Interviews with cast and crew


I Am Big Bird: Caroll Spinney Interview

Experience: I am Big Bird

IABB_Poster“Who doesn’t know who Big Bird is?”

Never a truer word has been said as it echoes around the documentary of I Am Big Bird. Any child growing up with a television will attest to that, the yellow ball of feathers and fun took us through a spiralling world of education. Sesame Street was a pivotal part of growing up. I still remember rushing home from nursery, sitting my chubby butt down and munched on cheese sandwiches as I lapped up all I could from the American show. As adults, we still watch clips and moments from the series just maybe with a Starbucks latte on our iPads. There hasn’t been a show like it. And at the helm of that is Big Bird, who was evocatively portrayed by the excellent character puppeteer Caroll Spinney.

 “The first puppet show I ever saw was by students. I was five and it was three little kittens who had lost their mittens and had no pie,” says Spinney, taking a few moments of his day to talk to me over the phone and seas. The artist, who has spent 46 years portraying both Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on that acclaimed street, had been immersed in the world of puppets from a young age. “I was eight when I got a monkey puppet for five pennies and my mother had made this felt snake. I built a little puppet theatre and was charging outside the mart for people to watch. I made two cents. Well, I thought I was going to be rich.”

Immediate support came from his mother, who was born in Bolton and had been inspired by the Punch & Judy shows in Blackpool Pleasure Beach. Moving to USA and Canada, never really knowing her own mother, had invested her time, passion and love into Caroll and his siblings. “Unbeknownst to me, she made me Punch & Judy puppets and a theatre with help from my brother (an unwilling helper, I think) for Christmas and my birthday. Its right after my birthday – that’s why I have my name, my mum was on the kitchen floor all through the night. Anyway, under the Christmas tree, over this silk blanket was this home-made theatre and I was thrilled. Little did she know she was giving me my career.”

His mother was an active part of his career up until she died aged 91 and despite an initial turbulent relationship with his father, both grew up proud of their son, Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch. “I gave them a bunch of postcards with Big Bird on them and they’d go up to children sitting in shopping carts at supermarkets. They’d say ‘We’re Big Bird’s Mummy and Daddy’ and the kids must’ve look at them like they are crazy because he’s a bird and they weren’t!”

“Dad was upset that I wouldn’t go into the factory,” Caroll carries on in his soft spoken voice but admitted that his father would eventually grow to support his career which took him to the Air Force one and local television. “I was 21 when I had my own puppet show on the Vegas Strip and I made about $10 a week. I was also shipped to Germany who were happy despite the fact we bombed them. But it was really television that I wanted to get into and eventually, I did.”

After attending a Puppet convention, years after working Bozo’s Big Top and in a trope wth friend Judy Valentine, he was discovered by Jim Henson who invited me to work with The Muppets and his new show – Sesame Street. “Jim Henson was a wonderful creator of great puppetry,” says Caroll when talking about the characters he plays most famously – Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, “He’d seen me performing and decided I should play with him. So we developed the characters together. For Oscar, he was based on a grouchy waiter that Jim once had. His voice came from a taxi driver with a lot of colour. As for Big Bird, he started off really goofy. He had to be a big kid, discovering the world such as the alphabets and such.”

Caroll has been playing the roles for 45 years. In fact, the show has just finished filming its 46th anniversary series which will show in autumn. At one point, he had wanted to leave because he was unhappy with the move and feeling like he didn’t belong. But despite this, he carried on and has gifted us with an engaging rich character. “It started off as an experimental show – how children can learn through television – and it didn’t test well. But it gradually got awareness because children related well to it.” Spinney continues as he talks why the show is still going strong and his characters are still popular today. “You know 1900’s to 1945, which is the same period, saw such huge changes.  We’ve been to the moon, terrible wars with no sign of stopping, and people have to react to the changes. The show has evolved with all this colour. But I think the real heart of it is that it’s just as funny as it is educational. I think that’s really important.”

His career has been surrounded by different types of characters, he has never felt the pull to play someone else or bring in a new addition to his puppetry portfolio. “I did have two different characters on the show but they didn’t stick. Which was probably for the best. I wouldn’t want to add any now as I’m retired, though I still do those too. I am enjoying living this lifestyle. I have acres of land. I enjoy doing my painting, ” he says as he begins talking about his happy idealistic lifestyle surrounding by his wife Debra. You can hear her laughing and pottering about in the background which conjures this incredible image of blissful married life that has longevity and strength. She’s apparently washing in preparation for a big family visit. “The best thing was marrying Deb and then Big Bird. I married into the most wonderful family. There’ll be sisters, brothers and children and grand-children. A whole new batch coming. It’s wonderful.”

The documentary showcases some testaments to Spinney’s character and it’s a glorious watch to see all the great things people have said about the talented and passionate man. “I think it’s been a wonderful journey and seeing it on the big screen was – wow. When they first offered it to me, it seemed strange but it was worthwhile in the end.”

“It’s hard to feel it. It’s so overwhelming,” says Spinney as he is graciously thanked by this reporter for his dedication to thousands of children globally who have been inspired by Big Bird, Oscar and Sesame Street. “When we started, within a year we had nine million children watching a day in America – not counting Canada – then 14 million. It went to England, and the woman thought it was ‘too American.’ Then Russia had it’s own equivalent of Big Bird. Kuwait had a twisty candy because you cannot have graven images and unfortunately, the filmmakers were taken off air by Saddam Hussein. Israel had their own show with Israelites and Palestinians, it was the only place where they were getting along.” I feel we’ve been through it with children all over the world.”

“I want to take all the love people feel and just put it in my heart”

It’s time to wrap up but as I say my continuous thanks and admiration for Spinney, two characters pop up to say thank you – Big Bird and Oscar The Grouch!

“Thank you very much. Have a nice day, Sarah” says Big Bird making my heart sore (and a little tear) whilst Oscar the Grouch tells me to “Have a rotten day!” which prompts an argument between the pair.

“Don’t say that to the nice lady. I can’t believe you said that” says Big Bird before saying, “Thank you very much Sarah!”

Which is proof that even at 26, a girl can still be amazed by the incredible Caroll Spinney!

I Am Big Bird is out on DVD June 1st.

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The Rock smashes record at UK Premiere


22 May 2015, London: Hollywood superstar Dwayne Johnson achieved the GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS title for the most selfies in the space of 3 minutes at the World Premiere of his new filmSAN ANDREAS at the Odeon Leicester Square last night. Dwayne captured an astounding 105 selfies with attending film fans, achieving a GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS title. The record attempt was overseen by a GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS adjudicator.

The stars of SAN ANDREAS – including Dwayne JohnsonAlexandra Daddario, Carla Gugino and director Brad Peyton – attended the World Premiere at the Odeon Leicester Square London’s prestigious Leicester Square on May 21st.

After the infamous San Andreas Fault finally gives, triggering a magnitude 9 earthquake in California, a search and rescue helicopter pilot (Dwayne Johnson) and his estranged wife make their way together from Los Angeles to San Francisco to save their only daughter. But their treacherous journey north is only the beginning.  And when they think the worst may be over…it’s just getting started.

The action thriller SAN ANDREAS, from New Line Cinema and Village Roadshow Pictures, reunites Dwayne Johnson with director Brad Peyton and producer Beau Flynn, following their collaboration on the global hit Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. The film also stars Carla Gugino (Night at the Museum,TV’s Entourage), Alexandra Daddario (Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, TV’s True Detective),Ioan Gruffudd (Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer), Archie Panjabi (TV’s The Good Wife), Hugo Johnstone-Burt (Australian TV’s Home and Away), Art Parkinson (TV’s Game of Thrones) and Oscar nominee Paul Giamatti (Cinderella Man).

SAN ANDREAS is produced by Beau Flynn (Hercules, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island).  Richard Brener, Samuel J. Brown, Michael Disco, Rob Cowan, Tripp Vinson and Bruce Berman serve as executive producers.  The screenplay is by Carlton Cuse, story by Andre Fabrizio & Jeremy Passmore.

SAN ANDREAS will be released in cinemas across the UK on 28TH May 2015 by Warner Bros.

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Chords In Conversation: Graphic Designer and Artist Graham Humphreys

Graphic designer and artist Graham Humphreys has a hugely successful career that has spanned the best part of 25 years. His credits include designing posters for Evil Dead, Oldboy, House of 1000 Corpses, From Dusk Till Dawn and countless others.
With a recent design for The Town That Dreaded Sundown and a book called “Drawing Blood” on the horizon, CinemaChords thought it would be a great time to catch up with Graham and discuss his past and present.
In this interview we chat about his time at college, the state of the horror industry, our mutual love for The Babadook and, surprisingly, Justin Bieber.


When did you discover you had a talent for illustration?

When I was about 3 years old. Literally when I was picking up a pencil and a crayon for the first time and I started drawing.

I’ve always wished I could draw, but it was something that I forced upon myself, but with you it just came naturally!

I guess if you start when you’re 3 years old, by the time you get to my age you’ve probably developed a kind of technique. I think going to art college was definitely an important factor in what I do. You get to hone those skills and learn the very simple, basic techniques of drawing which you wouldn’t learn otherwise. Getting to learn the laws of perspective, do some life drawing and actually begin to realise how the body is put together. In the first year at art college I just learnt so much and it seemed that everything I had attempted before was nothing at all.

Did a teacher or other student impact you while you were at college?

I went to Salisbury College of Art and it had a pretty good reputation, particularly in the graphic design department which is where I studied. Certainly I can name a couple of guys there; someone who I didn’t get on particularly well with, but I realise with hindsight that they were quite a big force in shaping what I do and that’s Rupert Ashbourne. We had visiting lecturers; Mike Litherland and a chap called Johnny, who’s surname I can’t remember! There were various characters who were part-time lecturers who were actually working as actual illustrators and just visiting to impart their real-life experience. This was important because it gave you a sense that the work you were trying to do did have some basis in the real world, not just the bizarre fantasy world of the art college.

Did you find it easy to get your first paid gig after college, or was there a bit of a struggle?

It was a lot of struggle! It was very, very hard. I’ve never used any of the social services or the dole, for me I thought it was essential that I had to try and stand on my own two feet. There were some lucky circumstances, for instance when I first moved to London and tried to look for work, I was able to share a bedsit with three other people I’d been to college with. I just dropped in there and slept on the floor for a good year or so. My rent was £9 a month, as it were in 1980, but I struggled to pay that *laughs*. Everything seemed a lot cheaper than it was and it was a lot easier to live then, than it would be now. So, I was lucky in that respect. We moved to a place in West Hampstead and there were 5 of us sharing. It had been traditionally student education and there must have been a history of reprobates in there. We did find used syringes in the kitchen when we moved in. We did find out that that area had been popular with people in the music business. We used to go The Railway Tavern which had a basement called The Moonlight Club, which was a bit of hang out for rock ‘n’ roll types, like ex-Sex Pistols hung around at the bar. We saw Nick Cave and his early band The Birthday Party perform there and Joy Division played there about a week before we moved in, so we missed out on that one! It was quite an interesting area; there was a lot of energy there and it definitely fed in to the work to an extent.

You have illustrated for both the film and music industry. How did the two differ?

