Monday, 25 October 2010

Short film diary - Guest post: Simon Messingham

Simon Messingham is a writer and actor with whom I have spent many enjoyable evenings in pubs drinking too much and debating the merits of various horror films. He also played the Magician in my short film Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw and was the first actor I cast.

At the time I first mentioned it to him I was not very far along with the project - there was a script and I think I'd mentioned it on the blog, but I still had no idea how I was actually going to pull it off. I also think I'd had a few beers when I asked him to be in it, which was necessary as I was a bit worried he'd turn it down and I'd basically written the part for him. Luckily he agreed to do it and despite me putting him through all kinds of hell he is still talking to me and still up for discussing horror films in pubs.

It was a tough part to play - he's the closest the film has to an actual villain but has to be sympathetic too. And he has to sing. And there were extreme weather conditions to deal with. This is Simon's account of how it went...


Here is my experience of Chris Regan’s Jenny Ringo and the Monkey’s Paw.

As an incredibly vain and shallow human being, I was thrilled to be invited to play the role of the Evil Magician. Nothing provides fulfilment like being asked to be in someone else’s production. More than having kids, going on holiday, making money, publishing a book, or even directing – the frisson of being asked to be in something someone else is doing is, for me, life at its best. And acting is the pinnacle of such a superficial ambition, so of course I said yes.

Christopher Regan is a strange man. Outwardly calm, laid-back even, almost shy – one instinctively senses the suppressed fury, anger and desire to inflict terrible acts of psychotic violence that consume every waking moment of his existence. In other words, he is a writer. I like him tremendously.

Knowing Chris’s love of hate, I was surprised at how tender the JR story actually was. I liked that too; although as an old man, I found some of the sensibilities – and some of the sense – difficult to understand. With only half a foot in the world of horror movies and none at all in comics (sorry: comic books, sorry: graphic novels) as well as little knowledge of nineties student slackers, I was occasionally lost in the mayhem. That was a weird feeling – normally I’m the one being told by genial, uncomprehending theatrical types how ‘marvellously strange’ my writing is.

When I realised I was going to play a psychotic, theatrical villain (officially an Evil Magician) I was even more excited. The role gave me the chance to play Christopher Lee in those super 8 behind-the-scenes clips from Hammer, when Lee struts round Bray in his cape, looking rather pompous and out of place as the crew set up around him (presumably grunting: ‘wanker’ as he ponces out of earshot).

When we actually filmed my bits, Chris sadistically chose the hottest day of the year to dress me up in tuxedo, waistcoat, top hat, thick cape and false moustache. And do a dance routine. He’s got a fine sense of humour has Chris.

He then compounded the fun by shoving me into an oven he called a fringe theatre and made me run around even more. I say: made me. That’s not strictly true.

The first inkling certain faculties in my brain were not functioning efficiently in this oven came about when I realised I was strutting round (a la Christopher Lee) telling the poor people being white-faced up as ghosts which grotesque they reminded me of. I’m thinking boiling hot, bored performers aren’t best pleased at being compared to Jeffrey Jones or Uncle Fester or whoever… Sorry about that.

The next inkling came when I couldn’t remember any lines and felt like I was sinking into a hot bath. The suit, cape, hat etc. were soaked through and my memory clearly wasn’t working properly. That was fun.

As a director, I believe I resemble a wired John Turturro in Miller’s Crossing. Not calm. Not happy.

I think my best experience on JR was working with lots of exciting young people who completely confused me with their talk of Canon 5D’s and Haribos. I felt like Dennis Price in the later stages of his career – a befuddled but well-behaved gentleman smiling benignly and hoping no one asks him anything. (And if you don’t know who Dennis Price is, shame on you. Watch Kind Hearts and Coronets immediately. In fact, watch it anyway. It’s not only the best English black comedy ever made, it’s the best film ever made). I hadn’t acted for a long time and the realisation I am now considered a veteran: someone to be looked after in a kindly old uncle way – is actually really great. So thanks Chris; had the best time. Let’s do more!


After being exposed to the ludicrous ambition of Jenny Ringo, Simon abandoned his short one woman in a flat film idea and decided to stage a huge musical comedy remake of The Stud featuring actors, dancers and disco hits to be performed at the Brighton Fringe. Without any real understanding of how this was actually going to be there in May 2011 to see how it works out.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Short film diary - Week 23...

So there isn't loads to report this week as predicted. I'm still waiting for the rough sound edit to be finished so we can make the rough picture edit a locked picture edit and move onto the final sound mix and other things preceded by the word 'final'. Meanwhile Brother Pete has been working on re-editing the musical sequence.

