Monday, 27 February 2012

Women in Horror Month: Why Jenny Ringo is not a feminist...

Women in Horror Month is an online event that happens every February in which a variety of bloggers, filmmakers and creative types get together to promote women working in the horror industry. Despite neither being a woman nor technically ‘working’ in the horror film industry I thought I’d try to write something for Women in Horror Month this year anyway, because of Jenny Ringo.

On the off chance this is the first time you’ve come across this blog, Jenny Ringo is a witch who lives with her slacker flatmate Gavin and can be seen getting into all kinds of supernatural hijinks in the film Jenny Ringo and the Monkey’s Paw

…and the forthcoming Jenny Ringo and the Cabaret from Hell which I shot the week before last (sign up to our mailing list at to see the first film in full and to follow our progress on the second one!)

Jenny Ringo is a woman,  so that totally gives me the right to promote my short films even more than I am doing already by talking about her in the context of Women in Horror Month! But what to write about? Do I write about how she’s a strong female character in the vein of Sarah Connor or Lara Croft? Do I write about how my films are empowering for women because Jenny kicks supernatural ass? Do I write about how Jenny Ringo deals with gender issues in a radical and ultra-feminist way?


Because none of those things are true.

I wrote Jenny Ringo’s first cinematic adventure when I was at university. It was a feature in which Jenny was a photographer working for a small town newspaper (like the one where I’d done work experience as a kid) who uncovered a conspiracy involving angels and magic and cool stuff like that. And I thought it was the best thing I had ever written. I was so enthusiastic about it that I handed in my outline six months early in the hope of getting some advance notes from my tutor. My tutor tore it to shreds. It came back covered in red ink with really furious notes like ‘You need to get a better understanding of a woman’s agenda if you’re going to write female characters!’

I was devastated and scrapped the whole idea. I still wrote a Jenny Ringo feature in the end, but rather than the supernatural conspiracy adventure I’d spent three years planning I turned it into a comedy. I came up with the story about a week before I was supposed to start writing it. My tutor still hated it, but luckily for me there was an external examiner assessing the scripts too and he loved it (the start of a love-it-or-hate-it trend which seems to have continued with the short films). I will come back to this later.

The real reason I am not about to declare that Jenny Ringo is totally empowering for women is that I am not Zack Snyder. Yes, I am about to alienate the women reading this even more by defending Sucker Punch.

Zack Snyder’s big mistake with Sucker Punch wasn’t making a film that many regard as being horribly misogynist. As Mark Kermode said when he reviewed the film (as seen here) getting angry about the sexual politics in Sucker Punch is doing it a service it does not deserve.  Basically, to care about the sexual politics in the film you have to be involved in the film itself, and Sucker Punch has so many other problems stopping you getting involved that if you’ve cut through all that and got to the dodgy gender politics then you’re missing a whole bunch of much bigger issues with the story. I am aware that I said ‘basically’ and then explained it in a much more complicated way than Dr. K did.

The problem is, people still got angry about it. But what’s interesting is that the people who seemed most pissed off by all this were men.  I’ll get to this later.

The real issue with the representation of women in Sucker Punch is to do with the fact that the film presents a group of female characters that seem to have walked straight out of a 70s exploitation film but then tries to pass them off as somehow empowering examples of women being awesome. To be fair to Zack Snyder, he never stated that this was his direct intention. What he actually said was things like this

'I really don’t look at it like, ‘Oh, I’m going to make a female empowerment film.’ I just thought that the girls are awesome, and they can do whatever they want. I can only make it from my perspective, and if the goal of the film was to make a female empowerment film, then that’s absolutely debatable whether or not a man is the right choice for that. But the goal of the film is to tell an artistic story that is not bound by reality or anything like that, and if it happens to be at the end that girls feel like hey, I feel like I’m free to be strong in my life, then I don’t know.'

Which isn’t that different from saying ‘Oh, I'm going to make a female empowerment film.’

