First of all, I loved the film, found it hugely evocative and very atmospheric.
Thanks very much.
Aside from the Hallowed Histories screening, and the film’s availability on Amazon, do you have any other festival screenings coming up?
The first screening was at Fear in the Fens. We’re discussing with one of our sponsors, Black Shuck Gin, about a screening at the John Hurt Centre at Cinema City, but that might be a bit small. We’re also submitting the film to horror festivals and waiting to hear back from the organizers.
It’s interesting that you mention horror festivals. Watching the film it didn’t strike me as a horror film, although there are horror elements. Do you see it as a horror film?
Originally I did, but looking at it now it does seem to have a smaller percentage of horror than drama. But I would still class it that way. Horror films were certainly an inspiration.
Since you mention it, what are some inspirational images or films or filmmakers that you drew upon?
“Under The Shadow” was an inspiration as well as “The Babadook.” It was films like that which turned the film towards a female lead, because I thought the mother/maternal aspect would add something to the film. I was originally inspired by “Logan,” I wanted that sort of western feel, and that would have led to more exterior landscape shots. Making it with a female lead brings with it some concerns, since I’m neither a mother nor a woman. But my partner (executive producer and location manager Rosa Evans) as well as Rebecca Grant brought that female perspective which made it work. One inspirational image for me was from “The Foreigner.” We see a bereaved parent standing in their child’s bedroom, and that helped me put together the opening shots.
Grief and memory seem to be the major themes of the film. Were those your major concerns or were other areas also significant to you?
Grief and memory are big, also mental health was a major concern for me, wanting to put that issue and experience on screen. I wanted to do that and also a film about Black Shuck. I was reminded of Winston Churchill describing depression as being like a black dog, so the two ideas tied together nicely.
It’s a minor thing, but references to the legend tend to refer to the dog as Black Shuck. Why did you add “The” to the title?
Mainly because I think it sounds better. But also to differentiate this film from another one called “Black Shuck.” I haven’t seen all of that one, but I don’t want people searching for this film online and finding another one. So hopefully including “The” will just bring people here.
I loved the editing pattern. What can you tell us about the editing process of the film? Do you storyboard or was a lot of the final form decided in the editing room?
There was no storyboard, we started just with a shot list. There was a lot done in the editing room, not least the order of events. It didn’t start the way it does originally, and whereas some directors are very much in love with certain scenes that they won’t cut, I cut too much, and then needed to put bits back in. But I figured out how to build up the story during the edit, especially the opening scene with Jamie alone in her room.
That was a very moving opening, the overhead shot capturing Jamie alone, surrounded by the empty bottle, the pills and children’s clothes. It was very much a show don’t tell opening.
That’s something that’s been praised in responses, so I’m glad that worked well. It doesn’t tell you straight away what’s going on, creates a mystery that the audience has to solve.
Were there scenes that were particularly memorable for you, either from production or in the finished film?
The church scene was the first one we cut, and after all the work we had done, to see that scene and know it was a great culmination for the film. I wrote the poem that we hear at the end, and I really liked the way it fitted with that scene, even though it seems a bit cheesy.
Fascinating! I had assumed it was a pre-existing poem but you wrote it yourself? It does work well at the end, especially as voiceover. If it had been spoken out loud I think it would have been cheesy, but as a voiceover it helps bring us more into Jamie’s mind. On that note, what is your view of the central character? Were character mannerisms in the script or actors’ suggestions, your ideas or a combination?
It was a combination. Rebecca gave a very reserved performance, which is what I find with more professional actors. She’s the most professional I’ve worked with, and not to be disparaging to amateurs, but their performances can often be overdone. Rebecca dialed it back, and when we got to the proper breakdown scene, she had built up enough to escalate to that particular moment. She took direction really well and was very self-critical, looking at what she did and wanting to try something else. It was a really useful experience for me, working with her.
As writer-producer-director you’ve guided this project throughout its production. What’s the journey been like from initial idea to completion? How has it been for you?
It’s been stressful, but I did it for fun and it is fun. The early stages involved a lot of choosing locations, running between them, getting permission. The film only really got moving when Rebecca came on board. She came to me to shoot her self tape auditions, and I invited her to join the project. That’s when things started moving. It’s always difficult to get funding, and most of those involved were working for free or for favors. Crowdfunding was a challenge but a good one.
How did you get the film onto Amazon Prime?
Amazon have a review process and a short film sort of remit, so it was a matter of submitting the film for their reviewing and then seeing where it went.
Considering your experience, what sort of advice might you give to filmmakers wanting to make something similar to this?
Just do it. I work freelance to produce corporate films but you don’t need that sort of basis. People can and do make films on smart phones so they should just do it. It’s important to make mistakes and learn from them. Probably the most important qualities to have are heart and ambition. I’ve even making films since I was in my early teens, and they’ve improved with experience and technology. But an early film I made was seen by the editor of “Twilight,” and he was impressed by the heart and ambition of it, from someone that young, so that made a difference.
What can you tell us about your next project?
I’m working on a one minute short that my brother Matty directed, which we’ll enter into a contest. It’s to do with UFO sightings, and an interview with a witness of an event. We cut the interview together with a recreation of the UFO sighting. Further down the line I want to turn “The Black Shuck” into a feature, but I’m currently working on a script for another horror project. It’s about a security guard who works a shift at a secluded care home following some mysterious disturbances. It’s semi-inspired by a night shift my dad did at a care home.
Best of luck with that, and I look forward to seeing it, as I enjoyed “The Black Shuck” very much.