Friday night we had a kind of reunion as I needed actors for a readthrough of another script I'm working on and recruited a few of Jenny Ringo's stars. It went really well, although it also highlighted some of the problems with the script. This was the point of the exercise but I was secretly hoping it would come out perfect and nothing else would need to be done. At the same time it was a lot of fun and nice to be working with the same people again on a completely different project.

Next weekend we're doing a photo-shoot for the poster and associated promotional material, which is one of those things that perhaps isn't essential at the moment but will be useful later on.

I'm ridiculously close to getting 100 fans on the Facebook page, so if you haven't signed up yet and want to see more photos and stuff it's here.

That's it for now, but there will be another post to follow. I've been reading Mark Moynihan's filmmaking blog for his short Little Things and it has inspired me (or rather I'm shamelessly stealing his idea) to feature some guest posts from some of the people who worked on the film. I'll be posting the first of these shortly.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Halloween plans...

So if all goes to plan, next weekend I'm going to be doing the following...

Saturday 30th I'm doing the Beach of the Dead zombie walk in Brighton. I must admit, I was a bit reluctant to agree to this at first. I like the idea of zombie walks, but I've never witnessed one in full flow other than in videos like this one:

I was in Birmingham once when a zombie walk was due to take place later that day and enjoyed spotting the odd zombie among shoppers. But I wasn't sure I ever wanted to actually be in one. What if no one else goes? What if there are real zombies there and the whole thing is a trap!?

Then I remembered how I keep complaining about never doing anything on Halloween and decided this could be classed as a definite something. I will aim to be a zombie with a camera phone so I can post some pictures and stuff here.

Also, in case it's not obvious the reason I'm writing about it here is so I totally have to go. There's no turning back now.

Should I survive the zombie walk I'm going to the zombie all-nighter at Duke of Yorks where they're showing Dawn of the Dead, Bubba Ho-Tep, Evil Dead 2, Planet Terror and Zombieland. I'm excited about watching some of my all time favourite films on a big screen, but mostly I'm looking forward to seeing those films with a sleep-deprived horror audience.

Then on the 2nd of November it's the Son of Moviebar Halloween special which you can find out about here. Looking forward to a horror-themed film quiz and awesome short horror films!

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

I Like Dead Things...

So last weekend my wife, who is awesome, took me to Dublin. We had an excellent time exploring, eating, drinking Guinness, wandering...

I particularly enjoyed the Writers Museum and the Hugh Lane Gallery with its fascinating reconstruction of Francis Bacon's studio. Whenever I go away there always seems to be some kind of Francis Bacon connection. It was on a day trip to London that I first saw Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion...

...and noted something of Clive Barker's dark, twisted imagery (my other major interest at the time) in the figures depicted. When I was around 15 I went to Paris and saw a Bacon exhibition at the Centre Pompidou (where an attendant tried to have a conversation with me in French about The Prisoner on account of my T-shirt). On our honeymoon in Rome I was surprised and relieved to find a Bacon pope in the Vatican - it felt a bit like bumping into an old friend in a very unlikely place . Finding Bacon in Dublin, his birthplace, was less unlikely but just as comforting.

There was a huge amount of information about the things found in Bacon's studio, but the most interesting fact I learnt was that Bacon often referred to Baron Von Schrenck Notzing's Phenomena of Materialisation for visual references. The book contains photographs of people spouting ectoplasm from their mouths and noses...

...which is similar to the manifestations in some of Bacon's paintings...

But the part of Dublin I enjoyed most was the Natural History Museum, also referred to as the 'Dead Zoo'. I like stuffed dead things. I think this may have come from my frequent visits to the Potteries Museum in Hanley as a child. The permanent natural history exhibit with its boxing hares and wasp-bothered badger wasn't the highlight of the museum - that title went to either the massive spitfire, or the human skeleton with its Harryhausen connotations. Either those, or the reconstruction of an old Staffordshire street in which the mannequins representing the people who lived there would move around between visits leading us create conspiracy theories about what they did at night. If we were lucky we would get to see the very rarely displayed real life shrunken head (a picture of the actual head is below, and the fact that it only shows the back of it is probably for the best...)

But there was something both fascinating and haunting about the dimly lit natural history room with it's cabinets of dead animals and eerie recordings of bird songs played through the speakers.

Although perhaps not quite as haunting as the Booth Museum in Brighton - my second favourite place to see dead things. The best part of this exhibit had to be the merman:

The Booth Museum highlights one of the reasons I find these places so fascinating. Most of the exhibits were hunted and collected by one man, which emphasises the fact that this is such a bizarre and outdated practice. Like the Freakshow, I understand why it no longer exists and agree that it shouldn't, but there is still something of value here.

