Saturday, 28 January 2012

Horror film awesomeness alert!!!

First of all, before you read on or do anything else, you should watch this short horror film by Luther Bhogal-Jones. It's only five minutes long and it's ace -

Watched it? Good. Now you may continue. Although if you want to find out more you should also check out Luther's production diaries for the film here and here.

Back with me? Here's a post about some films what I watched.

On Wednesday night I was at home in Stoke-on-Trent with my dad and he showed me a couple of rather unique films; films I probably would never have seen otherwise. That's what he does.

First we watched The Gathering which is a sort of supernatural/religious conspiracy thriller starring Christina Ricci and written by Anthony Horowitz. 

It has a truly original concept and the small village setting with ancient secrets buried below reminded me of some of Ramsey Campbell's best work.

(I am a huge Ramsey Campbell fan. My dream project would be to adapt The Hungry Moon into a film. That would be awesome)

What struck me most of all was the Britishness of the whole thing, despite Ricci's presence as the token American. It's a further reminder that the problem with the film industry here isn't as David Cameron suggested a lack of commercial films, it's the lack of distribution. The films are there, a lot of them have actually been produced, but no one's doing anything with them when they have been produced and when they do get distribution they're not being supported. Anyway, it was good and interesting and original so you should watch it if you can track it down.

Then we watched The Maze which dad found on YouTube. The Maze is a 3D horror film from 1953 directed by William Cameron Menzies. It tells the story of a young woman, Kitty Murray (Veronica Hurst) engaged to marry Gerald MacTeam (Richard Carlson) who is suddenly called away to his ancestral home in Scotland on urgent family business. This is a bit of a problem as their wedding day is in two weeks, but Gerald assures her that he will definitely be back in time. Only he isn't back in time. When he sends a letter breaking off their engagement Kitty travels to the MacTeam castle with her aunt. There she is reunited with Gerald who is not at all happy to see her and looks like he's aged about twenty years. He allows Kitty and her aunt to stay the night but makes it clear that the tower and the maze in the castle grounds are both out-of-bounds. Spooky Bluebeard/mad-woman-in-the-attic hijinks ensue!

The reason for describing the plot in great detail is that it's a fantastic hook. The moment Gerald disappeared to Scotland I needed to know what the secret was, and I seriously recommend watching the whole film to find out because I guarantee the outcome is 100 times more bizarre than anything you might imagine. Unless your dad brings it up by suggesting 'let's watch the film with the ____ ____ at the end' in which case you will know what's coming, but that didn't make it any less compelling.

You can totally watch it here!

Kitty is a proper gothic heroine the likes of which we don't see very often these days, aside from the numerous adaptations of Jane Eyre. Plus her only real ally for most of the film is her aunt (Katherine Emery) who also fills in the gaps in the narrative by talking to camera whilst sitting in a chair that's too small for her. Seriously, when was the last time you saw a film in which a mystery was being investigated by a young woman and her aunt? It's weird when something from 60 years ago feels more refreshing than most stuff that's coming out now.

If you're not convinced and can't face sitting through 80 minutes of a film on YouTube you should at least watch the final part. You need to know what's in that maze, trust me...

See? How awesome is that!!!
By the way, Jenny Ringo and the Cabaret from Hell is going well, thanks for asking! I'll post a further update on that shortly.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Jenny Ringo 2 - Pre-production Diary 3...

We just announced it on the last mailout (which you would totally be getting if you signed up to the mailing list here) so I'll mention it here too - the title of the second Jenny Ringo film is...

Jenny Ringo and the Cabaret from Hell

I won't go into story details just yet but I can guarantee that the title is as literal as it was last time, in that the film will feature a cabaret that is indeed from hell.

Speaking of the mailing list, have you signed up yet? If you did you could get news like that a whole week before I announce it here! More importantly, if you haven't seen Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw, signing up to the mailing list is the free and easy way to get the link. Speaking of which, if you've signed up and for some reason haven't received the link to watch the film you can e-mail me at whatwritesatmidnight[at]

So we spent last weekend auditioning for the two parts in the film that aren't Jenny and Gavin. I won't go into loads of detail about the actual auditions but they went well, we had to make some tough decisions and we now have a cast!

For my part I found the experience a lot more fun than previous auditions. This is the third time I've done it now. The first was for The Demon Within, a 5 minute horror film I made with university friend Dan Birt. Oh look, it's here!

That time I had no idea what I was doing or what I was looking for and I think in the end we really cast the person we thought would be easiest to work with (which, to be honest, is actually a pretty good place to start). Plus there wasn't much of a character to speak of so we didn't have much to base a decision on.