For me, the two are one and the same in many ways. They’re both a form of entertainment and have transgressive faces, as well. When I was first looking for work I went to the music press, record companies and film companies. The work started to pick up from both areas simultaneously and the stuff I’d been doing in NME in the early days, had been noticed by a few people in the independent film industry and vice versa. I got to meet  Brian James, The Damned and a punk super-group. That was an interesting mix and they were in to film as well, particularly horror films so all these things played very much together.

What was it that attracted you to the horror genre specifically?

I also understood that there was a transgressive edge to horror and at its best, horror actually attempts to address political issues, sexuality and troublesome areas of psychology. It’s a great metaphor for a great many things. Without knowing this, at the back of my mind I understood that it was going on.  If you look at the Hammer stuff – the era that I love the most, with all those films there is always an area of sexuality, tension and repressed feelings. It’s all these things that people don’t like to talk about. Certainly in the Victorian times, which you could argue, is probably the home of Goth in many ways. It’s all about repression and how people deal with it. You can deal with it in a metaphorical way, like in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula; all these great classics do tackle these themes in a subliminal kind of way. It’s interesting to look back at these books and pick through those bones and see all the little themes within them.

My university dissertation focused on supernatural horror and I found it fascinating learning about psychology, gender representation and sexuality in those films.

It certainly is. If you go through different eras of horror, like in the ’50s you get this sensation of the Cold War and nuclear panic films. The idea that there were ‘others’ out there to get us and whether they were Communists or from elsewhere, you do get a sense that there are other forces out there trying to attack us. Those themes are quite apparent. If you move in to the ’60s and then we get the Hammer stuff, which is all about sexual liberation. In the post-70s we get post-Vietnam commentary, especially from America, which is about people coming back from the war who have encountered real life horror; how they will deal with these inner demons and their split personalities. At its best, horror addresses things that are going on around the world.

What do you think of the state of horror at the moment? For example, the recent It Follows is a major throwback to the ‘80s, do you think this is going to start a new trend in horror?

It most certainly could. The barometer I always use is Frightfest in London where you get to see the whole spectrum of new horror. Some years are quite poor and you think it’s becoming quite a dying genre, but then last year was probably one of the strongest years I’ve ever seen with some amazing stuff from New Zealand and Australia. A lot of foreign language stuff is really interesting and transgressing in a way that American cinema doesn’t seem to be able to do any more. Even in UK cinema there is a money-making mechanism and you get to the point where there’s all these endless franchises, remakes and re-imaginings. You get the feeling that there isn’t anything new out there and something like The Babadook or It Follows will pop up, some really interesting films that have come out of nowhere and you think, “blimey, it’s still a vital and fresh genre”. It’s great to see it keep changing and mutating. Obviously, people are influenced by things that they’ve seen as kids and the nod to the ‘80s can be seen in many, like The Guest. It is very much a nod to the 1980’s aesthetic, like It Follows. Maybe people are trying to improve on things they saw as kids and that’s always been the case. Hammer films were a nod to the Universal monster films and Universal films were a nod to the literature at the time. The 80s is bound to influence the people of the 00’s and this will continue to happen. As long as there are fresh ideas, people will continue to be inspired. There will always be room for a re-working of Dracula and Frankenstein, but it’s good to see we live in a world where horror is unfolding around us and it’s important we address this in the best possible way. If it means we have to disguise the discussion in a metaphor, at least it’s out there and there will be people who understand what’s being said. It’s a good way for communicating indirectly.

There’s always room for creativity and it’s a shame that not as many film-makers go with their heart, rather than a possible monetary reward.

Absolutely, I agree with you. You can really can tell when you see a film and that film-maker, director, writer has actually put themselves in to that film. There is something of an actual person there, as opposed to a cipher or a cliché. You know I just cannot bear the idea of another Avengers film or a Fast and Furious, Superman or Batman..can you just stop, please?!

Superheroes are endless, they’re going to be around for the rest of our lives.

Please, don’t say that! *laughs*


It’s true! Thinking about creativity and posters.. A lot of those are quite similar to each other and there’s countless articles pointing this out. But, with your poster for The Town That Dreaded Sundown, it’s another throwback to the past and its distinctive style. Was this the aim with your design?

It’s interesting, because I had seen the film at a screening and I wasn’t initially that enamoured by it, to be quite honest. But, I did have a lot of red wine that evening, so maybe that wasn’t the best way to see the film! It’s an interesting way of moving on from the first film, which in itself references a previous era as well. The new film, again, references the old film, which in itself is referencing a previous era. It’s quite interesting how it jumps in 3 different places like a bizarre, post-modern take on horror. It’s interesting how the first film has a lot of humour in it, and almost plays as a comedy. The new one, however, does not. The new one seems to weed out the comical elements and just present the more obvious horror directions. One of the ideas that came about when I was commissioned to do the poster was that it should encapsulate the original 1946 era and eras of the new film. The styling is trying to look very ‘40s, but it references a lot from the original film.

Did you see the posters designed by Julian Knez? He created old-school VHS covers for modern films and TV shows.
Here, I’ll send you the link. What do you think?

It’s funny, because I grew up in that era of dodgy VHS covers and they look finely authentic. *laughs* There was so much stuff being thrown out at that time and a lot of the covers were quite crude and actually done in-house, as well. As you can see, there would always be some kind of border device and you’d just throw in your still and a title. These are of course, photographic images but if you look at the work of Tom Hodge, his work references the ‘80s VHS era, but it’s all illustration work. It’s digital, but it has that authentic, cheese factor; big guns, big breasts..everything had to be big! It’s real hard-sell imagery. Whether it’s a good or a bad thing, who knows? It certainly had a lot of iconography that resonates for a lot of people. You could say that the film packaging from the 1980’s era has almost become the film content of the re-imaginings.

Is there a recent poster that’s really impressed you, or made you wish you’d designed it

Hmm, I can’t really think of anything..

So, that’s a no then?

*Laughs* Every now and again you’ll see a poster and you’ll think, “they really have gone out on a limb there,” where they’ve tried to do something which is not, as I like to call them, Moonpig posters. I just get sick of seeing them! Essentially, they look like they’ve been done on the internet, like a greeting’s card poster, you know? You’ve got a bunch of heads in a frame and your standard title treatment. They just look so generic and it’s quite depressing to see. You don’t know whether you’re looking at a poster for a film or an ad for insurance or an ad for underwear. We have ads for underwear that try to look like film posters and the messages are really mixed. It just boils down to a pretty boy and a pretty girl and it’s pretty bland.

I think you can get some pretty good fan-designed posters, which are better than the official ones used for marketing.

I agree. It’s people who actually understand the integrity of the film and its visual richness. I think most contemporary posters are concerned with making their stars look as good as possible and they’re missing out on the whole content. And you think, “What are you actually selling here?” You get the sense that they’re just trying to sell the stars and you just wonder what the film is about. There are a lot of posters with just 5 people in a line and they’re being very coy about what’s in the background, so as not to take any attention away from the stars, the talent, in the foreground. There’s actually nothing of the film there! Illustration is always a good way of getting over that. You’ll always want to enhance the face; make a man look more rugged or a woman more curvy, all these clichés, but at least it’s an attempt at defining what these people are. It’s not just “Here’s Tom Cruise” or “Here’s Christian Bale”.

One of your most famous posters was for Evil Dead and you’re credited with contributing to the film’s success. You were only 20 years old, how did that make you feel?

It was a case of being in the right place at the right time. It was all about luck, at the end of the day. I’ve recently been in touch with Sam Raimi and he’s quite forthright about the same thing. He believes that the marketing was a very, very important part of the film. Certainly the way that Evil Dead was successful in the UK, has been down to the way it was marketing. It was a pursuit of Palace Pictures to not go with the photographic routes and to actually go out on a limb. I think the film would have done well anyway, there’s no doubt about it. It was not intentional on my part, but the poster did look very different to everything else at that time. That was partly down to me not being very technically skilled at the time and probably thinking it was a bit of a b-movie and wouldn’t go anywhere. There wasn’t this urgent need for it to look very commercial anyway and that kind of became its strength. It was an unappealing poster in many ways. *laughs* The colours were non-traditional and it was a bit of a slap in the face. So, it was just a lucky series of coincidences which made it successful and I can’t take credit for that.

I think you’re probably being a bit modest, but I’ll let you off. Are you usually given free-reign on your designs or are you briefed beforehand about what they’re after?
It does vary, but largely people trust me to draw out bits of the film that are relevant and present the most visual, enticing formation. On rare occasions, people will say, “We want to concentrate on this scene or have this character really prominent” and you listen to that and do what you can with their brief. Generally, people do trust me to make those decisions, but I do ask if there is anything that they really want me to concentrate on. Usually I’m just told to look at the film and see what I think. I do up to 7 differentiations of the same sketches which they can pick and choose from. It is a bit of a team effort sometimes.

Is there a piece of your work that you are particularly proud of?

There are 2 or 3 pieces that I am quite happy about, but I’m not particularly proud of any of them specifically. For me, the best work is yet to come because I’m learning every day and on every job I do. One I did recently was for What We Do In The Shadows and it’s basically just a portraiture, but there’s something about it. I also did a poster for a Hammer event and it encapsulates all the best bits of Hammer; Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, a plague of zombies and all these great moments from Hammer at their absolute best.

The posters you’ve done for Korean films like Oldboy and Lady Vengeance have a very different style to your others, was there a reason for this?

Largely it was down to material being supplied already and they were mostly adapted from existing campaigns. For instance when I worked on Oldboy, there were a couple of existing shots from the film that we played around with. I know that my brief at the time was to make it quite operatic. There were 1 or 2 films where I had to come up with something completely new, like Dead or Alive, Dead or Alive 2 and 3. This was pre-DVD, so I don’t think I’d even seen the films at this point. I had no idea what was going on in the films, but I thought “this shot looks good..this looks good..” but I had no idea how relevant it may or may not have been. The clients seemed happy, though!

I think I prefer the poster to Lady Vengeance more than the film itself.

Oh, fabulous! A great poster can be better than a film, there’s no doubt about it. I was influenced by many posters of films from the past and I hadn’t even seen the films. Somehow the poster was sufficient and made me feel like I’d seen the film, so why bother to go and see it? *laughs* You know that the film will never live up to the poster!

Maybe that’s why some films don’t want to have decent posters…

Yeah, put the stars on it, so if the film fails it’s their fault! Damn Tom Cruise, he just ruined another film! You may have read that for Edge of Tomorrow in Japan they had to change the campaign completely because they didn’t like Tom Cruise. So they removed him from all the film’s imagery to sell the film.

But he’d still be in the film when they see it! They’d feel tricked.

*laughs* Yeah! Duped again, dammit!

Is there any of work that you’d lke to go back to and change?

Oh yes, probably everything I’ve done! It’s interesting you should say that, because there have been a couple of posters I’ve done of late that are re-workings of things I’ve done in the past. I’ve repainted the Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2 for a client and I did a re-working of the Return of the Living Dead. There have been about half a dozen I’ve revisited at the request of clients. It’s interesting, with the tools you have now, going back to an old job and realising what you couldn’t do at the time and you can do now. I’ve tried to retain the integrity of the original job, not wanting to take away whatever made that original piece memorable for people. It’s been an interesting experience trying to do that.

