Hollow is a British, found footage horror that manages to transcend the mundanity of American movies and bring fresh blood and screams to the genre. We spoke to the team behind the scenes – Director Michael Axelgaard and Writer and Producer Matthew Holt – about independent film making, their favorite horror films and the chilling true legends behind Hollow.
Love Horror: Firstly can I say in advance thank you for answering my questions and also that I really liked Hollow. It’s great to see a found footage horror that cares as much about character development and drama as the shocks and scares.
Michael: We are delighted you like the film! We are big fans of Love Horror and are readers of your website, so it is exciting for you to interview us!
Love Horror: Michael, how did you get into directing? And Matthew, how did you get into screenwriting?
Michael: I have been making short films and documentaries since I was a kid. To start out with, I would work on every aspect from writing, to building sets, to even acting in some of the films. I think this gave me a really good intuitive understanding about all the creative elements involved in filmmaking.
At university, I studied engineering, which taught me problem solving skills and how to organize large projects. As I moved on to larger and more complex short films and finally my first feature, the combination of having both creative and organizational skills has been extremely useful.
Matthew: Hollow is my second project following a short film, LOLLIPOP MAN, that Michael and I did about 3 years ago. It did well at international film festivals and gave me the confidence to try something more ambitious. I hadn’t done much writing previously, reviews shows at university and such, but I’d always had a burning ambition to write, and the film stuff came along as an outlet. Now I have about 6 things on the go, the floodgates have opened!
Love Horror: How did Hollow come about?
Matthew: Hollow is based on actual ghost stories from the region where the film is set. I first heard the stories a number of years ago when I went to Dunwich, a small town in a remote part of East Anglia for a New Year’s party with friends. The area is steeped in myth and legend from its time as great religious centre in the Middle Ages, and many ruined monasteries litter the countryside.
Dunwich was once a thriving port, but it now is nearly abandoned as a result of two major events in its history. The first was the dissolution of the monasteries and the associated persecution of the catholic monks at the time of the founding of England. Many monks were hung drawn and quartered. Later, violent storms hit the coast causing half the village to be swept away as the cliffs surrounding the town fell into the sea. All of this history is remembered by the village folk. When I visited Dunwich, I went to the local pub, and after buying the locals a pint after some reticence to talk, they began to tell me myths and ghost stories. I was frightened and fascinated.
When I got back to the old house we were staying in, I repeated the stories to the friends I was with, over a candlelight supper, and the girls who were staying with us didn’t sleep a wink. They were terrified and were kept up by nightmares all night, and the impact of those ghost stories stayed with me.
Michael: We made Hollow independently, so in the beginning it was up to us to get awareness for the film out there. But we have been lucky that audiences have been responding well to it from the beginning. Based on its festival run, Hollow was fortunate enough to be nominated for a Best Feature award and receive a nomination for a BIFA at the British Independent Film Awards.
Off the back of that, we received offers to distribute the film from Tribeca Film and Metrodome, two well-respected independent and genre distribution companies. Hollow will now have its cinema release in the UK at the end of January, so look out for the film in a theatre near you!
Love Horror: The locations are integral to the story and horror in the film. Where were they and how did you find them?
Matthew: The locations are all real places in East Anglia and gave us real inspiration for the project. The film is set in Dunwich, that small town on the coast that was a huge religious center in the middle ages (as touched on earlier). Much of it fell into the sea, as the cliffs eroded through history, and it is sometimes referred to as Britain’s Atlantis. What was left behind was a shadow of its former self and an eerie feeling of abandonment.
The ruins of Greyfriar’s monastery in the film are some of the remains of that time. The tree itself is arguably the oldest in England, and was mentioned in a famous historical record called the Domesday Book, written in 1086. So it’s at least over a thousand year’s old. One of the guiding thoughts in writing the film was that tree, what evils must it have seen over a thousand years of bloody religious history.
Love Horror: The found footage genre has seemingly taken over horror recently. Why did you choose to make Hollow a found footage film and what in your opinion are some of the positives and negatives of the genre?
Michael: Matt and I both love ghost stories, and the goal of Hollow was to take classic British ghost story and folklore and present it in a modern way. When you tell a ghost story around the fire, what makes it scary is when the storyteller ties the story to real events and gives you the feeling “it could happen to you”. The found footage format is also extremely effective at doing this. The cinema verite style makes you feel like the characters could be your friends or people you know, and the POV perspective puts you right there in the story, in the middle of the scares and action.
