With 2018 marking the Centenary of the end of the Great War, there’ve been a number of films released looking back at the Armistice of 1918.
From Peter Jackson’s superb documentary They Shall Not Grow Old to Journey’s End, the film adaptation of R. C. Sherriff’s play starring Asa Butterfield and Toby Jones and now Eleven, a smaller release from Evolutionary Films, promises to offer an alternate look at the historical event.
The passion project of co-directors Sean Cronin and Rock Salt (available on digital download now) is an intimate look at the soldiers caught up in the conflict on the final day of the four-year war, and the folly of that final order to ‘go over the top’ one last time.
Yahoo spoke with Cronin to learn more about his journey from appearing as a background extra in films like The Mummy, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, and The World Is Not Enough to making his directorial debut in 2017.
Here’s what the filmmaker had to tell us about working with some of the biggest filmmakers on the planet, and the skills he picked up from them.
Yahoo Movies UK: You have a lot of amazing films on your IMDB – many uncredited, including Star Wars and Harry Potter – can you give us a history of your journey?
Sean Cronin: I was stopped in the Portobello Road around 20 years ago by a casting director and she said: “you look really evil, do you want to be in The Mummy?”
Two days later I found myself shaved from head to foot, including my legs and eyebrows, painted gold and wearing a nappy. That was kind of the beginning of my journey. When I walked onto that $200M set I was totally in awe. They had literally re-built ancient Egypt. It was there that I met legendary late Director of Photography Adrian Biddle (The Mummy, Bridget Jones’s Diary, The World is Not Enough).
I then got a little supporting role in The World Is Not Enough, where I again met Adrian, along with iconic action stunt co-ordinator Vic Armstrong (The Golden Compass, Die Another Day, The Amazing Spider-Man) and we became friends.
I did a few more extra roles in Star Wars, The Mummy Returns, and Harry Potter films, but instead of waiting in the green room for the sandwiches I would always sit on the set and watch the director and the cinematographers and it was where that I began to learn my craft.
I made a conscious decision to give up extra work and get a proper agent and I never looked back. Since then instead of dying in the first 10 minutes of blockbusters, I started playing the main villain finally staying alive, at least until the end of a film (although I always seem to die in the end) and getting paid a bit more.
I recently played ‘Kane’ in Kill Kane opposite Vinnie Jones, where Vinnie played the ‘goodie’ opposite my ‘baddie’, which must have been a first for him. Through all of this I was always drawn to cinematography and directing and being behind the camera, as I knew it was a higher calling. Since then I have directed many music videos, commercials, short films and been Director of Photography on a few features. Eleven is my feature directorial debut alongside talented writer and co-director Rock Salt.
What was the most surprising thing you learned about the armistice through making Eleven?
November the 11th 2018, Armistice day was probably the most important centenary any of us will ever witness in our lifetimes, with over 11 million dead and 23 million wounded in the conflict.
I learned of the enormous sacrifice of those brave souls and the terrible futility and stupidly of war. I am sure they all thought ‘The Great War’ was the war to end all wars but alas, as history, and probably the future, has shown/will show us it was not or is not to be.
Why is it important that this story continues to be told?
We must continue to tell this story so that we, and the generations that follow us, remember the sacrifices made by our ancestors.
When I first read Rock’s screenplay for Eleven, I was totally smitten. I was immediately drawn to Rock’s wonderful screenplay especially, as my great grandfather fought and died in the Great War, it was already a subject very close to my heart.
I was utterly compelled by the story’s unique timeline in that the story is based on the last two hours of the war, and the folly of that final order to ‘go over the top’ one last time, and the terrible consequences thereafter.
Even after the catastrophe of that final push, our story immerses us in the beauty of love of courage and of reconciliation and understanding that brings us to the finale of this heart felt and essential story, a story that just had to be brought to big screen.
What’s the biggest challenge of being a director/actor, of juggling those roles?
Actually, one of the biggest challenges as well as being an actor/director, is being a single dad. I have two girls, Mollie now age 11 and Georgia age 10 who have never met their mother. They actually play my daughters in Eleven.
Juggling being a single dad in this business is a huge challenge. As far as being an actor/director and the challenges that brings, it is all about choosing and working with actors that you know can do the job and then letting them get on with it, especially when I was acting with them in a scene.
Rock cast most of the actors inEleven and did a great job; he also did a great job of directing me when I was on-screen. Co-directing is often thought not to work but on Eleven, the calibration did work. We had a great chemistry on set and were more often than not thinking the same way and often Rock would spot something I missed and vice-versa. Two heads were better than one on many occasions during the shoot.
