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Interview at The Witch Haunt

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In case you missed it, I was interviewed by the wonderfully witchy Gaby Triana over at her magickal blog The Witch Haunt.

It’s a five minute read (perfect for when you’re taking a well earned break from casting hexes, or gathering the ingredients for a flying potion) and you can check it out here.

When you’re done, be sure to peruse the full selection of Horror-themed interviews, which include Ramsey Campbell, Lisa Morton, and Jonathan Maberry.

My thanks to Gaby Triana at The Witch Haunt.

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That’s a wrap! #OnEdge20

OnEdge20

#OnEdge20 is a series of posts commemorating 20 years since I rolled cameras on my first short film.

There’s an old filmmaking saying, which goes, “You make three movies.”

It’s very true. The movie you write is the first, and even that is subject to rewrites and last minute revisions (yesterday’s blog entry showed how the opening sequence of On Edge was modified to allow for the film’s completion when we were up against time constraints).

Secondly, there’s the movie you shoot. And this can seem quite alien to you as you look at it on the little monitor screen of the video-assist, or from beside the camera as you direct Charley Boorman to “Gurgle a bit more, make it sound like you’re really choking on the blood.”

NB: He really was choking on the blood.

Then there’s Doug Bradley, sneaking up behind you to whisper, “Tick… tock… tick… tock,” into your ear as a constant reminder that time (and your sanity) is escaping you. Ahh, such sweet memories.

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On Edge in Covent Garden, July 1998: Christopher Fowler, Doug Bradley — and some long-haired young idiot — discuss dental hygiene.

And finally, there’s the movie you edit. Looking through the archives for this series of blog posts, I was reminded how things have changed in movie production — and how little they have really changed. The technology is different, but the creative process from script to screen remains the same.

Here are some pictures that show (don’t tell)…

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Yes, those really are floppy discs.

I mean, look above at how many DAT (digital audio tapes) were required to create the sound for the film. The impact of a short horror film like On Edge relies very much on its sound. Because I couldn’t do the ‘big reveal’ until the last available moment, the whirring of drills and the snagging of flesh was super important in creating a sense of unease in the viewer about what was happening to poor Peter Thurlow’s gob. You might be able to spy the soundtrack masters in there too. ‘Cycles of Abuse’ was a song by my metal band Self Destructive Nature, co-written with guitar legend Paulo Turin (Gangland, Paul DiAnno’s Battlezone) which rocks out over the opening/closing fetish club framing device. ’Sweets From On Edge’ was incidental music composed by Dooj (The Jazz Butcher), and I have such happy memories of working with him on that in his flat, and referencing the scores to several John Carpenter films and Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm, all of which became strong influences on the finished score. Sadly, Dooj passed away recently. He was a brilliantly inventive musician with a lovely, energetic personality to match his vivid pink hair.

These pictures also illustrate the different formats used, from the raw 35mm film footage (the rushes, or dailies) to the TK Master (a telecine’d digi-beta tape copy of all the film footage, used in editing, which was prepared at The Moving Picture Company), to the locked edit (again on digi tape) then the assembled 35mm with its associated sound mix. The optical effects (the vision blurs, whiteouts and dissolves, titles etc.) were created at Capital FX, and these were incorporated into the film edit by Vaughn Mullady at Tru Cuts.

The film we ended up with was a glorious 35mm cinemascope film print, with the sound running alongside it on an audio track. When the film was picked up by Columbia TriStar to screen in London cinemas with the feature film ‘I Still Know What You Did Last Summer’; there was a slight catch. We could screen at as many cinemas screens as we liked — but we had to pay for the prints. The prints were around £750 each, so we could afford a grand total of… two. With the master print out on tour at film festivals, our 2 new prints were screened at Odeon Leicester Square and The Warner Bros. West End (now the Vue). 8,000 paying cinemagoers saw our film, which also played a ton of festivals and bagged some prestigious awards.

Youtube was just about to take off (!), but in the early days, bandwidth restrictions meant that a maximum of 10 minutes footage was upload able to Youtube. So the first online screenings of the film (something we take for granted now) saw the film split into 2 parts as it was 15mins long!

I lost count the number of VHS screening tapes we had copied, including costly NTSC versions for the USA and other territories where PAL was not standard. Nowadays, you can pop your film onto Vimeo and have it selected (or rejected) by film festivals without the need to send costly tapes (the weight of which made shipping expensive too). Which brings us, rather neatly, to the present.

Twenty years later.

Would I have done anything differently, knowing what I know now? Yes, lots. But that’s not the point, really. Making On Edge taught me so much, and I am forever grateful to everyone who worked on the film, and/or supported it in any way.