When we auditioned for Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw I had a better idea of what I was looking for but my approach was completely wrong. I basically had concrete, 3-dimensional ideas of who the characters were, what they should look like and how they should behave. I was expecting to see a number of people attempt an approximation of what I had in my head and then I would pick whoever got closest. This is a terrible approach to casting a film. No one really came close to the characters I had in my head, but what I didn't realise until it was almost too late was that a lot of the actors were actually doing something better.

So this time I went in without a preconceived notion of how the characters would behave. I wasn't waiting for the characters themselves to walk through the door like I was before. I was waiting to see what the actors would bring to those characters. Which as I type it seems obvious, and like that's what I clearly should have been doing all along, but I am still learning about all this stuff.

As a result I found the audition process quite rewarding from a directing point of view. It was the first time I'd seen parts of the script performed so it was good to hear how the lines read and see how different people interpreted the scenes. I had some interesting conversations with some of the actors about the characters and what they were like. I had everyone try the performances a few different ways to see how they took direction and actually found this made me think about different ways the characters could be portrayed too.

I think some of this is down to working from a script someone else wrote. I really enjoyed directing my own script last time and I think as a writer the experience you get from producing your own work yourself is invaluable. But I'm not sure I learnt all that much about directing. I had a pretty definite idea of how everything should look and I did my best to recreate that but there wasn't much room for deviation. This time I have a good idea of how it should look and I certainly know the script very well from the editing side of things, but there aren't as many as specifics as before and I'm actually looking forward to exploring different possibilities.

Feel free to remind me I said all this when we're shooting and I don't have time to shoot the scenes I need to let alone experiment with different interpretations.

The important thing is we cast the film! We're still missing a few key crew members but I'm not at all worried about that!

So then Andrea and I tried to work out the schedule and I can't really think of a way to make that sound exciting. I will say that all the time I'd spent working with the writer on the script really paid off at this point. It helps to know the script really well for things like this because the scenes are reduced to lists of locations and actors with no indication of how long things will take. Unless there's some kind of awesome software that figures it all out for you, but I quite like the logistical challenge of figuring out who we need on which day.

On Thursday we visited the main location for the shoot and took a few photos for the DoP, like this one:

I had come straight from work, that's not my directing tie.

Things are really picking up now and there's only a few weeks left until we start shooting! I'll post a further update in the next week or so...

Friday, 13 January 2012

In other news...

Play this while reading, it will all make sense at the end... 

So this week David Cameron told us we should all be making big mainstream films to compete with Hollywood and then Ken Loach said that was daft and we're doing fine as we are (full details here if you have no idea what I'm going on about). Then everyone on Shooting People started to get a bit angry about it too, although it mostly seems like they're angry with each other which seems to be what Shooting People is there for these days (that, and finding me a sound recordist but so far it seems to be doing a much better job at the forum-for-angry-people-part). 

So I suddenly found myself kind of agreeing with two people I don't like very much, until I realised I'm not really part of the 'us' being referred to. It's unlikely that Cameron's mainstream includes ninjas and Loach's arthouse probably doesn't include witches so I'll just keep on making my films and ignoring the people telling me what I should and shouldn't be doing. I'm always a bit embarrassed when politicians start talking about films and they come up in proper news and stuff. They're not all that important really, just a bit of fun and certainly not worth getting so angry about (and yes, I've certainly been guilty of that on occasion, but sometimes the getting angry is the fun part).

Speaking of fun and art and the places they meet I watched two arthouse horror films this week and they were both awesome.

I finally saw Romero's working-class alternative vampire film Martin, which I loved because it's more of a working-class alternative vampire film now than it ever was. And Romero has an awesome cameo as a priest.

I also saw The Woman which is my new favourite film of last year. I felt like I'd been beaten up afterwards, in a good way, if that's possible. Angela Bettis is ace as always, Sean Bridgers is genuinely terrifying, Lucky McKee is my hero. I won't say much more than that, just that you should watch it if you like, y'know, good films and stuff. Plus it has an awesome soundtrack by Sean Spillane which you've hopefully just been listening to...

Jenny Ringo 2 - Pre-production Diary 2...

 With the last film I managed to post a diary every week. I have no idea how I managed to do that. This time it seems like I've got too much actual film stuff to do. Loads has happened over the last few weeks! I'll try to summarise.

So last week I finalised the script and then we set about actually working out how we're going to film this thing. Actually the finalising the script part is a lie, it's pretty much done but I will probably keep tweaking it forever. But the working out how we're going to film it part is true.

We have a bit of an advantage over last time in that all of the major roles are already filled. The two lead actors have been cast and I'm using the same DoP so I know what we're shooting on. I met with Darren in Cardiff at the weekend so we could talk over the script. There was nothing in there he said would be impossible to film so that's looking good!

Tim Howarth who I worked with on the last film is working on a song for this one and it's sounding awesome so far. Beyond awesome. 

Geraint D'Arcy who made the tongue creature on the last one wrote the fantastic script for this one (which I keep messing around with and generally butchering) and is also building a monster, the designs for which look amazing.  

