New kids on the shock
Many Love Horror readers will have at least one idea they could imagine becoming a movie. Some of those ideas may have even reached script stage. For anyone thinking of pointing cameras at that idea, the following may prove valuable in how to get going.
At this year’s FrightFest 2021 we had the opportunity to talk with independent filmmakers whose movies were playing in the festival’s First Blood strand. All spoke of the grit and determination required to see their film finished, but the comments should provide inspiration and (guarded) optimism for any budding James Wans out there.
FrightFest has become an August Bank Holiday weekend fixture in London’s Leicester Square. Taking over the Cineworld from Thursday to Monday, it presents upwards of 60 movies and numerous shorts. The First Blood section celebrates new voices in British and Irish horror cinema. 2021 was a bumper year for the strand, featuring some of the best films to play the festival.
Pick of the bunch was Conor Buro’s When the Screaming Starts. A laugh-and-gasp-out-loud mockumentary about a filmmaker following an inept wannabe-serial killer, the film has been called “Louis Theroux meets the Manson Family.”
Richard Waters’ Bring Out the Fear is The Blair Witch Project meets Marriage Story, with a couple trapped in a forest by malevolent forces on the last day of their relationship. Lycanthropy gets a new haircut in Are We Monsters, Seb Cox’s imaginative take on the werewolf story that is more When A Monster Calls than The Howling. Undertaker-turned-professional-wrestler-turned-director Leroy Kincaide looked to his own experiences of the paranormal and sleep paralysis for demonic possession shocker The Last Rite, while Eric Ian Steele brought a kitchen sink grittiness to the vampire tale in Boy #5.
Feed your fear for the fright price
When asked what the biggest challenge was when making Bring Out The Fear, without pause producer Alison Scarff says, “No money, no time.” All these movies were made without a Hollywood money hose to wash away problems, relying instead on creativity in the face of adversity, understanding friends and colleagues, community goodwill… and food. Food often comes up when independent filmmakers talk about their movies.
To quote Eric Ian Steele, “If you can give everybody reasonable meals, everything else is a question of resources as opposed to money. Microwave meals are always a good one!” This was echoed by Richard Waters, who said, “Be respectful of the people you’re working with and always feed everyone. People will do stuff for free, but if they are hungry and feel that their time is being wasted, that is the biggest sin of all really.”
Beyond making sure everyone works on a full stomach, there are other crossovers in how these filmmakers turned their scripts into films that premiered in London’s Leicester Square. A key piece of advice is get a DIY attitude, because it is unlikely that someone is going to roll up brandishing credit cards.
When the Screaming Starts director Buro says he mistakenly thought a portfolio of shorts would help him secure funding for a feature, but ultimately realised “we were just going to have to do it ourselves. No-one’s going to give you a shot unless you’re very lucky, and they do happen but they’re lottery tickets.” Self-funding can be the way forward, something Buro acknowledged was easier for some than others. But, the director recommends seeking out filmmaking events or listening to filmmaker podcasts to find a producer who might be willing to take a chance on your script.
Richard Waters had three feature films under his belt, but still took the self-finance route rather than wait for money to arrive. As a result, Bring Out the Fear unfolds in that most budget friendly setting of indie fright flicks: the woods. The trick here is to make a picnic spot look like the scariest place on earth, something Waters does through unnerving visuals and an aggressive sound design.
Boy #5 was also self-funded, director Eric Ian Steele explaining that most of his budget went into post-production, “where the big bills are.” When shooting he secured locations for free through a developed network of friends and colleagues. One of his crew members worked in a nightclub they subsequently used for a key scene; a friend worked in an office that was willing to let them shoot weekends. All this, plus the inherently cinematic streets of Manchester, lends Boy #5 production values beyond what was achievable had Steele just paid for everything with the money available.
Help is other people
Conor Buro and When the Screaming Starts producer Dom Lenoir also cite how crucial building a network of contacts is when embarking upon a feature. For Lenoir, a successful film comes from the combination of raw talent coupled with the experience of seasoned professionals. “You can inject a high-end polish on one side, bringing in deals you’ve nurtured for years through different relationships. Then on the other side you have this fresh energy from the filmmakers.”
One way to develop these contacts is by working on short films. Are We Monsters’ director Seb Cox started on smaller projects, working with friends “and cheap gear” to get the experience required to move into feature production. His advice is to work with a team you build up on shorts, and then expand with new talent.
Having a trusted core of collaborators is crucial, agrees Dom Lenoir. He got involved with When the Screaming Starts after Buro attended Lenoir’s independent filmmaking course. “Conor asked me about how to make a first feature,” he recalls, “It started off with me advising, then the project began coming together, people were coming onboard, and eventually I ended up as a producer on it. That’s often how it works, you start helping, then you help a bit more, and these things develop organically.”
Find passion in your pain
As the saying goes, an idea costs nothing. But as a filmmaker, an idea you are willing to invest time, money and emotion in must be something that holds your attention. “Find an idea with a message that fascinates you,” Cox says, “and focus on the genre, the themes, and that section of people you want to entertain.”
Leroy Kincaide had this philosophy front of mind when penning The Last Rite, a film that draws on his belief in the paranormal as well as experiences with sleep paralysis. “Many hours of research and digging have led me down a path. I firmly believe that as much as we live in this world, there are forces that we do not understand, and sometimes when we look into the void of darkness, the darkness looks back at us.”
This commitment to stamping a personal statement onto genre cinema worked. Kincaide was nominated for 2021’s Screen Genre Rising Star Award, which ultimately went to Prano Bailey-Bond, who has made a splash with her debut, Censor.
When the Screaming Starts was born of co-writer Ed Hartland’s love of horror cinema. Dom Lenoir could see the movie’s potential in the passion Buro, Hartland and co-star and co-producer Jared Rogers had for their script. “I’m a firm believer in developing whatever you’re passionate about, whatever the genre, whatever the story,” explains Lenoir, continuing, “Obviously you’ve got to keep in mind commerciality and what your audience is. But, I find when you try to create something to fit a mould rather than what you’re passionate about, it doesn’t turn out too well.”
Richard Waters also describes how a belief in the project is crucial on independent movies, because if you are not fully invested the last thing you should do is run people around, asking for favours that will shave money off your budget.
Finally, a point made by all the filmmakers was to just get out there and do it. “You have to be kind of naïve,” Bring Out the Fear producer Alison Scarff says of making a first feature, “You know it’s going to be hard but in your head underplay that.”
“So much of it comes down to meeting people,” says Conor Buro, “Just putting yourself out there, as hard as that is to do sometimes, especially during COVID. But, get out there and shoot stuff.” A sentiment echoed by Eric Ian Steele, who gets the last word: “Just do it really. Don’t be afraid to put your own money up, grab a few people and make something, because you really don’t know what can come of it.”
Dom Lenoir is also part of The Filmmakers Podcast
Seb Cox produced a YouTube video on how to develop micro-budget ideas that can sell
Conor Buro, Dom Lenoir and Jared Rogers discuss making When the Screaming Starts on The Movie Robcast:
Richard Waters and Alison Scarff recount their experiences making Bring Out the Fear on The Movie Robcast:
Are We Monsters
Bring Out the Fear
The Last Rite
When the Screaming Starts