[Interview] Adam Leader & Richard Oakes for FEED ME
FEED ME follows Christopher Mulvin’s character Jed, whose life is shattered when his wife, played by Samantha Loxley, suddenly dies and Jed feels directly responsible. Spiraling into an abyss of depression, he finds himself in a bar with deranged cannibal, Lionel Flack (Neal Ward, in a truly star-making performance) who convinces him he can redeem himself through the glorious act of allowing himself to be slowly eaten to death.

Nightmarish Conjurings’ Dolores Quintana chatted with co-directors and co-writers, Adam Leader and Richard Oakes, about their latest film, FEED ME. During the conversation, they discussed the real-life criminal case that inspired FEED ME, exploring the different facets of loneliness and trauma between their two main characters, and how they both divvied up their co-director duties.

When you went to make this film, why did you choose this story in particular?

Adam Leader: laughs] Well, it was the Armin Meiwes story. The true story about the guy in Europe who put out an advert for someone that wanted to be eaten and someone agreed and signed a contract and let Armin Meiwes eat him was just so bizarre to us that we thought this is…I tread carefully when I say great, but a great inspiration to use to write our own just ridiculous film based on that. [It] being the kind of surface-level inspiration of this idea. So we use that as the only true thing, obviously, to create a fictional, crazy story with both Rich and my sense of humor and whatnot, and the drama that we wanted to infuse into it and stuff. We just thought it was mad and wanted to write something based on that.

I see what you mean when you say that it’s a great idea. The original story is something that is so wild that you don’t think that someone could actually come up with it it. If somebody wrote a script before it actually occurred, people would have been no, no, that would never happen, you know? So I get what you mean there. How did you go about actually creating the film? As you said, it’s, as you say, a mad idea. How did you go about it?

Richard Oakes: We decided to make it a bit more barmy because we’re like, no one’s gonna believe this idea so, let’s go crazy with it to make it more palatable for people but it’s strange. The hardest bit we found to try and get into the scriptwriting process to convince people was that thing that was true. Then it was like, how do we convince people that someone would do this? No one will believe that. Everything else is like, fine, but that part was the hardest bit.

But, once we kind of got past that, we thought we need a real compelling avenue of why someone would do this. We went down the grief road as well as the guilt road so, driven by grief and guilt for losing a family member and feeling responsible was something that is probably as close as we could think of that would trigger someone down that road and then using Lionel as the manipulator to latch on to that. We thought that was probably the best route to go, but all bathed in [the] bubble wrap of ridiculous comedy that is kind of very much what me and Adam like to do, which we didn’t get as much chance to do on the last film because I think we’re worried that the audience wouldn’t resonate with our type of comedy.

But, on this film, we just said sod it. We’re gonna make a film for us and we don’t care if people like it or not. We want to make what we want to make, and that seems to have gone down well. So we’re happy with that.

Courtesy XYZ Films

It is kind of a daring thing to take something like this particular subject and to go really very comedic with it. Did you find anything to be difficult with that approach? With casting or anything like that?

Adam Leader: In terms of casting, no. Trying to find the right balance of humor and drama or seriousness kind of seemed to come naturally when it came to us putting this story together. But it was in terms of where it should be. First and foremost, the most important thing is to have a solid story that makes sense. The underlying thing of what we really, really want to do in here as well as make an entertaining film is focused on mental health and the very real things that come with it, you know, certain disorders, trauma, and abuse, and everything that you see in the film was very carefully researched.

When it came to writing the script, there are several people that somehow I found myself growing up around that experienced certain things very close to home in the script, if you catch my drift. So, I had a lot of personal experience with certain things and experience with other people close to me that I could speak to about that. We wanted to make sure that was done right.

But I guess akin to real life, I feel like the humor works. Tell me, Richard, if you agree with the way I say this, but I feel like the humor works because real life sometimes, and more often than not, is being in an extremely awkward situation and finding yourself awkwardly wanting to laugh sometimes. And it’s you can’t just have sadness, sadness, sadness, depression, depression, depression. There’s always going to be a moment of oh, my God, this is hilarious. I shouldn’t be laughing. But then bringing you back into, ‘Wait a minute, no, this is what’s really going on underneath the surface.’ I hope I’ve explained that in a good enough way without waffling on.