Is there a particular band or artist that you’d like to do a design for?

To be quite honest, I think I’m a bit too old to be looking at newer acts, so I still have my favourite bands. There are recent acts that reference older acts and there is an element of homage in music, anyway. I always say that I’m quite open to working with anybody. I’ve been recently working with a heavy metal band in Italy, so anybody who wants to come to me for the imagery I’ll work with them. I won’t say that there is any specific artist I want to work with, though. There are a lot of artists that I wouldn’t want to work with, however. *laughs*

What if someone like Justin Bieber approached you?

I’d do it! I know that if they came to me, then they would do so knowing the work. It would be my chance to reinvent them completely and they would have to be open to that. Poor old Justin would get to the point where he’d be thinking, “this isn’t working anymore and everybody hates me, let’s just go the whole hog and make me a complete bastard!

I think if Justin Bieber reinvented himself and became Metal Justin Bieber, it would be much better.

He’s obviously inclined to be a bit of a naughty boy, so the squeaky clean image is probably exhausted for him now. It’s interesting to see people reinvent themselves. Famously, Kylie Minogue tried to reinvent herself as an indie act when she collaborated with Nick Cave, and it was of course, a terrible failure. She went back to the disco style that she knows so well. Reinventing yourself isn’t always a good idea, but if there’s nothing else left for you then that’s what you’ve got to do. But yeah, I’ll await Justin’s call.

I’m going to make this happen, I don’t know how. I’ll get to him on Twitter and hopefully he’ll reply.

It’ll make the world a better place!


You’ve got a book coming out in October, can you tell us a bit about that?

I have. It’s called Drawing Blood and it’s a title that I think people generally like and I find quite funny. It’s a terrible pun and I quite like it for that reason. It comes from Al Murray, if you can believe? I went to see him live about 10 years ago and I sat, stupidly, at the front of the audience. I had bright red hair, so I was obviously going to be picked on. He did come to me and I told him that I designed film posters and he seemed quite interested, but moved on. But, he kept coming back and said, “he’s sitting there drawing blood” and it stayed with me, so I thought, “that’s what I shall call the book!” It’s a collection of the work I’ve been doing for 25 years. It begins with Evil Dead and finishes with a piece I’ve not yet done. There will be new pieces in there, so it will be as up-to-date as it can possibly be. I’ve got 120 images that I’m going to put in there and make sure that someone’s written a piece to go with it. There will be text contributions from Sam Raimi, Mark Gatiss, Brian James from The Damned and Kim Newman; the usual suspects. I wanted there to be an amount of context applied to the images as well. I’m hoping that it’ll be quite an enticing little collection, but the main point is for it to be an inspiration for other people as well.

I’m sure it will be. It must have been nice to revisit some of your work and get a bit nostalgic.

For some of the pieces, but there were a few that I’m a bit embarrassed about. I have a big cupboard of stuff that I was going through last weekend and I pulled out so much stuff that I was like, “That’s definitely not going in!” *laughs*. There’s a lot of work which people will never see, if I have my way. You do stuff because you’re freelance and you have to earn a living, so the horror stuff was just one area of my work and what I do the most. But, there is a lot of other things as well and I’ve done all sorts of embarrassing things. I did work for Mothercare at one point and all these unlikely things. You won’t be seeing those, anyway.

What else are you currently working on?

Most of the stuff you have to be confidential about, because when people have stuff coming out they want to keep it secret. I’m doing some stuff for a German company at the moment; there’s a couple of classic titles coming out. I’m doing some t-shirts for Fright Rags at the moment, I can just say that it’s got Chucky on it but I can’t say for which film. I’m doing something for Lords of the New Church; they’ve found some live footage from a TV show that they’ve been on. It wasn’t aired, because it offended sensibilities of the Catholic country where it was shot, but I’m doing a DVD cover for them. That’s going to have a bit of a Day of the Dead theme, which is nice because the new James Bond film Spectre has a Day of the Dead segment. So, that’s quite timely. I’ve got a list of about 15 jobs and I’m just wondering how the hell I’m going to get through them all. Most I’m not allowed to talk about or I’d have to kill you.

Final question: what’s your favourite scary movie?

There are so many to choose from! Something that really frightened me, which isn’t regarded a particularly scary film, The Green Mile. The botched electrocution scene quite upset me and stayed with me. I haven’t been able to watch the film since, I just found it so disturbing. Other than that, I do remember watching The Thing Without a Face, a cold war panic film. It had these stop-motion brains with spinal cords skedaddling around and I remember that really, really frightened me. It took me about 30 years before I could watch it again, but it does look silly now. It’s interesting how something you’ve seen as a child will stay with you and becomes a phobia. I went to see The Babadook at Fright Fest and that really did frighten me. It’s one of a few films that I’ve since childhood where I put my hands up to my face, because I didn’t want to watch. Yet, I have friends who went to see it and thought it wasn’t scary at all. And I was like, “You don’t like horror films, you should be really terrified!” I like horror films, so I think I’ve seen most that there is to be delivered, but I was genuinely frightened.

It scared me a lot, too and I love horror films.

I think it’s because you know all the techniques and the tropes, but The Babadook side-steps a lot of these earlier territories so you weren’t sure where it was actually going to take you. It felt quite new and fresh for that reason. I thought it was going to show me something that I’ve never seen before, but I can’t say that it did at the end of the day, but I didn’t know that at the time. Perhaps if you don’t understand those horror tropes, it just washes over you. It is quite mysterious how that has worked with people. But I’m glad you had that experience, too.

It’s also got great performances.
It has. I usually hate kids in films, but he worked really well.

It’s been lovely to speak to you and I’ll leave you to enjoy the weekend.
Lovely to speak to you, too.

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Robert Gliński Talks Stones for the Rampart


Since Ida scooped up the Oscar earlier this year, there has been much furore around Polish Cinema. Undeniably, the history of the country and their cinematic escapades have fallen under the radar on a global scale. But that all being said, there are heaps of films just waiting to transcend from Eastern Europe with a ferocious and passionate team of filmmakers behind them. One such filmmaker is Robert Gliński who is bringing the World War II drama Stones for the Rampart to life. The film focuses on the struggles of Nazi riddled Poland and the underground youth organisations who fought against it.

Cinema Chords got to sit down with the director to talk about his upcoming film and the importance of Poland in worldwide cinema.

What first drew you to the project?

The original novel is a famous Polish book. We tried to make it for years but we didn’t get the rights. Finally, the grandson of the writer allowed us to take it to the big screen which we were really lucky to get.

See, the reason I decided to do it was because in Poland, it is a very famous book. Every generation of school in Poland has read it. I thought it’d be good to make a film from the book and reach out to a new generation. More so than this, my mother was actually a part of the Polish Underground Organisation – like the main characters – so I knew more things about the boys and girls from her. She even knew someone like the main character of the film so I have some personal feelings to the characters.

How difficult is it developing a book?

The book is very large. If I tried to put the book to the film. Without any changes, it would be twenty hours long. This is why I had to cut some of the film up and some stories and characters. In the original text, there are lots of stories and characters but we had to concentrate on specific elements. This is why we had to centre the film on the main story and focus on their accidents and the Gestapos dealings with them as one tries to make the other free.

More importantly, was there any in trepidation getting the tone right fiction and reality?

It’s very important. I tried to make it about real characters instead of the patriotic monuments they have become. We had to colour it in and flesh it out because they are funny, they are these boys and girls who like to make jokes and we needed to show the human element to the people behind the resistance. All the while we still have to make sure their journey was portrayed well and communicate them to the younger audience. In order to do that, we must humanise this patriotic heroes.

How did you pick such a vibrant cast?

The cast was difficult. We basically interviewed pretty much every young actor in Poland. We invited every actor from the schools as they had just finished the term. We had a whole bunch of very excellent ones and then we assigned roles to them. We went straight into rehearsals and I couldn’t be happier.

How do you feel the film will be met in other countries such as the UK?

The main problem of the film and the historical context is very Polish but the story is universal. It’s a story about friendship and that translates across the globe. It’s almost like an American Western: We have the main character who is trying to free their friend who is captured by the enemies, and in this case it’s the Gestapo. So the structure is very American and the narrative has been taken from that culture, it’s broken into three acts and different pivotal points. I’d think we have a global story that everyone can appreciate even though it’s steeped in Polish history.

There is quite a demand for Polish cinema after the Ida win at the Oscars, will there be an insurgence in global popularity?

I do hope so. Ida is very Polish but as I see it, is understandable too.  Though the conflict and moral conflict is very Polish and connected to its history – It’s universal because it got the Oscar. I think that it is very good that a moral Polish film that will be taken to Europe or the States because in my opinion we (Poland) have very good interesting films that they need to be known.

Thank you and good luck with your film!

Thank you so much.

We’d like to thank Robert for his time and we’ll leave you with the trailer.

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Chords in Conversation: Antwerp Talks Cinesthesia

AliceCinesthesiaToday we have the musician Antwerp (Nico) in to talk about his latest project with Cinesthesia where he will be scoring old short films live. His approach to the project seems both innovative and exciting as he explores with things like translating brain waves into music in order to map out his take on Alice in Wonderland! Read on for more…
Hello there, thanks for taking a few minutes out to chat with me! How are you?
I‘m Good! Thrilled to be working with Cinesthesia and my sonic companions for our next events at The Hackney Attic!
First things first, what initially attracted you to this ongoing programme of shorts combined with music?
I always wanted to be a film composer. Antwerp started as an instrumental music project back in 2010 but only recently I’ve been invited by Cinesthesia and Filmphonics to create OSTs for silent films. I think the idea of showing old masterpieces accompanied by modern music is a real challenge for us all!As to being a film composer. Antwerp started as an instrumental music project back in 2010 but only recently I’ve been invited by Cinesthesia and Filmphonics to create OSTs for silent films. I think the idea of showing old masterpieces accompanied by modern music is a real challenge for us all!

As part of my writing process, I conceptualize sounds before I start working on music. This helps me to expand my way of thinking and generate new styles. For Un Chien Andalou I sampled the sound of objects, as symbols found in dream. For A Trip To The Moon I manipulated NASA sounds to create otherworldly soundscapes and for Alice in Wonderland I will translate brain waves into music.

Your intentions for Alice have been described as pulling ‘the audience on a sonic journey through Alice’s state of mind’ which sounds fascinating, can you tell us a little about how you plan on going about that?

I’m willing to alter your consciousness (all through music, of course) and showcase different mental states for Alice’s adventure in Wonderland. All the experience takes place within Alice’s dream where she goes through a variety of absurd situations. My plan is to experiment with EEG (electroencephalography), a hardware technique applied in neurology to diagnose sleep disorders. Brainwaves are divided into bandwidths to describe different functions. For instance: Alpha waves are associated with periods of relaxation, while still awake. The first stage of sleep is characterized by Thetawaves and so on…. The difference between brainwaves lies in their frequency. When brain activities are translated into frequency, the result is something resembling music.

antwerp 2It sounds fascinating! There is so much out there on Alice in Wonderland including books, endless films, music… where did you look to for inspiration?

