22nd August, 2011
Panic Button Feature/Interview
By Dan Collacott
Society still doesn’t really seem to be taking the dangers of the internet too seriously, the 90s began the grooming of children through chat rooms, then child and other beastly forms of pornography, snuff films and all sorts of uncensored horrors became widely available through the much heralded information super highway. With horror thriller ‘Panic Button’ director Chris Crow and producer John Shackleton ask ‘just because it’s on the web, do we have to look at it?’ and what's more ‘Is it wrong to look at it?’
In fact Panic Button tells a dark and cautionary tale about our reliance and abuse of social media and the Internet. Holding a blackened mirror to society and the mindless drones who entrust personal information to faceless online social media corporations, who stalk their friends and loved ones and organise riots via social media! (Ok so I’m one of those drones, although I didn’t loot the Peckham branch of Argos I swear!).
The story surrounds four strangers who have won an all expenses flight to New York through uncomfortably powerful social networking site Alltogethr.com. Once onboard and having relinquished their mobile phones - the lucky winners are then encouraged to play a number of interactive games for prizes. To start off with the games/questions asked are looked on as slightly edgy and fun but as the flight continues their tone blackens. The disembodied voice (represented by an eerie on screen talking crocodile) delivering the questions begins to use the games to uncover and expose more and more dark secrets about each character, breaking them down piece by piece until panic sets in!
The film is a tense and claustrophobic affair, picking and scratching at the boundaries of morality and asking some uncomfortable questions about the way we interact online. The moral tone and undercurrent of torture nods at the Saw films, but the film has a much more topical and immediate vibe substituting cheap scares and gore with psychological horror and a roller coaster ride of twists and tension.
Michael Jibson must get a worthy mention with a superb turn as the loud and obnoxious ‘Dave,’ in fact the entire cast are believable and keep the tension at fever pitch throughout.
The most disquieting thing about Panic Button is the fact that the four main characters may be unpleasant but they are so typical that you will find you have unwanted similarities to all of them.
LF got the chance to catch up with the director and producer of Panic Button to get an exclusive inside track on the film.
You make it quite difficult for the audience to sympathise with the characters, did you do this on purpose?
CC: Characterisation is highly important to me as a Director, I try and make people as real as possible. Our four characters are 'grey' I'd say, not particularly unpleasant, just your average Internet users. Most people probably use the Internet regularly to satisfy peculiar, unpleasant and socially unaccepted perversions, fascinations and curiosities. The four characters here are no exception.
JS: Of course none of the characters in this film actually deserved their fate, but it was important to us during the writing process that they were not entirely innocent either, even if it was just a case of ‘guilty by association’. We wanted to explore the real-life repercussions of people’s viewing habits, and have them come back to bite them.
Knowing everything about them (no spoliers) which of those characters would you NOT want to sit next to on a long haul flight?
CC: None of them.
JS: Dave could be quite entertaining on a long-haul flight.
With the dissolving of the UK Film Council do you think it is getting harder to make and get distribution for British independent films?
CC: The UK Film Council never made it easy for the majority of British Independent films. Generally it had a very specific funding agenda, some people did really well out of them, most people didn't.
JS: The dissolving of the UK Film Council has had no impact on our production company (Movie Mogul) whatsoever. New technologies, the abundance of talent, coupled with the UK tax credit and an EIS increase to 30% tax incentive means that there has never been a better time for independent British filmmaking. There is nothing in the way!
How long did the film take to shoot and edit?
CC: Around a year, although a number of unforeseen problems slowed the production down, we could have made it quicker.
JS: The shoot took place over 23 days, although concept to delivery took 32 months.
The moral tone and voice of the film has some similarities to Saw, are you Saw fans?
CC: I've only ever seen the first film; I thought that it was very well constructed. I actually tried avoid the more Hollywood stylistic horror looks and edit techniques initiated to a degree by Saw in order to steer it away from these types of film.
JS: I’ve only seen the first one as well, and I’m not a fan of the torture porn genre. ‘Saw on a plane’ was the easiest analogy for us to make in order to raise finance, although we always envisaged the film as something very different to that style of film.
The film is very tense and claustrophobic - what filming techniques did you employ to do this?
CC: It's not necessarily just about shooting, every element plays towards this, the performances on set, the cinematography, the pace of the scenes, the edit, music, sound etc.
I chose to employ initially a slowly moving camera, lots of very tight character CU's and to stay away from long shots unless they were to make a specific point. I wanted to initially craft a growing tension, awkwardness and claustrophobia that carried an audience along to the later carnage without them considering the mechanisms employed or being aware of being forced along with it.