Maybe someday (with the time & funds necessary to do such a thing) there could be a 4K-ultra HD remaster of the film, created from all the original elements?

For now, I hope these blog posts have provided an insight into a creative journey that I embarked on twenty years ago, and one that I still cherish to this day.

Thanks for reading. And for watching.

Oh, and don’t forget to floss.

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Dr Matthews – what’s the worst that could happen?

Watch On Edge
on Amazon VOD
and DVD

Check out the On Edge
screening history & list of awards
here

 


Dear diary. #OnEdge20

OnEdge20

#OnEdge20 is a series of posts commemorating 20 years since I rolled cameras on my first short film.

DAY 3

Yesterday, we looked at the evolution of the screenplay for On Edge, arguably the most crucial part of any film production.

Today, we’ll look at another vital element you can’t do without. And what is that, I hear you ask?

Why, a Batman Forever diary & organiser of course!

It doesn’t have to be a Batman branded one (although i can highly recommend it is, i mean, the one i used came with really cool stickers and everything) but I can’t underline enough the importance of having something portable that you can scribble in, with enough space for each day of the week to include the important milestones. This was 1998 of course, and we had computers back then but not smartphones. Imagine that. But even now, when I work on a project I use an honest-to-goodness paper diary to keep track of everything. It’s just simpler that way (for me anyway, your milage of course may vary).

Pre-production means a LOT of meetings. For On Edge, there were meetings to be had with the Heads of Department (camera, sound, art, assistant director, special effects, and of course with the cast!). One of my fondest memories about making On Edge is taking the train and a bus to Pinewood Studios to meet with Bob Keen at his Image Animation workshop to discuss the design of Charley Boorman’s prosthetics, and the ‘uber drill’ used by Doctor Matthews to create his latest dental masterpiece. Bob’s workshop was an Aladdin’s cave filled with such treasures as original Cenobite models from Hellraiser and the xenomorph eggs from Aliens. We decided it would be fun to incorporate actual dental implements into the make-up and the drill, and Bob sourced a vintage portable dentistry kit from an antique’s dealer in order to achieve this. I was like the cat who go the cream during these meetings, let me tell you. And later, on set, I got to tick off a bucket list moment — shouting, “More blood please Bob!” before a take. Sigh — it’s the little things that make life so fulfilling.

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Bob Keen applies prosthetics to Charley Boorman

Going through the diary all these years later revealed what an intense period of activity it was, juggling a day job (at that time I ran a market stall in Camden, and another in Charing Cross to pay the bills and to get me through university) and the many decisions necessary to prep the film for production. Producer Joseph and co-producer Juliet made sure everything ran smoothly (and some of the crew said the catering was even better than on some feature films they’d worked on!) even when we were down to the wire casting the role of the receptionist. Beth Murray (I had seen her brilliant turn in the music promo for Placebo’s Pure Morning) bagged the part, and she was perfect. With Doug Bradley and Charley Boorman on board as dentist and patient, we were ready to go.

The shoot itself passed by in a bit of a blur. We shot for three days at a dental clinic in Covent Garden, and this is where an astonishing coincidence happened. It turned out that the location we had chosen for the shoot was Christopher Fowler’s dentist’s! There was some poetry to that — but all lyricism went out of the window with the actual shoot.

The dentist was away on vacation during the shoot (smart man) leaving his (heavily pregnant) head nurse in charge of the building. The nurse herself warned us that she was given to violent mood swings and tearful outbursts due to her impending due date! Unknown to the film crew, a decorating team had also been booked to spruce up the clinic during our film shoot. Many people still think a film shoot is two actors, a camera and three hangers-on, but we had a crew of over 40 people working on On Edge, two enormous equipment trucks, a massive generator and a metric tonne of equipment to hoist up and down the stairs — a stairwell which was bloody well being painted while we were supposed to be making a movie. The nurse decided that 6pm was our absolute cut-off time for filming each day. When we factored in all the delays, due to being extra careful not to scuff the freshly painted walls and so on, we needed a later finish that that by day 3. And on that day, I ashamedly admit i began to lose my fragile grip on my sanity, rocking back and forth in my director’s chair and gurgling like a madman about ‘the coming apocalypse’. 

But it was all right. With the support of my amazing cast and crew, we simplified the opening sequence, so we could achieve it in the time remaining to us. I believe that a cash bribe.. um, I mean ‘bonus’… was made to the nurse-in-charge, and we even invited her to look down the camera lens at what we were doing, all to buy ourselves some more time.

