Thursday, 21 February 2019
Ahead of the UK premiere of their sensational directorial feature debut FREAKS at Arrow Video FrightFest Glasgow 2019, Zach Lipovsky and Adam Stein talk about making impossible ideas believable, the challenges of fatherhood and casting Bruce Dern.
This is your debut feature. How did the two of you meet and decide that this was the film you wanted to make?
ZACH: We met on a reality competition show called On The Lot, which was produced by Steven Spielberg. It was basically an American Idol-type show that aired on Fox. We were competitors who had to make a new short film every week, and we became close friends and collaborators afterwards.
We worked separately as directors for a few years, but kept coming back together, finding the nature of our collaboration very rewarding. We were struggling to find films that represented our taste, so we decided to write one that would show the world the kind of movie we like to make.
When writing the script, did you always visualise it as a genre movie? Were there any particular influences in that area?
ADAM: When we were writing, we knew that fantastical things would happen in the story, but we didn’t try to fit into the box of a particular genre. We wanted the movie to feel real, intimate... so we knew the story would capture small moments of the family relationships and go deep on the emotions. At the same time, we knew we wanted to tell the story from Chloe’s childlike perspective, so we were more focused on how she was discovering the world and how it felt to her. When things are scary for her, the movie feels more like a horror movie and when she’s full of wonder it starts to feel more like a Spielberg Amblin movie… so the mix of genres is motivated from her character journey.
What personal experiences did you bring to the writing process? I’m thinking, in particular, of the strong coming-of-age narrative and the child-parent dynamic driving the film throughout.
ZACH: The genesis of the story idea was inspired by watching Adam's son grow up. We got to see him observe and interpret the world for the first time. To him, impossible ideas were believable, and normal things were terrifying. We thought it'd be fascinating to capture that perspective in a genre film.
ADAM: As a new dad, I often felt incompetent and unprepared. I used to worry and imagine how I could possibly do this alone, without my awesome wife. I took a lot of classes and had great mentors, and with that support network I became a better father. But we imagined Emile’s character as a father who never had the benefit of that support network. Before the start of the film, his character had been an outcast and a criminal, on the run for most of his life. So now, because of the way the world has isolated him, he’s raised Chloe with no training, not even a book about parenting. We wanted to show his primal protectionist instinct has been twisted into paranoia and a hair-trigger temper, but underneath it all he’s got deep love for her.
It’s tempting to think that the film taps into the current socio-political upheaval in the US and, in particular, the paranoia of ‘outsiders’ appearing to threaten the dominant majority. Was there an intention on your part to shine a light on Trump’s America?
ADAM: The social commentary in the film is inspired by discrimination and violence in our world, where the tools of government can be used to destroy the lives of people who are considered Other. We weren’t directly talking about Trump’s America but we were inspired by the cycle of the discrimination and violence against “outsiders” that has recurred around the world and throughout history. We wanted to hold up a mirror to the way hatred and tribalism can create horrible outcomes.
It feels like the story has become even more relevant since we wrote it. When we were writing the movie, the idea that children would be torn away from their parents and detained by the government was science fiction, now a couple years later it’s happening in America.
ZACH: We tried to make it universal rather than concentrate on one single issue. Besides the Trump immigration issues that many people see, we were inspired by family histories of hiding children with non-Jewish during the Holocaust, the history of forced relocation of Native Americans to reservations, and the epidemic of police shootings of black men in America.
You call them ‘freaks’, which can be seen as a derogatory term, but they are in fact charismatic and powerful beings. Why did you choose that title?
When the world is set against something, bent on its annihilation, it can overwhelm any virtues. For the universe of the story, we wanted to find a word that we could imagine becoming a common slang word -- something with a bite that could be used by both adults and children as part of the common speech of this world. After we wrote the script, we experimented with lots of alternate titles but kept coming back to this essential word. Audiences also bring their own associations to the word "Freaks," which can help throw them off when they first sit down in the theatre.
The performances are all exceptional. Take us through the key casting decisions. In particular, what persuaded Bruce Dern to sign up for the ride?
ZACH: Thank you. The film is all about the performances, and we were very lucky to assemble this incredible cast. Bruce was one of the first cast members to sign on, he really connected to the father-daughter story, because of his own relationship with his daughter. He always looks for stories that have intensity and real grounded characters, and he told us he often doesn’t think science-fiction films have real voices. He hasn’t done a science fiction film since 1972 (Silent Running).
The whole film is is built around the the character of Chloe, and we knew we needed to find an incredible little girl. We built an audition process that was very different from the normal way of doing things. We did a lot of improvisation first to see if the girls could connect to real emotion from their lives, then we’d slowly push them towards the written scenes.
Lexy was the only young actress we found who could both improvise and stay on track with the scene, while staying completely connected to the intensity of the subject matter. She was also the only one who could immediately snap back after “cut” and return to being a normal healthy seven year old. She was a joy to work with.
The ending to the film suggests we haven’t seen the last of Chloe. Are there plans for a sequel?
ADAM: We have lots of ideas for what happens next and also for other rich stories in this world. We’re currently developing some of these ideas into a TV pitch. A sequel film probably only makes sense if people buy tickets to this one… So if people like the movie, we hope they spread the word to their friends!
2018 was a great year for the genre. What have been your outstanding film choices?
It WAS a great year! Love the variety of genre films that are being made, with such a range of tones. We really liked Prospect, which was an indie alien planet movie that had a great intimate style and rich world-building. Sorry To Bother You was such an incredible creative ride -- loved the unique tone and the unpredictability of what was around each corner. A Quiet Place was more traditional but still very well done. And Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse! An explosion of wonder and visual creativity that had our jaws on the floor the entire time.
What’s next for you guys?
ZACH: We are writing a new film, as well as finishing a film for Disney. That one is the live-action adaptation of Kim Possible, which was a very popular animated series from ten years ago. Kim Possible comes out in February / March 2019.
ADAM: We hope to get the opportunity to make a lot more films like Freaks - personal stories with lots of surprises.
FREAKS is showing at the Glasgow Film Theatre on Sat 2 March, 9.00pm, as part of Arrow Video FrightFest Glasgow 2019. Zach will be attending.
Monday, 18 February 2019
Be prepared for a Zombie invasion as Saturday nights in March on Horror Channel give rise to SEASON OF THE DEAD, a collection of modern zombie movies. Highlights include the channel premieres of critically-acclaimed MAGGIE, a heart-breaking take on the Zombie genre starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Joe Dante’s BURYING THE EX, a radical blend of classic horror and screwball zomedy. There are also welcome returns for post-apocalyptic zombie actioner EXTINCTION, directed by Inside helmer Miguel Ángel Vivas, Matthias Hoene’s ultra-splatter comedy horror COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES, starring Michelle Ryan and John Erick Dowdle’s [REC]-inspired QUARANTINE
Full film details:
SEASON OF THE DEAD
Sat 2 March @ 21:00 – MAGGIE (2015) *Channel Premiere
As the world narrowly recovers from a near apocalyptic virus, an infected teenage girl (Abigail Breslin) with only a precious few weeks to live must find the strength and bravery to face her fleeting mortality as her father (Arnold Schwarzenegger) struggles helplessly to protect her from the frightened town and keep the family together in the face on inexplicable horror.