Matthew: Another of the guiding ideas behind Hollow was making a horror film that focused on story and character as much as suspense and scares. Found footage has an amazing first person quality to it, but it is often not used for character development, so we wanted to see what would happen if we made this more of a focus. The idea was that the more you care about the characters, the more frightening it is when scary things start happening to them. So this hopefully also makes the film stand out.
Love Horror: Unlike many other found footage films, Hollow is very character driven, taking turns into a romantic drama at times. How difficult was it balance these elements?
Matthew: We set out to make it character driven. The intimacy and immediacy of found footage, makes it a really interesting device for putting people ‘in the moment’ with the characters. So if we could make the audience identify with the characters and understand their hopes and fears, we thought that this would heighten horror.
You’re correct; it is written as a love story, we needed passionate emotions to make the story work. In a sense, stealing from the best, I had in mind an inverted version of Romeo and Juliet. It’s the story of a young boy and his first love, the boy’s love for the girl is now unrequited, in desperation he seeks out the friar (vicar) to solve his problems, and in an inverted sense he does. The main character sees the whole outcome in highly romantic terms, a lover’s pact in death. For the sharp eyed and eared, the Romeo and Juliet theme does run through the movie.
Love Horror: What are some of the logistical challenges of filming a found footage film?
Michael: A lot of planning goes into making the scenes feel unplanned. You have to hit the same dramatic beats as in a normal narrative film to make the scenes work, but you have to make the fact they were captured on camera feel natural. At the same time, you are not able to cut away like in a conventional film, so to keep the picture visually interesting you need to keep the camera moving during long takes. We had a very good documentary filmmaker as our DoP, Mark James, and we spent a lot of time carefully choreographing the scenes to catch the dramatic beats and tension in a way that feels accidental.
Love Horror: On the same note, is it different or difficult directing actors in a found footage film as appose to any other genre’s?
Michael: The way you direct performance in a found footage film is the same, but you need stronger actors in order to pull off the combination of realism and terror. We spent a long time in casting making sure we got the right talent for the film. We got a great casting director involved, Daniel Edwards, who knew the best up and coming actors. Our cast was amazing in some tough conditions. The actor that plays Emma, went from Hollow to a season with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford, playing opposite Patrick Stewart in the Merchant of Venice.
Love Horror: The film is steeped in British folklore and religion, much like The Wicker Man, Blood on Satan’s Claw and more recently Kill List and Wake Wood. Were those films and the themes of our mystical history a big influence on you?
Matthew: Films like the original The Wicker Man and Don’t Look Now were a big influence on Hollow. Those classic films were really expert at building atmosphere and tension. I especially love the way that The Wicker Man, legend looms out of the past and casts a frightening shadow on the present, and we hoped to create a similar feel with Hollow.
Michael: A more recent genre-defining British film that was a big influence was 28 DAYS LATER, which was cut by Chris Gill, the talented editor who also cut our film. The editing of that film was a big part of its impact, and we were lucky to have Chris bring his unique, kinetic style to Hollow. 28 Days Later was also an inspiration through how it balanced its horror elements with strong characters and drama in a way we also hoped to achieve with our film.
Love Horror: What is your favourite horror film and why?
Michael: The Shining is my favorite horror film of all time. Kubrick is one of the great masters, and seeing the combination of precision and creativity he tells his ghost story with is inspiring. The way that film uses atmosphere and tension to slowly build to a big bang at the end is also a big influence on our film.
Love Horror: What’s next for you guys?
Michael: Right now we are in the final phases of getting the film out there. Hollow has its UK cinema release at the end of January, and we are really excited! Also, Matt and I are currently developing a science fiction project. More news to come soon.
Matthew: We are a small independent film, and we could really use your support. If you like Hollow, tell your friends about it by sharing our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/HollowFilm) and by giving the film a positive rating on IMDb (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1869470/). Thanks for your time and for sharing our love for horror and British independent film!
Love Horror: Well, we did like Hollow a lot, so well done guys. Thank you and best of luck with your future projects.
We can’t wait to see what’s next!