Time is the fire in which we burn.

So if you’re making a movie, get yourself a good diary.

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Eagle-eyed readers will see that author Christopher Fowler was invited on set (time constraints changed his call time from 2pm to 4pm) and yes, he makes a cameo appearance in the film!

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The fish symbolises a visit to the London Aquarium. Always book a day off the day after you wrap. Thank me later.

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The shoot ends and the edit officially begins!

 

Tune into the blog tomorrow for more #OnEdge20

Watch On Edge
on Amazon VOD
and DVD

Check out the On Edge
screening history & list of awards
here


Screenwriting on the edge. #OnEdge20

OnEdge20

#OnEdge20 is a series of posts commemorating 20 years since I rolled cameras on my first short film.

DAY 2

The most important element in filmmaking is a screenplay.

Okay, so there are exceptions to this rule. Some film and TV productions are improvised, though these often use a rough story outline and rehearsals to find the beats and dialogue. Even though there may be no formal script, the template is there. Camera rehearsals help to refine and block the action before a take. It’s the same process as writing and rewriting a script before it arrives on set for interpretation by the actors and crew. Even those productions that have pre-vis animatics, or simply storyboards in place of scripted words on a page are using a script of arts — the screenplay is visual storytelling, so it’s all the same thing.

In yesterday’s blog post, I recounted how I came to adapt Christopher Fowler’s story into a short film in the first place. I alluded to flashback scenes that were scripted, but not included in the final film. The reasons for this change were twofold:

1. The flashbacks weren’t at all vital in revealing the story of Thurlow’s encounter with Matthews. A general rule of thumb is that if the scene plays, it stays. Another way to express that is — if you read through the script with those scenes omitted, and the story still works (or works even better) without them, then they can go.

2. By cutting them, we would save thousands of pounds that we would otherwise have needed to spend on casting a ‘young Doctor Matthews’, a host of schoolchildren, a teacher, and an exam hall — and then lighting and filming in that location for at least pone shooting day, if not two.

So, cut them I did.

I had already decided to keep my deviation from the original short story, in the form of the fetish nightclub sequence that bookended the film, as I felt this would be the most cinematic way to open the film (rather like shouting, “Hey everyone! You’re watching an actual proper movie with real production values here!”). And it did work. I remember when On Edge was selected to screen with Columbia TriStar’s I Still Know What You Did Last Summer in London cinemas. We snuck in one evening with our guests — actor Charley Boorman and his lovely wife, as they shouldn’t attend the cast & crew screwing at the Prince Charles cinema as Charley was off riding motorbikes with his pal Ewan MacGregor — and to our delight a couple of patrons genuinely thought they had sat down in the wrong screening room. Testament to the fact that On Edge looked and sounded like a bona fide MOVIE-FILM, not the low-budget indie short that it actually was.

I recall being very delighted about that.

Anyway, back to the script! Trawling through the archives for #OnEdge20, i chanced upon an earlier draft of the script (the version I sent to Christopher Fowler on a wing and a prayer) that included some of the scenes which I later dropped. You can read a scan of that 4th draft version — for the first time in, well, the history of ever — below. I must have annotated the script after doing my first location recce at the dental studio we used for filming (more about that location in tomorrow’s blog post) — as you can see on the first page I have corrected ‘reception window’ to ‘reception desk’ in keeping with what was available at the actual showing location. The script is never finished, even if only little details, there are always many changes right up to and including when you are shooting the film.

Talking of the shoot, I have also somehow managed (in the course of a gazillion house moves and life changing events) to have held onto the actual copy of the shooting script that I used on set during filming. You can see (in the scanned Shooting Script copy below) how each scene has been gleefully crossed out in lurid red pen. Each page we shot became a feather in my cap (as well as removing about a decade from my overall life expectancy in stress, worry and fingernail-down-to-the-quick tension — again, more about that in tomorrow’s blog post!). 

Be sure to check out the little diagram on page 5 of this shooting version of the script — this is basically Director of Photography Alan Stewart SAVING MY LIFE AND SAVING THE FILM. I have to post that ALL IN CAPS because it’s the TRUTH. Time is the enemy on a film shoot, and the universe always seem to conspire against you to ensure that you do not have enough of it. That little diagram shows how a brilliant DOP can simplify things for you, getting all the coverage (put simply – coverage is footage from angles that will cut together and give editing options later in the editing room so you don’t need to go back and reshoot costly pick-ups) so you can focus on directing and getting the performances you need. The doodles on that page show how the camera set-ups work for maximum coverage with minimum lighting moves — essential time-saving tactics that can mean the difference between getting everything in the can, or not. Alan is one of the best in the business, and it’s no surprise he has gone on to shoot big movies for the likes of Disney.

