The Making of Hardware
by Rob Dyer
(Originally appeared in Dark Star #8, 1991)
Hardware is the first feature from 25-year old Richard Stanley. Born in South Africa where his mother took him to see films like Dracula and King Kong, Stanley was studying physiology and anthropology when he came across the films of Dario Argento. This channelled his interests "in the middle ground between science and magic" towards amateur Super-8 movies.
He later attended Cape Town Film and Video School. Leaving South Africa to avoid compulsory military service, he came to England and began making a number of documentaries and short films. His Rites Of Passage won the Insitute Of Contempary Arts School Trophy and the IAC Gold Seal Award for his 45-minute short, Incidents In an Expanding Universe. His first attempts at depicting the future materialized as a series of pop videos for Indie bands like Fields Of The Nephilim, Renegade Soundwave and Pop Will Eat Itself. Never just straight performance pieces, Stanley's promos were stuffed with movie references from Spaghetti Westerns to horror movies. His promo for PIL's The Body for example, is a 'big musical abortion scene' in which a demented John Lydon (typecast again) waves surgical implements while being wheeled down hospital corridors on a trolley.
Having wrote the script for Hardware, he flew to Afghanistan where he dropped acid and became involved in a local war in the Hindu Kush mountains. Three months passed and war over, Stanley made his way to northern Pakistan where a fax reached him saying Palace Pictures were interested in making the film from Stanley's script. Palace raised the £1 million and the production was underway. Although based in Camden Roundhouse, a former railway engine shed and drama and music venue, the nine-week shoot used a number of other locations in London.
In the developing Docklands Area, in the East End, the production made use of the brutalist architecture of Spillers Flour Mill. While there, the crew also took the opportunity to film the water taxi sequence on the Thames. The art-deco foyer of the Rainbow Theatre in North London served as the entrance hall of Jill's apartment block. The last weeks of location shooting were in Morocco. Director Stanley and producer Joanne Sellar took a nine-person crew and two cast members, Stacey Travis (Jill) and Carl McCoy (The Nomad) and scouted a location near Quarzazate, where the legendary Bernardo Bertolucci was filming his latest film, The Sheltering Sky. Eventually the small crew settled in a place near Erfoud, a beautiful dune area on the edge of the Sahara Desert.
Despite problems with sickness, the weather and dubious film equipment dealers, the hard-pressed crew came home with satisfactory footage. Joanne Sellar explains: "The first day was cloudy but fine but on the second day the rain started. So we shot most of the Nomad scenes with these interesting thunderclouds in the background. We were very surprised about the terrible weather. We apparently got the first floods for over 18 years." Paul Catling, the designer of Hardware's Mark 13 robot worked with Bob Keen (SPFX consultant on Hellraiser for which he designed the corpulent 'Butterball' cenobite and Frank's re-birth sequence. It was work like this, and in particular Catling's 'Half-man' design for Jim Henson's The Storyteller, which first caught the director's eye. Several versions of Mark 13 were used during filming, including two fibreglass suits and some animatronic versions of the monster.
Two actors alternated in the fibreglass versions, because one quickly became worn-out with wearing the heavy suit. The animatronic version also proved to be somewhat problematic: "One of the animatronic robots had a lot of powerful motors inside it," says Catling, "and if there was any radio interference it would go mad and it's so strong it just ripped itself apart." Catling eventually overcame this dangerous erratic behaviour and concentrated on Mark 13's style of movement, shooting it at different speeds to give it an insect-like motion. Initially, Hardware started out as more of a science fiction movie, but it became more of a horror movie as it went along.
"To some extent, that happened while we were shooting," says Stanley, "but also at the scripting stage. There were a lot of things in the script which people found very scary, so we tried to play them up a little bit more." Stanley hopes his sparring use of blue back-lighting distinguishes Hardware from other futuristic films like Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. Stanley preferred to go back to horror rather than science fiction sources. Both he and Steve Chivers (director of photography) had watched many of Dario Argento's Italian Horror films and as a result used a lot of red lighting. Experimenting as they shot, the lighting became more and more abstract as they went along. The end result is an interesting mix of styles.
As for the rest of Richard Stanley's career: "I've been working in the same world for a long time now. I've had quite a few separate projects which are all set in the same city, and there are also a couple of recurring characters who appear in all of them. Each time I've done it I've been able to add a little more detail to the world, so in Hardware the background detail is pretty dense. I just keep thinking about what's going to happen to this world, what this society is going to be like in 48 years time. I've got a feeling there may be some more excursions into the future."