Self portrait: Olly Blackburn
The director of Donkey Punch recalls the intense, adrenaline-fuelled shooting of his feisty genre flick.
Making Donkey Punch was all about energy, speed and intense work.
Everything started right after new year 2006. David Bloom called me up with an idea, we met, got excited and came up with a story where lots of things that really interested us kind of came together around a genre film with a group of characters trapped on a boat out of sight and out of mind.
There was a lot of instinctive stuff in the writing. The core idea was to be as realistic as possible and we wanted people to identify with the characters. These were characters we knew - and if you’re young, one of these characters could be you or one of your friends or someone you see out on a Saturday night.
We did a ton of research: boat shows, sailing academies, trauma specialists, boat crew, we punched several donkeys and personally synthesised many controlled substances in a bathtub until finally creating Russian Ice. Not all of these statements are true.
Shooting started in March 2007, less than a year after we’d written the first word. Shooting was intense, very fast. I had 24 days to shoot people getting burnt alive, hanged, firing flares, using knives, getting thrown off the boat into the freezing sea at night. Sometimes we were doing more than two stunts a night. Shooting on a boat alone is hardcore, let alone at night and, as the bond company liked to remind us, the boat alone cost four times the budget of the entire film.
Then there was an off-the-scale sex scene that had to be portrayed realistically and believably, without any of the cast getting cold feet. And throughout all of that, shooting in sequence meant every day threw up even more emotionally intense scenes that our young actors had to perform with complete conviction.
Robert, Sian, Nichola, Julian, Tom, Jay and Jaime are all young. Sian had never even acted for a camera before and Jay was straight out of drama school. And they managed to do very demanding work that would scare off actors with years more experience.
The way they committed to their characters, gave such heartfelt performances and had each other’s back all the time is really amazing. They did such intense, emotional work, and they brought whole new dimensions to the characters that were all their own.
As the director I wanted to capture the andrenalin and excitement of a genre film and completely suck the audience into the momentum of the story. I wanted to make it a true journey where you feel very differently at the end to how you did at the start - it was so important to have that movement from sunshine and natural beauty to the darkness, violence and claustrophobia that comes. And I wanted to capture a human drama we can all relate to with real motives, fears and flaws. People who make real decisions and real mistakes.
It was very important that this was a genre film anchored in real people - there’s no monster or unstoppable psychopath or anything like that. Just people.
Donkey Punch is screening Sunday 22 June at Cameo.
Winners of EIFF 2014’s short film awards and two of its documentary premieres have been nominated for 2015 BAFTAs.