From director, a simple philosophy: 'We're not after your sympathy'

They come up to him shyly and make aimless polite chatter, and then finally they blurt it out. "We really like that flat," they say, their faces radiant with greed, envy and longing.

"And that's when I know," laughs Danny Boyle, the Brit who has just astonished the cinema world with his first feature film, "Shallow Grave," "that's when I know they'd take the money."


Boyle, 38, is gleefully recounting the premise of his film and its effect on many of his viewers, mostly the greedy young ones. It's about three entirely unpleasant, self-absorbed young Scottish professionals who live in a glorious Edinburgh apartment and inherit a vast sum of cash from a dead roommate. They decide to keep it for themselves rather than notifying the authorities, which leads to darkly amusing complications.

"We didn't want them likable," Boyle says in a telephone interview. "We're not after your sympathy. That's too easy. We want you to hate them and still get caught up in their fate."


The "we" to which Boyle alludes is not royal; it's himself, producer Andrew Macdonald and screenwriter John Hodge, who have now banded together to form what most critics hope will be as interesting a production unit as the Ivory-Merchant-Jhabvala or Ethan and Joel Coen teams. And, actually, that's screenwriter Dr. John Hodge, a Scottish M.D. who wrote the film on the night shift at an emergency room.

"When you know John is a doctor," says Boyle, "you realize that the movie is full of what might be called doctor humor. That's what gives it its chilly edge. Doctors have an appalling sense of humor just to deal with what they've got to deal with.

Boyle was actually the third to join the trio, auditioning for the job of director for Macdonald and Hodge, who had already acquired funding to produce the film. He arrived to the project after a distinguished career in British TV, and evidently said the appropriately malicious things to convince them that he was just nasty enough to do the job.

Many people have told him that the film reminds them of "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre," whose influence he acknowledges but not with a lot of enthusiasm.

"Yes, of course," he says, "but there were others. 'Blood Simple' [by the Coen brothers] was a big influence. 'The Grifters,' by Stephen Frears, was another. 'sex, lies and videotape' still another. Hitchcock, of course. Anybody who wants to do a thriller has to look at Hitchcock. But basically, any movie that gives you that tingly feeling."

The movie was built around a number of upfront agreements.

"First, no guns. You can live your life in England and never see a gun. So we tried to find things as weapons that people could relate to: Power tools, plastic bags, carving knives, hammers. You know, so that people could go home and copy them!" (I think that's a joke.)

"Second, we very much made it an indoor movie. We built the flat on a sound stage, spending most of our budget on that. We're not really big on landscape in this country but, more important, I felt it would be easier to control the filmmaking process that way.


"Third, we conceived of it from the beginning as an Edinburgh movie. Edinburgh has a special meaning in Great Britain. It's the ultimate middle-class city, the most comfy, picturesque city in the country, home to all the posh industries like insurance and banking. But it has the fascinating underbelly. It's the city of 'Jekyll and Hyde' and Burke and Hyde, the famous grave robbers; it's as if there's a very putrid sewer running under it, and it's capable of producing grotesque crimes."

The three, says Boyle, are very conscious of trying to build interesting careers, in which Hollywood may or may not figure. They've studied the Coens closely and like the way they manage to maintain their independence from mainstream Hollywood.

"You have to keep your ceiling down. You've got to make movies inexpensively enough to gain control, so that you don't have hordes of money men crawling all over you."

And their next film doesn't sound very Hollywood at all. It's all about heroin addicts who refuse to be victims.