Sleep disorders, dream interpretation and works of Lewis Carroll.

And what about the other films you’re taking on this month? What can we expect to see and hear with them?

The night will start off with Rebus-Film N. 1 which is an avant-garde short animated film (which was filmed with crossword puzzles) directed by Paul Leni. I sampled the ticking sound of a grandfather clock striking the hour of 9-10-11, a short phase played on a baglama, disrupted jazzy parts and more…

The second abstract film Ghost Before Breakfast is said to have initially been a sound film but the Nazi attempt to destroy all copies as ‘degenerate art’ has left us only a silent version. Again I sampled the sound of an old clock striking the hour of 12, a stretched theremin glissando and more. I sonorized the images rather than recording/playing music to synchronize with the images. There really is a strict correlation between the films: clocks, hats, cards, animals etc. The Love Of Zero is a rather remarkable short experimental film directed by Robert Florey.

Music-wise, I don’t want spoil the experience to anyone. We’re looking forward to seeing you on Monday night!

Have you any experience with putting sound to film before?

No, I haven’t. The idea of putting sound to film was already in preparation since I started playing music when I was 11 but I had to remain calm and learn step by step without jumping rapidly into reckless conclusions. Several young artists want commercial success, blinded by the Media and the market niche. This is totally irrelevant to me at the moment.

aliceI’m more like a chess player: one thing you can always focus on is improving the position of your pieces. If you haven’t heard speaking about my music by 2020, that means I’m not good enough to play chess!

Haha! And how does composing music for shorts like these compare to that of making ‘pure’ music?

I am striving to experiment with the relationship between live sound and image, foregrounding the role of music and sound in storytelling. I intend to give people plenty of bewilderment with my music and art. I love electronic music and how the intensity of repetitive sounds and eerie atmospheres can let my mind float away. Films capture my attention immediately. I must continue to glue my eyes to the screen so as not to miss something.. In a way, I reach the perfect balance when I compose music for films because I see it as a complete expression, compared to that of making ‘pure’ music. I have head in the clouds and feet on the ground.

And there we go folks! I hope you enjoyed this interview and that all of you who are London based are now considering going along to the evening at Hackney Picturehouse on the 16th!

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Chords in Conversation: Darcy Donovan Talks The Plumber



Today Darcy Donovan has come to Cinema Chords in order to talk about her new project where she plays a mermaid in an interactive movie! MovieMaze takes what we all loved about those choose your own adventure books as kids and applies it to movies. This is Darcy’s second time working with the guys from MovieMaze as she appeared as a werewolf in their previous film.

This interview was originally published on Mr Rumsey’s Film Related Musings (here).

Hello there, thank you for taking some time out to speak with me today! How are you?

Hi James, it’s so nice to meet you.  I’m doing great!

This MovieMaze concept sounds interesting! Can you just explain exactly what MovieMaze is and how it works?

Yes, it is a very interesting, since it is the world’s first interactive movie app. To give you a little more information James, it’s like the ‘Choose your own Adventure’ books from when you were a kid. As the story progresses, you have different options to choose from. The first game The Mechanic is a hilarious and fun story, since some of the choices will lead you to some completely unexpected and crazy outcomes.

That dies sound rather unusual! And in this new one (The Plumber) you play a mermaid character who was written for you, correct?

Yes. I did play a mermaid, so Darryl Hannah eat your heart out! After working on The Mechanic and playing the part of a werewolf the amazingly sweet and talented filmmakers, Maria Collis, Erik Lundmark and Rishi Thaker decided that they wanted to bring me back for the second project.  We had all built a wonderful relationship together, so  I was happy to be a part of The Plumber. Playing the part of a mermaid was definitely on my bucket list of roles that I wanted to do in my acting career. I had a lot of fun and look forward to future projects with them as well.

How do you set about approaching a character like a mermaid, and does your approach differ in a project like this compared to a film/TV show? 

In all actuality when you are building a character it is relatively similar for film, television or an app like this. You take the time to formulate a character including their actions, attitudes, style and motivations etc. This character was a little bit mischievous, but she was a lot of fun to play. She definitely was sassy. The minute I put on the mermaid costume, it immediately put me into the mindset of the character. I feel that the final touch of putting the costume on helps an actor or actress complete their interpretation of the character and really be able to embody the character as a whole.

What is it like filming something like this? Does it simply feel like a normal set or do you have to do a lot of takes and alternative scenes?

Working on this project is a lot different than working on a film or TV show. When you go into a regular movie shoot  the lines are set and the scene does not change, unless the director asks you to improvise. Once you are done shooting, you move onto the next scene. In a project like MovieMaze, it is very different, since we have multiple endings. So not only are we shooting multiple takes to get the best shot for that one scene, but then we have to go back and shoot the multiple alternative endings several times as well.  It was a lot of fun to shoot, but challenging, since there are a lot of great turns and twists that happen.

Now traditionally mermaids sing and seeing as you’re a singer I was wondering whether you are asked to sing in this role? 

Well it’s funny that you ask that. No this was not like The Little Mermaid and my character was NOTHING like Ariel! There was a little bit of a jingle in there that we did but this character was more mischievous and sassy as opposed to a normal Disney character.

Do you find that being both an actor and singer often complement each other when you’re working? 

Absolutely, I definitely think that they complement each other since they are both about story telling. When I am doing my music I’m playing a ‘part’ as each song tells its own story.  When you are doing a film it’s the same type of thing. Both acting and singing have their own unique stories, characters and depths that you are digging down in to. I believe music and film are closely intertwined in this way and are extremely important to each other. It’s no different than when Jennifer Lopez played the role of Selena.

Did you start out wanting to be either a singer or an actor, or where you just more interested in performing? 

I get asked this question a lot. The one thing I always say is that singing and acting are like my twin babies. If you had twins is there one that you are going to love more? No. You will love them both equally. I have always been a performer, I have always been acting and singing ever since I was a little kid. To ask if I love one over the other is something that I would not be able to tell you since I love them both equally.

Yeah I can understand that! And Darcy before you go, what else do you have coming up which we should be looking out for? 

They recently aired my episode of Parks & Recreation that I worked on with Chris Pratt. He is such a sweetheart. The cast and crew were also absolutely amazing. Working on that project was so much fun.

Right now, I am in the process of getting the music video done for my new single that is coming out. I was really excited that my last single It’s My Life charted on the top ten on iTunes. I am also working on recording a few new tracks, as well as writing several books and a screenplay. I am getting ready to start filming on an action/suspense thriller film The Final Table – I get to play the role of a poker champion, so I am looking forward to it since I love poker!

Fantastic, keeping busy then! Thanks again for taking the time to chat with me today! 

Thank you so much James for your great questions! Also, I wanted to thank all the readers and my  wonderful fans that are with me throughout my amazing journey, you all inspire me each and every day. God Bless!

And there we go folks… if you enjoyed the interview then please do go ahead and look up Darcy Donovan and Movie Maze. Darcy’s IMDb page can be found right here. Also don’t forget to drop a comment in the box below!

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Chords in Conversation: Ewan McGregor Talks Son of a Gun


ewanSon of a Gun marks the directorial debut of Julius Avery, who took home the Cannes Jury Prize for his short film Jerrycan. Starring Ewan MCGregor (The Impossible, Trainspotting), Brenton Thwaites (The Signal) and Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina) the film follows 19-year old JR (Thwaites), imprisoned for petty crime. The harsh realities of prison life hit JR and he soon earns some well-required protection from one Australia’s most notorious criminal, Brendan Lynch (McGregor). As you can imagine, said protection comes at a price; Lynch and his crew have plans for their young protégée as they plan a gold heist that promises to deliver millions.

To celebrate the release of Son of a Gun in UK cinemas this weekend Ewan MCGregor told us what it was like going behind bars as a hard-as-nails criminal, certainly a role we’re not used to seeing him portray…

Brendan Lynch is quite a departure from the range of characters you’ve previously played. What attracted you to the role?

Brendan totally fit the bill in terms of doing something that was different for me. There’s something really interesting about how hardened he is, and how clever he is and manipulative. I played Iago [from Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’] on stage some time ago, he was a huge manipulator and I really enjoyed that aspect of playing him. So this was a chance to further that, and also to play somebody who’s unwaveringly in charge. Nobody really questions Brendan. That was good fun.

How were you approached for the role and why this project?

I didn’t know what was going to happen! I read a lot of scripts and a lot are just versions of other movies, but this had something else at its heart, a complicated coming of age story. Julius Avery wrote me a letter when he first got in touch, and there was an element in it about something that had happened to him. At the heart of this story is the search for a father, and because of that complicated personal element in the script, the whole movie becomes something other than just another shoot ‘em up or a heist film. It’s got something quite deep in the middle of it and I think that holds the whole thing together. Although we didn’t discuss it much there was the knowledge that was in the middle of it all.

Were you prepared for such a physical performance and do you enjoy shooting these scenes?

Son of a Gun Movie (6)I’m not really attracted to action sequences, because my experience is that it’s quite a slow process to shoot them, and often we’re not involved as actors. But this was very different. We were in more of it. And the action sequences were good fun. The first time we got in a helicopter, I got in the back seat and I noticed my machine gun was tied to the chair. I thought that was odd, why would the machine gun be tied down? And then they said ‘okay, ready to take off’ and I said ‘the door’s open’ and they said ‘yeah, the door’s going to be open’ and I said ‘what?’ and the pilot said ‘just put your seatbelt on. You’ll be fine!’ And the next thing we were like 1500 feet in the air sitting next to an open door so some of the action sequences came as a bit of a surprise to me! But it was good fun.

Brendan’s character is hardened by prison life, emotionally and physically. Did you work out especially to fit the mould of the character and what did you routine involved?

I did a lot of working out at home for about two or three months leading up to the film to get fit. I wanted to look like I could take care of myself, so I did quite a lot of working out with trainers in LA and in Perth. But then I got to the prison and met all these enormous guys, and I was like ‘oh cheers Julius (Avery, the director), thanks. You made me look really small in front of all these guys!’ Matt Nable took over when we were in Kalgoorlie. We had about 10 days in Kalgoorlie and we formed this little fight club, me, Matt, Brenton, Nash Edgerton and some of the other cast members popped in. We would do a minute at a time with Matt and he would have us punch him. I’m not used to punching someone! It’s not something that I’ve done a lot of but he would say, ‘come on hit me, hit me’ and he’d swear at you and call you names until you did. Then every night he’d give you a way tap back just to remind you who was in charge! But it was good fun and it was good after a day’s work to go out and do that together.

The central relationship between Brendan and Thwaites’ character JR feels like a very paternal one. What is it do you think Brendan was teaching him?

There’s definitely something paternal about it. He’s showing him the way but it’s Brendan’s way. He’s pulling him into a life of crime and violence that the kid’s not used to. JR has obviously done something to land him in jail but you get the impression that it wasn’t terrible, probably a bit of petty crime here and there. When he meets Brendan and Sterlo, he sees the violence they’re capable of and how mundane it seems to them. He’s teaching him that world. He’s totally taking him along and showing him the ropes like a father might show his son how to ride a bike or something.


Where was the film shot and what struck you about the locations?

