Friday, June 27, 2008

Edinburgh Film Festival: Day Seven

My last day at the festival and the second screening of 'Mum & Dad'. This time we were in the smaller cinema, Filmhouse 2, but had sold out before the day, so that when I went to try and get a spare ticket at 9 in the morning, there were none to be had. So, we had a packed crowd in a really hot cinema - I didn't stay in for the film this time, as I wanted to go and chat with Lizzie Francke, who was one of the execs on the film, and a massive self-confessed horror geek. I just came in at the end - it seemed to go well and we had a good turn-out for the Q and A. Olga was there, so she came up with me. I was expecting maybe a bit of an adverse reaction (I know it's not really for everyone...), but people seemed to really like it, although one person was a bit confused by the BBC logo - "They're never going to show it, are they...?". Well that was the initial deal, but we'll have to wait and see.

Earlier in the day, I'd been to see Ray Harryhausen give a talk about his work. It was good, loads of great clips and he was very charming. There was a slight feeling that he and his co-writer (who was interviewing him) had been through this whole thing before (especially when they told a joke about 'One Million Years BC' twice within five minutes), but everybody there had obviously been given so much enjoyment by his work over the years that they could forgive him anything. My friend Sally, who I went with, had her picture taken with him the other day and was thrilled to see him - although he did give her a bit of a shock when he revealed in the talk that the fur for 'Mighty Joe Young' was made out of 'unborn calf'. What with her being a vegan...

I dashed straight from there to see the documentary 'Dreams With Sharp Teeth' - about the SF writer Harlan Ellison. He's an irascible, unstoppable, ever-talking, frequently hilarious, often foul-mouthed force of nature - a total gift to a documentary maker. (He described Death as looming over him 'like a Star Trek fanboy salivating over your shoulder') With contributions from Neil Gaiman, Peter David and others (including a just-about-acceptable level of Robin Williams), it was a gallop through his life and opinions, interspersed with clips of him reading from his work. And slagging off everybody from Warner Bros to the man in the car in front of him.

From there it was onto 'Mum & Dad', and with that over and done with, I got stupidly (and very relievedly) drunk, talking with Alex 'Blood Car' Orr about The Best B-Movie Actor Whose Career Should Get Resurrected By Appearing For Not Much Money In A Crazed Exploitation Film. Treat Williams and Randy Quaid were both pretty popular choices. Although I was so pissed by the end, I could possibly also have put forward Gary Wilmot and That Bloke Who Played The Policeman In 'Allo 'Allo. Who knows.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Edinburgh Film Festival: Day Six

I spent half of yesterday with my other hat on - as co-director of the Mayhem Horror Film Festival - watching shorts in the Videotheque to see if there was anything that we might try and nab for the festival this year. It's quite a weird environment for watching films, the Videotheque - about 25 dvd players and flatscreen TVs lined around the walls of a dimly-lit and library-quiet room, with people sitting there with headphones on. I tried to select as many films as possible, just going by the description in the programme - which meant that occasionally I got a less horror film experience than I was expecting. (I've learnt that if anything says that it 'plays with horror film tropes and iconography' it usually means that it's not scary or disturbing, but slow and pretentious). I saw a good zombie film, which I'd already heard about and had been hoping to get a look of, as well as a very confusing Welsh serial killer film (there was a shot at the end that the music and camerawork was telling me was a reveal - but I couldn't figure out why, seeing as I aleady knew who it was) and a film I was really hoping was going to have a werewolf in it, but ended up being about the Dangerous Dogs Act.