There is one huge problem with this whole debate. The target audience for Sucker Punch was not disillusioned women, it was teenage boys.

I don’t know any women who went to see Sucker Punch through choice. Those I do know who saw it did so because their boyfriend/husband convinced them it would be good because Zack Snyder did an okay job with Watchmen and made one of the few remakes that doesn't suck with Dawn of the Dead. I know some feminist bloggers went to see it, but would they have bothered if the gender politics issue hadn’t come up in such a public way? And here’s why I'm making a point of this…

In terms of dubious gender politics Sucker Punch is no worse than 90% of Hollywood’s mainstream output.

If you want to get angry about the represenation of women in popular culture, Sucker Punch is not the place to start. Which is why it perplexes me that so many men seemed to be angrily accusing it of misogyny when it was released. Have you seen films before? Any actual films? They’re all like that!!!

Then I realise that the men who complain about the misogyny in Sucker Punch are mostly just trying to get laid. It’s a statement that says, ‘Listen, I totally understand women’s issues, and do not approve women fighting robots in their underwear, despite the fact that most of my DVD collection looks like that.’

The point of all this is that I’m not about to try to get you to watch Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw on the basis that it is a female empowerment film, because I am fully aware that it isn’t. I didn’t create Jenny Ringo because I was pissed off at the lack of strong female characters in popular culture. I created Jenny Ringo because I wanted to be John Constantine...

I didn’t want female empowerment in my life back then, I wanted northern empowerment. Constantine was from Liverpool, just an hours drive from Stoke-on-Trent which is where I’m from. He was super-cool and could do magic and despite being a bit of a fuck-up always managed to talk his way out of trouble at the end of the day. I couldn’t do magic, was not at all cool and struggled with the very basics of human interaction most of the time. So I decided to create a John Constantine-esque character to make myself feel better about not being cool and not being good at magic. But to disguise the fact that I was a) essentially stealing a DC character and b) using that character to deal with my real life issues I decided to switch genders. I took the name from a character I used in an old short story, a female version of Johnny Ringo from the Clanton gang in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

And that was how Jenny Ringo started.

After the first story Jenny stopped being a rip-off of John Constantine, stopped using magic and essentially became an angry version of me. I’d get annoyed about something in real life and then I’d put it into a Jenny Ringo story. After I wrote one about Jenny getting dumped by a guy (after I’d been dumped by a girl) which featured no magic or supernatural hijinks at all I realised I was basically just writing a diary so I stopped.

Until I started the final project for my MA in Scriptwriting and went back to that first story, which is where we came in.

The Jenny I write now has definitely evolved from the Jenny I wrote then. I can’t claim to understand a 'woman’s agenda' anymore now than I did then, but I know for sure that a few of the women I’ve known over the years have found their way into her character. There’s definitely a bit of my wife in there, and Rosie who plays her in the films has brought a lot of her personality to the character too. But if there was a Jenny Ringo pie-chart I’d say the overwhelming percentage of what makes up the character comes from me, and that I probably do still have a very male agenda even if I don’t really know what that means.

The best example of this is the script for Jenny Ringo and the Cabaret from Hell which I did not write, although I did in the end twist the story into one which directly relates to how I’m feeling about life right now. So even when she’s written by someone else, Jenny Ringo is still me at the end of the day.

All this is a very long-winded way of saying that despite the fact that the majority of my output is about a female character in a horror film I don’t have anything to contribute to Women in Horror Month.

Except this.

The thing I find most frustrating about any discussion of gender politics in film is that people are very quick to point the finger at films like Sucker Punch and very rarely celebrate the work of women filmmakers who are making films right now. A couple of years ago, for example, I had a couple of hours to kill before a meeting in the evening and went to see Nicole Holefcenor’s Please Give, which I really enjoyed. And in the cinema at the time were me and one other guy. A film directed by a woman that is about women and probably has a good understanding of a woman’s agenda (I wouldn’t know) gets a major cinema release and at a prime evening timeslot is watched by two men.