Also of note in the Shooting Draft are the scenes marked as ‘Deleted’. It’s pretty obvious to see which these are, and it is a revealing process to compare the Draft 4 script with the Shooting Script.

I hope this never-before-shared material is of some interest, and who knows, it might even be helpful / inspiring to anyone out there who is embarking on shooting their first short film.

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click to read On Edge draft 4

 

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click to read the On Edge shooting script

Tune into the blog tomorrow for more #OnEdge20

Watch On Edge
on Amazon VOD
and DVD

Check out the On Edge
screening history & list of awards
here


Proof that one letter can change your life. #OnEdge20

OnEdge20

#OnEdge20 is a series of posts commemorating 20 years since I rolled cameras on my first short film.

DAY 1

Today is exactly 20 years since I rolled cameras on my first short film as writer/director, On Edge.

I don’t like looking back so much, I’d much rather keep my focus on what’s ahead. But 20 years does feel like a pretty significant anniversary, so…

To commemorate each day of the film shoot I will be posting about the making of the film, starting today (24th July) and concluding on the day we wrapped (28th July). I have trawled through the archives to find artefacts that have never been shared online before — until now.

And the first of these is a letter.

A single sheet of headed A4 paper, bearing the logo of Soho’s The Creative Partnership, and the signature of author Christopher Fowler.

It’s a letter that changed my life.

Twenty one years ago, I was studying for a Masters in screenwriting under the tutorship of guru Philip Parker. One of our assignments was to adapt an existing story into a short film script. Around that time, I had become aware of an emerging master of the short horror story, British author Christopher Fowler. I had already devoured a couple of his early novels, including the brilliant Roofworld, and was hungry for more, so I invested (very wisely) in a copy of his collection Sharper Knives, which included a blackly-comic, dental horror story called On Edge. I sat bolt upright in bed and told myself that this story had to be made into a film.

With my homework assignment as further impetus (I always work best to a strict deadline, to this day) I set about adapting the story. The assignment brief meant that the script had to be around 30 pages long. The story was at most going to come in at around fifteen minutes, so I created a subplot in which the impatient patient, Peter Thurlow, was set up for a painful fall by his estranged wife. I also opted to include a bit more detail about Doctor Matthews’ background. Visualising his ‘difficult’ schooldays via flashbacks, i intercut these with the main action culminating in some horrific business with a sharp pencil in an exam hall. (The gory escalation was intended to mirror the horror occurring in the dentist’s chair.)

The homework assignment was a success, but I knew that the film would be incredibly expensive to make at 30 minutes long. As a rule of thumb, at that time it would cost around £1,000 to produce each minute of finished film. To explain this further, I was determined that we were to shoot and deliver on 35mm Cinemascope, to present as cinematic experience as possible — an approach very much shared and supported by my producing partner Joseph Alberti at Robber Baron Productions. On Edge was to be our calling card, and we were confident if we got it right, we might get a feature film project off the ground.  So, in order to make the film realisable on a budget, I immediately dropped the spousal revenge subplot, cutting the script back to around 18 pages. (Still too long, but further edits were to come, as they always do.)

In a fit of youthful exuberance / pure madness, i decided to send a copy of the script to the author of the short story, Mr Christopher Fowler himself, begging him for the rights to make the film. He replied, and you can see that reply below. I have never shown anyone outside of the production this letter (and I wrote to Christopher last week to ask his permission one more time —  20 years after first doing so — but this time via email, and this time requesting permission to publish his letter on my blog, which I’m happy to say he granted. Thanks again Mr Fowler!).

I remember tucking the letter inside my copy of the shooting script, as a memento of the journey to getting the film made, sure, but also as a reminder to my future self — the future self who is writing this blog entry today — that all it takes sometimes is one person to see some potential in what you are doing, to give you a break, and ultimately to change your life.

Making On Edge changed my life in so many ways. It taught me a lot about directing, screenwriting, and of course the process of adaptation. I have since worked on many screenplays and films as a writer/director and a story consultant, and have published short stories and novels of my own.

Proof that one letter can change your life.

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Tune into the blog tomorrow for more #OnEdge20

Watch On Edge
on Amazon VOD
and DVD

Check out the On Edge
screening history & list of awards
here


Guest author Catherine Cavendish: ‘If You Go Down to the (Screaming) Woods Today…’

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…You had better be prepared to experience more than you bargained for. Especially if the woods in question are in the vicinity of the Kent village of Pluckley. Properly known as Dering Woods, this forest is more commonly known as the Screaming Woods – and for very good reason.