Also my wife Andrea is producing again which really helps - it's great when the person who tells you everything will be fine also happens to be directly responsible for ensuring everything will be fine. Most of the stuff I'm talking about here is stuff she sorted out, so when I say 'we sorted out an awesome whatever' I really mean Andrea did it.

We've booked and paid for the main location and the secondary location is our flat so that just leaves a couple of other places to find.

Aside from a number of extras there are two main roles I need to cast - one is the villain of the piece and the other is a kind of mentor character. We posted bulletins in the usual places and have received a pretty good response. We're holding auditions on Saturday so hopefully we'll have the parts cast by this time next week.

Neither of the two bands I was hoping to use in the film could make the shoot because they're busy doing like band stuff or whatever (and I was working under the impression that every creative person in Brighton is just waiting around for me to contact them about film projects). I thought this might be a bit of an issue but actually Andrea used Facebook powers to get some great suggestions for alternatives so I think it might work out. More on that side of things as it progresses.

The person I was hoping would be able to record sound can't do it, which is a bit of a problem. If anyone knows any sound recordists in Brighton please get in touch!

I need to do a shotlist and I need to do it better than I did it last time, where it ended up being pretty useless because I listed a ridiculous number of shots that we neither needed nor had the time to shoot. 

And that's where we are right now.

Analogy alert! I got tattoos last year, and the tattoo artist told me that actually it's the people who already have tattoos who have trouble with the pain rather than the first-timers. For the first tattoo you're expecting it to be so bad that the actual pain is nowhere near as severe as the pain you're imagining. But the people who've had them before figure they made it okay last time, it can't be all that bad, and then it ends up seeming much worse than they expected.

That's kind of how this feels. Last time I had no idea how we were going to do any of this stuff and suffered a few sleepless nights worrying about it, but in the end it all just seemed to work out. This time I feel like I kind of know what I'm doing but I also keep forgetting about some of the things that were difficult before, so the problems that have come up in casting and crewing the film have come as a bit of a surprise. But then I remember that this was exactly how it did happen last time and it all worked out fine in the end, which is exactly what's going to happen now.

That's what I keep telling myself anyway.

I'll aim to post another update next week!

If you have just stumbled across this blog and have no idea what I'm talking about but you like the sound of it you can find out more by visiting, and if you sign up to the mailing list you can see the film!

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Happy new year and stuff...

So I just noticed I haven't posted anything here for like nearly a month. And I don't really have an excuse. I guess I've been a bit busy with writing, but mostly I'm blaming Xbox.

Actually it was partly to do with the fact that I wanted to write an epic ranty blog about how the Carnival of Souls screening and the Jenny Ringo Cinecity screening (mentioned here) turned out to be pretty awful.

(however, I should mention that the Frighten Brighton horror film event I went to on the same weekend was amazing. There's another one in February, details here. If you can get to Brighton you should totally go)

In summary, seeing Carnival of Souls on a big screen with a live score from David Thomas of Pere Ubu (who totally lives in Brighton!) was the most awesome thing ever.

Sidenote, here is an awesome video of David Thomas...

Seeing Carnival of Souls with an audience of people who found the whole film hilarious because it's like, well, old and stuff, was no fun at all. The film works because it creates and maintains an atmosphere, the live score enhanced that atmosphere, the raucous laughter of idiots ruined it.

Then there was the Cinecity screening of my film Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw (which you can see if you go to and sign up to the mailing list!). In many ways this too was awesome - a proper festival screening, a nice venue and they'd somehow made the dodgy files I'd sent them look really great on screen. But it was ruined by the fact that two hours worth of short films were screened back-to-back with no real introduction, no breaks and no atmosphere. This shouldn't bother me, because maybe all film festivals are like this. Except that I run MovieBar in Brighton every month (next one is on Monday 6th February) where we talk about peoples' films, introduce them properly, get the filmmakers up for Q&As, and involve the audience a bit. I'm not particularly good at compering a short film night but at least I try and I think if nothing else there's a fun atmosphere. Plus it's free - if it hadn't just been the filmmakers at the Cinecity night people would've paid to have watched what was essentially a two hour video file that someone played through a laptop.

So in December I was basically going to write about that only it would've been a hundred times longer, probably a lot angrier and ended with a depressing comment on the state of society.

But it was coming up to Christmas and I wasn't really in the mood for writing an angry blog.

Then Christmas happened and was awesome. 

And suddenly it's 2012 and my flat is leaking all over the place...

 Which really isn't awesome at all. It's kind of the opposite of awesome.

Mostly what I've been doing for the last few weeks is sorting out Jenny Ringo 2 which I will write about in more detail soon (if I get chance - there's loads to sort out and we're supposed to be shooting it next month!)

Happy new year!