DIVISION 19 is in selected UK Cinemas from 21st June 2019.
BritFlicks talks to writer/producer/director Suzie Halewood about her award winning sci-fl DIVISION 19, ahead of it's UK theatrical release 21st June 2019.
Q) Writer, Producer, Director Suzie Halewood tell us about DIVISION 19?
DIVISION 19 is set in a future where the burgeoning need for social control has led to mass-criminalization. To pay for the expanding prison complex, data warehousing specialist Alexandra Neilsen (Alison Doody) has converted jails to online portals, allowing paying subscribers to vote on what felons eat, wear, read, watch and who they fight. The story begins when the world’s most downloaded felon Hardin Jones (Jamie Draven) escapes and tries to win back his anonymity aided by a brother who has managed to remain off-grid.
Q) Does the film have a hidden meaning?
There are codes in people’s names and various numbers – mostly associated with freedom or the lack thereof. But the main themes; erosion of civil liberties, state control, loss of anonymity, dangers of data warehousing and lack of accountability – both from State and citizen – are fairly on the nose. Of course you never quite know what the unconscious is doing. I was never sure mine was on my side.
Q) Where did the idea come from?
At the time of writing when Tony Blair was in power, (and still thinks he is) the UK was the third most watched country on earth after Russia and China. Civil liberties were about to be eroded further with the introduction of bio-passports and a company www.vericool.co.uk was offering RFID chips for your school kids under the auspices that this way, all kids would appear equal (financially) as credits for school dinners would be via RFID chip and no keep would need to pay with vouchers. Schools were ‘informed’ this was the direction they were going in and many parents liked the idea of having their kids chipped so they could be monitored in case of disappearance. The problem was, that these kids would be monitored for other things – behaviour etc – mainly for marketing purposes but also for criminal tendencies. The aim of DIVISION 19 was to show two options of the future; one where we do nothing and end up being scrutinized in what would effectively be a jail (of our making – as in the Hardin Jones (Jamie Draven) part of the story) and the other option where we fight back and change The System. Both options are possible. The latter takes sacrifice. Ironically, The System seems to now be destroying itself from within.
Q) From idea to completion, was it a long process?
It was. Year 1 we shot a trailer in London to raise money for the financing of the film. Year 2 we shot the main body of the film in Detroit. After a six-month hiatus, we shot the final part in LA. We also added a pick up day six months after that. We basically shot as and when monies came in, which is not an advisable way to proceed, but needs must. The VFX added more time onto that and the fact there was only one person on post-production, truncated the whole process further.
Q) You’ve got a great cast, how did you go about casting DIVISION 19?
I’d seen Jamie Draven in a TV film called Butterfly Collectors opposite Pete Postlethwaite – probably twenty years old now – but his performance (and character) stayed with me and I always thought if something came up which he might consider, I’d approach him. He struck me very much as Hardin – someone who keeps themselves to themselves and steers clear of social media. Clarke Peters was a dream choice and it took a long time for me to pluck up the courage to approach his agent. Thankfully he liked the script and came on board. I knew Alison Doody’s agent Peter (who also represents Ben Barnes) and she was just brilliant. A really good laugh and great actor. Linus happened to be in California at the time we were shooting in LA and we met in the Larchmont Pain Quodidien and hit it off immediately. He is a very generous person and actor. I should say the casting director Eyde Belasco did a phenomenal job. I don’t know what I would have done had she not come on board. I’d wanted to work with her for ages.
Q) What were the biggest challenges in making DIVISION 19?
Not being absolutely sure the money for week 3’s shoot would arrive on time. Before coming to Detroit, I’d found someone to cash-flow the tax credit, but the week before we got there the guy pulled out, so I spent the final week of prep trying to find another financier. That person arrived in the shape of Detroit Tiger’s owner Mike Illitch (RIP). In the US at that time, crew could photograph their pay cheques and get them cashed immediately – that would have been the Friday and the money wasn’t coming into the account Monday, so they were asked to wait! In my experience, crew and cast are very flexible and supportive on independent film.
Q) Does directing and producing a film bring extra challenges?
It does. You really don’t want to be signing cheques and documents on set. And obviously actors don’t want to have to ask you about money – then again – the actors I’ve worked with so far have been even more supportive when they realise you’re trying to keep the whole show on the road single-handed. The next one has a producer and a writer so that’ll be a new and welcome experience.
Q) What are you most proud of about the film?
That it was completed. I genuinely love the acting and it’s always a joy to discover a new, interesting face. Toby Hemingway was that man. Very interesting actor and person. Goes without saying I’d love to work with the four leads again. I love the way it looks, both cinematography (Ben Moulden) and design (John Collins).
Q) You took DIVISION 19 on the film festival circuit, how was it received?
It got into several festivals and won a couple (Fantasporto and Boston Sci-Fi) but I was too soon out of the gate and next time I hope I have a producer who reminds me to wait until the film is finished before showing it to anyone. Festivals are a great place to meet people and see films you may otherwise not see. Then again as Billy Wilder says ‘awards are like piles – everyone gets them in the end’.
Q) Where can we see DIVISION 19?
So glad you asked! It opens June 21st on limited release in the UK (it opened in the US April 5th and is on Amazon Prime, iTunes, GooglePlay, Comcast TV etc) and then iTunes, Amazon and I’ll probably have it on Vimeo platform as they take a smaller percentage!
Q) What’s next for Suzie Halewood?
I’m writing a book about an incident in New York based on a false news story. Film-wise I’ve just delivered a Barbados based heist movie and next up in the pipeline is Gaza Stripes which I’ve managed to persuade the writer of Slumdog Millionaire - Simon Beaufoy - to get involved with. I just need to break it to his agent.