In the afternoon, there was a real treat - a screening of 'Jason and the Argonauts', followed by a book signing by Ray Harryhausen. The screening was on at a beautiful old cinema called the Dominion, just a little way out from the city centre. The screen was great - really big, with two rows of leather sofas along the middle, each with a small table and a footstool. Ray Harryhausen did a brief intro and then we watched the film on a scratchy old print. I don't remember the film being in Academy ratio (which was the first surprise), because in my childhood memory it was just big and epic. I probably haven't watched the film for 25 years because there were whole bits I didn't remember - but certain sequences - Jason being carried to Olympus in the palm of a giant Hermes' hand, the bronze statue of Talos coming to life and of course the brilliant and still technically impressive skeleton fight - which are burned on my memory. Afterwards, my friend Sally got a book signed and I took a picture of her with Ray. (Maybe I should of taken a hundred, just getting them to move ever-so-slightly in between each one...)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Edinburgh Film Festival: Day Five

My inexperience with working on PCs, and there only being PCs to use in the Delegates' centre, mean that the post I originally wrote here got accidentally deleted by a twitch of one of my little fingers. Which is a total pain in the arse because I'd just written a long review of Duane Hopkins' 'Better Things', which we saw yesterday.

Rachel (who produced the film) and her husband Al (who co-produced) are friends of ours from Nottingham (Rachel produced my short film 'Cry') and they very kindly got us tickets (it was a sold out screening). My thoughts on the film, as I remember them from the original review were something along the lines of...beautifully lit and shot...Bresson-like approach to acting...felt a bit like being on heroin...deliberate eschewing of a bit confused over who was who for the first hour (made note to self to suggest actors wear name-tags next time)...all in all a bit cold...didn't dislike it, but found it hard to fully engage. Just imagine all that, except strung together in an intelligent, witty and perceptive review.

Afterwards we went to another party, this time for the 'Trailblazers' - one of whom is Lisa. This meant that the bar we were in kept showing shots from all the Trailblazers' films, including 'M&D', so I kept seeing Olga's face pop-up above the bar - especially disconcerting because Olga was also in the bar. I met another journalist who said how much he loved the film, and was really praising the cinematography, which was brilliant to hear, because Jonathan Bloom, our DOP, doesn't always get the praise he deserves for doing such a good job with such limited resources (i.e. three lights). Early night tonight (well, before 2 o'clock) because I'm starting to flag. I've obviously not got the stamina for all this.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Edinburgh Film Festival: Day Four

After last night, I had a bit of a lie-in this morning, before going off to a lunch organised by the festival to hook up British filmmakers and US and British agents. I wasn't really firing on all cylinders, having had about four hours sleep and with the adrenalin from last night now fully exhausted, so I don't think I was the best advocate for myself or the film - one agent said that he'd like to come and see 'Mum & Dad', then said he was worried because he was a bit squeamish and I told him he probably shouldn't then. Not really the best selling technique.

In the afternoon, I went to see Errol Morris's documentary 'Standard Operating Procedure'- his film about the soldiers who took the photos of the torturing and humiliating of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Gharib - which was great - fantastic interviews, beautifully shot and graded - brilliant slow-motion visuals and a real sense of him trying to humanize the people involved. It seems that his attempt to humanize has pissed a few people off (at least judging by the introduction and by some of the questions directed at him afterwards) which I can't really understand. The film clearly points the finger at the people higher up, and makes clear his belief that these people - though not lilywhite or 'innocent' - have been scapegoated by the American government to deflect attention from the themselves. Morris himself seemed to be getting a bit pissed-off during the Q and A session, when it was suggested that he had gone soft on the interviewees. To me, his attempt to humanize these people (who themselves have been villified for the dehumanization of the Iraqi prisoners) makes the film, and I don't think the fim suffers from not interviewing anyone higher up - that seems to be to be another film.

Went to bed early, hoping not to have another anxiety dream like last night, when my nightmare - about the second screening of the film - included the entire audience walking out to go and see Morrissey and my executive producers cutting bits of 'Mum & Dad' into episodes of 'Sabrina the Teenage Witch'. I don't even want to think which part of my brain all this is coming from.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Edinburgh Film Festival: Day Three - 'I guess I don't have to tell you why we're here today...'

The World Premiere of 'Mum & Dad' was last night at the Filmhouse in Edinburgh, a midnight screening attended by a couple of hundred people, who all braved the pissing rain to come and watch a low-budget horror film filled with wrongness. Myself and Lisa did an introduction and also brought all the cast up on stage - Perry Benson (Dad), Dido Miles (Mum), Olga Fedori (Lena), Ainsley Howard (Birdie) and Toby Alexander (Elbie), all of whom had made it up for the screening. It was great to be able to present them at the premiere because they are all a massive part of the film and bring so much to it with their performances - there wasn't a weak link amongst them.