This is why Women in Horror Month is important because, as a quick look at their blog will demonstrate, there are lots of women involved in making horror films. And as a virtue of making the Jenny Ringo films I’m married to one of them.

My wife Andrea produced both films, and by produced I mean she went above and beyond what that role would usually entail. If the organisation of these projects had been left to me they would not have happened. Or, like my student films, they would have happened but only at the last minute and they would have turned out badly. I would not have been able to make either of these films without her onboard, so if you really want to support Women in Horror I suggest you stop reading this and follow Andrea's blog and read what an actual woman (and an actual feminist) has to say about making horror films.

And also sign up to our mailing list at because that will make me happy.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Jenny Ringo and the Cabaret from Hell has officially wrapped!

Okay, technically we finished shooting on Friday night and I would have posted a celebratory blog but I was too busy gorging on beer and pizza whilst starting intense conversations with the production team about how awesome we all are.

Then on Saturday I was supposed to take a day off but decided to check through some of the footage...until I couldn't find a key scene, had a huge panic thinking we had somehow not filmed it, had an even bigger panic about what else might be missing, panicked a few other people involved with manic phone calls, started making crazy reshoot plans, then found the footage in question and realised I am an idiot. After that I decided to take the whole weekend off for fear of driving myself mad.

Went to see The Woman in Black and really enjoyed it, but found myself looking out for continuity errors and bad edits which means I have subconsciously entered post-production mode.

Since then I have been catching up on e-mails and sorting out MovieBar for March. Meanwhile I am also back at work and suddenly the shoot last week seems like something that happened to someone else. So partly for my benefit here's a brief summary of what we did...

- We started filming at 11am on Saturday 11th of February and finished at 7pm on Friday 17th.

- We filmed every day for seven straight days.

- I think the most crew members we ever had on set at one time was 9. The least was 3.

- There were 4 main locations, 1 in Brighton, 3 in Worthing. Plus a couple of exteriors in Brighton.

- There were only two real problems during the production - one was when a lens went missing and we spent too long looking for it and another was the day the owner of the pub we filmed in didn't turn up to let us in. As a result I had to cut a couple of shots but as these things go they were comparatively minor issues.

- We filmed an awesome musical number to go with the awesome song. Awesome + More Awesome = Super Awesome.

- The creature in the film is quite possibly the most disgusting thing you will ever see. In a good way. It was also my favourite part of the shoot. I will explain why when I get to blogging about that day.

- We shot on a Canon 5D and that's about as technical as I get. There were some lights, 4 I think, and some different lenses and some reflecting thingies. There was also a smoke machine we didn't use. And we did our best at sound recording without an official sound recordist. Oh, and we totally shot some steadicam stuff that we can actually use this time!

- There was one really annoying continuity error which I will not mention here but is clearly going to bug me forever now.

- We had around 15 extras in the end. Unfortunately not all on the same day.

- As a result of the above I am in this film far more than I would like to be.

- Directing actors is easy when you are working with people as super-talented as Rosie Duncan, Lukas Habberton, Andromeda Godfrey and Christophe Philipps. I will do more gushing in the production diaries, but I genuinely believe the performances in this one are rather brilliant and I feel very lucky to have been able to work with them all. Plus there were far less takes ruined by giggling this time (possibly due to the Haribo ban)! Which is good, but also means the outtakes reel will be a lot shorter.

- Most days started with Andrea and I making sandwiches. I can't quite be bothered to work out an exact number but we definitely made over 100. Also this happened...

- We shot 38 scenes and 28 pages of script.

- The most useful thing I learnt is to make lots of your own posters. They are great for covering up random signs and dressing walls with copyright-free stuff. It helps if you have awesome production designers like Peter Regan and Charlotte Cameron-Webb.

I am fully intending to continue my day-by-day, blow-by-blow account of the production, it just may take me a while to get around to it. And that's actually a good thing because if I'm not blogging then I'm most likely doing useful things like sorting out post-production stuff. Or playing Xbox. One of the two.