I have to also mention the Horniman Museum with it's over-stuffed walrus, display of dog heads and half-dissected dead things.

But the Natural History Museum in Dublin beat all the above. Dead things? Loads of them, over 10,000 in fact.

Skeletons? Everything from a bat to an immense whale skeleton.

Dead things in jars? Better than that - dead things in jars that died while choking on other dead things.

As we wandered through the displays my vegetarian wife who is not a fan of dead things was rather perturbed by the fact that so many young children were in the museum, commenting that these displays were surely 'the stuff of nightmares'. I agreed, and think the same can be said about my favourites of Bacon's works - they are indeed the stuff of nightmares. And that's what I like about them.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Short Film Diary - Week 22...

Quick update as it's been a while, although there's not much happening at the moment. Well, there is stuff happening, just not anything that I'm involved with.

I had to take a step back while I was moving, aside from occasionally checking in and updating people involved with the post-production. Also my editor is super-busy and my sound editor (who is also my sound recordist and sound designer) is on tour with various bands. I have been assured he has his laptop with him and is editing the sound for the film as we speak, which is above and beyond the call of duty but very much appreciated.

So this is where we are right now. After some discussion over how we could tighten up the edit, it was decided that the broken up, glitchy sound we were editing with (the sound picked up by the camera) made it really hard to tell whether it was working or not - it was fine for a rough cut, adequate for some degree of fine-tuning but we've taken it about as far as we can go. So the idea is to get a basic sound edit to help lock the picture. Meanwhile, I've taken all the footage of the musical sequence to see if I can figure out how to make it work - I've recruited Brother Pete to help. At the moment were aiming to have all of this done by early November, and then finally we're onto the grading, final sound mix and music.

So it's looking like we will pass the six month stage soon and though I did hope to be further along we're still on target for the end of the year.

With less to do on the short I've started to think less about the film itself and more about what I want to do with it. So I've started to work on a script for a feature using the same characters. I'm not sure how realistic I'm being or even how well the short will be received at this stage, but if I'm honest the ideal, absolute best case scenario would be to get a feature made off the back off this. Trying to raise the money to make it is a daunting prospect, and even getting to the stage where I'm in a position to try and raise the money seems like an impossibility at the moment. But right now I'm not going to worry about that, I'm just writing the script.

It's nice just being a writer sometimes. There's a lot less to worry about.

Monday, 11 October 2010


So last week I mostly moved into a new flat. It was a week of boxes:

I said farewell to my Brighton-well-Hove-actually flat in the style of Doom:

I know there were no swords in Doom but I'd packed all the toy guns.

Then we moved all the boxes to Worthing. I greeted my new flat in the style of Doom also:

While this was going on I had a meeting about the short film, a script meeting outside a mobile phone shop, a couple of dinners with friends and saw Jonathan Richman in Brighton (where I no longer live). On the subject of gigs, the week before this I saw Tim Robbins & The Rogues Gallery Band which was ace and probably blog-worthy, but Brother Pete already did that here.

This week I have mostly been unpacking boxes and exploring the flat, as seen here. So far haven't noticed any House of Leaves-style space anomalies but I'm sure it will only be a matter of time.

I've done a bit of exploring in Worthing. Here is a pub/B&B with a sign on the door that says 'Halloween Disco...31st Oct...Free Entre...JOIN US!'...

...which made me think of this...

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Exploring the new flat...

On 9th October 2010 Chris Regan decided to explore the loft of his new Worthing flat. He has not been seen since. This footage is all that remains...

Friday, 8 October 2010

Traces of Quatermass in Prince of Darkness...

A few weeks ago I volunteered to contribute to John Carpenter Week at Radiator Heaven, momentarily forgetting that I'd also be moving into a new flat this week. What I had intended to write was a thorough piece with academic aspirations about the thematic and ideological parallels between the works of both John Carpenter and Nigel Kneale, using Prince of Darkness as a starting point. What follows instead is me talking about why Prince of Darkness is like totally my favourite Carpenter film and stuff...with a few broad generalisations comparing it to Kneale's Quatermass and the Pit. At the very least, I hope it encourages those unfamiliar with this film or Kneale's works to seek them out as they serve as examples of a kind of sci-fi/horror that no longer seems to exist.