Sat 9 March @ 21:00 – BURYING THE EX (2014) * Channel Premiere
Max’s relationship with his new girlfriend, Olivia, takes an unexpected turn when his dead ex-girlfriend rises from the grave and thinks they’re still dating. Max realises that his only chance at a future with Olivia relies on him doing the unthinkable: breaking up with Evelyn, a maniacal zombie who’s determined to do whatever it takes to get her man.
Sat 16 March @ 21:00 – EXTINCTION (2015)
After several hundred thousand years of evolution and supremacy, an infection turns most of humanity into rabid zombies, Two men, Patrick (Matthew Fox) and Jack (Jeffrey Donovan) and a 9-year-old girl (Quinn McColgan), are the only known survivors, However, not only must they protect themselves against their monstrous attackers, but must overcome their mutual hatred for each other…
Sat 23 March @ 21:00 – COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES (2012)
Just as brothers Terry and Andy Macguire decide to rob a bank, workers on a Docklands building site uncover a burial ground sealed up in 1666. However, some of the corpses aren’t Brown Bread at all and before you know it, London’s East End is infested with hungry zombies. Can the two dodgy Hamptons get to the Bow Bells Care Home in time to rescue all the Raspberry Ripples under siege with only their Zimmer frames and wheelchairs to kick some zombie Khyber Pass? Stellar cast includes Harry Treadaway, Alan Ford, Honor Blackman, Richard Briers and Michelle Ryan.
Sat 30 March @ 21:00 – QUARANTINE (2008)
Television reporter Angela Vidal (Dexter’s Jennifer Carpenter) and her cameraman are assigned to spend the night shift with an LA Fire Station. Soon a routine 911 call takes them to a small apartment building, where they learn that a woman living in the building has been infected by something unknown. After a few of the residents are viciously attacked, they try to escape, only to find that the building has been quarantined. Trapped, and fighting a brooding entity, they become engaged in a brutal battle for survival.
Fri 1 March @ 21:00 – LEPRECHAUN: ORIGINS (2014) *UK TV Premiere
Backpacking through Ireland, two unsuspecting young couples discover a town's chilling secret when the town's residents offer them an old cabin at the edge of the woods. Soon, they discover that one of Ireland's most famous legends is a terrifying reality
Fri 8 March @ 21:00 – RESURRECTION OF EVIL (2016) *UK TV Premiere
Jackie Sullivan (Julie Benz), a troubled young woman with a serious alcohol addiction, is released from rehab and given a second chance with a new job and a furnished apartment at Havenhurst. Recovering from the tragic loss of her 6-year-old daughter, Jackie is drawn into the unsolved disappearance of the apartment’s previous occupant, a young woman who disappeared without a trace. Jackie soon discovers that she must not only battle her inner demons but the very real ones that live deep within the walls of Havenhurst.
Fri 15 March @ 21:00 – KILL COMMAND (2015) *Channel Premiere
Set in a time where robots handle all manual jobs, unemployment has soared and riots are a near everyday occurrence. Against this backdrop, veteran US marine Captain Bukes (Thure Lindhardt and his unit, are sent on a routine training exercise. What they discover when they reach the island is beyond anything they could have imagined. What starts as a simple training exercise descends into a terrifying battle to the death, a fight for the survival not only for Bukes’ unit but also for the future of humanity itself.
Fri 22 March @ 21:00 – ROAD GAMES (2015) *Channel Premiere
When hitchhiker Jack (Andrew Simpson) rescues Véronique (Joséphine de La Baume) from a road rage altercation, in rural France the twosome decide to travel together for safety’s sake after learning a serial killer is cutting a murderous swathe through the region. Tired and hungry they decide to take up an offer to stay the night at a mysterious elderly couple’s mansion. And that’s when the deranged, demented and bloody escapades begin. Also stars Barbara Crampton.
Fri 29 March @ 21:00 – LEGEND (1985) *Channel Premiere
Set in a timeless mythical forest inhabited by fairies, goblins, unicorns, and mortals, Tom Cruise is a mystical forest dweller chosen by fate to undertake a heroic quest. He must save a beautiful princess (Mia Sara) and defeat the demonic Lord of Darkness (Tim Curry), or the world will be plunged into a never-ending ice age.
Horror Channel: Be Afraid
TV: Sky 317 / Virgin 149 / Freeview 70 / Freesat 138
Thursday, 14 February 2019
As writer, director, producer Juliane Block prepares to shoot Zombie home invasion movie HOBBES HOUSE, she reveals her early obsession with monster make-up, casting for a big fantasy Xmas movie and her fascination for the dark side of the human mind.
So tell us how HOBBES HOUSE was developed?
I always felt like I needed to get back to shooting an out-and-out horror film. There's nothing like the fun on the set of a Zombie flick. While waiting for Lyra's Wish, my next big project to be greenlit, I was talking to executive producer Malcolm Winter if he was game to shoot and finance a low budget film in between. Malcolm came back to me with a figure he felt comfortable raising in a very short time span. That was in October 2018. Wolf-Peter Arand, the writer, immediately got to work, developing the story together. He went on to write a treatment and from the treatment the script, and here we are in February 2019, fully immersed in pre-production and the shoot scheduled for February / March.
How would you best describe it?
Hobbes House is a hybrid of two classic horror themes: the spooky horror house and a classic Zombie tale: When down on her luck Jane Doherty learns about the death of her grandmother she expects a life-saving inheritance but finds herself battling bloodthirsty Zombies instead, fighting for her life.
This will be the first time you’ve directed a feature film in the UK. Excited?
I'm super excited! It's not my first British production, but different then my last film 3 Lives, this will be entirely shot with British actors on British grounds. And there's nothing as entertaining as being on set with Zombies. I’m looking forward to three very intense and fun filled weeks in Bristol.
Looks like you’ll continue to be based in the UK to direct a family adventure film, LYRA’S WISH, in which a little girl takes it upon herself to save Santa Claus from extinction. What can you tell us about the project?
I’m working very closely with screenwriter Wolf-Peter Arand. Sitting together, trying to get 3 Lives off the ground and getting somewhat frustrated about it, we thought about doing something different. Animals are commercial, family entertainment is and everyone loves Christmas. So we threw those three elements into one story and garnered it with fantastic creatures and old traditional myth around Christmas.
We had some very exciting news for Lyra's Wish over the holiday. Two major stars have expressed their serious interest to star in the movie. We are just waiting for the Letter of Intent from one, and I'm scheduled to have a talk to the other one possibly next week. Once that's all signed, I hope to be able to openly announce their attachment.
You’ve recently completed two unflinching thrillers, 3 LIVES and 8 REMAINS. Both deal with the psychological trauma of sexual abuse but shot in very different ways. Can you tell us what inspired you to make them?
3 Lives was inspired by my own past. The story has nothing to do with what happened to me, but certainly helped me to come to terms with some ugly events in my own past. 8 Remains was written by Laura Sommer, and that she is interested in similar subjects shows the importance of this topic for all women, and subsequently also men I believe.
