I caught up with the film-making husband and wife duo behind Fizz and Ginger films, Tori and Matthew Butler Hart, for a conversation on film-making, influences, 70's cinema, how to do more with less, and their second feature film Two Down, out today  on VOD – find a list of UK theatrical screenings here.

Tori (neé Hart) trained at Central School of Speech and Drama on the 3 year BA Hons Acting course. After graduating she co-founded and continues to run Mr. Hart's Productions, specialising in work with an historical element. She continues to work professionally as an actress, and to produce and write films with Fizz and Ginger Films.

Matthew (neé Butler) trained at Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance on the BA Hons Acting course. Over the past fourteen years he has been working professionally as an actor, writer and director. Through his experience and varied work within the industry, he has cemented his passion for film making which has been realised in Fizz and Ginger Films.

Two Down packs quite the '70s-film-inspired swagger about it – yet, with a quintessential timeless style that marks any and all great films, seen in the camera movements, lens sizes used (all highly precise), but also lighting, grading, and some post-production. It really does a lot with relatively little resources and in that regard reminded me of other films that do that exquisitely well – particularly Edgar G. Ulmer's Detour, a film I consider the gold-standard of "less is more."

In Two Down: A young woman's (played brilliantly by Tori) world is turned upside down when the injured hit man, Mr. Thomas (Alex Hassell), holds her and the local delivery boy (Graham Butler) hostage in her own home. Over a Chinese take-away, a bottle of whiskey and a couple of hours the three discover what really happened earlier that night as a web of deceit unfolds and an alliance is formed that will change their lives forever.

Two Down was directed by Matthew and also stars Conleth Hill, Felicity Montague, Emma King, Nick Rhys and Amy Manson. The film itself isn't just a great story and tightly woven mystery as Mr. Thomas's memory is recovered, it's also a very effective black comedy, a quality audiences at screenings picked up on and you will too – to great delight. Stephen Fry and Derek Jacobi are executive producers on the project.

Another interesting bit about the characters is Mr. Thomas's being on the Autism Spectrum – particularly with a touch of Asperger’s, something that influenced Fizz & Ginger's writing of the character, and also adds an interesting and subtle dimension to Mr. Thomas, reflecting how he compartmentalizes events and also understands himself as a hit man.

I am confident you will enjoy Fizz & Ginger's baby, a film they consider their "calling-card" as much as I did. You owe it to yourself to check Two Down out on ITunes, Amazon, and Google Play today – I know you will be as eager as I am to see future projects from this incomparable cinematic duo.

Welcome Tori and Matthew to The 405! I'd like to start if I may be getting an idea of your creative process when writing and when shooting. Do you have a sort of division of labor where you both have your own specialties and those things put together make the final product or is it more collaboration on everything?

It's never the same way twice to be honest. We always write together, although even the way we do that differs from project to project. For Two Down Tori and I were both working on other things so after we had the main story and scene ideas down, I would write a scene and send it to Tori who would look at it and change things then send it back, and vice-versa. We both have different styles, so doing it like this was a good way of blending the two together. We then like hearing actors read it, to see if it sounds like a human would say it rather than it just looking good on the page, although we do lean towards slightly heightened dialogue, and then go back on work on it. 

Once we're happy with the script, although we'll keep tinkering right up until we're shooting, we do go in slightly different directions, Tori putting the nuts and bolts of the production together, whilst I start talking to finance, sales and distributors. Not that we get everything signed on straight from the beginning, but we like to get an idea of how people would think about selling it. It might seem an odd way of doing it, and we have never let what is happening in the market change anything major in a script, but it's good to try and make sure your film has a life before you shoot, we feel. 

But then we'll both work on casting, locations, and the heads of department as the story is both of our visions, and then when Tori does what I call the 'heavy lifting' of producing, the contracts and logistics, I will begin to concentrate on the directing side to try and make sure the joint vision will be realised. 

That is quite the process, which obviously is working for you guys and pleasing audiences in finished work. Favorite films and favorite directors? Which have been most influential on your development as film-makers?

We obviously like a lot of the same films and film-makers, but we also differ quite a lot, which I think only adds something when we write. It means that nothing is ever taken lightly, and that we're forced to see things from more than our own perspective – and there aren't that many arguments, surprisingly, considering we're also married! 

I have always loved the films of the 1970's especially, which you astutely picked up on as an influence of Two Down, and have always favoured the kinds of film where the pacing allows the characters and story time to develop; the films that allow a lot of visual story-telling do the job, which can often be very subtle. Saying that though, I love the epic films of David Lean and Stanley Kubrick, and the Kubrick is an overlap for both of us. I think no matter the film or maker, we both love bold film-making. 

Tori loves The English Patient, which I think is a good example of her love of great dialogue. We both originally came from theatre, so we both have to battle putting in too many huge chunks of dialogue!  

I'm a big fan of Kubrick as well. What makes a great film?