In all seriousness I have started reviewing the footage and will be meeting an editor this week so hopefully things will be moving on that front pretty soon.

Meanwhile I have a mission! At the moment we have around 200 people signed up to our mailing list, 170 'likes' on our Facebook page and the film has been viewed over 100 times on Vimeo. This is okay, but it could be loads better! So I've set myself a target. By the time Jenny Ringo and the Cabaret from Hell is finished I want all those numbers to be up to 1000. And I need your help to get there.

If you haven't already signed up to the mailing list please go do it now. You'll get a link so you can watch the first film...

How could you not want to see the rest of that?

We won't spam you or anything, you'll just get the occasional update about how we're getting on with Cabaret from Hell.

And if you've already done that and you've seen the film, then let us know what you think by commenting here, or on the Facebook page or even on the IMDB page.

That's it for now, but keep checking back for more production diaries and updates on how we're getting on with post-production!

Monday, 13 February 2012

Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw trailer...

Definitely too exhausted to post anything about Jenny Ringo and the Cabaret from Hell tonight. In summary, Day 2 was okay but left us 2 scenes behind, Day 3 was amazing and everyone was awesome, Day 4 looks like it's going to be a long one!

Meanwhile, I finally have a trailer for Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw! So if you still haven't seen the first film maybe this will convince you to check it out?

If you want to see the whole thing go to and sign up to the mailing list, at which point you will be sent the link to the film.

Thanks to Ross Boyask who edited the trailer and to Graeme Osborne who composed the music.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Jenny Ringo and the Cabaret from Hell - Production Day 1...

We filmed some stuff! Look, I somehow did pretentious directing poses without even realising it!!!

After saying I wouldn't be able to keep up the blog while we were shooting I suddenly decided I would give it a go, and now I'm thinking it might not work out all that well. There's a peculiar kind of braindead tiredness that only seems to come from shooting a film and that's how I feel right now. But it's a familiar kind of tiredness too which is kind of comforting.

I am mostly going to write about being tired. I should probably go to bed.

Anyway, filming went really really well. I was a bit apprehensive as we were due to start late on account of some necessary song recording stuff. We do have another song, by the way. It is the most amazing song ever. Well, it was sounding like the most amazing song ever already, and then today I finally heard the fully recorded version with the actors singing their parts and now it's better than the most amazing song ever. I am honestly not exaggerating.

So I met the crew and one of the actors, Christophe (who has a website with a blog and stuff here) at the location at 10.30am and we started rehearsing the scenes as he hadn't been able to make it along to the rehearsal the week before.

Also, check out the awesome poster in the background what Charlotte made!

Meanwhile the crew set up lights and stuff. There seems to be a lot more stuff this time, and we had a lot of stuff last time. One day I will learn what some of the stuff is called.

We also have a bigger crew with some new faces as well as the old team. One of them, James, has about five mentions in the credits on the last film because he is essentially a one man film crew. I realised when he came in that I hadn't seen him at all since we shot the last film, which is over a year and a half ago now. It felt a bit like we had never really stopped, we just had this really long break in between filming.

We were filming in the basement of the Beechwood Hall Hotel which is an amazing location. It looks like it should definitely be haunted and is full of awesome set dressing stuff that is just sitting around. We mostly filmed in the hallway, which was possibly the most uninteresting part of the whole place.

Setting up seemed to take forever as always, and then I started to worry about time until I decided to give my watch to Andrea and let her worry about time instead. I still worried about time. I've said it before, but I would love to one day be like Peter Fonda at the beginning of Easy Rider and just throw my watch on the ground and then drive away. I just can't actually see myself ever doing that in real life.

Generally though I found the whole experience less nerve-wracking than last time. I used to worry about stupid things like whether I was directing right, or directing enough, or what people thought of me directing. This time I don't care so much about all that. It all seemed to work out okay last time so I'm confident I mostly know what I'm doing and I have tons of faith in the crew and actors I'm working with because I already know they're all brilliant.