The film was shot in Western Australia. I had never been before and I was really impressed by it. Kalgoorlie is dominated by the mining industry of course so the landscape is peppered with these massive pits; they were quite amazing to see, I mean just the scale of them. It’s always nice with this job, it takes you places and you see parts of the world you might not otherwise see. I like working here, I like the Australian crews very much, and it was nice to work in Perth. Another place we went was Rottnest Island, which is spectacularly beautiful. I saw the most amazing sunset of my life there. I went for a run after work one day and I just had to stop and just take it all in. And there are those little animals that live on Rottnest, the quokkas… funny little things! We shoot with the light so by the time you get out for a run, it’s already getting a little bit dark, so you’d be running along and they would shoot out and scare the shit out of you! Like little furry bowling balls coming at you or something!

The project has a great mix of influences and action/thriller elements. What are your thoughts on the final film and what the director has accomplished?

Julius is many things but one of the things that Julius is, is a real movie geek. In a way he’s written the movie you’d most want to sit and watch. You can see it in the action scenes, or when they crash the car, fire the guns, he gets pretty animated and excited. It reflects his movie tastes, and that’s always a good place to start. You paint a painting that you would most want to see.

Son of a Gun is in cinemas across the UK now. We’ll leave you with the offical trailer from Koch Media Films.


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Director Elizabeth Marcus Talks ‘No Manifesto: A Film About Manic Street Preachers’


NoManifesto_DVDCover_Frontv2Manic Street Preachers need no intro whatsoever and many of you will be sweaty-palmed with excitement, eager to catch them at their upcoming string of “The Holy Bible” celebratory live shows in May and June this year.

In the meantime, take pleasure in the fact that the band invited director, Elizabeth Marcus and her documentary crew to shadow them to construct a sui generis piece of docutainment going by the name of No Manifesto: A Film About Manic Street Preachers. Described as “a vérité multimedia mash-up experiment that will turn the traditional rock ‘n’ roll documentary upside-down and shake it until all the change falls out of its pockets,” even the most die-hard Manics’ devotees will find more than the odd undiscovered treasure along the way.

No Manifesto marks Marcus’ directorial debut, having cut her teeth working on Bowling For Columbine as an archivist and sound editor. Her love of music dates back to the ’70s in New York and discovering Manic Street Preachers was one of her defining moments as she realised she might just have found the perfect opportunity to combine two of her biggest vices, music and documentaries.

With this intimate and comprehensive piece of film premiering in Cardiff today before screening at various cinemas up and down the country prior to the official DVD and digi release on 16 February, we caught up with Marcus to find out just what it was like to get so close and personal with the Manics…

For your first documentary, what was it about Manic Street Preachers that caught your attention?

Elizabeth Marcus and editor Kurt Engfehr
Elizabeth Marcus and editor Kurt Engfehr

I made a film about the Manic Street Preachers first and foremost because I loved their music. I’ve been a music fan since the age of 5 or so, and throughout my life, music has been the main force that inspired my creativity. I felt that the Manics’ unusual story and colourful and diverse fan base made them an ideal subject for a documentary. I had always wanted to participate somehow in the world of music, but, lacking any musical talent whatsoever,  I had been unable to. Making a film about the Manics gave me that opportunity I so desired.

No Manifesto is a reference to a Nicky Wire comment made way back when. What prompted you to choose this title?

The full quote is, “If literature or music can make you think or become aware, then it’s done something. That’s what we’ve always wanted to do, just ignite sparks in people’s minds. We can’t offer a manifesto: How to make your life better.” I really liked the message in that quote of encouraging independent thought and ideas. I also liked it as a sort of retort to people who seemed to think that the Manics were indeed trying to “preach” specific ideas to their audience. I felt that their aim was not to tell people what to think, or how to think, but simply TO think. That attitude is part of what attracted me to the Manics, and the quote summed it up nicely.

Was the band particularly willing to let you invade their privacy to film such an intimate documentary?

Everything we filmed was at the suggestion and express invitation of the band.  If they didn’t want us to film something, we didn’t film it.

It’s particularly striking to see them rehearsing/recording sat on stools in a shabby bedsit-looking environment. It must have been quite a surprise, and a privilege, to get to see them play in such a laid back setting compared to their energetic live performances. That said, James appears ridden with angst in a couple of those scenes.

NickyinWalesstudioJames in the studio is a restless beast, keenly focussed on the job he is doing. When recording, he seems driven by a desire to do the very best work that he can, while at the same time never quite able to be sure that he’s on the right track with what he’s pursuing. In the film, he describes each of their roles in the studio as follows: “I’m searching and looking for validation from people, Nick being quite cynical and fuckin’ grumpy, and Sean playing the straight man.” My interpretation of this dynamic is that James tends to worry and obsess over every detail, while Nicky intentionally provokes him in ways that constructively challenge his musical ideas, and Sean keeps a level head to make sure that the other two don’t get wrapped up in all that to the point where it stops them from getting on with it. It’s difficult to know when observing from the outside exactly what kind of energy is passing among people who are so close and so familiar with each other’s ways and idiosyncrasies, but whatever it is, it obviously works!

It’s quite surprising that Richey started out as the band’s photographer and driver until they decided to teach him guitar. In the film the band call him the only one who broke their moral straightjacket? How much would you agree with that?

I cannot agree or disagree with the Manics’ perception of the role that Richey played in the band. I of course had no opportunity to meet Richey or directly observe Richey’s interactions with the band, and thus I have no foundation upon which to evaluate that relationship.

James on Swansea beachJames said “back in the ’80s everything was fucked and they were going to fight against everything” and he saw that as lucky for them.  Would you say their politically-themed lyrics helped them gain more of a following, given the times we were living in, more than their actual musical talent?

I don’t think that’s what James was saying with that quote.  I think what he was saying was that their feelings about the times in which they were living motivated and inspired them to form the band and attempt to rise above the bad circumstances they saw around them, and that they were lucky to have had such a strong motivating factor.

What would you attribute to their never-ending failure to gain as much success in the US? 

Bad timing and bad luck. I don’t think they ever had the right song at the right time to break into the US the way some of their peers did, and the fact that their American tours kept failing for reasons entirely beyond their control didn’t help matters either..

James openly admits he was somewhat resentful of Sean at first as he clicked more with Nicky and he thought the band was more of his own creation. He obviously clearly remembers feeling that way back then but does he still kind of feel the band was all down to him?

I think that James greatly appreciates his partners in the Manics, and understands that the unique chemistry among the members is what has enabled the band to succeed.

What is it with the band’s hatred for the song Sleepflower?

I don’t think they hated it. I think that they felt it was one of their lesser songs and were baffled by the demand for it, as well as amused by the way that fans shouting for it became a running joke at their gigs.

You began your documentary career working on Bowling for Columbine as an archivist and sound editor. That must have surely created some kind of instant chemistry between yourself and Sean given the collection of guns he has amassed over the years.

Oh, is that why Sean liked me? I thought it had more to do with the fact that he’d never met a female American F1 fan before! *laughs*

Towards the end the documentary covers Richey’s disappearance and the remaining members talked about how they had some lyrics he had left behind and they were never quite sure what to do with them. What do you think eventually lead them to go ahead and use them?

I think it was inevitable that they would use the lyrics sooner or later. They loved Richey and he is still very much present in their hearts. I think that using his lyrics was a way for them to connect with him again, and to help deal with his continuing absence…

We’d like to thank Elizabeth for taking a moment to speak with us. We’d also like to remind you that Curzon Cinemas will be holding a special screening of No Manifesto: A Film About Manic Street Preachers with Elizabeth Marcus and editor Kurt Engfehr (Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11) in attendance for a post-screening discussion.

We’ll leave you with a trailer and don’t forget, the documentary will be available from February 16 from the likes of Amazon and iTunes.

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InterviewsKiller Chords

Chords in Conversation: Patrick Brice



Filmmaker Patrick Brice is a graduate of the California Institute of the Arts and his thesis film Maurice went on to win him Best Documentary Short Film at the Florida Film Festival in 2012. After that it wasn’t long before he would venture out and team up with actor Mark Duplass to develop and shoot his feature debut CREEP.

Creep follows Aaron, a videographer (Patrick Brice) who agrees to travel to a cabin in a remote mountain town to meet Josef (Mark Duplass) in order to film what he does in a typical day. At first things seem heartfelt and innocent until it becomes clear that Josef is not the man he claims to be.

After watching the film I can tell you right now that this film is called Creep for good reason. Not only is it gripping but it is actually scary thanks in large part to its performances. So after being stunned into silence when the film played Celluloid Screams, I jumped at the chance to catch up with Patrick Brice to discuss the film, what it was like working with Mark Duplass and his feelings about the found footage in general.

JD: Hi Patrick. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Where did the idea for Creep come about?

PB: Mark and I have been friends for a long time and he was mentoring me as I was coming out of film school at Cal Arts here in Los Angeles. Cal Arts is a super experimental art school that specialises in Animation and a lot of conceptual art. My background was in documentary and Mark had seen my thesis film and he really enjoyed it and he got my sensibility. After that we were racking our brains to figure out what would be a good project for us to work together on. It was out of this that the initial idea, which was at that point called Peachfuzz. The initial concept was almost a black comedy and we wanted to make a film that only had two characters. We knew we wanted to make a movie that was just us and no crew or as small as a crew as we could possibly get. So we took those constraints and then the story emerged from that and I guess we reversed engineered it from the beginning.

JD: When the film played at Celluloid Screams the audience audibly gasped and there were a few screams. What kind of reactions have you witnessed when watching the film with an audience?

PB: It’s funny. It has been varied but for the most part it has been fabulous because I never thought that I would make a movie where I would be contingent on hearing audible reactions from the audience wether my movie was playing well or not. So it is interesting to realise that we made a movie like that and sit in those screenings where first of all, I have to get over the fact that I am watching myself on camera which is weird and seeing my apartment in the movie which is also weird, but I try to gage who is laughing and who is extremely upset in the audience right now and whose screaming. A lot of the times with this movie, because the humour doesn’t really lead you on, you’re kind of left to your own devices as an audience member in terms of how dark your humour can get and in terms of what you are laughing at or what is upsetting you. I’ve already noticed that it is a weird movie for couples to watch together as i’ve noticed them getting mad at each other during this movie because the dude is reacting in one way and the girl is reacting in another way or whatever you know. First of all, the UK response has been insane for this movie and it has played so well at the festivals which is so heartening. I just got back from the American Film Festival in Poland and Polish audiences are very reserved and there was like no response because it is a movie where if you go in thinking what the fuck is this and you can get lost. I have been to Savannah Georgia where we have played at the film festival there in front of an entire audience of college students. They were laughing at parts that I have never heard people laugh at which had me freaking the fuck out especially at the end as I’m sure you can imagine.

JD: I certainly can. I bet it was thrilling though.

PB: *laughs* You could say that.

JD: As Creep can be described as a “Craigslist Horror” did you conduct research into any real-life horror stories for inspiration when developing your idea?