Wow, big question. We genuinely feel each to their own, and also that every film is a miracle. It's so hard getting one made, we try not to judge too harshly. Saying that there are obviously films we gravitate towards and they tend to have commonalities. Spending time on the script, especially the dialogue, is a must. I know that seems obvious, but a lot of these big blockbuster films could be so much better if they'd just spent more time on the characters, give them proper arcs, and made sure every line was as good as it could be. 

But the best films know that every aspect of the film needs to have as much attention as the other. You can have amazing visuals but if it has terrible sound you can ruin whatever moment you were trying to create. Again this sounds obvious but sound design (and the initial recording), is so often over-looked. Understanding visual storytelling, why, where and when the camera moves, the use of close ups at just the right time, are crucial to conveying a lot of what you're trying to get across to your audience. We see a lot of films that just seem to throw in close-ups every few minutes and it makes me wince to watch it! They're a very powerful piece of your weaponry and it needs to be a very specific reason as to why you're using it. 

My point is the best films and film-makers know how important every side of the craft is and how to get that delicate balance between them all. 

Sophie (Tori Butler Hart) opposite Luke (Graham Butler) in TWO DOWN.

Indeed, balance is a crucial and often overlooked thing – keeping standards high in every facet of the production. Greatest challenges as film-makers? Greatest triumphs? How does that get shaped with the dynamic you have as a duo?

I don't think any aspect of film-making is particularly easy, but it's about learning from the many challenges that are thrown at you every time you make a film. As you know from watching Two Down, we have quite a specific way of making films, so one of the biggest challenges is keeping that individual voice, whilst also trying to make sure our investors get their money back! It's balancing art and commerce, I suppose. We want to make the things that interest us, but we also want them to make money so we get the chance to create more films. 

We were thrilled that Two Down did so well at festivals and loved watching it with packed audiences. It's quite a subtle dark comedy, and sitting in a dark cinema wondering if people will get it is terrifying, but there's a line about fifteen minutes in and that's the test for me; if they laugh there, they'll get what we're trying to do. Fortunately they always did, at least in the screenings we saw. That's incredibly satisfying and a great testament to cinema audiences and shows that you don't need to explain everything that's going on all the time. If you've put it together well, they're clever enough to work it out and don't need to be spoon-fed all the answers. 

We both love those kinds of films and it's definitely shaped what we do when we work together and what we want to aim for. Sometimes we do push the subtleties so far when we write we can go back to a script months later and it's too subtle even for us! 

Two Down was really an incredible piece, especially considering its budget. It reminded me of other great low budget but high concept films like Ulmer's Detour (a favorite of mine). What was your inspiration for it?

John Thomas (Alex Hassell) in TWO DOWN.

Thank you! It means the world to us that you enjoyed it so much and compare it to Detour. Yes, the budget was low, but it was our calling card so we pulled in every favour we could to craft something that was very much in the spirit of our style. And that style tends to be, as you say, low budget with high concept. 

We watched a lot of films from the 70's and pieces like Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation were very much at the back of our minds. From the pacing and character arcs to the visuals and letting the audience in on what was going on before the characters. But interestingly we had previously been watching a lot of film noir and during our self-made film-making education we had made a short film using the techniques of that period, so I think a lot of the films of that period too influenced us, especially with the characters.  

The basic thought was to see if we could create a film, mostly based in one apartment that could entertain and intrigue us for ninety minutes. We started with the simple idea of a hit man having to be trapped in a room with a woman for some reason, and then reverse engineered it to work out why he was there and why wouldn't he leave. The idea grew by itself almost, the characters becoming bigger, which forced us to grow the world outside of that one apartment. 

That chamber play aspect of Two Down was really cool. Really added to the tension, and as you said, "made it more natural." I am also really curious about influences on the style and visual aesthetic here. I noticed a sort of seventies crime flick grit to Two Down that I really liked.

A great example of ambience in TWO DOWN. Notice especially the lighting of this still from the film.

We wanted to create a timeless feel to the film, so although they have mobile phones and it is obviously set now, there are moments when you forget that, and feel as if you're watching a film from the 70's, especially the scenes with John and Sophie, before you're brought back to the present with our bad guys. We had a limited budget so we had to think about how we could achieve that cleverly, so I chose camera moves, lens size, and edit points whilst we were filming, to give us that quality. Of course we worked on it from a lighting and grade perspective too and it was the first time I really played around in the grade, creating the unique look that Two Down has. And I think Tom Kane's score is just superb and subtly takes you to that decade in an instant. 

Last, what is next for Fizz and Ginger?

We have actually completed a new feature this year, The Isle, which is a very different film from Two Down. It's a supernatural thriller set on a remote Scottish island in 1846 and centres around three sailors who survive a shipwreck and are taken in by the locals, amid stories of hauntings and the promise of a boat from the mainland, which never seems to materialise. The film is now being sold by the financiers, Great Point Media (Lady Macbeth, The Party) so will be released later in 2018. And we have just finished the script of the next film, Mr. Parker, which is a straight drama so again very different from anything we've done before, but of course with our own Fizz and Ginger Films' style! 

Two Down Trailer - Extended Version from Matthew Butler Hart on Vimeo.