You edited the film yourself, how important was it to you to retain creative control on this film?
As I co-directed and was cinematographer on Eleven and as the story is so close to my heart, I had to retain control of the edit. Often a film is literally made in the edit, however hard one tries to adhere to the screenplay.
On set there are always challenges. We discovered that there were timeline issues with the first part of the screenplay, as half the film is continuous, as it leads up the that pivotal moment at 11 o’clock when the war ended.
These were only things that could be fixed in the edit. I took a huge leap of faith on Eleven in that I moved away from London with my girls to be in the country so Rock and I could work on the edit together. We also had some brilliant help from one of our lead actors, Joe Bryant, who as well as giving an outstanding performance as our protagonist ‘Corporal Reeves’, helped us with structuring the edit as the story unfolded. His unbiased perspective was an enormous help.
What directors have been the biggest influence on you?
Martin Scorsese is one. I adore films like Goodfellas and Casino and I can’t wait to see what Martin does with The Irishman. Bringing greats like De Niro, Pacino and Pesci back together is going to be phenomenal.
What mostly influences me is the great directors who have struggled so hard to get their films made. It’s that old Catch 22, “You can’t make a film until you’ve made a film”.
The Godfather nearly didn’t get made, they didn’t want Francis Ford Coppola to direct, they didn’t want Marlon Brando or Al Pacino to star, in fact Paramount hated everything about the film and it went on to be one of the greatest movies of all-time grossing in excess of $250M, being nominated for 11 Oscars and winning three.
George Lucas couldn’t give Star Wars away, it was only his perseverance and tenacity that ultimately won through creating probably one of the most successful franchises of all time. Even James Cameron was mocked for his film about a boat. That film, as we all now know, was Titanic and in its day was the biggest grossing movie of all time. The directors that influenced me the most are those that refused to give up or surrender even though the studios were against them.
Sadly, this studio mentality is still with us today and if it wasn’t for the likes of our producer Roy Rivett, supporting new and up and coming filmmakers, many films would never see the light of day.
What your current feelings on the state of the current British film industry? Is it in a good place?
With the birth of digital platforms like Netflix, Amazon, Sky Store etc, the industry is a very different beast for cinema releases and independent films being able to actually acquire a theatrical release is nearly impossible.
This has made getting finance to make films harder than ever. On the other side of the coin, those platforms have made it possible for newer filmmakers to have their work seen. So, although the industry is very different now, there is some positivity in change.
Is it important to you to nurture upcoming British talent? Does the UK do enough to nurture the arts?
In my dealings with the big studios they won’t entertain films without bankable or A-list talent, which makes it very hard for new talent to break through, something that definitely needs to change.
This is something that both Rock and I agreed on and as a result, for the most part, we deliberately chose new and up and coming talent for Eleven, which we believe has become part of the charm of the piece. “Wake up you guys give the new blood a chance” is what I say and I think many would agree.
On Eleven we were so lucky to have such wonderful up and coming talent with some outstanding performances from Richard Dee Roberts as ‘Sergeant Archibald Jones’, Julian Gamm as ‘Private Blaunt’, Derek Carey Vernon as ‘Corporal Bill Saunders’. Ryan Green, who was just incredible as the young ‘Private Perkins’ alongside the more established Jo Stone-Fewings as ‘Captain Mullen. I have already mentioned the brilliant Joe Bryant as ‘Corporal Reeves’ but he was so good I have to say it twice.
The lovely Grace Blackman was just wonderful as ‘Mary Jones’, as was the wonderful Sarina Taylor who plays my wife ‘Maren Müller’ and even my two girls, Mollie Cronin, who plays ‘Julia Müller’ and my youngest Georgia Cronin, who plays ‘Anna Müller’, my on-screen daughters. It was such a joy to direct my girls along with Rock and to act with them too, an experience not many in the business can cherish. The list of fresh talent goes on and on and both Rock and I are so proud and grateful to our fantastic cast, as well as our incredibly talented and hardworking crew.
You appeared in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, did you learn anything from that set that you brought over to Eleven?
One thing I did bring to Eleven was my face, as you may remember Simon Pegg’s character Benji Dunn stole my face in the film. Luckily, I got it back in time for Eleven.
Another thing I brought from Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation was coffee. I remember talking to Tom Cruise on set and joking that there was only filter coffee on set that day, the next day there was an Italian espresso van outside my trailer. Thank you Tom!
The man is a true gentleman, with nothing but respect and consideration for his cast and crew, which is definitely something I like to think I carried over to the set of Eleven. Look after your cast and crew and they will do you proud!
Eleven, a story of not only war but the love that binds soldiers together, is available on Digital Download now.