Hey, friends. Barbarella here. Horror films cover a wide range of subjects, some more taboo than others. While you couldn’t scroll through a list of horror films without slasher titles dominating your screen, cannibalism films are far more sparse. Richard Oakes and Adam Leader are adding an option to the latter. Based on a true story, their film FEED ME stars Neal Ward, Christopher Mulvin, Hannah Al Rashid, and Samantha Loxley and will be on demand and digital October 27, 2022. While comedic elements emerge sporadically, the film’s darker tone persists throughout, and cannibalism isn’t the only underrepresented topic it includes; it also touches on rarely discussed eating disorders, specifically bulimia. I had the opportunity to chat with writer/director pair Richard Oakes and Adam Leader, as well as actors Neal Ward and Christopher Mulvin.
Barbara: Assuming that the answer is not human flesh, what is the strangest thing you've ever eaten?
Richard: We literally just got asked this question. Mine's bird shit.
Barbara: Would you like to elaborate on that?
Richard: It's funnier if I don't, probably, so I'll just leave it at that. I do actually have another one I just remembered. When I was younger, I was having this fry up, like a cooked breakfast. I was eating my sausage, and I was dipping it in the ketchup and was like, "Oh, this tastes weird. What is it?" Then I realized I didn't put any ketchup on my plate, and I had a bleeding nose.
(Everyone reacts as you’d expect.)
Adam: Mine would be Savlon. I was at a music festival a few years ago, and I woke up in the morning still steaming drunk. I went to brush my teeth, and realized that I'd used the Savlon, [an antiseptic cream], as toothpaste, and it was pretty gross.”
Christopher: I think with mine, I was working in Kos; there was a market area down there. I was there for a year, and there was always this little area where they would cook insects, like deep-fry insects. I just gave it a go and tried cricket, cockroaches; I had a small bowl of that. I think that's the weirdest thing that I've really eaten. It tastes really nice.
Neal: I struggled with this question when we got asked it earlier, and I'm going to have to keep the same one because I still can't even think of one that's remotely interesting. Just Lego as a kid probably, [putting] Lego pieces in your mouth and swallowing them by accident, I suppose, and passing them through. That's all I've got.
Barbara: You need to up your game. Switching gears, in the beginning of the film, it states that this was inspired by true events. What events, in particular, inspired this, and would you talk a little bit about how you then developed the story into its final version?
Adam: It was inspired by the story of Armin Meiwes, the guy that advertised for someone to be willingly eaten. It was something that just always fascinated us, and we were like, “Why don't we write something about a man who willingly gives himself up to a cannibal?” It just started from that little seedling of an idea, and then Rich and I locked ourselves away for about a week, and we just fleshed out this entire story, all these scenes that we wanted to see in there, from start to finish. By the end of that, I had this bible of information that I took home, and over the space of about two weeks, I just locked myself away and penned this screenplay. That's how it birthed, basically.
Barbara: What is it like co-directing? If you don't agree on something, who decides in which direction you go?
Richard: Well, this is something that we thought we'd tackle early on. We started off doing YouTube sketches and stuff. We decided to figure out a process before we went into our first film, and we've kept it the same since, just to avoid arguments and things like that. We both have our specialties in what we do. Adam is the masterful scriptwriter, and I deal more on the visual side of being a cinematographer by trade.
Adam: An incredible one, by the way.
Richard: We decided, when we come to directing, let's split it similarly, so Adam deals with the actors with the dialogue, because he knows how the characters should deliver the lines because he wrote and penned every amazing word of that. I would deal with the visual side and how they're blocked through the scenes and move around the scenes to work with the camera and things like that. It works well, and we do suggest or say,"How about this?" into each other's domain, but at the end of the day, we each have our own area just to keep the ball rolling and to keep some structure there.
Barbara: Cool. Neal, your character Lionel gave me a very strong Evil Ted Lasso vibe. What factored into how you developed that character and why you made the choices that you did?
Neal: Yeah, we noticed yesterday on Twitter, Ted Lasso comments were coming in thick and fast. Literally, [there were] people thinking I was Jason Sudeikis. I suppose it started off on paper as a very straight-played character. In past films that I've been involved with, it's very dark, unhinged characters, very intense, but with this one, there's elements of comedy, which weren't played on so much when I was doing the prep for it. I started off looking at maybe a Jon Bernthal/Tommy Lee Jones/Josh Brolin kind of character, very-straight-laced Texan guy, then it became something so far-fetched on set, which was basically Foghorn Leghorn, Eugene from “The Walking Dead,” and an element of Beetlejuice, Michael Keaton. It was an interesting way it went because the first couple of scenes we shot on the first day just literally worked better being a bit more kooky than straight-laced, then the things that he does actually make sense more with that. The development for him was pretty much get it as crazy as you can get, and we can always reel it back in.
Barbara: Christopher, how do you mentally prepare for a role like this one?
Christopher: It was a real challenge for me because Neal, Richard, and I have worked together, and we're quite comedic when we're all together. We were all bouncing off each other with the comedy side of things, so going into this kind of role of depression, going into dark places and stuff, I had to [be] mentally focusing quite a lot on certain elements. Obviously, there are a lot of people, as well, who have been dealing with mental struggles and depression, so [I did] research into that. It was quite a time consumer. Neal and I were going through the script elements of where the pinnacle points of Jed’s emotional breakdown happen, and then bringing elements to the table when we were filming. It was kind of like, "Oh I'm going to try and give it this element to really show that crack in that mental part." Getting feedback from Adam and Richard was really good, to just be able to get that process back with them. I felt comfortable in it. These guys were amazing. They were like, "Okay, let's just bring this down now we've got this part." Of course, when we're all on set, we're joking around and stuff in between and then as soon as we do that emotional part, it's like, "Yep, we're all back again." It was a challenge for me, but it was really good being with these guys through that challenge, getting all that advice.
