Ron Scalpello interview (Pressure)

Ron Scalpello 1

Pressure tells the story of four deep-sea saturation divers who become trapped at the bottom of the Indian Ocean after a storm sinks their ship whilst they are on the dive. I spoke with director Ron Scalpello to find out some more.

Hi Ron, so how did the idea for this film come about – why divers?

It was just an instantly fascinating proposition. Four guys trapped at the bottom of the sea with limited amount oxygen – that’s scary, that’s frightening, that’s claustrophobic and suspenseful. We spent a good while developing the script with a couple of co-writers, doing our research, looking at how we could design the film, how I could explore themes within a survival drama.

Were there certain films you looked to as reference points?

There were loads, yes – looking at certain technical things, looking at how they convey things – Das Boot is obviously a massive film. Solaris was on my mind as well, with regards looking at the interior space, and the psychological space that people get into – as well as Apollo 13.

Is it a struggle, keeping the interest and suspense when you have so little to work with?

I think this was, and will be, one of the most difficult films I have made. The challenge is to sustain the story and keep the suspense with just four characters in limited space – whilst exploring some quite big ideas about men, how they’ve lived their lives, what they wished they done, thinking about their fears and anxieties as they approach death.

And the logistical challenges of underwater filming must be huge?

Oh yeah, there are some great ‘war stories’ from movies such as The Abyss, of actors nearly dying, having to urinate in their suits and so on – it is a really difficult environment to shoot in. It’s a moving space, nothing‘s set, its physically demanding, and it’s difficult for the directors what with health and safety and so on. There’s a scene where Joe Cole’s character is swimming without his suit, and he can’t really hear me, his eyes are closed, he’s getting oxygen through a tube, artificial blood’s being inserted into his mouth, and then he’s trying to take instructions from me – it’s difficult. But, I guess with the arrogance of youth, he was so calm in there – I would have been absolutely crapping myself!

The blood dripping from his mouth is something of a recurring image in the film.

It’s funny – I’d like to say it was designed, but it just evolved. I sort of realized the motif was emerging – you try to design connections, and then when you edit, the connections start to make themselves.

Some of the dialogue and banter between the divers is quite bawdy – I imagine the job attracts a certain kind of person? Did you consult with a lot of divers to ensure accuracy?

Well it is a very masculine world. These guys are spending a lot of their time almost exclusively with other men, and their home life is distant – most of them are working four weeks on, four weeks off. We did meet a lot of divers in the course of researching this film, and it does attract a certain character. Some people just love it and will stay in that world a long time. But there are some people who hate it, and the separation from their families and normal life.

Matthew Goode’s character has some of that – he loves his family and misses them, but at the same time he loves his job, loves the sea. That is the complication and contradiction that his character has to solve.

I particularly enjoyed Matthew Goode’s performance and though he was great in that role. What was about him that you liked?

I really think Matthew Goode is one of the best actors in the British film industry. He tends to play lots of immoral characters, but there’s a huge range about Matthew that has been untapped, so when he got this opportunity to play a character you would not necessarily associate with him, he seized it. I think his performance might surprise some people.

What’s next for you – given the logistical challenges of underwater filming, would you do it again?

Well, never say never! But I think maybe not exclusively underwater, as it can be a frustrating experience.

At the moment I’m doing a sports feature documentary about Bobby Moore, there’s a heist movie that’s in the works, and a remake of the 1980s movie The Fourth Protocol, the Frederick Forsythe Cold War thriller. So it’s great to be able to have the chance to work on all these projects.

Pressure is out now on DVD.