How not to make a movie

Anthony Waller's first movie wasn't exactly going to plan. And then the Russian mafia came to call. A cautionary tale (with a happy ending) by Peter Guttridge

When Anthony Waller filmed Alec Guinness in a two-minute cameo for his stylish debut movie, Mute Witness, he didn't expect to have to wait eight years and tangle with the Russian Mafia to complete the remaining 98 minutes.

Waller was living in Munich when he met Guinness at an evening reception at the British Council back in 1985. "I asked him to play a cameo role but he said he was booked up for the next 18 months. I said 'What about tomorrow morning?' He was flying home at lunchtime but he agreed as long as he could read the script that night. His part didn't actually exist so I had to write it and then, overnight, find the location, hire cameras, crew and a vintage Rolls. We shot him in an underground car park. I shot the bloke he's talking to in a back yard in Moscow in 1993."

Waller, 36, has been a long time coming. A precocious film talent who began making Plasticine and drawn animation films on Super 8 at the age of nine, he seemed Boy Most Likely To when he left the National Film School in 1981 as its youngest ever graduate - at 20 a good 10 years younger than his peers. "I thought it wouldn't take long to make my feature film debut. But projects never happened."

He worked in Germany as an editor on TV films then began a successful career in music videos and commercials. So successful that in 1986 his tax accountant recommended he move to Monaco, where he used his money to finance Mute Witness, written two years earlier.

Originally he intended to shoot the film - about a mute girl locked overnight in a film studio witnessing the making of a snuff movie - in Munich masquerading as Chicago. Then he met a Russian dentist who suggested it could be shot much more cheaply in Moscow. Between them, Waller and the dentist got other investors and came up with the $2.2m budget.

"Moscow as a setting had great potential. The three main characters were American and it accentuated the feeling of danger, isolation and helplessness. Mosfilm studios were perfect as the location - they were run down and eerie yet they also had, for example, state of the art sound studios."

That was once the production actually got started. In pre-production, Waller first had to deal with his lead actress, Gina Bellman, dropping out with a kidney infection; a diphtheria epidemic in Mosow; and Russian customs holding his film equipment to ransom for $50,000 when it was flown in from Munich. The first day of shooting, Waller woke to the sound of explosions and machine-gun fire. Yeltsin had ordered the storming of the Russian parliament.

Filming finally began, under strict curfew, a week later. Then, enter the Russian mafia. "We were told by our Russian co-producers that we had to pay off three different mafia groups to allow us to shoot in peace. They were quoting prices more expensive than Hollywood. Contracts meant nothing - it was a question of bargaining on a daily basis - I could speak Russian fluently by the end of the four months."

Even so, Waller regards it as a "wonderful" experience. "There was an incredible amount of stress but I grew close to the team. And at the end, we got a deal we would never have got had people bought in on just a film pitch. Columbia Tri-Star, who bought the world rights to the film, had turned it down once as a script."

His next project is An American Werewolf in Paris, a tardy sequel to John Landis's 1981 hit. Other offers to direct are coming in. "They are very attractive, but I have yet to read a script which bowls me over. Although I've been busy and successful since leaving film school, if I measured my success on feature films alone then it has taken rather too long. So I want to be sure I get it right."

n 'Mute Witness' is screened at the LFF on 11 & 14 Nov, and opens in the UK in Jan

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn