As you could probably tell from our recent review, we liked Credo – it was the best British horror film that we had seen for a while.
And so it made sense to unleash one of our hideous, monsterous interviewers unto the outside world and allow them to chat to director, Toni Harman. The goal: to find out more about the movie without devouring her or damaging her mentally.
Zombie1 was allowed out of the office for a limited amount of time to conduct the interview.
How did you get into directing?
I went to the London International Film School (now called the London Film School) in Covent Garden and specialised in directing. After graduating, I worked as a Producer / Director on documentaries and factual programming and also made my own short films. The short films did quite well and were distributed internationally and broadcast in over 40 countries.
The next step was to make a feature film. Together with my writer / producer partner Alex Wakeford, we formed a production company, Alto Films, and wrote a few feature scripts. We came close to getting a bigger budget feature off the ground but the finance fell apart at the last moment.
So we thought ok, let’s just make a low-budget feature film using whatever resources we could lay our hands on. To be honest, we had nothing to lose and everything to gain!
How did the idea of Credo come about?
Credo started with the locations.
We knew we wanted to make a low budget “haunted house” style horror film and we were on the lookout for a suitable location.
We already had a relationship with a London property company as we had shot a short film in one of their empty properties. It just so happened that at the time we were looking to make our feature, this property company had two huge derelict buildings that were about to be renovated and they agreed to lend them to us to make a film!
So we had the locations, we had a time-frame in that we had to be out of the buildings in four months before renovations began, now all we needed was a story.
We kicked around some ideas and very quickly, we had the gem of a story.
Then things moved very quickly. Alex wrote a very rough draft of the script, we found crew, we did a deal with a company to supply HD cameras and online post-production and we even found the finance – all within about 3 weeks. Whilst I started casting, Alex worked on the script.
Meanwhile, architects were drawing up plans to turn the derelict buildings into luxury apartments and we were drawing up plans to shoot in them.
It was a race to see who got there first. I remember one day in the middle of the shoot, surveyors turned up in hard hats and after every take, they’d start writing in chalk on the walls. As soon as they’d move on to the next room, we’d wipe the chalk off and go for another take! I often wonder now if the new luxury apartments aren’t quite as luxury as they’re supposed to be because of us!
That sounds pretty intense, so how did you go about casting for the various roles?
Casting was pretty straight forward. We had a casting agent who short-listed actors and then we whittled down the short-list. Part of the audition process was to test the actors fears by taking them down into the really scary basement. If they survived that, they could survive anything!
In fact, during filming, one of things that seemed to work really well was to make the actors terrified for real. Just before a scary scene, I would send an actor down into the basement for five minutes on their own, armed with just a torch. They came back completely wired, psyched up, terrified and ready to shoot!
And how did Stephen Gately get involved?
Our casting agent contacted all the London agents asking which of their clients might be interested in being in a UK horror film and Stephen’s name was put forward.
He’s a huge fan of horror and one of his burning ambitions was to die in a horror film and so, watch the film to see if we made his dream come true!
Stephen was was fantastic to work with, incredibly hard-working, really receptive to my direction, always good-natured, and had a great sense of humour. More importantly, he could really act and he delivered a fantastic performance.
Even though he has had huge success with Boyzone and has done over 10,000 media interviews, he never acted like a “star” but was just one of the gang.
Are you a fan of Boyzone?
I love Boyzone! Though admittedly I haven’t bought any of their singles or albums or been to a concert. But then again, I haven’t bought any single or album for over twenty years – I’m just not that into listening to music.
Be honest, was he singing all the time?
During down-time, occasionally Stephen would click his fingers and maybe sing a line of a song to himself, more just to relax than anything. But never really in front of anyone and never to attract attention to himself. But during the shoot, he was absolutely professional and really focused on acting.
Was it difficult as part of a British production company to get your film ‘out there’ and noticed?
Making the film was relatively straight forward, selling the film afterwards has been much harder!
It is really difficult to raise your first feature above the parapet especially if it’s a genre piece made on a very low budget with no A-list stars.
Our route to market was to secure a UK sales agent who premiered the film at the American Film Market. This led to some international sales and a Lionsgate release in the US. Then Guerilla Films came onboard for the UK.
However, the film was pirated even before it had been released in the US (the pirate copy was the US version and not the UK version which features more of Stephen Gately).
The way we found out was that one day we googled the film and suddenly we discovered that it was no.1 in the illegal download charts above “The Dark Knight” which had just been released. Tens of thousands of people had watched Credo illegally (or The Devil’s Curse as it’s called in the US) and yet, it hadn’t actually been officially released. This dealt a huge blow to our future international sales.
