How Guy Ritchie’s composer ended up working on Will Gilbey’s first feature film ‘Jericho Ridge’ | INTERVIEW

Trapped and without backup, a small town cop fights for her life when her remote Sheriff’s Office is targeted by murderous attackers.

Jericho Ridge is an action-packed single location thriller from first-time director Will Gilbey, who’s previous credits include editing the Netflix documentary series Robbie Williams and HBOs Harry Potter 20th Anniversary, plus writing credits on the brutal Rise of the Footsoldier film series. Will sat down on Zoom with Nick L’Barrow to discuss the pros and cons of single location filming, the struggles of getting his first film off the ground, and how he managed to snag Guy Ritchie’s composer for his first film!

Nick: There’s a line from this film that I love which is, “Shit don’t happen until I make it happen”. And I feel in some kindred way, that line is applicable to the world of indie filmmaking? Do you have a similar approach when making your films?

Will Gilbey: I think when you actually get to the stage of making it, obviously you’ve got so many people who are helping you out on set, be that the cast and crew. But getting to that stage, no one will ever do it for you. No one will ever, sort of, open that door for you.

It feels like everything has to be a war of attrition to get onto a set. I looked at the first PDF of this script, the first draft, and it was 2017. And now it’s 2024! Independent filmmaking is a marathon, you know? I mean, we got delayed by COVID and locked down, and that sort of stuff, but it’s incredibly hard. I’ve been trying to get a film of the ground as a director for nearly 10 years, and this [Jericho Ridge] was the first one we could get over the line.

There was something, I guess, attractive about this to someone who is financing it. It’s in one place and we’re trying to make the most of that. We can lean into it and turn this single location film into like a pressure cooker. You know, used our perceived weakness as a strength.

And I’ve edited load of first-time feature director’s films. Some have turned out great, others which didn’t. And what I found is that sure you’ve got to be ambitious, but if you’re too ambitious, say you’ve got too many locations, too many characters, you’re fundamentally fighting a losing battle against something you can never really make look like a high-quality film.

No one is kind enough when they’re watching low budget movies at home to go, “Oh, they only had $500,000 for this?” All they’re thinking is, “Why doesn’t this like as good as Dune: Part Two?!” And it’s pretty harsh, but it’s the truth.

Nick: With filming Jericho Ridge predominantly in one location – what were the pros and cons during the production of that?

Will Gilbey: We shot the film in Kosovo, which is, you know, a tiny little country. One of our producers has been going out there for years, making short films and music videos, commercials. And the ideas we were exploring pre-COVID were at a bigger budget level, but ironically got us less days of shooting. So, with Kosovo, we actually go to build the Sheriff’s office to our own specifications, rather than adapting an existing structure, which we would had to have done in Canada, which we were looking at.

But, on the other side, it’s pretty cold out there! And it just started madly snowing on the banks opposite the Sherriff’s office. Then the next week… it all melts! So we were always chasing continuity on that.

Then, because the majority of the film is set at night, we realised that there were a lot of stray dogs in Kosovo, right? In a nice way, it’s not like there’s dog shit all over the main town, but at night as you walk home, you’d pick up a very friendly pack of stray dogs who would walk with you back to the hotel. But when it came to filming, the stray dogs that lived there would howl. And we were like surely it will stop, and then an hour later we’d start thinking we were going to have to shut down the film [laughs].

So, we had to have production runners go out into the woods and befriend the dogs, and then tempt them back with food so we could keep them quiet in the production tents. Then they’d see a little hedgehog run by and they’d start chasing it and barking again, so that whole thing was a completely random challenge! The barking dogs could cost us up to like three hours of filming!

In a lot of ways, it was definitely a learning experience as a first-time feature director. Sure, three days in I was like, “No, never doing this again. This is awful!” And then I think I found my feet and started to enjoy it. That level of problem solving and dealing with things where everything’s gone wrong, I really enjoyed it in the end.

Nick: I think the single location element also lends itself quite well to the tension of the film. But when it comes to actually creating tension in the story, at what point do you really feel like it begins to work: in the scripting, directing, or editing phase?

Will Gilbey: Yeah, you’ve gotta have breathes, haven’t you? It’s gotta be sort of, set up, punchline. That first 20 minutes is the set up that needs to be paid off. We’ve built enough of this base to lay out the last part, but in terms of maintaining tension, I think it’s down to having those moments of quiet in between. And that all happens in the script, but you are hoping it’ll work out and be tense once you start editing. Then adding music on top of that certainly helps.

Nick: Speaking of the script, Jericho Ridge, as tense and action-packed as it is, really has this human drama at its core. How important is that aspect of the story when you’re piecing it all together?

Will Gilbey: That actually sort of just developed throughout the process. You know, you write one or two drafts, and you don’t really know what it’s all about yet. Like the son for example, he didn’t come into the film initially until 30-40 pages in. He wasn’t that featured in the beginning because his presence was on the phone.

But then as you write and develop, that’s when it becomes… well, I don’t want to spoil it by exactly saying what, but the relationship is absolutely central to the drama, to the action, to everything.

It was the same with character of Earl Macready, who’s played by Michael Socha. He’s not in the opening draft either. He was someone who slowly built-up interest as the danger from within and the comic relief.

Nick: You mentioned the music before, and I wanted to ask about the collaboration with your composer Christopher Benstead. I loved his pulse pounding score…

Will Gibley: Well, it’s kind of weird how I happened because myself and my editor, Sarah Peczek, we pretty much temp-tracked the whole film to Christopher Benstead’s score to Wrath of Man, which I think is Guy Ritchie’s best film since Snatch!

Nick: I love Wrath of Man! Criminally underrated!

Will Gilbey: I love that movie. It belongs in the pantheon of great LA crime movies. It’s gotta be at least top 10! It’s completely under appreciated. No one fucking gets it!

Nick: I absolutely agree with you!

Will Gilbey: I’m shaking your hands across the screen! It’s nice to meet another Wrath of Man fan! But it’s got an incredible score. And we temped most of our movie with 90% of that score, and the other 10% was his score from The Gentlemen. So, one of our producers was like, “Why don’t we just reach out to him?” And he’s doing other directors’ films, he’s doing lots of stuff. He did the sound effects editing on Gravity!He’s won an Oscar! He’s very experienced.

So, we sent him the pitch. I think we were at picture lock at that stage, and it was filled with his music. And he came on! It was a bit cheeky, trying to get someone to by just filling the film with their score from another movie! I really enjoyed working with him!

Thank you to Will for his time, and to Eagle Entertainment Australia and Hold Fast Public Relations for organising the interview. Jericho Ridge is available on various VOD platforms and DVD from May 8.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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