I believe the numbers out in the public about how many women had to deal with sexual abuse in their lives are only showing half the truth. For 3 Lives it was 94% of all female crew. I therefore believe we need films portraying abuse through stories written by women and through the eyes of women. When men write about or portray abuse, women almost always end up to be absolute mad revenge angels, or the victims who deal with the abuse internally. But the truth lies in between.
You live and work in Germany. What are your thoughts about the current state of the horror genre there?
We have great recent developments in the Indie film scene in Germany. More and more filmmakers are looking for a way outside the common funding system, which is not appreciative of genre, and are doing their own films, funded in creative ways. I think give it a couple more years, and we might have a number of great horror films also coming from Germany.
What were your early influences in deciding to become a film director?
I had an early obsession with make-up, when I was about eight or nine. My mom gave neighbourhood parties for the local women, selling beauty make-up. I collected the left overs and used them to create my own make-ups: it was always all about monsters, never anything pretty (in the common sense.) I started to experiment with latex and foam as teenager, moving on to Zombie masks. When I finally met Marc Fehse, a fellow student at University who was working on a no budget Zombie flick, that was my introduction into the world of filmmaking, and I loved it.
You made your directorial debut with the short film UNSECURED LOAN in 2007. What gave you the inspiration to choose the violent world of drug-dealing in Malaysia?
I’m fascinated by the dark side of the human mind. When I came to Malaysia, I realised at some point that I can’t wait forever of the perfect job opportunity to come my way in the film industry. If I want things to happen, I have to do this myself.
My brother wrote a short story, which the film is loosely based on. I used it and adapted it for the screen in Malaysia. I think my specific interest in loan sharking was also due to the fact, that it’s something which happens a lot more aggressively in Asia than in Europe.
The Horror genre is enjoying a terrific global resurgence. What’s your take on this?
Whenever there's political turmoil in the world, horror, and specifically Zombie films become very popular. Currently, with Brexit looming, with Trump in the US and a number of populists rising in mainland Europe (not to talk about wars and conflicts on other continents) I believe it's an expression of the feeling of the people.
Which directors do you admire and why?
One of my favourite directors is the Korean director Kim Jee Woon. I stumbled across his films in Singapore, when randomly choosing his movie The Good The Bad The Weird. I was blown away. I think he combines wit with stunning pictures and a captivating story.
I really like Taiki Waititi’s, who recently directed Thor 3. I was laughing throughout his film What we do in the Shadows and I think his move from this indie film to Thor 3 is really inspiring.
Last but not least I really admire Patty Jenkins. I loved what she did with Wonder Woman and of course I believe there should be more women directing super hero movies.
What else is in the pipeline?
Currently I’m in the process of optioning a German Children’s book, which is kind of a nice follow up project to Lyra’s Wish and would be the first German film I’d direct. There’s a Sci-Fi Action adventure called Foster, which I started writing years ago and a Sci-Fi thriller called The Fall of Men.
HOBBES HOUSE will go into production on Feb 17, shooting for three weeks on locations in Bristol, UK.
Saturday, 9 February 2019
When did you first become interested in vampires?
When I was bitten. No, actually, it started long before then. I first became interested in vampires when I was a young mortal child. At first I was very frightened of vampires because Dracula was the only monster I never felt sorry for. Frankenstein, Wolfman and the Mummy did not choose their fate. It was forced upon them. Dracula chose to become a vampire and to be evil. That’s why I never had any sympathy for him. Most vampires after Dracula were not given a choice. If a vampire wants you, they take you. Although, some of the victims want to become an undead blood-sucking creature of the night, so that’s on them. Also, vampires are very classy - well, except for the ones who “live” in the sewers and feed on rats and spiders.
How did you get involved in the fantasy/horror aspect of history?
It just seemed to fit, unfortunately. When I began writing The Vampire Tour of San Francisco, I first wrote the script as only true history. Then I went back and, where I thought it fit, I added in the vampire lore and humor. I was surprised at how easily it fit into the real history.
Tell us about the Vampire Tour of San Francisco.
The tour takes place on top of Nob Hill, a very beautiful area of San Francisco. I conduct the tour in costume and in character as Mina Harker from Dracula. The stops are: Grace Cathedral, the Nob Hill Café, Huntington Park, the Pacific-Union Club, the Fairmont Hotel, and the Mark Hopkins Hotel. I tell the history of each stop and how vampires played a role in that history. I also include a few areas of San Francisco that are not on Nob Hill, such as Alcatraz, Civic Center, the Financial District, and the cemeteries that were moved from San Francisco to Colma, just south of “The City” over a century ago. The script contains about 85% true history with fun vampire lore and humor mixed in. It is not dark and gory, but presented in a way to entertain and amuse the audience, and is suitable for all ages.
Are you an Anne Rice fan?
Yes, Anne Rice is a wonderful author! I mention her once on the tour to honor her contribution to literature.
Why do you think horror and fantasy books remain so popular?
One reason they remain popular is because they take the reader out of reality and exercise their imagination. The fear factor in horror books gives a thrill like the one you get riding a rollercoaster. The ending of the book has a lot to do with the excitement you get from reading it. If it ends with good being victorious, you are left with feeling safe and relieved. If evil wins in the end, the excitement of fear and anxiety lets the adventure continue in your imagination.
What inspires you?
People who are successful inspire me. They don’t have to be a successful writer, as long as they were persistent and made a beneficial contribution to the field they are working in. This could be entertainment, medicine, education, sports, art, or any field at all. I love hearing success stories. They really keep me going.
What do you think the difference between an American and British vampire tour is?
That would be the accent of the vampire. But seriously, funny you should ask. I have decided to expand on The Vampire Tour of San Francisco, and write tours for other cities that fit the genre. So far, I have also written The Vampire Tour of London, which takes place mainly in Covent Garden. This tour is written to be conducted by Lucy Westenra, Mina Harker’s friend in Dracula. I am in the process of looking for someone, possibly a tour company or a company that specializes in the horror genre, who would like to purchase the script of the tour and organize the conducting of the tour. I was thrilled when Radio Wey, a very entertaining radio program in Surrey, broadcast a reading of The Vampire Tour of London! If you would like to hear the production, you can watch below
I have also written, The Vampire Tour of New York, which takes place mainly on the Upper West Side, and begins at the Imagine Stone in Central Park and ends at The Jekyll and Hyde Club. This tour is written to be conducted by Dr. John Seward from Dracula.
I would say that the main difference between the American and British vampire tour, the way I write them, is just the location. I write them all to contain mostly true history with fun vampire lore and humor, so they will educate as well as entertain.
I have only taken one other vampire tour, and that was in New Orleans. That tour is not like mine because mine is mostly true history with fun vampire lore and humor mixed in. The tour in New Orleans is very horrifying and gory. If that is what you are looking for, you will love it!
What are your favorite horror books?
Dracula is still the best in my opinion. That book is so beautifully written, and really gets your imagination tingling. I couldn’t read it right before I went to sleep. I did that once and was up for hours! My other favorite was Anne Rice’s, The Vampire Lastat. I think that is my favorite from her series, Vampire Chronicles.