PB: Yeah, so Mark had some awkward interactions on Craigslist specifically one where he went to buy a bed when he was living in Brooklyn. The guy that he was buying the bed from ended up going into this whole diatribe about how his girlfriend had left him and how he did not have anyone in his life. Mark basically ended up having a beer with him and feeling obligated to in order to help this guy out. It was the same dynamic that Aaron and Josef have in the movie. Then, two weeks before the movie, I sold a coffee machine that I had got as a wedding present and it was during that interaction that I realised with Craigslist that both parties are trying to get that interaction finished with as soon as possible because as a thing it is just inherently weird. You both feel like the bad guy and you also don’t know what the other persons intentions are either so I don’t know what it is about that, this sort of like new abstract relation that kind of happens as a result of that but it was interesting to think what one of those interactions would be like if it was drawn out over a long period of time.

JD: So tell me a bit more about the writing process. I read that you had a ten-page outline, was the entire film scripted?

PB: No. All we had was the ten-page outline which was essentially story beats. It was a primer in terms of the specific information that is going to need to be revealed in the scene and then it was up to Mark to workshop the scene. We would do probably six or seven takes for each scene where we would do an entire take improvising the dialogue and then watch that take and then pull out what we liked and leave what we didn’t like.

JD: That sounds like it would become a time-consuming process. How long did it take to shoot the film?

PB: Well there was an initial production of five days which was just Mark and I in a cabin then we took that footage home, cut it together and then we showed it to people. It was a good experience and also humbling as a filmmaker to be able to show something to people and say I feel like we’re at 75% there and what can we do to make this better. As an audience member, what would you want to happen and what is working and not working for the movie. Because it was such a low-budget production it was easy for us to go back and reshoot so over the course of a year actually we ended up doing that about five or six times where we would go back and reshoot. The portion of the film that we would keep changing was the last twenty to thirty minutes I would say.

JD: If you shot the film for over a year? Did you have any problems with continuity?

PB: Yeah, we had to essentially go back and watch footage and get haircuts that are exactly like the ones we had in the movie. It was great because it was an interesting and specific challenge as a filmmaker to keep your head in the movie like that and really use the production of the film as your workshoping and story process as opposed to going in with a clear idea of what we had in mind. Instead we let the movie take hold and I think one of the things that has made the movie work is that we did that so many times so we were able to eliminate all those little things that were nagging us initially. Also that started with friends and other filmmakers watching it and then once Jason Blum became involved, which was a year after production began, we became a Blumhouse film essentially and they came in to guide us and bring it ten to twenty percent more towards the horror world with all the added horror and thriller elements to the movie.

JD: I see. So prior to Jason Blum’s involvement did you originally intend to make a horror film?

PB: We intended to make… it’s actually funny as i’m sure this says something about Mark and I’s sensibility and our sense of humour but we wanted to make something that made people feel uncomfortable for eighty minutes so absolutely. We wanted to create a movie with tension, we wanted to create a movie even if its found footage or POV film or whatever you want to call it, we saw it as an advantage as opposed to a set of constraints that we had to work with. There is something very specific that happens with our movie that I don’t feel happens with a lot of found footage movies in that the whole movie there are just these two characters talking to each other and one person is usually holding a camera. As the audience member you end up being complicit in this as you are seeing this window into this very intimate interaction that is happening which is hopefully like watching a train wreck where you can’t do anything to prevent it.

JD: I know you and Mark Duplass are good friends. What was it like to work on set with him?

PB: Well it was a pure collaboration really. In terms of the world of improvised dialogue Mark is amazing. He is one of the best in terms of the ability to be natural and likable at the same time so for me what was exciting was taking this guy who at this point has a reputation for being one of the more likable young actors and make him a psychopath. Taking on that idea that a lot of people who are psychopaths are super likable and super engaging as people or sociopaths I guess. You know, Mark is a super generous, open and just a fearless collaborator. We weren’t as close as we are now going into the movie, we had only known each other a year at that point but we had never been in this kind of situation together or made anything together until this movie. I think it helped the film that we weren’t as close as we are now because part of the movie is these two guys discovering each other. We’d set up situations where Mark would say things where I was not expecting that to happen and I didn’t know where things were going to go so I had to rely on his performance. Some of that stuff is still in the movie. Some of the stuff worked and some stuff didn’t and like I said we would pick and choose.

JD: Seems like you both make a good team.

PB: Yeah.

JD: Referring back to what you said earlier on I read that Jason Blum describes the film as an ‘organic’ approach to found footage. You said yourself that your film is different to the many found footage films out there, could you please elaborate on this and share your feelings towards this style of filmmaking.

PB: First of all whilst we were making it, just because I am an OCD person, I had to have justification as to why the camera was being on was always something that I would question when setting up any shot or sequence. I think it is a movie that hopefully you forget about that conceit in the first fifteen minutes and you go away with the movie but I also think it is important like you said to create tension that exists throughout the entire thing. You’re not meant to feel comfortable whatsoever when watching this movie and there is this implication of the audience where if you engage with the movie as a viewer you do give in to the conceit of the film and I feel like it is incredibly rewarding. But, at the same time, I know that it is a genre that automatically puts up a red flag for people because there has been a glut of material in recent years. Also, it kinda feels like the gig is up in terms of a lot of cliches now associated with found footage like the use of multiple cameras and all this other stuff that has just clouded it and backed it into a corner. What was great about Mark and I doing it before making it was that we did not have a wealth of knowledge about found footage. I had seen The Blair Witch Project and loved that. I had seen Chronicle and thought that was great, but I also feel like that movie they were constantly calling attention to why the camera was being on in an unnecessary way which really took me out of the movie like here you are getting this really emotional story but I keep getting thrown by people going “oh, i like have to turn the camera on now” or “we have to film this”. I can see what that is in there and it is an obvious note to give people when constructing one of these movies but with our movie is that as long as you keep it relatively justified in their actions and you are not talking about it, it is hopefully something that is going to go away. If you’re telling an engaging enough story it is hopefully something that will be left by the wayside and not get in the way of enjoying the film.

JD: Your film is certainly different to the many found footage films out there and may I say is something that is done incredibly well as a film that is actually scary.

PB: Thank you.

JD: Creep uses a few jump scares which work superbly. Now, I understand your background is not specifically in horror did Jason Blum give you any tips to you and Mark that made the scares more effective?

PB: He was incredibly helpful. First of all just the fact that he enjoyed the film in the first place and saw something special about the film in the first place really endeared me to him almost automatically. I know he watches so much found footage stuff because he is considered one of the masters of found footage at this point with the Paranormal Activity series. His other movies are great as well but they are fairly horror genre specific and are very conventional in the genre I’d say so to have him like and endorse this movie that is sort of coming from the left-field was really great. To have him say “let’s make this” and push this more to move it into the horror realm when we went back to do these reshoots is where some of these jump scares came from. Especially the stuff in the last twenty minutes of the movie, we knew what we were doing at that point. As for me as a first time filmmaker making this movie that is kind of this experimental malleable thing to be working within the Hollywood system with a movie like this was great and could only make the movie better. Everything Jason brought to the table only meant that this film was going to be seen by a wider audience and that more people were going to connect with it. The stuff that makes this movie so special and unique and weird is kind of inherent in the material and you would have to do a lot to take that out so it was a pleasure and a delight to be able to work with Jason and have him shepherd the movie along for us.

JD: Great stuff. If you don’t mind me asking, what did you shoot the film on?

I don’t know the exact name of the camera but it is a Panasonic HVX and is the one that takes the compressed cards so I think that is one of the things that ended up helping us in the long-run as we shot with a camera which is from 2007/08. You know, one of the things that I have noticed in contemporary found footage is that it almost looks too clean shooting it with these new cameras so it was nice to have this little added benefit of shooting with this camera that gives this sort of older look which will hopefully suspend your belief a little bit more. We also have plans to shoot the second one with the same camera.

JD: A sequel? That’s interesting, I’ll ask you about that later.

PB: Yeah.

JD: There’s a scene in the film where you are turning around so quickly with the camera that there is very little room or time for people to hide. So tell me about your crew. How big was it?

PB: *laughing* There is no crew at that time. We had Chris Donlan who is our editor and was helping us out but other than Chris it was just us. Chris is great and one of my oldest friends and he actually edited another genre film that Oliver Stone’s son made Graystone Park and i’m not sure if you have seen it but it’s another found footage film.

JD: Yes. I’ve not seen it but I am aware of it.

PB: Okay. So Chris had edited that and then he was editing commercials and stuff so when this project first began I had asked him to come on board. I already knew that he was a great collaborator but it was really nice to have him involved and especially getting him on set when were there to get a third voice in this situation, it really helped. So for the second and third one we are planning on having a minuscule crew too.

JD: A trilogy? Now i’m getting even more excited.

JD: So what was your most memorable memory on set?

PB: My favourite scene to shoot was the final scene and i think it was mostly because it was one that i was most aesthetically excited about and felt like it was truly something new  and something that was going to elevate the film. Also the scene of stalking around at Aaron’s apartment was really exciting for me. But when the film started to click and we had a good idea of what we were doing the fact that we were willing to pull off these horror sequences just to try stuff out you know throwing it all at the wall and seeing what sticks. When you are making a movie that way it’s like you are in the same child-like mindset like you’re making a movie with your friends when you’re a kid. The thing that is different is that you have developed your taste at this point and you’re able to decide what’s good and what’s not good which is helpful but then at the same time you are relying on a chance. So being able to do these little manoeuvres and watch them back to realise what works is one of the nicest things to realise.

JD: I want to talk about specific parts in the film now that really but I don’t want to spoil things for our readers so I’ll avoid any potential spoilers. The first thing to come to my mind is Peachfuzz, where the hell did the idea for that come from?

*Patrick laughs*

PB: That came before we thought of the mask. Mark called me one day whilst we were developing it and said “I don’t know what we are doing in this movie but I think we should call it Peachfuzz.” It just came to him like from the sky and I was like absolutely, that’s perfect. I always thought it was an intriguing name for a movie so it was Peachfuzz for a year but then when we brought Jason Blum on board he said that there’s no way in hell that this movie is going to be called Peachfuzz which ultimately I agreed with him. So that is where Peachfuzz came from and then once the mask came in we thought that should be Peachfuzz and it became this organic process of connecting the dots and yeah it came from Mark and I’s weird sense of humour that thankfully we share with other people.

JD: The next scene I wanted to ask you about was the heart in the middle of the forrest. What was the story behind that was it just pure luck that you came across it as both your reactions in that scene felt very genuine.

PB: That is because it was very genuine. We were filming the scene at the restaurant and we knew we were going on a hike but we did not know what we were going to find it was just like Mark’s character describes in the movie. We talked to one of the waitresses at this restaurant that we were at and we asked her if there was any good hikes around that we could go like any good spots in the forrest and she goes oh yeah there’s a heart rock out in the forrest and we were like okay that sounds good so let’s incorporate that into the movie. Going out there we were really trying to find it but we had no idea where it was going to be so what you are witnessing as an audience member is us finding it as well basically.

JD: Now one of the most uncomfortable scenes in the film was Tubby Time. Whose idea was that?

PB: That was from both of us. We needed a hook and a signal to audiences that things were really going to get fucking weird with this movie. We also wanted it to be something that could be perceived as something that is relatively innocent and not necessarily dangerous. The funny thing is that I love Harmony Korine so I was just thinking about that kid eating spaghetti in Gummo and just how gross the bath tub is in general and it also came from a slight desire to see Mark naked as I am sure this is what people want.