I did learn one thing today. There was a long dialogue scene that took ages to set up and even longer to get right. By about 3pm we were about halfway through the shots we needed to film for that scene and I wanted to press on and get the scene finished before breaking for lunch (which we were already late for). Andrea insisted we break for lunch anyway and it ended up not being that much of a problem. The lights were already set up, everyone knew what they were doing and we really didn't lose that much for taking a break. So you could say I learnt that there's never a bad time to take a break, or you could say I learnt that my wife is always right. Either way, it was a good call.

Otherwise there really isn't much to report! There were no major problems, we didn't forget anything important (not that I know of) and I didn't lose my temper with any daft continuity problems. We finished at exactly the time I had planned to finish and still had time to go shopping and get stuff ready for tomorrow. We've got loads still to get through and today was one of the easier days, but for a first day it was a really good start!

Right, now I really do need to go to bed. Early start tomorrow!

Friday, 10 February 2012

Jenny Ringo 2 - Pre-production Diary 5...

We are totally filming on Saturday! That's like really soon!!!

Here's what happened this week...

We rehearsed! The rehearsal actually happened!! For a moment it looked like it wasn't going to happen, but then it totally did!!!

The problem was the snow. The rehearsal was being held in Brighton, but only one of the actors was actually based there so with London and half of Sussex covered in snow I knew there might be a bit of an issue. One actor definitely couldn't make it and called to let me know, but I figured 3 out of 4 would be okay so I went ahead and got the train into Brighton. Then the Brighton-based actor called me from hospital following a snow-related accident. This was okay, if the other 2 could come along it could still be a productive day. Except both were coming from areas badly affected by snow and I hadn't heard from one of them at all, but I was mostly confident.

Actually I was standing outside the pub where we were to rehearse wondering how I was going to explain to the one actor who could definitely make it how it may have been a wasted journey. 

In the end three out of the four made it along and it really was a productive day. I have video evidence of this but that would be full of plot spoilers so here are some screen captures...

When we rehearsed for the first Jenny Ringo film I didn't quite know what it was for. I figured rehearsal was something actors liked doing but I wasn't quite sure whether it was necessary or not. It turned out to be very useful and it was a good chance for everyone to meet each other, but I spent a lot of the time working out how the scenes would be staged which was ultimately complete unnecessary. There's no point working out how to stage a scene in a location that's completely different to the one you will eventually use, plus everything changes when you start to set up the shots.

This time I knew what I wanted from the rehearsal and it felt much more essential (which was why I panicked slightly when I thought it might not go ahead). Primarily I wanted to make sure everyone knew what they were supposed to be doing, which is impossible to do in four hours but I think we at least got a better idea of how things are going to work. Then we went through a few of the scenes in more depth and started to work on the performances and characters a bit more. To be honest it felt like we had only just scratched the surface. Suddenly it felt like we needed a week of rehearsals. As a director I don't think I'm experienced enough to know what I would do with that week just yet, but I am starting to see the advantages and I can't believe anyone would go into a project like this without any rehearsal at all (which is exactly how I would have done it once upon a time).

There is a huge plot point that is directly related to this which I can't reveal, but it was one of the main things we spent the rehearsal trying to get right. And I'm not sure we totally got there but we did come close and we did come up with a couple of ways to help us get there again when we're shooting. At some point in the future this will all make sense, I promise.

Anyway, it went well, it was great to get some of the old team back together and to work with new people, I'm really excited now!

Tonight Pete and Charlotte came over and we made our flat into Jenny and Gavin's flat, like this...

Which only makes sense if I point out that our flat doesn't normally look like that. Not quite anyway.

I also saw some test footage of the most awesome practical effect in the history of cinema. 

Anyway, given that we're going to be shooting non-stop from Saturday I may not be able to update the blog as often as I would like to. However, I will endeavour to post photos and updates on our facebook page so check it out if you haven't done so already.
And if you still don't know what any of this is about go to and sign up to our mailing list where all will be explained.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Jenny Ringo needs your help!