What are some of your favorite horror movies?
I have to pay homage to the original, Dracula of course. Others I will never get tired of watching are: Bram Stoker’s Dracula, An American Werewolf in London, which I just watched again the other day, The Howling, Wolfman, Frankenstein, Shadow of the Vampire, Psycho, King Kong (the original), A Nightmare on Elm Street, and of course, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and Young Frankenstein must be on the list.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
Getting published is my greatest accomplishment. I never expected that to happen, and Samuel French has published 5 of my plays. I still have a hard time believing that. Since I wrote the script for The Vampire Tour of San Francisco, the tour’s success is also included in this accomplishment. I am so very grateful to God for giving me the talent of writing. It has enhanced my life tremendously!
Do you have any advice for newcomers in the industry?
I think the best advice I could give someone is to think of an idea that intrigues you, and let your imagination run with it. Trust your imagination and don’t stifle it. It’s the best friend a writer could have, especially if you are writing horror or fantasy. Also, don’t give up. If you don’t get the results you want right away, don’t let that discourage you. Keep going.
What is your opinion of modern vampire novels?
I like the novels that are well written with interesting stories. If the gruesome details are done in a way that is fitting to the story, that’s great; however, some books are overly gory just for the sake of being gory, and to me, that is not good writing.
Is Dracula still the greatest vampire novel ever written?
I would say that it is, mainly because the writing is gripping and never boring, from the first page to the last. Besides, it was the original novel that opened the door for so many authors to come.
What are your current projects?
Since I recently retired, I am currently writing a new play about being retired, which is a lot of fun for me. I am also gathering information to write a new vampire tour as well. This one will take place in Hollywood. That just fits too perfectly to pass up!
Please in your own words, write a paragraph about yourself & your work.
My involvement in the entertainment field began when, to my shock and amazement, I was cast in a musical production in the San Francisco Bay Area at the age of 27. Opening night, when I took a bow for the first time, I was hooked! For the next 10 years, I performed in one show after another. I also worked behind the scenes of shows, learning how to build and tear down sets, as well as working with props, lights and sound, and stage managing. The next step just naturally seemed to be writing a play. Once again, I was shocked and amazed when the first play I sent in to Samuel French was accepted and published. Four more followed. I had a wonderful day job, working in the training department at the pharmaceutical company, Roche. We had a training session in New Orleans, which was when I took the Vampire Tour in the French Quarter. As we walked with the tour guide and listened to his stories, I thought to myself, “Why isn’t anybody doing this in San Francisco.” As they say, the rest is history.
The Vampire Tour of San Francisco
Thursday, 7 February 2019
Ahead of the UK premiere of Adrián García Bogliano’s hypnotic BLACK CIRCLE at Arrow Video FrightFest Glasgow 2019, star and Swedish exploitation icon Christina Lindberg reflects on memorable moments, meeting Tarantino and making a comeback.
How did your modelling career start and did that inevitably lead to your career as an actress?
I was discovered the classic way; on the beach at the age of 18. After having been photographed as a “bathing girl” for most of the newspapers in southern Sweden, I was asked to do a centrefold shoot for one of Sweden’s biggest men’s magazines, by Siwer Ohlsson, the most celebrated glamour girl photographer of the time. I said yes to throwing away my bra, despite the fact that as a young woman, I was very shy.
The photos grabbed a lot of attention, and a Swedish film producer got in touch. He offered me a role, even though I wasn’t an actress. Since the film was directed by one the most famous Swedish directors at that time (Jan Halldoff), and the other actors were real giants of the theatre stage,
I was suddenly in the spotlight, just a few days after completing my high school exam. The film was Rötmånad (Dog Days) (1970), and, incidentally, it had its international premiere at the Edinburgh Film Festival!
When did you first learn that Quentin Tarantino based the Bride character in KILL BILL on your role in THRILLER/THEY CALL HER ONE EYE?
I had only seen Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and thought it was a really good movie. But I didn’t know much about Tarantino apart from that. So it took me a while to really grasp what an incredible homage to Thriller it was, that he was inspired by it, and talked about it in interviews.
A couple of years ago I met Tarantino, in conjunction with the Swedish gala premiere of Inglorious Bastards. The film distributor set up a meeting at the Grand Hotel in Stockholm, requested by Tarantino. We talked for quite a while, and exchanged autographs. To see to it that the meeting was documented properly, he brought me out on the red carpet that night, so we could be photographed together. Something he knew I could benefit from.
Christine Lindberg in Thriller/They Call Her One-Eye
Oh, yes! I have lots of memories. It was a film shoot out of the ordinary…There was a lot of drama behind the camera. For example, the director never got permission to use the locations or fenced them off, so one day when we shot a scene in a park, when I threw myself out of the (fake) police car, with my leather coat, eye-patch and sawn-off shotgun, people on their casual Sunday walks actually started running for their lives!
This was a film that really stood out at the time, but that it would still be of interest and celebrated 45 years later, was something I could never have imagined.
When you look back at your 1970s film career, what stands out? Do you have any particular affection for any of the movies or are they now just cause for embarrassment?
I have always tried to do my best with my film roles. I have no regrets about what I did in the movies. But of course some films are closer to my heart than others.
You became a noted aviation journalist and animal rights activist after you ended your film career so what made you decide to come back to acting after a 30-plus year gap with BLACK CIRCLE?
I never really let go of my film career past. That’s why it felt completely natural to say yes, when Bogliano offered me the part in Black Circle. It was like coming home again.
What did you like most about the BLACK CIRCLE script?
It was the mystery and the darkness in the story. The role as Lena fitted me perfectly. I have some of her character in my persona.
Were you aware of the work of director Adrian Garcia Bogliano? What films of his did you watch before signing on to play the character of Lena?
I had only heard positive things and admiration for Bogliano, before I accepted the part. I knew he was a fan of Ingmar Bergman, as well as of Thriller. I had seen two of his films that I really liked; Scherzo Diabolico and I’ll Never Die Alone.
Christina Lindberg (Centre) in Black Circle
How did you find being back in front of the camera after all these years?
It was completely unproblematic. It just felt good. But I have to confess, it took some running-in…
And working with co-stars Hanna Asp, Hanna and Erica Midfjäll, Madeleine Trollvik, singer Johan Palm and especially Inger Nilsson, the original Pippi Longstocking!
The atmosphere on location was fantastic. Everyone involved in the film was eager to do their very best, especially since we had a tight shooting schedule.
You’re back, does that mean you are now open to other movie offers?
Absolutely. I just shot a short film - a drama about relations set at Christmas time. I have also been offered a part in a new Swedish feature film, Biodlaren (The Beekeeper), which will be shot this year. Black Circle has really given me an appetite for more.
BLACK CIRCLE is showing at the Glasgow Film Theatre on Sat 2 March, 3.30pm, as part of Arrow Video FrightFest Glasgow 2019. Christina will be attending.
Monday, 4 February 2019
Ahead of Horror Channel’s UK TV premiere of REDWOOD, director Tom Paton reveals the secrets of his prolific work-rate, talks about tackling the subject of fake news and the twists and turns of his new film Stairs.