The film went down well - people groaned in disgust, winced in sympathy and laughed in nervous repulsion. A few people also walked out, but it was always timed with a bit of horror, so I don't mind that (a guy sitting next to us started off with a gasp, then fell forward onto the seat in front clutching his hands over his face and moaning, and then - at the most offensive part of the film - finally bolted for the door...) It was interesting to stay in and watch it with a crowd, trying to guage if they were staying with it, finding out what they reacted to. When the screen went black at the end there was a great round of applause and a few whoops - a massive relief for all of us.

We had a quick drink in the bar and spoke to a few people. Everybody was really nice about the film (I guess if they were going to be horrible they probably wouldn't make the effort to stay around and do it. Unless I'd completely offended them, which is always a possibility). My favourite reaction came from a teenage actor who came to see the film with his dad - he had the same look on his face that I probably had when I saw Halloween when I was his age - wide-eyed and adrenaline rushing. He just said 'That was...fantastic'. Brilliant, I thought, hopefully there's another horror film fan for life.

Because of finishing so late (close to 2am) there wasn't time for too many post-screening drinks, so we poured out onto the streets of Edinburgh and did the classic wandering-around-asking-random-strangers-if-they-know-anywhere-open routine, that ended in abysmal failure. So we just went home.

Earlier in the day, me and Jeanie had been to see Errol Morris in conversation. He was great - we've both been fans of his since watching his TV series 'First Person' years ago on late night Channel Four. He talked about making 'The Fog of War' and 'Standard Operating Procedures', as well as about the difference (if there is one) between interviewing and interrogating someone. He spoke really well and realy carefully, thinking about every single sentence. (The whole interview was projected live onto the big screen at the Cineworld, so there were long 30 second spans where everybody was just looking at his face formulating a thought, like some large-scale art piece or something.) He also told a great story about working with an ex-FBI agent whose partner used to conduct background interviews with people (ie people who weren't suspected of anything but who may have be able to provide background information on their next-door neighbours), by knocking on the front door, flipping open his FBI I.D. and saying 'I guess I don't have to tell you why we're here today...' - a technique which would invariably end up with them starting to cry, and then confessing a bunch of stuff. I thought about opening my 'Mum & Dad' introduction with the same words - but then opted instead for telling how the last time I'd been in the Filmhouse had been to see an all-night horror film festival, including a screening of an Argentinian mutant zombie film (called 'Plaga Zombie: Zona Mutante', if I remember correctly)and how great it was to be back here with my own film. And I really meant it - it felt like coming to a real marker point - the same cinema where 'Cry' first played was now the place where people first saw 'Mum & Dad'. It was really satisfying (especially the wincing and groaning) and a massive relief.

And now I can finally sleep. Maybe.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Edinburgh Film Festival: Day Two

So, 'Blood Car' was good - full-on trashy (in the best way) low-budget fun, with some great comedy, a few really close-to-the-bone transgressive moments and strong performances. There was even a real-honest-to-God audience member fainting moment, after a particular moment of extreme close-up bloodletting - always good for a film festival anecdote. The writer/director of the film, Alex Orr was there and did a very entertaining Q and A, during which, in response to the question 'What do you plan to do next?', he pitched an idea doing about a version of Jaws with a giant pelican. And what could be bad about that?

This afternoon, I ended up being on a panel discussion with Alex - and Lizzie Francke (now at the UKFC, but previously an Executive Producer on 'Mum & Dad' and a massive horror geek (in the best way)), and journalist Claudia Andrei. The discussion was chaired by Muriel Gray, who is another self-confessed horror geek. We had quite a good crowd for the discussion, which ranged from the political dimension of horror, why low-budget is best and how transgressive you should be as a horror filmmaker (answer: very), with only a brief diversion into talking about screwing kittens (and I've still no real idea how we got into that)(but I'm now bound to get some more really odd search result hits).