We never thought our film would be pirated. We thought piracy only happens to big Hollywood blockbusters, not tiny little budget UK indie films! Especially before it had even been released! That’s a big lesson to us and next time, we’ll do things differently. Still, the positive is that it did get our film out there and noticed.
Ouch… it’s crazy how fast people seem to get illegal content online.
So, was there a sneaky motive in using an American character in the film?
We have to admit, we thought it might slightly improve our chances of selling to the US market. But saying that, the American in the film, Clayton Watson, who played “The Kid” in The Matrix trilogy, is actually Australian.
And maybe our strategy worked as we did make a US sale and maybe having an American character did help in some small way. Given the same situation, I would do the same again as any little thing that helps make your film more attractive to the US market is worth doing on a commercial level.
There are accounts of supernatural happenings on the sets of many horror films. Did anything spooky or strange happen during the making of Credo?
One of the locations we filmed in was a derelict townhouse built in the eighteenth century and by the time we got to it, it was in a very poor state and had an eerie and oppressive atmosphere about it.
The basement was by far the creepiest one I had ever been in. The layout itself is confusing. Huge, cavernous cellar rooms are interconnected by long, winding passageways. Some of the walls are covered in dirty white tiles, giving the feeling of an abandoned psychiatric hospital. And then there’s the smell; a rotting stench stemming from years of neglect.
As there’s no power in the building, whenever we walked around the place during pre-production, we would have to do it by torchlight. The odd thing was that almost every time we went down into the basement, the torches would fade. It was so dark down there that we had to use the light from our mobile phones to navigate our way out. The moment we started climbing the steps back up to the hallway the torches would suddenly come back on.
Pauline, the art director, would sometimes have to work on her own down there, preparing the set for the demon’s lair. She said she would often hear a distant howling coming from upstairs. We would check the place out, assuming it must have been the wind howling through the building, but we found no reasonable cause for it.
During production, filming had to be stopped when we had to search the building for a mysterious figure that several members of the crew had seen watching us from the shadows. No one was ever found. “He” was seen several times since, but to this day no one knows who he was.
In Credo, things start go bad for the group of teens when they set out to prove whether the devil exists. Do you believe in him/it?
I don’t believe in the devil but I do believe in evil. I don’t view evil as an outside force, but rather evil lives within humans and we have the power to choose to be evil or not.
Belief is an interesting concept and I’m interested in what it is that each of us believes in this modern, hi-tech, consumer led world.
Millions of people around the world believe in demons and the film hangs on the question, what would it take you to make you believe there’s a demon in your own home.
Do you have a favourite horror film?
I’m a huge horror movie fan, but only of a certain type of horror flick – deadly serious horrors where there are no comedy one-liners and surprisingly for a horror fan, no gore (ok, a bit of blood but no gratuitous decapitations!). I don’t have a single favourite but this is my list of all-time favourite horror movies that absolutely hit my horror g-spot.
My favourite type of horror is J / K / H-K horror. I love Asian horror as it’s atmospheric, it tends to be psychological and it’s steeped in a strong cultural identity.
So in no particular order: The Eye, Audition, The Rings, The Grudges, Reincarnation, Dark Water and A Tale of Two Sisters.
Next, I love old-school Polanski, Hitchcock and 60’s & 70’s horror, where it’s more about what you don’t see than what you do see.
So again in no particular order: Psycho, The Birds, Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, The Tenant, Black Christmas, The Haunting, The Exorcist, The Shining, The Omen and Amityville Horror, Don’t Look Now and Alien.
Then coming on to more recent horrors which are atmospheric, clever and terrifying: Blair Witch, REC, Cloverfield, P2, The Orphanage, the first 20 mins of Jeepers Creepers.
Okay, your horror loving credentials are proven (with some rather nice choices). What advice would you give other aspiring British horror movie makers?
The only way to learn is to do it yourself. No matter what anyone says, unless you experience something yourself, it’s impossible to take advice. So go out, shoot a low budget feature, work your socks off, make mistakes, be driven crazy doing jobs yourself because you can’t afford to pay anyone else to do it and go through the roller coaster ride of securing international sales. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain!
What can we expect to see from you in the near future?
I am really attracted to films that explore the dark side of human psychology and my next project is a dark urban psychological thriller with a vexed teenage girl as the main character. It’s a Hitchcock style “knots-in-your-stomach” teen thriller and I’m really excited about and I can’t wait to get shooting! We’re attaching cast at the moment and we’re looking to shoot next year.
CREDO is screening at this year’s Manchester Grimmfest Halloween Horror Festival on Oct 30th at the Odeon Printworks – http://www.grimmfest.co.uk/
CREDO is available to buy on DVD from Amazon and from the film-makers themselves – www.credothemovie.com