Later I wanted to go more handheld, fast shutter speeds, a more frenzied style and pace of edit to really move the story from the initial slow moving, crawling, voyeuristic camera work. The grade also slowly degrades with the situation, resembling in the end something that looks for like perverse CCTV surveillance footage. I hope people leave this film feeling a little dirty, a little voyeuristic and paranoid about their own internet activities.
What films made you want to get into and do horror?
CC: I don't really see Panic Button, nor Devil's Bridge as straight up horror. In fact they're more thriller based in my mind. The Empire Strikes back changed my world when I was a young kid, the darkness blew me away after Star Wars, I remember leaving the cinema knowing that I wanted to make films. Other reinforcing films as a kid were Blade Runner, Brazil, Apocalypse Now, Mad Max 2 and Dawn Of The Dead; all had a very lasting steer.
JS: Evil Dead 2 first spawned my interest in horror, but I am not a genre driven Producer.
How different was this from making Devil's Bridge?
CC: Very different. Panic Button had a far bigger budget, more crew and was set based mainly. We shot Devil's Bridge on peanuts, no sets, all locations, tiny cast and crew (all brilliant) with myself and the other producers doing about 30 jobs. I ended up having to do the entire picture post for Devil's Bridge myself (Edit, VFX, all titles and Grade) whereas on Panic Button we had a fantastic post production team, and thank god a brilliant editor (John Gillanders) Devil's Bridge was joyous anarchy, but was also a heart of darkness journey (in the best possible way) We never caught Kurtz though, just got eaten alive by horseflies.
When was the last time either of you were scared in real life or by a film or TV series?
CC: Red Riding, genuine human darkness, real abject horror and the best thing made in a long time.
JS: I watched a genuinely harrowing episode of Luther recently, but I still get scared by anything that goes bump in the night, which seems to happen quite regularly.
What are you planning next?
CC: We (The Devil's Bridge mob) are developing a stark, expansive project set post Norman Conquest. It plays out as a mixture of Revisionist Western, Samurai film and war story. No horror, but it's brutal as hell. I'm also looking at a few scripts at the moment.
JS: We have a slate of new projects including a psychological thriller, a caper-comedy, a fantasy-action movie, and we’ve not ruled out Panic Button sequels, as there is an ongoing story to be told. We’re trying to let good ideas dictate our route ahead as a company.
As well as the film holding a mirror to society regarding social media and the Internet - do any of you have any direct beef with social media and what it does to people?
CC: I don't feel that it's particularly healthy; people live by it these days, crazy addictions. What's it doing to good old-fashioned social skills and human relationships? People go and meet mates for a beer and spend all night on facebook or tweeting about it, why not just talk to your mates? I saw somebody tweeting their critique of a film in the cinema the other day, half way through the film. I mean, c'mon, for fuck's sake - why?
I also think it's a bizarre platform for self deluded, self-mythologising, I personally don't care what people had for dinner.
I think it's a very bad sign for our future on a very basic human level.
JS: It has to be said that there are some very useful tools out there for getting stuff done, and ironically we could not have made Panic Button without the intrinsic use of social media. We are all at the start of a very long journey into the unknown here, and for us as filmmakers, that just provoked a wealth of ‘what if’ ideas, not to mention some really dark ‘real world’ story material that already existed.
What is scary is the wealth of personal information that we are all freely churning out there, with no real clue of who is on the receiving end of it, or who is going to be in the future.
Have any of you had any negative online experiences or had your identity stolen or been stalked through the net?
CC: I'm not actually Chris Crow, I've just hacked his account.
JS: My PS3 went down for a bit, but I didn’t get hacked. I had my old analogue mobile phone cloned once, that cost me a few quid.
Do you think the Internet and the power we give social media is out of control?
CC: Hell yeah!
JS: We’ve just got to wise-up to it, whilst facing the up to the fact that it is here to stay. Someone should invent a Panic Button, perhaps?
Do you think social media can continue to grow at the rate it is or will people tire of it?
CC: I think they're always one step ahead of the addiction they've corrupted us with. I'd imagine that within ten years or so people won't be capable of leaving their house without their trusty facebook brain implant or tweet-helmet (I may try and patent that)
JS: As previous
What do you think about the fact a large amount of the organisation of the riots were (allegedly) done through social media (as well as the back lash against the rioters).
CC: We've always used whatever tools we have for the good the bad and the ugly. Hundreds of years ago we'd have just sent a rider into the next village to stir them up about the planned Roman ambush. People use the Internet for terrible things, but also for good, the various animal rights and rescue groups for example have done wonders via social networking. It's not all bad.
Is there one thing you've done online that you wish you hadn't?
CC: Signed up to facebook and twitter.
JS: Bought that jar or Trichlowart from the All2gethr.com store
To find out more about Panic Button visit the website