Tonight we're going to see another horror film, 'Spike', followed by a party. We've also been joined by a few members of the cast in preparation for the premiere tomorrow night, as well as Gareth, Chris and John, all of whom have made it up in support - meaning that tomorrow night is going to feel a bit like one of our regular horror nights - except in a really massive and crowded living-room...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Edinburgh Film Festival: Day One

We got to Edinburgh late yesterday afternoon, after a long drive in a packed car (we had a job trying to fit everything in - not because of volume but because we had to transport the film posters - which had to be kept flat - and a big box of promotional bloodstained fairy cakes - which Jeanie and our friend Carol spent most of Wednesday making and which had to be kept strictly upright - alongside a car-sick four year-old. Loading the car was like trying to play a very middle-class, grown-up version of Buccaroo.)

Pretty much as soon as we arrived, we had to get ready to go out again as we had tickets to the opening night film - 'The Edge of Love'- and party. Keira Knightly and Sienna Miller were both there, so there was quite a throng of press photographers and a red carpet and everything. We just nipped in the other door. In the screening, I was a few rows behind Sean Connery, which will probably impress my dad. The party afterwards - 40s themed, to tie in with the film - was great, except they were serving free Guinness, which meant that I got too hammered and got to bed too late. This morning I was regretting it, although luckily I didn't throw up on any film financiers or anything.

This morning was the press and industry screening for 'Mum & Dad' - I didn't go, but Lisa did and said we had a pretty good crowd. I met her at an Em-media brunch do afterwards and some of the journalists who had been to the screening were there. (This was obviously when I started most regretting the Guinness.) We handed out our bloodstained fairy cakes (adorned with the film's logo on rice paper) which seemed to go down well. I spent quite a bit of time talking to a journalist from Empire, Damon Wise, who really liked the film - and a few hours later got a text from Chris to say that he had posted about the film on the Empire website. He also put up a photo of the cakes, which means that all of Jeanie's hard work didn't go to waste. Now if we can only translate cakes in mouths into bums on seats for the premiere we'll be all right.

The rest of the day has been about recovering from my hangover and trying to plan what we're doing for the rest of our time here. I'm hoping to actually see some films, starting with Blood Car tonight. It mentions Russ Meyer, Troma and John Waters in the preview, so I'm guessing there might be an edge of camp to it...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Thatcher, the BBC and Sir Sean's shoulder

Gearing up for Edinburgh, I got invited onto local radio this morning to talk about 'Mum & Dad'. It was only a brief spot on the breakfast show, but they played a bit of the trailer and I also got to plug Mayhem. On the website they also plug Jeanie's film and mine and Cooke's long-gestating wrestling film, so hopefully everybody's happy. (Except Film London, who I didn't get the chance to mention. Shit.) I really wish I hadn't used the phrase 'the magic of filmmaking' or that I'd used it in a much more ironic way. (At least I didn't say 'the planes are actually another character in the film').

The festival has also put up a new piece about the film, which posits Margaret Thatcher as being responsible for the whole horror of the film (her quote about there being 'no such thing as society' was one of the springboards for the script), which serves her right for fucking up the 1980s.

In other Edinburgh-related news, Sean Connery apparently will be attending, despite a recent golfing injury. Which I only mention, because I just found out the other day, that he's been doing some stealth marketing for us.Thanks, Sir Sean! (I've also learned, from the same site, that Robert Downey Jr. has a tattoo of himself as a superhero on his arm (how prescient) and that 'Bill Murray has a cartoon duck on his shoulder' - although whether that's a tattoo or a Harvey-style figment of his imagination, I don't know.)

Finally, Lisa Trnovski has been chosen as one of the festival's Trailblazers. I'm not sure entirely what it entails, but it means that, thanks to the EIFF, we both now have super-hero aliases: Trailblazer and Fearmonger. Actually, that sounds more like a hero and a villain.