I think that one of the things that people who haven’t experienced grief on the level of say, losing a parent, relative, or very close loved one, is that one of the ways that you can release trauma is actually by laughing. It seems inappropriate, but the things that give people relief from grief, because grief is so overwhelming, are sometimes very strange to people who may not have experienced that.

Adam Leader: Absolutely.

How do you deal with a character who is a cannibal? I mean, how do you relate to the character and tell the story? Obviously, the story is not entirely his but how do you relate to telling a story about someone who has that type of desire? Someone who normally would be thought of as reprehensible?

Richard Oakes: Well, I think that’s what we wanted to do. That was the beauty of it. There’s nothing more boring than a black-and-white bad guy that’s just evil, and we wanted to show the humanity of Lionel and the fact that he’s a hurting person that is not happy with himself and wants to be someone else. I think we all have those moments of not loving ourselves and wishing we were more like someone else, or having those elements from potential past abuse or past neglect, or even feeling alone and wanting companionship, and these are all things that we’ve put into Lionel. That’s the subtext of him is very much that. It’s this last child that just wants to be loved, essentially. I think people will resonate with that, and that’s the humanity that we find and put ourselves into this horrible person that no one would want to be or no one would want to meet. But there’s an element there that everyone can relate to.

Courtesy XYZ Films

Between those two men, the two lead characters, they do have something very strong in common, and it’s that loneliness because that’s what drives him as a cannibal but it’s also what drives the other character to become a victim.

Adam Leader: That’s it and that’s kind of what draws them together. Their arcs are at two opposite ends of the spectrum. Jed’s in one place, and Lionel’s in another. Both their trauma and grief, albeit being separate sources, kind of draw them together. And then as their arcs throughout the story progress, they cross over, but briefly meet in the middle where they become close and could almost help each other help themselves. Without spoiling anything, they could take that opportunity, but they seem to not, which is why their arcs ended up on the complete opposite sides of the spectrum, which was really interesting for us to explore. Because they’re like one, but the same, but at complete opposite ends.

How did you divide up the duties with your co-direction?

Richard Oakes: We learned quite early on that we wanted to make sure that we try and assign the duty so that we get in fewer arguments, not that we argue a lot, but we wanted to anticipate any problems on set because a set is a stressful environment, where there’s a lot of pressure to get things done within strict times and be creative and forcing creativity can cause anxiousness. When people are like, I believe in this idea [or that idea], you can butt heads.

Adam writes the scripts, so he would take charge of the dialogue and the way lines are delivered and deal with the actors in that way and kind of do that. He’s the best person for that because he wrote this incredible script and knows those characters through and through, and then my background is more in cinematography. So I was very much in charge of the visual side of directing the look of the place, the costume, and the blocking during the scene. So that’s kind of how we divide those two things. Now and again, we’ll dip into each other’s territories but whoever’s realm that is has the veto if that makes sense.

What is it that you would the audience to take from the film?

Richard Oakes: Let’s just say I think we probably have different things because we both have different inputs into to the film and different things, I guess, that we both love about the film. We probably share some of the same stuff, but I just want to make a thrill ride at the end of the day, but that has a heart and that shocks people and gets people talking and want to make something that people have not seen before. That’s always the challenge for us is to make something different. Me and Adam are quite bored of the same films coming out every year, and we just wanted to make something, for better or worse, different that people will go, Oh, I’m not sure what I just watched. The fact that we’ve had that response from a lot of people is great to us. So that’s, that’s one thing.

Adam Leader: To be honest, I’m exactly the same as Rich in that sense to make something that not only me and Rich love. Because this is the first of many, but this is the first of those of all films that we intend to make in the future where we are completely wearing our heart on our sleeve and putting ourselves on the page and putting our personality into that script and into that story for people to see that and for people to enjoy it. I guess it’s a platform of honesty or 90 minutes of pure honesty from us as filmmakers.

This particular film is very special because there are certain bits of us within that script, certain little nuggets of information, or character tendencies. I certainly put in when I was doing the script, after we had written the whole story together, there were certain little tendencies that kind of remind me of things in my life that I would maybe implement into the characters that are quite personal to me, but don’t impede on the story or anything. So it’s nice to be able to kind of have that little something personal that I’m able to share.

And I think Rich has the same as well. There are certain little bits of us within that script that we can hold personal to us and keep within our hearts but also share with the rest of the world who, like Rich said before, seem to be receiving the film really well, which is really nice and heartwarming for us.

FEED ME is now available on Digital and on Demand.

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