*we both laugh*

JD: I’m sure the ladies and some of the guys thank you.

PB: Yes, I hope so.

JD: Moving on, you have already touched upon this earlier in the interview but can you tell me more about the second and third instalments of the planned Creep trilogy?

PB: The word is out. The plan when Radius purchased the movie for distribution part of that deal was that they would purchase two sequels as well. We are planning on shooting Creep 2 by the end of the year so that is the plan at this point. I’m really excited about that and part of the reason I was late today was because I was having a meeting with Mark going through the movie. Obviously I can’t say anything else at this time…

JD: No, I understand. To be honest as I don’t want to know about it. I want to sit there when it’s ready and think to myself what the hell are they going to do next.

PB: Yeah, for sure. I can say that I feel like seeing how audiences react to the first one and what particular moments audiences are reacting to positively. Our goal with Creep 2 is to take that material and string it out as much as we possibly can. I feel a great sense of freedom to make a movie this way, I can’t think of another model where when you’re making a movie there is so much standing in the way between your ideas and the execution of the movie in terms of money and involving so many different people and all that stuff. So it seems nice for these movies to really retain that sort of freshness that comes from taking those moments on the spot with people that are really smart and have great taste and great intuition when it comes to what works and what doesn’t. I’m like beyond in love with the genre community for accepting this movie. That is the one thing we were most worried about especially having Jason and his brand attached to it. We didn’t want to step on anyones toes and we wanted to feel like we were contributing to something so it’s been nice to get that reaction so far.

JD: Has the experience of making Creep turned you on to the idea of making more genre films beyond the planned sequels?

PB: Absolutely. Especially after making something with this much creative freedom with the material going into it. I have always loved horror movies and grew up watching all the Friday the 13th movies, all of the Freddy’s and all that good stuff. It was all very much taboo in my family as no one liked to watch them but I would always seek them out. As I have grown as a fan and filmmaker and seen more stuff and more sophisticated versions of horror like The Shining and stuff like that, this really nailed it for me as one of my favourite genres to watch and a pure pleasure so yes I am absolutely interested in it. I think whatever I do will have a strong element of uncomfortable humour just because it is something specifically that I do and what I like.

We’d like to thank Patrick for taking time out to speak to us. Creep has no confirmed date for general UK release yet but you can guarantee that we will keep you posted.

Mark Duplass looking menacing n Creep (2014)

Note: (JD) Jon Dickinson, (PB) Patrick Brice.

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Chords in Conversation: Steve Oram and Kelly Byrne Talk The Canal



Grimmfest took over Manchester’s Dancehouse theatre between the 2nd and 5th October for what was possibly the strongest line-up for the festival so far. Some truly incredibly films were shown which included Brian O’Malley‘s LET US PREY, Gerard Johnstone‘s HOUSEBOUND and James Ward Byrkit‘s COHERENCE but none of them held a light to Ivan Kevanagh‘s chilling horror film THE CANAL.

Starring Rupert Evans (Hellboy), Steve Oram (Sightseers) and Kelly Byrne, THE CANAL is the story of a film archivist David (Evans) who moves into a new house with his pregnant wife. Shortly after the birth of their child David comes across a film that reveals that his home was the scene of a brutal murder. Becoming more unhinged with the discovery his life is turned upside down when his wife goes missing and it’s not long before he begins to suspect that the presence in his house is not only supernatural but has something to do with the disappearance of his wife.

Ahead of the closing film I was lucky enough to catch up with actress Kelly Byrne and actor Steve Oram (Sightseers) who were attending Grimmfest to take part in an exclusive Q&A that was taking place after the film. We sat down and asked them questions about the film, what it was like on set, why they love horror and what their expectations were ahead of of the night’s screening. Thanks for reading.

grimm_canalJD: Welcome to Manchester and to this year’s Grimmfest, thanks for joining us. You’re here with your latest film The Canal. Would you mind telling me how you became involved with the project?

SO: I was asked by Ivan after he had seen Sightseers. He enjoyed my rendition of a man who kills people for fun *laughs* and he thought I had a vibe going on so he asked me to do it. I read the script and thought it was brilliant and the rest is history.

KB: I had done an acting class and the director recommended me to Ivan who came down to see me. We met and had a chat and we kept in touch and then he asked me to send some footage to him and a year later he offered me the part.

JD: Fantastic. Have you both seen the finished film?

SO: Yeah. I saw it at Frightfest and the crowd went crazy for it. It was a brilliant night and Frightfest is for the fans so everyone really gets into it. When we watched it Kelly and I both thought it had some very genuinely jump-out-of your seat moments…

KB: Yeah, that’s right. There were screams and some were from myself.

SO: *laughs* Yeah I was screaming myself too.

JD: That makes three of us then.

JD: So what is it specifically about the horror genre that you both love so much?

KB: Well I think the most successful horror films are the ones that draw you in allowing you to open up. It’s brilliant because they make you jump, the reaction is powerful…

SO: Yeah, it’s the reaction, the physical visceral reaction to what’s on screen…

KB: Yeah… and it’s the only type of film that never lets you go. It shocks you and makes you scream because they are so interesting and you find yourself absorbed into the film so when something pops up it really startles you.

SO: Yes. It’s similar to comedy which for me is the other genre that creates a real reaction in its audience. I have witnessed that as a member of the audience they are the best films to watch as you feel part of the crowd especially with horror fans.

KB: Exactly…

SO: My background is in stand-up comedy but in recent years it’s clear that with both genres you really see a connection with their audience. It is really brilliant fun.

JD: I had the opportunity to see the film ahead of tonight’s screening and I must say that it is one of the most unnerving and terrifying film experiences that I’ve had the pleasure to watch in a long time. Why do you think the film is so powerful when compared to the more standard fare out there?

SO: Our director. Ivan is very experienced and very good at what he does. He is a skilled filmmaker and knows what it takes to scare his audience. His sense of direction, the score and the overall effect, the film is incredibly powerful and it’s very scary too. The audience will love it.

JD: What was it like on-set? Was it a difficult shoot?

SO: Not difficult, it was a very organised shoot. The only challenging thing was that we had no money and we had a very short time to complete the film but they were very focused on what Ivan and the rest of the team wanted to achieve. It was a simple film based around one location but I felt the whole structure of the team and how they were was incredibly organised. It was only a few weeks ago when I first watched the film that I came to realise how powerful the film actually is. I had an idea in my head of how it would turn out but watching it I thought it was brilliant, it was really good technically and every other way.

canalfeatJD: The Canal is a very serious horror film. Steve, you come from a background in comedy, what was it like for you to play such a serious role?

SO: I loved it. With any part I do I approach it in a very serious way be it comedy or anything. So when I was doing Sightseers I did nothing different, I was playing that character and if anything funny came out of it then that’s great. With The Canal I took exactly the same approach to play my character who is this detective guy.

JD: Kelly, you play Sophie, the tormented nanny in the film. Your character goes through her fair share of trauma during the film. Was this your first horror experience? How did you find it?

KB: Yes. It was my first. I loved it. It was really challenging but the pay off was amazing. I would never have thought that I would have played a part quite like this that requires so much of you, that requires so much emotion and I think that’s the best thing to do as an actor – to constantly challenge yourself and learn. This is what the horror genre does. It’s very difficult in parts but the pay off is worth it by the end especially when you have a good director like Ivan behind you. I really want to do a horror film again, I had so much fun.

JD: I’ve read that The Canal has been compared to films such as Don’t Look Now. What is your opinion on this?

SO: Yeah, I heard that. I suppose there are similarities and there are some dream-like nightmares that go on and such.

KB: Ivan once told me that in some of his past interviews that it was his intention to pay homage to some of the films that he loves. I shouldn’t probably say this as I will be quoted… *laughs*

SO: He won’t mind. He’ll like it.

KB: He said that because of the type of film it is that Rupert Evans’ character is an archivist so it is his job to watch films so Ivan is saying that basically in the scenes where he is watching footage he could pay homage to his favourite films like The Shining

SO: Rosemary’s Baby was a favourite of his too.

KB: Yeah… also The Fly to which the birth scene is directly influenced by as well as the musical score.

(both Steve and Kelly Laugh)

KB: It sounds like I’m talking shite but the musical score is also influenced by these films. He said that because the dream-like sequences are influenced by life he would be inspired to film the dream-like sequences in the same manner. He thought it was a perfect opportunity to pay homage to the films he loves.

JD: The festival circuit here in the UK is a unique and incredible experience for everyone. Steve you’ve experienced Frightfest and now Grimmfest, what do you think about the UK horror festivals in general?

SO: There is no pretense with them, it’s all about fun. When you come to a horror festival you realise that it is not like other festivals where the talent and buyers are trying to strike a deal between themselves instead its about the atmosphere. There’s a real sense of fun and enjoyment and it’s like that at horror festivals around the world. It’s great.

JD: So you are here to promote The Canal which has been selected to close this year’s Grimmfest. What are your expectations ahead of tonight’s screening?

SO: I’m a bit nervous but i’m quietly confident about tonight because I think it is a good film. It’s there and it’s done so you can’t change it can you.

KB: Yes, lots of scares. They should be frightened.

SO: Yeah, I’m hoping they go mental and shit themselves at the same time.

JD: So what’s next?

SO: I just finished work on my next feature film about a world where there is no speech so there is no dialogue. That was completed last summer.

JD: Is that a horror title?

SO: Kind of. It’s very much in that realm of strangeness *laughs*. Julian Barratt is in it too as are many of my mates so yeah, that should be great.

JD: How about you Kelly?

KB: I just got cast in a feature film from Element Pictures. It’s a small part but I expect to be filming that at the end of this month.

We’d like to thank Steve and Kelly for speaking to us and wish them the best of success with The Canal and beyond.

We’ll leave you with the latest trailer of the film and urge you to catch it as soon as it reaches a city or town near you….

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Chords In Conversation: Jim Mickle Talks Cold In July


Jim Mickle_Cold In JulyWithout a doubt Jim Mickle is proving himself to be one of the most talented genre filmmakers of the moment and he just keeps getting better with each and every new project.

This was most recently evidenced in his most recent remake We Are What We Are as he cunningly managed to reinvent the original whilst maintaining its essence. Then, earlier this year saw the theatrical release of his pulpy neo-noir thriller Cold In July, bursting with a stellar, veteran cast lead up by Dexter’s Michael C Hall, Don Johnson and Sam Shepard. Hall plays protective father, Dave who finds himself thrust into a profusely dark and seedy criminal underworld after accidentally shooting an intruder in his home.

For Cold in July, Mickle once again teamed up with writing partner in crime, Nick Damici to adapt Joe Landsdale‘s novel of the same name. Whilst primarily a neo-noir revenge thriller, the film does indeed bring some of Mickle’s horror savoir-faire to the table so fans of Mulberry St., Stakeland and We Are What We Are are perfectly pampered. This genre feel is further cemented as Damici puts in a short-yet-rewarding role as the town’s Sheriff.