REDWOOD gets its UK TV premiere on Fri 8 Feb, courtesy of Horror Channel. Excited or what?
Honestly, I’m so proud that Redwood has made its way onto Horror Channel. I’ve been a huge fan since the channel launched and over the past decade I’ve discovered so many horror gems on there from classic through to films I’d never heard of but now love. It feels incredible to know that someone might discover Redwood in the exact same way.
Is it true you wrote the script in two days?
It is, although I wouldn’t recommend that as it caused me some serious stress. The production company had a very limited window of time to use the funds and location that the film was made on, so if we were going to do it then we had to move quickly. It was a real challenge to craft something at that speed that I was going to be proud of so I focused in on something that felt very real and tangible, but was happening within this world of vampires.
The film is one of the lowest-budgeted to grace opening night at FrightFest. How did you pull that off?
I have absolutely no idea how that happened! I was so blown away to find out that the movie was going to be playing at FrightFest that I had to pinch myself. I fully expected for us to be one of the more low key films, tucked away in a corner somewhere. When the programme was announced and we were one of the opening night films I had to pick myself up off of the floor. FrightFest has been the most incredible platform for my career and the spotlight it placed on Redwood. It’s a debt I can never repay. Black Site (my third feature film) played at the festival the following year and I’m hoping that it’s a relationship that will continue for many years to come.
Although the vampires are ever-present, the film is very character-driven. Was telling the very touching human story your main priority?
I’m as much a fan of a good jump scare as any modern movie watcher, but I do think it’s a very overused technique these days. I felt that because the film was being made in this high-speed, low budget fashion, that it allowed me to make something a bit more restrained and character focused. Humanity is this strange, beautiful, scary thing and I really wanted the real horror to stem from something that we’ve all had an encounter with in the real world - cancer. The vampires are forever lurking just around the corner just like the illness and as a viewer you aren’t sure when or how they will strike, or if they will at all. But it’s that constant fear of them that I think plays as a strong external metaphor to what Josh and Beth are going through personally. It’s more of a tragedy than a straight horror film I think.
You shot the film in Poland. Why?
We made the film with a Polish based production company, and it was really them that were the driving force behind the location choice. But I have to say, I would shoot in Poland again in a heartbeat. They have these huge, forest covered mountain ranges that really stood in as a good substitute for the USA and the crew over there were such a pleasure to work with. The cost effectiveness of shooting in Poland really helped us maximise the budget too, which is why I think the movie looks like it really escapes the trappings normally associated with a lower budget.
Mike Beckingham, who stars in REDWOOD, also has a main role in your film BLACK SITE. What makes your working relationship so special?
I didn’t know Mike before we shot Redwood but I could tell from our first meeting that me and him were going to get along well. He’s a really charismatic presence to have around and filmmaking can be such a tough experience sometimes that having him on set becomes this really positive force creatively. We became really good friends during production and I started to feel that I could write something that would really play to Mike’s strengths as an actor and so I wrote the part of Sam Levy in Black Site specifically for him. Hopefully we’ll finish our little trilogy together very soon with something new.
What is it about the genre that most appeals to you?
Horror just gels so well with different types of storytelling. It’s one of these rare things in the medium that plays well with others, so you can partner it with comedy, tragedy, action etc and allow yourself this ability to remix things you love into something new. No other genre really affords that same creative freedom. Redwood is a prime example; although the container is horror, under the hood it has comedy, cancer and character driven drama…no other genre would be able to support those tone shifts except horror.
You’re renowned for your prolific work-rate. You currently average a film a year and the quality is impressively consistent. What’s the secret?
Caffeine! But seriously, I’m just very good at approaching my career with a sense of momentum. I think as filmmakers we work so hard to build hype around ourselves and our projects that I see it as a waste to let that dissipate once the project is complete. So I’m just very focused on keeping the party going. This year I’m actually doing two movies instead, as well as having an animated adaption of Black Site in the works. I love what I do and only intend on speeding up really.
Your next feature, STAIRS, is currently in post-production. Can you tell us a bit about the supernatural thriller? What are your current plans for the film?
Stairs is a totally different beast to anything I’ve made before. It’s an ensemble film this time and really ramps up the action and horror elements from my previous movies. It’s also a bit of a head scratcher. I’ve always focused on very linear storytelling and creating character focused stuff, but with Stairs I’ve changed that up and made something with a lot of twists and turns that features a huge dose of time-travel. I’m very excited for people to see it. The premise is that a team of special ops go into a war zone they aren’t supposed to be in. They carry out their morally dubious orders and then find themselves trapped in an Escher-esque nightmare as the universe forces them to own up their sins. I won’t give anything else away though!
You’re shooting a big budget space film shooting in 2019. What more can you tell us?
The movie is called G-LOC and is indeed set in space. There’s a lot of world building going on and i think we’ve created a really fun action adventure movie that sci-fi fans are going to love. Keep your eyes peeled for news on this one.
We also hear you have got another horror film planned for July 2019. True?
That is true. I’m tackling the subject of Fake News in a horror movie called The Manuscript. The story straddles two timelines and deals with a mysterious book that has evaded translation for sixty years and is steeped in mythology and murder…but is everything as it seems? You’ll find out after I shoot it!
Finally, Tom, when are you taking a break?
I might have a holiday this year, we’ll see if there is a little gap in there somewhere.
REDWOOD has its Channel premiere on Horror Channel, Fri Feb 8, 9pm.
You can also watch on demand at iTunes using the following link - Redwood - Tom Paton
Thursday, 31 January 2019
Ahead of the World premiere of the stand-out period horror comedy HERE COMES HELL at Arrow Video FrightFest Glasgow 2019, director Jack McHenry tells us about the challenges of a £22,000 budget. casting his mum and why nothing beats puppets and real blood.
HERE COMES HELL is to receive its world premiere at Arrow Video FrightFest Glasgow. Excited or what?
It’s amazing! I made this movie for people like me, people who like horror movies and crazy genre films. It’s the perfect place to premiere this kind of movie, as horror audiences are the most open minded movie-goers, they’re not turned off by low budgets or films made by first time directors. They just want an exciting cinematic experience.
The film started life as a Kickstarter campaign. Were you pleased with the outcome?
We shot a short trailer and a pitch video. That was the worst part for me, having to talk in front of a camera. I feel much happier behind the lens. When we posted the Kickstarter I had no idea it would turn out so well, I was a nervous wreck all the way though the campaign, I was terrified we wouldn’t make our goal. But it was really encouraging to see people getting behind the project. I’m so grateful to everyone who donated, without them we wouldn’t have a movie.
It’s been described as “Downton Abbey meets The Evil Dead”. True?
Yeah, that was our “elevator pitch”. The idea came about when I was watching David Lean’s Blithe Spirit and was like: what would happen if instead of his wife coming back and it being funny, it turned into a full on horror picture? I’ve always been a massive fan of Agatha Christie and early Hitchcock, but also at the same time I love horror movies like Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead and Peter Jackson’s Braindead and this movie allowed me to combine these two elements in a really fun way.