I'm off to the festival tomorrow morning - will try and post while I'm there...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Beware the fear-monger

'Mum & Dad' has been featured on the Edinburgh International Film Festival website as one of their horror film choices at the festival. Here's the write-up:

"Rarely does EIFF feel the need to warn audiences of disturbing scenes, but this really is one exceptionally acerbic film, which will challenge even the most hardcore of horror veterans. If there’s one place we can fall back on in dismal times it must be the hearth of dear old mum and dad, but in British fear-monger Steven Sheil’s world there’s simply no escape. Prepare for the worst."

And hope for the best, I guess.

It's great that they're selling the film like that - and it's great to finally become known as an official 'fear-monger' - which, I feel, is probably the best of the monger family to be (much more impactful than 'fish-' or 'iron-'. Although probably less worrying than 'war-'.) And definitely better to be monging (?) fear than monging hate, like this guy (who actually turned out to be the real mind of Adolf Hitler in a cloned body, who attempted to blackmail the nations of earth by threatening to blast them all with a 'hate-ray' from his orbiting space station. Ah, comics.)

Friday, June 06, 2008

From Mayhem to November

As well as gearing up for Edinburgh, I've also been working with Chris and Gareth on the plans for this year's Mayhem Horror Film Festival. This will be the fourth year we've run the festival, and this year we're going for an even bigger programme, stretching over three days rather than just one night. Obviously that means finding a lot more content, but also gives us the opportunity to do a lot more events, outside of just showing films, that will hopefully give the festival a strong identity amongst horror fans. The festival is planned for the Halloween weekend - Friday 31st October to Sunday 2nd November - and is going to include a shorts programmes (any submissions gratefully welcomed), some special previews, some classics and hopefully a few special guests. We're going to be updating people on the website and on our Facebook page as soon as we get things confirmed. The event is going to be taking place at Nottingham's Broadway Cinema (as usual), including a big Halloween party in the cafe bar on the opening night. Get working on your Halloween costumes now..

"We only wear black until they invent a darker colour..."

Jeanie's film Goth Cruise, which I worked on as DOP (alongside Mark Bushnell) is now finished. Here's the trailer:
Goth Cruise (the movie) Trailer

The film is currently gearing up for the festival circuit, so hopefully should be viewable in full later in the year.

It all seems so long ago now and it was such a hard shoot in lots of ways - filming people wearing black, in dark locations is always a bit of a challenge, adding on top of that being on a cruise ship the size of a shopping centre and shooting days that lasted from dawn until the early hours of the morning meant that the whole experience has just merged into some weird fever-dream. Still, it was kind of fun. Look, here's me having fun.

And they say Goths are miserable.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

I think I'll just act bored instead/And contain the blood I would've shed*

With less than three weeks to go now until the 'Mum & Dad' premiere in Edinburgh, I'm starting to get more excited/nervous about the whole thing. This week, in the midst of finalising our poster design (which seems to have taken ages, but finally seems to be signed off) I got hold of a copy of 'Shivers' magazine

which features

(As an aside, I have to say, I bloody love werewolves (y'know, as a kind of mythical/horror fiction thing, rather than in a kind of My Car is My Lover way), so it's great to have the film's name and mine seemingly spilling out of a Wolfman's fanged jaws...)

The magazine features a five-page spread on the film, complete with a great selection of photos

The article's written by Alan Jones, who came to the set on the last day of the shoot. I remember talking to him in the 'Green Man' pub, just across the road from the field where we were shooting the end of the film. It had been a boiling hot day (so much so that I ended up with a bright red sunburnt nose, always a great accessory when you're trying to direct an intensely violent scene), and I'd spent about 8 hours in a field full of horses, horseshit and horse-created deep mud furrows which threatened to turn all our ankles as cast and crew repeatedly ran across them, so I was feeling a bit weird anyway - a mixture of utterly exhausted, manically wired, slightly sunstricken, soul-hollowingly anxious and borderline euphoric - which meant that sitting down and talking sense about the whole film was going to be a tall order, but I think it turned out okay. (And I think Alan did a great job of stringing my unwieldy thoughts into a cohesive order). The article does feature me uttering the phrases 'repulsive perversion', 'a power drill pounding the brain' and 'genitalia stapling', all of which should give the casual reader a good enough vision of the film., I hope...

*possibly quite arcane musical reference explained here