We got to speak with Jim who openly discussed Cold in July, his undying love for genre films and how increasing prestige and budget changed his work ethic. He went on to reveal he’s constantly collaborating with his cohort, Damici so we should expect plenty more sophisticated and deft feature films (and TV shows) in the not too distant future.

Although Cold In July moves slightly away from horror, your roots are essentially genre movies. Where did your love for horror spring from?

When I was really young I was fascinated by horror movies and they always scared the hell out of me. I was literally a baby when I started seeing horror movies and they scared me so much I always ended up sleeping on my parents’ floor. I think that as I watched more and more I kind of desensitized myself to it and I started being interested in how horror movies worked and how they were able to have that effect on people.

You had a real interest in special effects and animatronics as well I understand.

Yeah. I had a stage where I was interested in magicians and magic tricks and that kind of grew and went on to make up effects and that lead me to watching a lot of horror movies to see how all that was done. That was the point were it transitioned into filmmaking in general.

So what pushed you towards a directing and writing career rather than a career in special effects?

I started even when I was just a teenager. My Dad got a home camera to do home videos and that sort of thing and as soon as that happened I literally just picked it up and started making these little special effects videos which featured gunshots and bullet wounds. So I ended up making little films that all involved people getting shot and they were all backwoods type horror films. That was when I was about fourteen or fifteen. After that I started to get a little bit more artistic and did things like crime stories and stories about being a teenager. It just all sort of evolved and then my parents split up when I was 16 or 17 and my father ended up marrying a screenwriting professor who was incredibly supportive of trying to make a career out of this. Up until then I had seen it as just a hobby that I just tried to keep up with for as long as I could but then she really supported going to film school to learn the skills to then go on and make a career out of it. So then I went to NYU where I met Nick Damici.

How did Nick Damici end up becoming your partner in crime?

Well he was the lead actor in a friend’s short film which I was working on. We stayed in cabins in a small town for about a week and my cabin was next to Nick’s. Basically, we just hit it off. After a day’s shoot I’d see him sitting playing guitar on his porch and go over and talk. I really had never seen an actor as genuine and with as much screen presence as that for a student film so we hit it off through that. We both had very similar interests and he told me about some of the things he had been writing and I thought they sounded amazing and at that time I was trying to write but not with great luck on my own. When we came back to New York he ended up writing a script about that shoot that we were on. He sent it to me and I read it and loved the script and I gave him some thoughts. Then it just turned into a back and forth thing where he’d send me stuff and I’d give him notes and we ended up writing original scripts that way and then Mulberry Street popped up. At that point Nick’s acting career had stalled and I was working on sets but not getting to actually make movies so we decided that if we didn’t create an opportunity then it wasn’t going to come.

So you took the bull by the horns with Mulberry Street with a shoestring budget. Obviously things have come a long way for you since then but back then you said that if you ever got the chance to make films on much bigger budgets you’d rather spend the money on various projects or on other people’s projects. Are you still a believer of that philosophy?

Interesting! I do remember saying that. Things change and things become more difficult. As you get to work with bigger budgets things disappear much more rapidly. But yeah, I do still think that. I think things can get too bloated and too big very quickly. It’s tougher and tougher as you move up but I hope I’m able to continue making movies the size they should be rather than spending a lot of useless money on useless things. cold-in-july So coming to Cold in July, how did you discover Joe Lansdale’s novel and what was it about this particular book that made you want to turn it into a feature film?

I had been a fan of Joe since Bubba Ho Tep which I saw as soon as I graduated college. It just blew me away and I knew I just had to read more from whoever had written it. I loved his particular point of view and the great mix of tone and I started reading his stuff just as a fan at first and I fell in love with his characters and his whole world. This was after we had done Mulberry Street which was a very low budget and very much a New York movie and very much a 911 movie. We were coming to a close on that as we’d spent almost two years on it and we were so over the New York setting by then. I wanted to read something different so I had a couple of Joe’s books and ‘Cold in July’ just happened to be one of those. Instantly it was just like “Wow! This is a movie.”

Was it an easy book to adapt into a screenplay?

Well the first draft was very quick and really we just started adapting page by page. Then we ended up with a really long, dense script which had every element from the book. Then it was just a case of sitting with it and carving it down but then we’d feel we’d missed some bits so we were constantly massaging it to make it just the right shape.

So what about the casting process?

Well that was a totally different experience. We went through a lot of financiers, a lot of different companies backing the film at different stages and they all had different ideas about how they wanted it to be, the kind of scale they wanted and who was going to get it done for them. Ultimately, we got to a point where we were able to make it with the people that we thought would be best for the movie.

So neither Nick Damici nor yourself had anyone in mind?

No. I would find that that gets you into trouble. In Mulberry Street almost every role was written specifically for each character as most were people that Nick knew in the neighbourhood. That kind of thing is great when you have no money and you are just desperate to find people to fill the roles. It was a really amazing experience but I think it can get you into trouble as you start moving on because if you start thinking you want a certain person to play a part then you start writing the role a little juicier than you would otherwise and you start injecting scenes into the script. I find it much cleaner if you don’t do that and it helps you to really get the script on the page and then later go about figuring out who those different pieces are going to be.

Cold in July is certainly a move away from your previous genre projects. Have you turned your back on horror or have you got more in the pipeline?

Oh I’d love to get back and do horror again. To a certain extent the three that we did were really good and I’m really proud of them and, crazily enough, they have all gone on to have these long lives. They get discovered even though they’ve been out for a little bit so it’s funny how we are also just coming to the surface a little bit. I’m sure I will do some more horror though. It just really depends on finding the right story to tell. I’d also really love to do some science fiction. There’s also another project that we are casting right now which is an intellectual Hitchcockian thriller which is all very subdued. I love that as it’s completely different and it would mean making a completely different movie so, even though all are part genre in nature, I like that all of them are very different from each other.

And what can you tell us about the TV show you are adapting from Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard novels?

Well we’ve just turned the final draft of the pilot in and now we wait for the heads of the network to decide if it’s going to get a green light. We’re anxiously waiting to hear their decision for that.

And finally, please tell me the Stakeland TV series is still going ahead.

Yeah it is. Nick Damici has already written all of them which is kind of amazing. I think he was at a point where he was frustrated with writing jobs. He felt he was trying to put a square peg in a round hole so I told him to just write what he wanted to. He ended up writing some really beautiful stuff with a very similar kind of energy as the movie. I just heard recently that there is some network interest and we’ll see what happens.

We’d like to thank Jim for talking to us and can’t wait to see his future projects come to fruition. In the meantime, Cold In July is available on DVD and Blu-ray this Monday 20 October and we’ll leave you with a trailer for the film.


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A Short Mission: Garrick Hamm Interview


I’m wrapped up warm in a home office, guarding several animals and waddling through a sea of press and films. I say this because I am currently on the phone to Garrick Hamm, the charming and intellectual creator of phenomenal short – Retrospective. “I’m very jealous” he says to me, learning about my warmth as he huddles in wet and windy North London, “there’s a massive storm coming and I’m on my bike.”

Huddling into my scarf and counting my blessings, I am luckily away from the capitals impending flood. And we also get to warm our cockles as we talk about short film, especially Hamm’s evocative pieces on war photography. The film, based on a story by Kevin Wignall, revolves around a war photographer who must face the controversy surrounding one of his images whilst it is being celebrated. “I came to the idea after I had read his short, so it comes from him,” says Hamm, clanking on his side of the call whilst a bird happily tweets the McDonald’s theme tune from mine. “However, I felt compelled to the story. A few years ago, I had met Tim Hetherington. I was struck by his by his bravery, warmth and charm. What he brought back from the warzone was compelling. Sadly, he didn’t come back from his latest war zone. When I read the story, I saw Tim straight away. This guy comes back but he was changed.”

Retrospective definitely deals with the ethics behind war photography, Hamm is very interested in portraying the dangers that those go through and the effect is has on them. “I think they (the photographers) play an important role,” Hamm muses, bringing attention to two sides that are often forgotten by those who merely view the final image. “They are key to the war effort, bringing light to atrocities that many wouldn’t see usually, so they have their place in society.”

With this side, Hamm manages to balance it with the torture loved ones feel when they see their family members strewn across the rubble in death. “The movie has this interesting pendulum swing and you need to portray the full picture from both sides,” says Hamm, “It’s not about reducing it to its simplest form – this shocking image – it’s about the context and examining it from a different point of view.”

“Charles worked hard on that with me, about getting it right” says Garrick about his lead actor, a big name in this moving short. Charles’ task is to encompass the plight of the fictional photographer Jonathon Hoyle and he does it here with strength, mastering the pain behind taking the photo and his disillusion with his own work. “He didn’t want it to be too sentimental, we edited it and fine-tuned it so it felt realistic.”

Getting big names into his movies, similarly to Richard E Grant in Hamm’s fantastic The Man Who Married Himself (which won Best Comedy Award at the acclaimed LA Shorts Film Festival,) is often the key element to Garrick’s movies. “My strategy with filmmaking is to always go after the main actor,” he says stating that Dance and John Hurt were the first famed actors who he tried to pursue, with the latter being wrapped up in Hercules. “Dance had finished with Game of Thrones and was looking for his next project. Dance is a very commanding film. With him on-board, you have a better chance of getting other people into your film.”

10369413_675226075859352_1959361920_aBut there is still the struggle “We were very lucky to get Vincent, Emilia came with him,” Hamm mentions, talking about actors Emilia Fox who plays the exhibitor and Vincent Regan, the bodyguard. “We were having trouble finding this angry, Arab actor. It’s a difficult casting when you need to get their viewpoint across without them being the lead. Though we sent the script to his daughter by mistake” – the director laughs –“We managed to score Omid Dajili who had trained professionally as an actor who wanted to do more material and fell in love with the story.”

Garrick and I have similar thoughts when it comes to short film, “you can wrap your arms around it,” he mentions, talking about how compact and easy it is to digest short art medium when you are an impatient view or reader. “It is doable, you decide on something, with a lot of energy and commit to it. You can do it within a matter of days because cast and crew can also help you. Plus there are only fifteen minutes to do it.”

Certainly, audiences are heading to short film more often nowadays, consuming cinematic content in little bites. “The way people view films nowadays, on smartphones and tablets, short film is great for commuting – that little pocket of entertainment – and I think some commercials have expanded to that view point as well as television. There are better TV programmes and short films out there than in cinemas.“

That being kept in mind, would Hamm ever turn to features (currently he has worked on shorts and created shorts). “If I fell in love with something, then yes.” He says, remarking on the only downside that the short form in cinema has, “you don’t get to play with a character as much on fifteen pages. With a longer film, you get to dwell on it and expand it. Maybe one day that’s what I’ll do.”

Despite not watching his own films, boxing them away after creating them and leaving the final product separate, Garrick says that the process of filmmaking has a magical quality to it, “I love making a film, seeing it come to life the first time and the actors building your characters. I love it…”

“But I don’t love the end result.” With that in mind, I must urge you to see Retrospective if you can. After all, it is a thrilling and absorbing short film. Garrick has delved into the thematic nature of war photography and brought an engaging film. You can read my review here. If you manage to, make sure you catch Garrick Hamm’s work, he is a phenomenal filmmaker.

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