The area itself is situated just south of England’s (arguably) most haunted village – Pluckley – where it seems almost every building and piece of land has its own ghost story to tell. Pinnock Bridge has its Gypsy or Watercress Woman who is supposed to have set herself on fire from a combination of the pipe she was smoking and the gin she was drinking at the same time. She wafts around as a misty figure.

The Elvey Farm has a haunted dairy where an 18thcentury farmer – Edward Brett – fatally shot himself. He is still heard, muttering ‘I will do it.’

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A black silhouette of a miller haunts the site of an old windmill, while a red lady walks her small white dog around the churchyard and a white lady wanders around inside the same church. The locals at the time of her death must have really feared her. She was buried inside not one, but sevencoffins AND an oak sarcophagus. She’s still pacing around there though!

An unfortunate love affair led to the suicide (by poisoning) of the Lady of Rose Court, and a poor man who fell into a clay pit still screams in agony. A schoolmaster who hanged himself is still apparently trapped at the site of his demise.

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Now, after experiencing all that, you could well be forgiven for deciding to retire to the local hostelry (the Black Horse Inn). Surely here you could kick back and relax over a pint of foaming ale or a glass of comforting wine? Not a bit of it! After the phantom coach and horses have thundered by outside, expect things to start flying around you as the resident poltergeist gets to work.

But I digress. Back to the woods.

In the 18thcentury, a highwayman called Robert du Bois was tracked down and run through with a sword while he hid in a tree in these very woods. Another version states that he was dragged to the woods before being lynched. Either way, his are the screams which give the woods their name – along with a couple of other unfortunates, such as the army colonel who hanged himself and still can be seen dangling from his tree, and the ghostly soldier who wanders the woodland paths. Others who have simply lost their way – and never found it again – add their desperate voices to the cacophony from beyond the grave.

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Sceptics might say it’s just foxes. Everyone knows foxes can make a terrible racket. As if hell itself had opened and let the screams of the damned escape.

But those of us who know about such things, don’t need any such explanations.

Do we?

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There are plenty of sinister goings-on – and a terrifying some demon – in my novella, The Devil Inside Her. This is what to expect:

When nightmares become dreams, someone must die

Haunted by the death of her husband and only child, Elinor Gentry’s recurring nightmares have left her exhausted. She’s crippled by debt, and only the remnants of her former life surround her, things she can’t bear to sell, and wouldn’t make much profit from if she did. Then, for no apparent reason, the nightmares transform into pleasant dreams. Dreams that lead her to take back control of her life.

A string of horrific and unexplained suicides–and an unnerving discovery about Elinor herself—lead her best friend to seek help from the one person who has seen all this before, and things begin to spiral out of control. Hazel Messinger knows that Elinor’s newly found wellbeing is not what it seems, and Hazel’s not about to let the demon inside remain there permanently.

You can buy The Devil Inside Her here;

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

About the author

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Following a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance, Catherine Cavendish is now the full-time author of a number of paranormal, ghostly and Gothic horror novels, novellas and short stories. Cat’s novels include the Nemesis of the Gods trilogy– Wrath of the Ancients, Waking the Ancients and Damned by the Ancients, plusThe Devil’s Serenade,The Pendle Curseand Saving Grace Devine.

Her novellas, Cold Revenge, Miss Abigail’s Room, The Demons of Cambian Street, The Devil Inside Her, andThe Second Wifehave now been released in new editions by Crossroad Press.

She lives with her long-suffering husband, and a black cat who has never forgotten that her species used to be worshipped in ancient Egypt. She sees no reason why that practice should not continue. Cat and her family divide their time between Liverpool and a 260-year-old haunted apartment in North Wales.

You can connect with Cat here:

Catherine Cavendish

Facebook

Twitter

Goodreads

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Thanks to Catherine Cavendish for another wonderful guest blog post!
Be sure to read her books, and connect with her on social media.


#TheStayMovie awarded Silver Award for Best Horror Short at Independent Shorts Awards in LA USA

The Stay

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Thanks to the curators of the Independent Shorts Awards in Los Angeles USA for selecting The Stay and awarding our film the amazing Best Horror Short Silver Award!

Check the Awards website for the full list of honours.

36865701_2088807444480334_631847478026567680_nMany thanks to the cast & crew, and all our supporters for helping make The Stay a successful independent film production.

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Next up – DragonCon Independent Film Festival, Aug 30–Sept 3, 2018 Atlanta, GA USA!

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