Barbara: Was it really challenging at the end of the day to just shake all of that off?
Christopher: Yeah, certain times. Because I know with certain days of filming, it’d be something really emotional in the beginning and then suddenly bat-shit crazy in the evening. But I tell you what, again with these guys and myself, it was just sort of going into a room and just depressurizing, coming back out of that kind of mental state, and then having these guys going, "Just take all the time you need, take all the time you need to just get into that process and also come out of it, as well."
Barbara: I really appreciated the inclusion of the eating disorder. I don't feel like there's really much representation about it, and it's such a common disorder, especially among younger women. I thought that was really interesting to include. Could you talk a little bit about the decision to address that, and were you making any comparison between her eating disorder and his kind of eating disorder, if you want to call cannibalism an eating disorder?
Adam: Absolutely. There's obviously a sense of irony in this film with everything related to eating in there. Like you say, his cannibalism is certainly one form of eating disorder and then the actual eating disorder of bulimia, it’s something that makes the film work, in that sense, on all levels. Going back to what you said, it is something I feel like it's not talked about enough, and it is such a debilitating thing for one to have, and it does seem to be more common in a lot of women. I happened to have grown up around it, and I've seen a few women in my life, very close to me, and I've seen what it does to people. It’s just awful; it's so sad to see someone go through that, whatever kind of disorder it may be. I think everyone kind of suffers with something somewhere down the line, but to really have something take a hold of you like that and take over your life is really heartbreaking to see. It is so common, and I think it does need to be talked about because it's not, like any kind of mental health stuff, I don't think it's talked about enough.
Barbara: Yeah, I think that social media has helped open up the dialogue with a lot of mental disorders, but I still think that any kind of eating disorder is still pretty much underrepresented and underdiscussed everywhere.
Adam: Oh, I would agree. I would agree with you, yeah.
Barbara: What are your favorite cannibalism movies and why?
Richard: We got asked this on the last podcast. I'll let you take this one first, Neal.
Neal: Me? I might change mine. I was a huge fan of The Hills Have Eyes, just that was really striking for me as a kid. Not massively focused around the cannibalism, but my whole idea of what a cannibal was, that sort of tribe-y, weird-looking people, but I said Alive on the last one, so I'm going to go with that.
Richard: Yeah, mine’s Alive as well. We kind of crashed on that one. I love Alive, watched it when I was a kid, and my mum read the book, and I was fascinated.
Christopher: Silence of the Lambs. Absolutely. Anthony Hopkins, everything about that. Just the creepiness of it all. When I was younger, I was shitting my pants just watching it with my brothers, all of us going, "Oh my God." So that would always stay with me.
Adam: Probably on a similar page to Chris, Silence of the Lambs would be one of them. But also, the new Dahmer thing is just unbelievable. I think it's incredible. It's definitely one of my favorite things that I've ever seen, just how well executed it is. That scene when he drinks blood…I won't go more into it if people haven't seen it, but whoa, it's so good. It's amazing.
Barbara: Tonally, how did you make the decisions that you did? Because I feel like there's comedic elements in the movie, but it never really goes lighthearted at all. Would you discuss the reasons for the decisions you made surrounding the tone?
Richard: The tone is just us, and that's something that we wanted to do from the get go. We started going down a direction with it. We were like, “We can't do that. That's too ridiculous, or that's too stupid.” And we're like, “Yeah, we can, because we are the only people in this that make the decisions on this movie, so we can do whatever the hell we want,” and let's make a film for us rather than worrying about, “Oh, is that going to go down well, or is the audience going to find that as funny as we do?” You can't start thinking like that; you put yourself in a box, so we are just going to do what we want to do, and hopefully, we'll find some idiots out there that feel the same way.
Barbara: What was the most fun scene for you to shoot?
Neal: The most fun scene, I suppose, would be the lake scene. It was the most fun, just seeing that all unfold. Just to see Jed's face when he cuts to him, and he's just like, “Why am I here? What are you doing? This is awful.” I think it was a really fun day, just in the sense of it was freezing cold, and we had to keep spirits high. It's sort of tied with the piece at the end, I suppose. But then, thinking about it, maybe now it's probably the kitchen scene, as hard as that was. It was the most fun to smash a kitchen up. I'm not going to say what with, but yeah, that's mine. That's all three of mine then, not one.
Christopher: Yeah, there's multiple ones there. We're literally just becoming the best of friends, starting to actually connect, and you see this sort of relationship start to really develop from the craziness of all of it, where I'm wanting to give up my life, Lionel’s wanting to eat me. And it's like, actually we can be friends now. I loved that segment. The whole process of trying on the clothing, as well; I think that was one of my favorites.
Adam: I think mine is going to probably be the first ever scene that we shot, actually, which was all of Lionel's dialogue on the call when Jed phones him, because Neal obviously brought the fire, and he did a great job. We call “Action,” and then we just watch our movie come to life for the first time, watching Neal go into that place and become this weird, unhinged serial killer and doing his little funny mannerisms whilst he's eating popcorn at the same time. Rich and the whole cinematography side lit the whole thing. It just looked gorgeous. Rich and I were by the monitor, just watching our movie come to life, and that would've been my favorite moment. Plus, it was the moment where I was the least sleep deprived, because it was the first day, but that was my favorite.
Richard: I think definitely as far as the experience on set, the earlier in the shoot, the better. I think my favorite scene in the film as a whole, just watching the film is... I'm torn between the one when Jed finally speaks up – I love that scene – and then the very end scene where it all goes a bit mental. They're my two favorite parts as a viewer.
If you’re hungry to check out FEED ME, it comes out October 27, 2022 on demand and digital. For now, you could feast on the trailer!