The thing I remember most about Prince of Darkness is my dad's comment about how different the film would've been if Dolph Lundgren had been among the academics studying the thing in the basement. Dolph would've kicked all the evil-possessed people in the head in five minutes and that would've been the end of it. This was mostly on account of us having watched Dark Angel (or I Come In Peace) the week before. I can't remember how old I was seeing it that first time - around eleven or twelve at a guess - but I remember it was a sunny afternoon. When it came to horror films, dad would usually watch them first the night before to make sure there was nothing too distressing in there (the only one I remember failing this test was Phantasm). This meant the horror was offset slightly by the daylight streaming through the windows, but at the same time heightened by the fact I was inevitably watching the films alone. I saw some of the best films that way, and Prince of Darkness was one of them.

There's another childhood/dad memory linked to Prince of Darkness. When I asked my dad what the scariest thing he ever saw was, his answer would either be Eraserhead or Quatermass and the Pit.

This was before the internet and DVD and everything ever being available at the click of a button, so it was some time before I got to see the original BBC TV series. Eventually dad found a VHS copy and I found he was right - it was indeed incredibly scary. But more than that, there was something in the writing that was different from the majority of the horror films I'd seen before (which by then was a staggering amount) and at the same time a familiarity. This post is about that familiarity.

The connections between Nigel Kneale and John Carpenter are fairly well-known and well-documented. It would seem that Kneale was never particularly happy with the films that came from that connection. Carpenter hired him to write the script for Halloween 3, but after coming up with the previously unheard of idea of writing a sequel that had nothing to do with its predecessors (something I sometimes wish happened more often), Kneale fell out with Dino De Laurentis who wanted more gore. The script was rewritten by director Tommy Lee Wallace, although retains a lot of Kneale's signature ideas and themes. When it came to Prince of Darkenss, I don't know whether Carpenter ever considered hiring Kneale as writer again, but he did acknowledge his influence over the project by crediting himself as Martin Quatermass.

Prince of Darkness certainly feels like the Nigel Kneale film Carpenter would have liked Halloween 3 to be. There is one obvious similarity to Quatermass and the Pit that crops up in many of Kneale's other works - the idea of an ancient, buried artefact that may be extra-terrestrial in origin. In Kneale's story this took the form of a buried spacecraft that appears to be responsible for supernatural occurrences above ground. On investigation, Kneale's protagonist Professor Bernard Quatermass (Andre Morrell in this version) theorises that the creatures within perhaps experimented on humans, and that the origin of witchcraft and the devil in our culture is a direct result of these experiments.

In Carpenter's film, the artefact is a container holding hat may be the devil in liquid form and which is also responsible for unexplained events happening outside the building where it is housed. The religious aspect of the story is foregrounded here - the Church are responsible for hiding the container as it suited their purposes to have the world believe 'evil' was something spiritual and not physical. As in Quatermass and the Pit, the hidden artefact is revealed to be tied into the origins of evil in our culture and, crucially for this comparison, it is suggested that the Devil contained within is of extra-terrestrial origin.

There are more minor plot similarities, like the fact that in both stories the secrets of the artefacts are revealed in the form of psychic messages transmitted through time. Both stories also have a sense of impending apocalypse. But the other major similarity is in the characters. Professor Quatermass is an academic working for the British Experimental Rocket Group. He is called in to help with the mystery of the buried spacecraft by a palaentologist friend. And when matters escalate to the point that the human race is under threat, it is Quatermass's understanding of the creatures through science that allows him to fight back.

In Prince of Darkness, there is an obvious substitute for Quatermass in the form of Professor Howard Birack (played with a perfect combination of eccentricity and wisdom by Victor Wong). Birack puts together a team of students specialising in a variety of scientific areas and in a way can be seen to be splitting the almost Sherlockian genius of Quatermass into a number of characters. And here we're back to my dad's Dolph Lundgren comment above. These characters aren't action heroes, they're academics - a point no more obvious than in the fact that they spend a good majority of the third Act knocking down a wall (Lundgren would've kicked through it). Where Carpenter's previous siege movie, Assault on Precinct 13, put hardened cops and criminals in peril (although it could be argued that the toughest character in that film is the receptionist played by Laurie Zimmer), Prince of Darkness pits a group of students against the ultimate evil. This greatly increases the tension, because while trying to figure out how to solve the problem they are faced with the physical challenge of fending off their possessed associates.

There is nothing new in this comparison - as mentioned above, Carpenter even acknowledges it in the opening credits. That said, I think it's still an important point to revisit. What I like about both Quatermass and the Pit and Prince of Darkness is their use of a tried and tested genre to tell stories full of ideas on the origins of our culture and the link between science and religion. They both refuse to compromise; they take their stories and their audiences seriously and only ask for a little patience in return. And there is one final similarity to point out between Kneale and Carpenter - both told stories that were unique to their individual vision and, aside from this instance, both are beyond comparison.