Woman in Black,” it was a pastiche of M.R. James and also Wilkie Collins. It’s suggested.

The great thing for filmmakers and screenplay writers is about suggestion. Then, they’ve got the artistic freedom to be able to decide what it would really look like. (Screenwriter) Jane Goldman has got that in The Woman in Black. It’s about, “What would it be like? What were the children like? What’s going on in the causeway?,” and stuff like that. She’s got a brilliant imagination.

I think it’s the same with Let Me In. It’s a very rich, textured book. There’s so much going on. There’s actually another movie in the book. So, in this case, we’ve been very lucky because the source material has been very strong.

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For more with Simon Oakes, here’s an interview from a few months ago where he discusses what American audiences can expect from Let Me In versus Let the Right One In, why Hammer WON’T be making films that glorify torture, and what the return of Christopher Lee to Hammer (in The Resident) means to Oakes personally.

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