The Visitor

Directors Notes


The spark of the idea for The Visitor came to me while driving around Malaysia on a big TVC shoot for Sime Darby. Not that the location or subject of the TVC had any bearing on the film’s setting. It was because my mother had just passed away and I had a lot of time on my hands to think about things as we drove around the country in between locations. And just like that, the idea popped into my head.

It started with the memory of a story my grandfather had told me. And that context I gave that story was the more personal twist.

The intention was to create a short film that was more narrative than experimental. I didn’t make it to win awards but to tell a good story well. It was intended to show what I could do with actors, tell a story well and create atmosphere. More importantly, I new I would learn a tremendous amount too- and I did.

I wrote six drafts of the script and used the Script Factory in Soho to help me with developing it, which was enormously helpful, given that this was my first attempt at writing a screenplay, albeit for a short film.


I was lucky enough to get Patrick Baladi on board for the main role of the father. He liked the script and agreed to do it from the start.

Casting the kids was always going to be tricky. I heard about the National Television workshop in Nottingham and contacted Ian Smith – the guy that runs it. He did an excellent job. And after three rounds of casting there was one standout candidate for the role of George – which to me was the more tricky of the roles to cast for. His name was Bill Jones. He was 9 years old and he was the only one who

I cast his real brother Max as Harry, his brother in the film.


I saw this as a coming of age story where George finally did something that made his father proud and reconciled their relationship. This plays out essentially against the backdrop of a classic ghost story.

Though it would be tense and creepy in parts, the main thing in my mind was to play it with a bit more feeling.

George is an honest boy. He’s sensitive, truthful and courageous. But his father doesn’t recognize this. I chose to use RED as a colour that is associated with George - his red scarf, the red bucket, the red walls when he insists on the truth at the end.

I thought it important to underscore the fact that George and his father are united by the same tragedy by the end - that they have both been responsible for the accidental death of someone. That’s why the father sits in George’s place at the table. He literally puts himself in his position. George wears his father’s jacket to go outside.

The final shot needed to have genuine warmth and reconciliation and Patrick did a great job of reaching out to Bill, the actor who played George. He made a conscious effort to bond so that when we filmed that final scene there would be genuine affection and a common bond. And I think we cracked it!

There are many other motifs that thread their way throughout the film. For example, the mother is seen as mother and angel through George’s drawing. And she literally is an angel.

So who was the woman at the door? The unfortunate dead woman in the car? The spirit of the mother?

I got an actress called Kate Hampson to play the mother AND the woman in the car. We made her look a little different in both scenes to keep it ambiguous. I decided that a story like this needs to leave it open to personal interpretation WHO the woman was.

The main thing however was that father and son were reunited albeit through tragic circumstances. But sometimes this is the nature of life.


Finding the support crew wasn’t all that easy from Singapore. But after being let down by a production manager in Nottingham I stumbled across an experienced production manager called Mary Owen, who helped me enormously in finding the locations and my producer, Jack Tarling, who did a great job bringing the shoot together for me.

We shot for 5 days in and around Pateley Bridge in Nidderdale, North Yorkshire - starting on Monday December 14. I decided to shoot on 35mm. Might as well do it properly.

I opted to get experienced professionals and pay them properly rather than inexperienced people and try to do it on the cheap. As a result the shoot went quite smoothly – though the hours were extremely long and the boys understandably got tired and cold. But they were very professional and got the job done – and their performances were really good.

Shooting in winter in the countryside is never easy especially when it snows! And that’s what it did on the third night – heavily.

We had to walk the last mile back to the cottages we were staying because no vehicles could get up the hill! The next day we faced the problem getting vehicles up to the main location – Eagle Hall. We almost had to abandon the shoot, but somehow we managed to push some vehicles and everything was fine.

It was a very happy shoot. My friend Chris Redman and my brother did an excellent job of catering and it kept everyone like one big happy family. The crew was excellent and when we wrapped I was happy with the material we got.

There were only two things I was unsure of. One was the marrying of locations. We had used three different houses for the shoot; one for exteriors, one for interiors and a third for the road outside the house. The question was, would the scenes edit seamlessly together? The most difficult part to cheat was the front door. When George opens the door and when the boys are on the porch this would be tricky to handle. Because most angles simply wouldn’t work. It would be obvious that the interior was not leading to the exterior that our film was claiming! And vice versa. Even the shape of the doo, the door frame would give this away, so I had to be very careful to avoid too many points of reference.

As it turns out, no one noticed!

The second point of concern was more serious – had I shot enough material on the road with George, to create the tension that was required?

I mulled it over during Christmas and came to the conclusion I needed more shots.


I found a location just off Junction 40 of the M1 that was just south of Leeds and was relatively easy access for the boys coming from Nottingham.

We filmed on Monday 4th January. Luckily it’s pitch black from about 4pm so we were able to start early.

After reviewing the shots we’d got, in my head, I storyboarded the ideal scenario and realized that I really needed close-ups. So a location that was similar to our original location should work. The location I found was a common just off a housing estate.

We turned up with a 16mm camera, 1 roll of film, a generator and two lights that would simulate the car headlights. We shot all George’s close-ups and a few point of view shots and it worked fantastically! In the final edit – you don’t notice. And boy am I glad I shot this extra material. It would have been lackluster without it.


Post was done in Singapore. My friend Zaki Marican edited it. And my friend and long-time collaborator Gerard Fitzgerald scored the track.

We decided that the central music theme should reflect the spirit of the mother. And G did a great job – sensitively scored and it created real atmosphere.