The film has copious amounts of crazy carnage. How did you achieve so much gory glory on so low a budget (£22,000)? Not to mention the caviar and cocktails…
“Gory glory” that’s cool. It was a tight budget, especially for what we were trying to achieve. I really wanted the audience to feel as if they are watching a film from the 1930’s so it was really important to try and make if look and sound as authentic as possible, and that was hard on our small budget. A lot of the effects we built from just joke shop stuff, like masks and fake arms. I wanted a lot of the gore and monster effects to be in camera, and have that old school feel about them. Nothing beats puppets and real blood.
What was the biggest challenge you faced as a director?
This is my first feature film and biggest project I’ve ever done, so that was already really terrifying for me. We shot the movie in 19 days, 10 of those were the main chunk of the film set in “Westwood Manor” so it was a really tight schedule. There were days were we were literally sprinting between set-ups, and at the same time I really wanted it to look as grand and luscious like a massive studio picture from the 1930’s or 1940’s. But the cast and crew were so great I think we managed to pull it off.
There are some terrific performances. What was the casting process like?
The actors really make the film; without them the movie wouldn’t be anywhere nearly as engaging. I’d worked with Margaret Clunie and Tom Bailey on a short film before this and they were so great. I really wanted to work with them again, so when we started writing this we wrote with them in mind. Margaret introduced me to Timothy Renouf, and as soon I met him I knew he had to play Freddie - he has this old movie star feel about him. Then I saw Charlie Robb doing a stand up show and he was so funny and I thought he would bring something interesting to the part of Victor. Jessica Webber was acting in a play that the composer of Here Comes Hell, Ben Pearson, was working on. When I saw her she really reminded me of Joan Fontaine, which was perfect for the role of Elizabeth. Then finally my Mum plays Madam Bellrose, so that was really fun working with her.
It looks like you all had a lot of fun. How tough was it balancing the comedy with the horror?
Like any horror comedy you have to make sure you get people to laugh at the funny bits and be scared at the horror moments, and that can be a hard line to tread. I looked to movies like An American Werewolf in London and Ghostbusters to the way they deal with the tone. I never wanted it to feel as if we were making a “spoof” or poking fun at the movies we were referencing, instead I wanted to make a love letter to genre movies.
Who are your genre influences?
For this film the influences were people like Sam Raimi, John Carpenter, Hitchcock , Argento and James Whale. Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula is one of my favourite movies, I love the visual style, and that was a massive influence on this film. But there’s also Peter Jackson’s early works in there and some of the Ealing comedies, as well as some elements of Rosemary’s Baby and The Shining.
Tell us a bit about the ambitions of your company Trashouse,
To make good movies! We’ve got a great crew of people together and we’ve got plenty of ideas. When we were making Here Comes Hell our pitch was always that we can make really original, entertaining films on a really low-budget, and we think that sums up Trashouse. We wanted to show, “hey, look what we can do for £22,000, imagine what we could do with £200,000!”
Finally, what’s next?
We’re developing a couple of scripts at the moment. One is a horror-adventure set in medieval times, and the other is an 18th century smuggler movie. Think The Departed meets Treasure Island…
HERE COMES HELL is showing at the Glasgow Film Theatre on Fri 1 March, 6.30pm, as part of Arrow Video FrightFest Glasgow 2019. Jack McHenry will be attending.
Monday, 28 January 2019
Ahead of the World premiere of the darkly erotic AUTOMATA at Arrow Video FrightFest Glasgow 2019, director Lawrie Brewster tells us about his record-breaking Kickstarter campaign, the growth of Hex Studios and his fascination with creepy dolls.
AUTOMATA has earned its place in Kickstarter history as the UK’s most funded narrative film ever. Why do you think that happened?
The reason this happened is because there is a disconnect between a swathe of the audience, in our case a genre audience, and commercial distributors. Because commercial distributors and broadcasters for that matter, are so adept and so accustomed to selling a type of predictable product, that a form of repetition occurs whereby films that might not fit the mould, are simply not sold, and hence not usually produced. With Automata, and with all of our films at Hex Studios, we utilise that underserved niche, to produce unique genre films, which would be considered both unpredictable and even risky. Despite the financial merit of our achievements, when met with these facts, most industry types bury their head in the sand and plug their ears.
You have described the film as a glorious celebration of gothic horror. Can you elaborate?
Myself and Sarah Daly, we both grew up on classic Hammer Horror, Amicus and the American International Pictures (particularly those produced by Roger Corman and Vincent Price.) That, coupled with a great love of Gothic literature, and the art-movement which shares its name. It places the raw intensity of human emotion and the supernatural at its core, aspects which are of great importance to the human experience. In this respect, it provides a perfect field of creative exploration, with a rewarding sense of rich storytelling, romance, and spine-tingling chills. Our film celebrates all those influences mentioned in the above and adds to them an adult sense of perversion. The idea, that something can look pretty, beautiful even on the outside, and be pitch black on the inside. Gothic narratives, are a great way to explore such theatrical depictions while retaining a deep sense of psychological narrative.
As with your previous features, there is a supernatural fusion of historical narrative with contemporary themes, but would it be fair to say that AUTOMATA is your most darkly erotic?
That is a really interesting question because, with my head down working on the film it is easy to lose a sense of the outside perspective, especially of anyone's new perspective. If you’re to describe the film as a dark erotic Gothic Fantasy / Horror then that is fairly compatible with its influences. Additional influences stem from the Marquis de Sade, and of the novel Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, among others. We examine adulthood, some aspects of perversion and the manner in which we may become complicit in thoughts and deeds we’d admonish in others. So, to answer your question I would say, yes.
Some of the main cast have appeared in your previous films. Does this reflect a close collaborative process? Take us through the key casting process.
Yes, we do take a collaborative approach to our filmmaking. I was always inspired by the John Waters ‘dream team’ approach and I do enjoy our team feeling like a family. Of course, each film brings new talent a well, but we do offer a strong sense of appreciation and loyalty towards those we’ve worked with both in front and behind the screen. With casting, there is a sense of repertory theatre, but the benefit of this model is that it allows us to grow our talents together. From each film, myself and our actors can discuss where we can take our talent forward.
Literature seems to be a huge inspiration in all the films you and co-creator Sarah Daly have made through Hex Studios. Are there literary roots to AUTOMATA?
There are definite literary influences, though they may be difficult for me to singularly identify. Broadly speaking, me and Sarah take influence from Gothic authors such as M. R. James, Edgar Allen Poe, H. P. Lovecraft, Henry James and modern authors such as James Herbert. This particular film takes additional inspiration from the works of the Marquis De Sade, and of Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. In general, we produce so much pre-production material and research for the histories that abound in the sliver of story told by our films, that they almost feel like adapted novels, rather than specifically produced screenplays.
Where do you think our fascination with automata, particularly with automaton dolls, comes from?
I’ve always had a fascination with creepy dolls and have found Automaton to be of particular interest. I hadn’t thought of producing a horror film specific to that subject, until I saw one depicted in the horror film ‘Gothic’ directed by Ken Russell. I wondered then, with so many ‘creepy doll’ films why the story of a such a doll hadn’t been told before. Also, in the context of a Gothic Romance, which the period of those creations would be ideally suited.