I'm pretty sure I've personally contacted everyone in Brighton now, but just in case I missed anyone I'm currently looking for extras to help us out on Jenny Ringo and the Cabaret from Hell.

We're filming next week on Wednesday the 15th and Thursday the 16th of February from about 10am until lunchtime in the Hove area. We don't necessarily need the same people both days - if you can do one of the days that's fine. We need people to be part of the audience in the Cabaret from Hell. It will mostly involve cheering, booing and possibly vomiting slime.

Yes, I know most people have real jobs during the week, most weeks I do too, but if you do happen to be around and are up for helping out what will mostly likely become known as the greatest short film about a Cabaret from Hell ever made then please get in touch.

If you e-mail me at whatwritesatmidnight[at] I'll send you the details.


Saturday, 4 February 2012

Jenny Ringo 2 - Pre-production Diary 4...

Play this as you read, it will become relevant later...

This time next week we will be filming! This is both incredibly exciting and rather terrifying!! I should probably do something useful instead of writing this, but I'm a couple of weeks behind on updates. Loads has happened! None of it is particularly exciting but if I keep adding exclamation marks it will perhaps seem more thrilling than it is!!

I did a shot list!!! That was fun!!!!

Last time I spent ages on the shot list. You can read about it here (and if you think 'wow, that film sounds amazing!' you can see it right now by signing up to the mailing list at I drew a rough storyboard first. I then used that storyboard to take pictures of Pete, Charlotte, Andrea and a dress with a bear hat representing the actors (which was, to be honest, a fun day). I then transcribed that photo storyboard into an extensive shot list.

Which ended up being pretty useless.

Sure, it was good to have an idea of what I wanted going in, but I'd listed too many setups to realistically fit into a day and when we got into it none of the shots ended up looking anything like the shots in the storyboard. In fact I don't think I referred to the storyboard once.

This is probably filmmaking blasphemy, but as a director I'm not as interested as I probably should be in the visuals. I want things to look good, of course, but the most important thing to me is that the viewer can see what's going on. Mostly I care about what the actors are doing and that the story is being told well, which I suppose comes from being a writer.

There are a couple of moments where we could do something a bit more interesting with the camerawork and I've tried to make provisions for these moments, but considering how tight a schedule we're already on I'm wary of causing even further delays. I helped out on a short once in which a jib shot took a whole day to set up - from 10am until 6pm. Oh look, it's here!

It's a good shot and was worth doing on that occasion. But this time our biggest expense is the location so we have to finish shooting there on the days we've got it - we can't really afford to run over. Plus we're borrowing all the equipment from friends and can't yet guarantee what we'll have available on which days. So right now my shot list is fairly conservative and dull. Yet I've still managed to write a few hundred words about it.

You've probably run out of song now too. Play this one. I will explain soon, I promise.

Next we sorted out the shooting schedule. Actually, Andrea sorted out the shooting schedule. I occasionally nodded and said encouraging things like 'sure, that sounds fine'.

We also sorted out our last major location which I'm really happy with. Now I just need an exterior. I had a vision of exactly what the outside of the Cabaret from Hell would look like and for some reason I thought we'd find it on Brighton seafront. After making Brother Pete accompany me on a freezing walk along the whole of Brighton seafront I can now confirm it isn't there. So that's my lunchbreak mission for the whole of next week.

A few weeks ago I mentioned I was still trying to find a band to play a major part in the film. We found one!!! Hollywood Assassins are now the house band in the Cabaret from Hell,  until Jenny Ringo shows up anyway (intriguing plot hint!). We also got to see them play on Tuesday night and they are awesome, as you will have heard by now. Plus they're really enthusiastic and lovely which helps and I'm really happy to have them onboard. Check out their Facebook page here!

That's it for now! Tomorrow we're rehearsing the script assuming the weather allows it, so I should probably figure out how that's going to work! I'll try to post another update before we start shooting, wihich is like really soon!!!