Arriving on Amazon Prime this Friday, August 28th, is writer/director Ninian Doff’s genre-bending comedy Get Duked! The film follows four students (Samuel Bottomley, Viraj Juneja, Rian Gordon, and Lewis Gribben) who set out for a skills-building excursion in the Scottish Highlands, but the quartet get more than they bargained for when they realize they’re being hunted for sport, and must find a way to survive.
Daily Dead recently had the opportunity to speak with Doff about Get Duked!, and he discussed how his experiences working in the realm of music videos helped him while making this project, his experiences working with his stellar ensemble, the challenges of shooting in the Highlands in August, and more.
With your background, working in music videos served you extremely well for this. And I was wondering if you could go back to the beginning for the genesis of this film and discussed what inspired the story and your approach. And I really enjoyed how these kids who, otherwise, would be these obnoxious characters, but I totally had a blast with all of them here. And that's not an easy thing to pull off.
Ninian Doff: Yeah, for sure. But you're right, my background is in music videos and I always made music videos that were more like short films and videos, rarely a dance type of thing. I'm more of a chap who explores different genres and tells different stories. That definitely made people's eyes open up and be interested in my feature ideas, which then was the script that I was working on that led to this project. I wanted to write something that was slightly politically inspiring and energizing that wasn't preachy or boring, which doesn't seem to be that much off. I wanted to make something that was ridiculous and funny and quotable and silly even, but also was a revenge film for the next generation. That was kind of my starting point.
And then in terms of genre of horror, it is traditionally the teenagers run for their lives whilst the baddies chase them. Page one of my notes was that I wanted to do a reverse home invasion. I wanted the baddies to be stuck inside the cottage while the teenagers were smashing on the door and the windows and the bad guys inside being like, "What's wrong with teenagers today? Why won't they just run away from us? Why aren't they scared of us?" Because that's what I feel is happening and should be happening, right? And it is happening right now. There are protests all over the world. So that was really the initial spark.
Also, I'm very passionate about music and so I let this be a bit of a love letter to all the videos I made before and openly acknowledge my music video path, which people will realize when they watch it. I basically let myself rip myself off, which is quite nice because normally it's commercials and other people that rip off my music videos [laughs].
But the kids. God, I'm so happy to hear you say that you fell in love with them. I mean, I have to credit the cast, of course, which was a huge process in itself. There were tons of self-tapes and then workshops and auditions, with me meeting with everyone, and then doing weekend-long sessions with different combinations of four actors and seeing how everyone works together to get that exactly right. You always separate the writer from the director when you're making something. When you're writing, you don't really think about making it and it's only when you're making it, you go, "Who the hell wrote this? This is a nightmare." And, of course, this was all on myself, where basically I cast four teenagers in probably 98 percent of the film and it lives or dies by them, right? So, one slightly cringe note, one bad performance and the whole thing falls apart. But the four guys that were cast, they were amazing, and that's a big part of it.
What's interesting to me is that, on paper, this film probably seems like a pretty simple process. You basically are just keeping people moving from point to point to point, which seems deceptively easy. But I can't imagine how challenging this must've been for you to keep all these parts moving, keeping the visual style feeling varied, and handling such a large cast to boot. Can you discuss the challenges that you faced while making Get Duked!, because it is really ambitious and I applaud you for being able to pull it off as well as you did?
Ninian Doff: Oh, thank you. This was my first film, so in the one sense I was like, “Write something really simple.” When you think of simple debut movies, you think of Reservoir Dogs where they just had like 12 people. That's perfect. So initially I was like, "Oh, this is just fields and fields and four guys. That's the easiest, cheapest thing ever." Of course, as I started writing it, the idea became way more sprawling. But then, it really travels everywhere and you've got these insane set pieces, so I saw that when I began shooting this, I had no idea what we’d be up against.
This wasn't shot in a lovely climate or somewhere nice where it's a joy to be outside for the whole shoot. It looks like mid-winter, but this was actually shot in the Scottish summer in August. So, there’s relentless rain and if it's not raining, there's these things called midgies, which are like microscopic mosquitoes that eat you alive in the Scottish Highlands. But a big credit to my cast and crew for not quitting on me and actually going for it while we were shooting.
I know we're kind of getting close on time, but I really want to talk about this cast. I know we talked about these kids, but you have a murderers’ row of talent in this film from top to bottom, including Eddie Izzard, Kate Dickie, and Alice Lowe, who are two of my favorite actresses. How did this cast come together then?
Ninian Doff: It's really unreal. It's truly ludicrous how good the supporting cast to those four boys are in this. It was just magical. And the first person who I wanted to approach was someone who could treat this ridiculous comedy as a drama, because I thought that was so much funnier for me, and so much more interesting. And that was Kate Dickie. We met for a coffee, I talked about the script with her and she came on board, which was mind-blowing because I'm such a fan of hers. That really set the tone, I think, and that's what helped the other actors come along. You can read the script and you can go, “Okay, this is the tone of this piece.”
And then there’s Eddie, who is obviously the Duke. I am just such a fan of his; his “Dress to Kill” set, in particular, is as iconic to my youth as any film. So, he brings the politics, the class, the Englishness to it. So when he was discussing the Duke, I couldn't even bare myself to think about how wonderful it would be. I talked to him on the phone and it was probably quite a leap of faith for him. For quite a long time, we were like, "Is it on, is it not?" I kind of had this feeling of, “Until I see him in the Highlands as the Duke, I will not believe it's true.” And then, of course, that day arrived and it was amazing.
The last one, Alice Lowe, I’m also a huge fan of hers. We've got this character, the Superintendent. Nothing in screenwriting books will ever tell you her character is a good idea, which is essentially in like act three, someone you've never seen before appears for about two minutes and only talks about bread. Nothing should work about that character at all and I would genuinely say that scene is probably the only scene that never changed from the first edit of the film. But we put her in there and everyone was like, "Well, that's amazing. You don't need to touch that." It's so funny because it should not work. But that’s all Alice Lowe and she is incredible. She came up for the day and it’s very hard to do a cameo like that where you're just on set for an hour. But yeah, it was beautiful. Majestic. I'm such a fan of hers as an actress, but also as a director, too.