Without giving too much away, there is a magnetic, perverse beauty in Alexandra Nicole Hulme’s interpretation of ‘The Infernal Princess’. What challenges did bringing the doll to life present?
Primarily our challenge was to produce the correct balance of what might present the ‘uncanny valley,’ that so-called determinator of the line between ‘life like’ and ‘artificial’ that we find so disturbing. Alexandra Nicole Hulme produced a brilliant performance, which I believe presents the uncanny valley experience for the audience, while also creating a sense of humanity and sensuality in her portrayals of the doll and it’s living muse, in the flashback scenes. Alexandra also choreographed careful movements and a magnificent clockwork dance, which is truly quite breath-taking to behold.
AUTOMATA is to receive its world premiere at Arrow Video FrightFest Glasgow 2019. How important is your relationship with FrightFest?
We’re honoured and delighted that FrightFest have chosen Automata to be a part of FrightFest Glasgow. I’m a huge admirer of everything that FrightFest has built and achieved for the genre community of filmmakers and fans. If it weren’t for FrightFest, and it’s commitment to present a diverse range of genre films to its audiences, then studios like Hex would struggle to find the appropriate platforms to share our films. Through our relationship with FrightFest, we are able to support that event, and receive their support in such a way, that we can build an alternative path for films to reach audiences outside the traditional market model. FrightFest is a pillar from which new independent films can be supported.
Hex Studios has created a YouTube Channel, which currently has over 270K subscribers. Having shrewdly released Kate Shenton’s EGOMANIAC, what future plans do you have for the growing indie supporting platform?
We’ve two channels now, our main channel for which we hope to produce more Horror themed prank videos, web series and indie film presentations of the type you mention. Our overall aim with the channel is to create a platform and a voice for independent horror genre film-makers that will allow us to grow together, while expanding the audience for us both. We also have a new channel: ‘Hex Creepypasta’, which will be focussing on narrated horror stories as well.
What does 2019 hold in store for Lawrie Brewster?
2019 will be our biggest year yet, in which Hex Studios will be distributing a number of feature films, including two of our own productions Automata and our portmanteau For We Are Many. We’re also looking to produce several web-series, while developing new feature films, as well as distributing two hard-back books, filled with terrifying short stories. While our plans are somewhat broad and ambitious, our target remains niche, which is to say, we aim to produce great horror entertainment for an audience that feels underserved. While so many are being ‘too cool for school’ or begin meta-ironic and retro, we’re instead quite earnest and traditional. Horror is a timeless and beautiful thing and we do our best to keep the candle alive… even in its darkest vaults!
AUTOMATA is showing at the Glasgow Film Theatre on Sat 2 March, 1.00pm, as part of Arrow Video FrightFest Glasgow 2019. Lawrie Brewster will be attending.
Wednesday, 23 January 2019
Tamara Thorne's first novel was published in 1991. Since then she has written many more, including international bestsellers Haunted, Bad Things, Moonfall, and The Sorority. Tamara's interest in writing is lifelong, as is her fascination with the paranormal, occult, mythology and folklore. She's been an avid ghost story collector and writer all her life.
When did you first become interested in writing?
I don’t recall a time I wasn’t interested. My mother read to me every morning from the day she brought he home, so my indoctrination into books came early. I remember walking around singing Paperback Writer in first grade. I was already telling kids ghost stories about various houses we could see from the schoolyard. I started writing them down because that made it easier for me to keep them straight. That’s how I found out how much I liked to write.
How did you get involved in fantasy/horror?
I’ve loved ghost stories all my life. I think I was just born that way. I’ve written about conspiracies, UFOs, and even done non-paranormal thrillers, but I always return to the ghost story. I teethed on Twilight Zone and One Step Beyond, Star Trek, and Dark Shadows. I discovered Ray Bradbury and Arthurian legend at eight, Shirley Jackson at eleven and Tolkien at twelve.
Tell us about your beliefs in the paranormal and the afterlife.
My mother says that in my second year, I told her there was no such thing as Santa Claus. I’m a born skeptic, neither a believer nor a debunker. I’ve seen a number of things I can find no explanation for and that delights me. I don’t consider something like telepathy paranormal and I think there are explanations already within reach for poltergeist activity and residual hauntings. The latter are really no different from the ghostly waft of 80-year-old perfume from a handkerchief discovered in a long-closed attic trunk; they’re just a whole lot more fun.
How would you classify the genre you write?
Genre is important for letting readers find you, so I’m horror/thriller in that sense. Contemporary horror, gothic horror, horror with a bit of science in it. Horror woven with mythology or history. It’s all good. But horror is something that’s found in every genre. It’s just the amount present that determines if it’s straight genre horror or if it’s called something else.
Why do you think horror and fantasy books remain so popular?
Such tales provide an exciting escape from the real world. They’re safe thrills that spark the imagination and give you something to think about.
Anything and everything. I draw from real life, from my own experiences, including exploring alleged hauntings, as well as from written accounts. I draw from stories about science, from history and legend, from places I visit, and even from my own dreams.
What do you think the difference between American horror and British horror is?
British horror - at least the books I’ve read - seems a little more subtle. Ghost stories are easier to find. I’m a fan.
What are your favorite horror books?
Jackson’s Hill House, Matheson’s Hell House, King’s The Shining, Straub’s If You Could See Me Now all come to mind. A newer favorite is Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts. And if you want to read something absolutely terrifying - it has a feel of The Shining yet is much more compact - try Jay Bonansinga’s Self Storage.
What are some of your favorite horror movies?
The Uninvited (1945), Kubrick’s The Shining, The Haunting (1960), Ghost Story, Silence of the Lambs, The Woman in Black (BBC), The Exorcist, Poltergeist, Carrie, Evil Dead 2, Interview With the Vampire, An American Werewolf in London, and Shaun of the Dead.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment as an author?
Finishing the latest manuscript is always my greatest accomplishment.
Do you have any advice for new writers?
The usual - read every day and write every day. Also, it’s good to find someone you can honestly critique with. But finding the right person is vital.
What is your opinion of the new self-publishing trend?
Traditionally published writers - who know the value of proofreaders, copy editors, and editors - can do well with self-publishing. If you’re new, however, you must be patient enough to hone your craft until your writing is professional - and you must find those editors and use them. Amateurish work is a glut on the market. The important thing is not how a work is published, but the quality of that work.
My new solo, Brimstone, will appear soon. It’s a ghost story set in a former hospital - now a hotel - in a small mining town. Brimstone is a coming of age tale loaded with ghosts and mysteries, and is set in 1968. It’s heavily based on a real location and even incorporates a few of the real ghost stories.
My collaborator, Alistair Cross, and I are releasing episodes of our serial novel, Ravencrest: Exorcism every few months. Exorcism is the third book in the saga. The first two books, The Ghosts of Ravencrest and The Witches of Ravencrest are available as complete novels.
