‘Armistice’ follows Royal Marine A.J. Budd (Joseph Morgan), as he wakes in a mysterious house and is forced to fight for his life against inhuman opponents every day. In order to stay alive, A.J. must kill his opponents inside his static prison, from which he is unable to escape. As days turn into years, the isolation and violence threaten his soul.
The only hope A.J. has to stay alive lies in the journals of a former prisoner of the warhouse, World War I officer Lieutenant Edward Sterling (Matt Ryan). A.J. finds Edward’s journals buried behind a secret wall, and the soldier’s writing serves as a mentor to the young marine and help keep him alive. A.J. wonders what happened to Edward, as the endless killing leads him into taking terrible measures.
Massey generously took the time recently to talk about filming ‘Armistice’ over the phone from Britain. Among other things, the filmmaker discussed how, after working as the cinematographer on Morgan and Ryan’s film, ‘Revelation,’ he was finally ready to make his own feature film debut, and create his own unique tale about isolation; how he thinks releasing independent films via Video On Demand helps both viewers and filmmakers, as it allows audiences to watch movie whenever they want, and helps directors gain exposure; and how he rehearsed with Morgan for a week before shooting began, as he feels preparation is crucial in building a movie’s authenticity.
Question (Q): You made your feature film writing and directorial debuts with the horror thriller, ‘Armistice.’ Where you did you come up with the idea for the story overall?
Luke Massey (LM): I had been working as a camera operator, and then went into cinematography. I always planned to direct a film at some stage. I was working as a DP (Director of Photography) on a film (‘With These Hands’) that Joseph Morgan and Matt Ryan were directing and acting in. I thought it was time to make my own movie, and the idea was presented to me by Ben Read, who wrote the script with me. Then I talked to the guys about it, and it all fell in at the right time.
But for my first film, I definitely wanted it to be unique. I wanted it to only feature a few actors and be a bit horror and a bit thriller. I wanted the main thing to be about isolation. When it all came together, they seemed like the perfect ones to do it.
Q: Like you mentioned, besides directing the film, you co-wrote the script with Benjamin Read. What was your collaboration with Benjamin as you were writing the script?
LM: Well, Ben writes graphic novels, and he likes comics. So he came up with the idea, and I brought in the knowledge I had of making films. So it was quite an easy relationship. He was mainly writing it, but I was helping to put it into film language. We’ve become best friends, and we’ve worked together since. It was a lot of fun. Ben’s on his third graphic novel now, and he’s become very successful writing comics.
Q: What was the casting process like for Joseph Morgan? Since he’s the sole actor on screen for most of the film, how did you come to decide on him for the role?
LM: Well, after doing the film he was directing and acting in, Matt was producing and I was working as the DP on, I just thought Joseph was an extraordinary actor. We talked, and I said, “I would really like to do a film with you guys.”
So Joe and Matt were on board before we even had the script. I knew I definitely wanted to do the film with them. The next stage was trying to find a script we all wanted to make. I had a couple ideas, and ‘Armistice’ was the third idea. We were all on board from that stage on.
I was really more interested in working with Joe and Matt than what type of film we would be making. As many people know now, Joe’s a fantastic actor; he’s very diverse, and he’s got a great on-screen presence.
Q: Were you able to have any rehearsal periods with Joe and Matt before you began shooting the film?
LM: Yes, Joe and I spent a week together, but finding time with Matt was a little more difficult. So I was only able to rehearse with Matt over the phone, which is quite a weird experience. We didn’t even use Skype; we just rehearsed over the mobile, essentially.
But I had the week with Joe, and then he went to film ‘Ben Hur’ in Morocco, and he was there for six weeks. But we spoke every other day. Then when he came back, we spent a couple nights together in a house, just us two. We just tested out some things and played around. So that was really useful.
But I definitely like having a week of rehearsal, and so does Joe. I think most actors would like as much rehearsal time as possible, because it’s really crucial. The best way to get the greatest out of the actor and film is to do enough prep work.
Q: Besides writing and directing the film, you also served as one of the producers on ‘Armistice.’ Did you feel that producing the movie influenced the way you penned and helmed the movie?
LM: It was quite good. I produced the pre-production mainly, and then when it came time to actually shoot the film, I mainly focused on directing the movie. We had a couple other producers come on during pre-production, like Mark Kendrick, who edited the film, as well.
There were so many of us producers, and I probably did the least out of all of us. There was so much work done by all of us, and it was a real team effort. It didn’t really distract me, because there were always people around to carry on in any way, or to help you out. So we were lucky to have so many people involved who were committed to the film. So it wasn’t really a weight on my shoulders, at all.
Q: The movie is currently playing on VOD, and opens in theaters on January 31. Are you personally a fan of watching films On Demand, and why do you think it’s a good platform for independent movies like ‘Armistice?’
LM: Yes, I am now, and I think it’s really important. I think the producers, distributors and people making the movie make more money by releasing their projects On Demand, so that they can continue making films. I know services like Apple TV, and you have DirecTV in the States, are crucial, because you can go in and watch a movie when you can at home. Not everyone has the chance to go to the cinema; going to the cinema a couple times a year is a massive luxury for me.
If I finish everything at 12 at night, and want to watch a film, I can just flick on the TV. So you can watch a movie when you have time, and I think a lot of people are very busy now. So from that aspect, I think it’s really good. I also think the coverage is really good, especially since more money is going back to the people making the films, and they can carry on making more movies.
Q: Like you mentioned earlier, you were the DP on the film you worked on that Joseph directed, and you also served as the cinematographer on ‘Armistice.’ Why did you also decide to serve as the DP on this movie, and what was the aspect of working on so many aspects of the thriller?
LM: Well, I have that experience working as the cinematographer, so it came naturally to me. I didn’t really bother looking outside to find someone else to do it, because I was keen on doing it. I really enjoy it; I’ve done it twice, and have now directed three films. It comes naturally to me.
But it’s really hard work, so you have to have a good camera team. You’re not going to be with them all the time, so you have to have people who support you; it’s like being in a family. They have to support you, because you have so much going on.
Inspiration for the lighting came from several cinematographers, including Roger Deakins, as well as graphic novelist Shaun Tan. He wrote ‘The Arrival,’ and I pretty much based the whole look of the movie on that graphic novel. Cinematography is one of my favorite areas, and it’s where I spent 15 years.
Q: For the next film you’re working on, the drama ‘500 Miles North,’ you’re also going to be serving in many different areas, including directing, writing, cinematography, editing and producing, and you’ll be reuniting with Joseph and Matt on that film, as well. Where did you come up the inspiration for the movie, and why did you decide to reunite with the two of them?
LM: As soon as we finished filming ‘Armistice,’ we decided to work on another film together. As soon as we finish ‘500,’ we’re going to make another one. I think every couple years we’ll all get together again to make another film.
The idea for ‘500’ came from the relationships I had with my dad and brother. It’s basically a drama about family, and I think it’s like ‘Little Miss Sunshine.’ Everyone can relate to that kind of story, and getting over a tragedy in your family. It can tear about a family, but the family can then reunite. So I’m really excited about it, and we’ve already finished editing it. So that should be out at the end of this year.