We also recently saw publication of our collaborative novel, Darling Girls. It’s a standalone follow-up to our solo vampire novels, Candle Bay (Thorne) and The Crimson Corset (Cross). In Darling Girls, we send our motley crew of bloodsuckers to the town of Eternity (from my novel, Eternity) for a vampire festival called Biting Man. It was a hoot to write and great fun combining our vampiric worlds. We’re also reaching the halfway point on our next novel, Spite House, and enjoying the hell out of writing another mystery/thriller. (Mother was our first.)
We also continue our popular weekly podcast, Thorne & Cross: Haunted Nights LIVE! where we interview horror illumaries of all variety.
Please in your own words, write a paragraph about yourself & your work.
I am my work. Not an hour goes by that I’m not thinking about storytelling. Every place I visit I see as a potential trove of story ideas. I love words and books and bad puns, along with movies and cats. I live a quiet, peaceful life; my philosophy is that drama belongs on the page.
Ahead of the UK premiere of LEVEL 16 at Arrow Video FrightFest Glasgow 2019, director Danishka Esterhazy tells us about the long journey to get her film made, the empowering nature of female friendship and her love for Sci-fi.
It has been 10 years since first draft to a world premiere at Fantastic Fest. Quite a journey. What inspired you in the first place and what kept you going?
Yes, it has not been an easy road with this film. I wrote Level 16 right after graduating from film school and I had hoped that it would be my first feature film. But I could not find any investors or broadcasters or distributors who wanted to support the film. I love science fiction, love dystopian films, but I had not seen many (any?) with a primarily female cast. Most science fiction films have a large male cast with maybe one or two female actors in smaller roles, most likely the love interest. But as a Sci-Fi fan, I wanted to see more stories about women, with women in the lead. So, I wrote Level 16 and I never gave up on the idea. I was lucky to find a producer (Judy Holm) who loved the story as much as I did. Together, we continued to fight for the film until the film industry evolved and caught up to our idea!
When writing the script, did you always visualise it as a genre movie? Were there any particular influences in that area?
I definitely knew that I was writing a genre film. I had two main inspirations. The first was Logan’s Run - a film that I really loved as a child. I’ve seen it dozens of times. I loved the contained world of the domed city and the idea that the hero had to uncover the truth by questioning everything he had been taught by the system. My other inspiration was Jane Eyre — one of my favorite novels. I loved the early part of the novel that takes place in the Lowood Institution for orphan girls. In an early draft of Level 16, the two main girls were named Jane and Helen. But as I continued to rewrite and revise (I wrote sixteen drafts of the screenplay) the story evolved and changed into the unique world of the Vestalis Academy.
Did any personal experiences inform the writing process?
I did use my own memories and experiences as a teen girl throughout the story. As a teen, I felt very isolated and oppressed by the educational system. I felt that my school was more interested in fostering conformity than feeding young minds or encouraging free thought. What helped me get through that experience was the close relationship I had with my best friends. At the age of sixteen, friendships are intense and powerful. In film, the friendship between teen girls is often portrayed as toxic or competitive. But in my experience, it was empowering. I wanted to show how the friendship between young women can be one of the most important relationships in life. And how powerful young women can be when they come together and support one another.
The basic premise of a group of young women incarcerated in a prison-like institution could have easily been moulded into a voyeuristic story of sexual exploitation. How did you resist going down that road?
I did receive notes that encouraged me to add titillating scenes. A specific note that I remember is “you have to show the girls showering naked or you will never get this film made.” I was shocked and dismayed to get these notes. Also enraged, which drove me to move in the absolute opposite direction of story-telling. To make sure that the girls in the story are never treated to a sexually exploitive gaze. To make sure that the story is about their inner life, their intellectual and emotional transformations. And I did shoot a scene in the showers. With the actors fully clothed! Shooting that scene felt like a vindication.
Although described as a ‘YA dystopian thriller’, the film has also been cited as a timely story of feminine empowerment and sisterhood. Do you go along with that?
I have been a bit amused to hear the film described as “timely” because it took so long to get funded. But I think the film would never have been greenlit if not for the recent #timesup and #metoo movements. The film industry has not been a welcoming place for women. But I am glad to see that things are beginning to change. I am feminist and proud to wear that label.
Doctor Miro, as played by Peter Outerbridge, is one hell of a creepy psychologist. A kind of Lector meets Dr Frankenstein. And both Sara Canning’s performance as a Stepford-wife headmistress and Katie Douglas’ heroic teenaged Vivien, are spell-binding. Take us through the key casting process.
I am so proud of our cast. They each embraced their characters with such passion and nuance.
Peter Outerbridge is an actor I have watched and admired for years. I still remember seeing his amazing early performance in Lynne Stopkewich’s Kissed. So I was thrilled when he agreed to play Doctor Miro. Because I knew that Peter would bring subtlety and realism to the part — that he would never dip into melodrama.
Sara Canning was the lead in my first feature film Black Field. We have been friends, and mutual fans ever since. Sara is a brilliant actor who digs deep into every story. We had wonderful discussions about the history of Vestalis, about Brixil’s past, about the themes and layers in the story. Watching Sara as Brixil, you can see so many emotions and thoughts that are never expressed. It is a performance that is enjoyable to watch again and again.
I didn’t know Katie Douglas or her work. She’s a young actor just emerging on the scene. But in her very first audition she had me spellbound. She has such range and talent. She would make unique yet perfect choices. Every day on set she would surprise me — in the very best way. I see very big things in her future.
What do you want audiences ultimately to take away from the film?
Level 16 is a story about friendship. So what I want most is for the audience to care about Vivien and Sophia. To be afraid for them, to cheer for them, to feel heart-break for them. But it’s also a cautionary tale about what could happen in a society where the rich can exploit a vulnerable underclass. What can happen when human life is undervalued and when luxury, perfection and glamour are pursued without restraint.
And finally, I hope that people will reflect on how we educate girls. When writing the script, I read educational manuals for young women from the Victorian period up to the 1960s. Those manuals demonstrated such a shocking disregard for female intelligence and independence - indeed, they seemed designed to stamp those qualities out. Today, the books and toys and lessons aimed at girls do not seem that different. Our educational system fosters inequality from childhood. I hope my film will shine a light on this issue.
Do you think there are still misconceptions about female directors working in the horror genre?
Unfortunately, yes. When I was trying to raise funding for Level 16 I was told: “women don’t watch science fiction” and “women don’t direct genre films”, which is ridiculous. Being a woman director who loves genre, who wants to make genre, is never easy but the audience has always been more progressive and diverse then the industry. We just have to get past the gatekeepers to our audience.
The genre is currently at its most vibrant and popular, pushing boundaries and asking tough questions of audiences by reflecting relevant political and social issues. Do you think this will attract more female directors into the fold?
There are so many female directors already out there. They don’t get the same access to funding and the same attention in the press. But they are quietly making extraordinary films with small budgets. What we need now is to see women directors given access to the same budgets, the same tools, as their male peers.
So, what’s next?
I am about to fly to Cape Town to shoot a horror film for Warner Bros. and Syfy Channel. I can’t say anything about it yet — not even the title. But I am really excited to make this film! There will be lots and lots of blood…
LEVEL 16 is showing at the Glasgow Film Theatre on Fri 1 March, 1.15pm, as part of Arrow Video FrightFest Glasgow 2019.