Dead Wood – Interview

Following the release of the Brit Horror movie Dead Wood, Zombie 2 got the chance to chew the brains of one of the men behind the screams – creator David Bryant and two members of his cast, John Samuel Worsey and Emily Juniper.
Here is what they had to say, before he finished them off with some fava beans and a nice glass of chianti!

Okay everyone, an easy one to open with. What is your all time favourite horror film and why?

David Bryant:
I would have to say John Carpenter’s The Thing stands head and shoulders above most movies, not just in the horror genre but film in general.
It’s the essence of horror, a group of stranded individuals being taken one by one by a malevolent force.
The characters and performances are all so full of subtle quirks without breaking into forced stereotypes or over the top grandstanding. It’s a quiet horror that creeps up on you… and the creature effects are still the best ever on film.

John Samuel Worsey:
I’m no horror buff, but it’s probably the original Dawn of the Dead. I like the whole trilogy, but that one nails it for me – it’s an extremely cool idea, it’s tense and scary, but it’s also got that satirical edge that just lifts it above anything else I’ve seen in the genre.
I also really like Zack Snyder’s re-imagining, just for the sheer slick fun of it all.

Emily Juniper:
I think I’d probably say the Alien Saga is a personal favorite, because at heart I’ll always be a Si-fi geek, so I like a bit of space to go with my gore and guts.

David, what got you started as a film maker and how did you and your fellow movie makers meet?

David:
I’ve always been a fan of film, since being a kid, when the biggest treat was a trip to the cinema.
I remember walking out of movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark or Back to the Future thinking I want to tell stories like that.
I bought a VHS-C video camera and started shooting little films, mostly terrible, full of influences from everywhere from Lost Boys to David Lynch. I finally made my way to a degree in Film at University of Wales, Newport where I met Rich & Seb. They worked together through university and after when they moved to London.
I helped them out a few times and then we made a few shorts which led to the feature.
It took a long time to get here.

How did you and the others get the idea for Dead Wood and what other movies did you draw inspiration from?

David:
We were originally planning to make a ghost story called Wake but it just wasn’t possible budget wise.
We wanted to make something soon, not look for funding for two years, so we looked at what we had, basically a VW camper van and a few tents and went from there.
We all liked the woods as a location as it needs no art direction and we wanted to use natural light as the crew consisted of three of us and setting up lights would take up a huge amount of time.
The idea was fleshed out pretty fast though originally we had a more sixth sense twist to the tale. We knew we didn’t want to make a gory slasher movie but thought setting it up like one might work if we subverted it with a supernatural element.
When writing the screenplay the film that influenced me most was Walter Hill’s Southern Comfort. The feeling of people being in a wilderness in which they don’t belong being hunted by a superior foe was similar to what we wanted to achieve with Dead Wood.
Other influences, which followed through from Wake were the horror films coming from the Far East such as Ju-on (The Grudge) and Ringu, but with so many other films, especially those coming out of Hollywood, mirroring their aesthetic we tried to move away from those influences, though a few moments remain in Dead Wood.

John and Emily, how did you two get involved with Dead Wood and what was the shoot like?

John:
I was sharing a flat with Fergus March, who plays Webb in the movie. He had been cast already, but they were having trouble with the character of Milk, so he suggested me. I wasn’t really what the guys had in mind, but they gave me an audition, and I must have done something right!
For the audition, I had to tell a spooky story of my choice to camera. I told a great one about a corpse on the London Underground, and I was really pleased with myself for having remembered it, because I hadn’t been expecting to have to do anything like that – normally you just read from the script. Then the guys told me they’d already heard the same story about fifty times! Oh well.
As far as the shoot goes, it was utterly exhausting but tremendously good fun. You can’t really beat staying up all night in a private forest, running away from invisible monsters with a bunch of really great people. Don’t get me wrong, there were times when the shoot was extremely arduous, but because of the cast and crew, there were also plenty of times when the line between “acting” and “playing” got really thin!

Emily:
I remember lying on my bed reading the script and loving it, I really wanted to be Lari, she was so cool and I loved how she worked against the ditzy-blond type.
I got involved really last minute, the guys were looking for ‘Jess’ but somehow by the end of the meeting I was reading for Lari and they were looking at each other. I remember Dave asking me if I would be prepared to dye my hair…
I left the meeting calling a friend of mine and asking her how soon she could make me a bimbo because shooting started the following week!
The shoot was great fun. Really hard work, but the guys were so full of energy and ideas that every day was a new adventure. they pushed us but they really looked after us.

For you two what is more fun playing, a baddie or a goodie?

John:
It depends on the character, to be honest. I love Milk in Dead Wood because he’s such an unlikely character to be put in that kind of scenario!
But I do enjoy playing a villain. It’s just so interesting exploring that kind of a mindset. I recently played a really nasty piece of work in a TV pilot called
One Night At The Curtain – he’s a sadistic KGB agent with an S&M fetish in early 1960s Berlin.
I’m very proud of the work I did on that, but in this economic climate I’m concerned that no one will take a chance on the subject matter. We’ll just get more stuff that resembles everything else instead, because it’s safer. You can find it on
the web and buy a copy though, so they’re being very enterprising about it.

Emily:
The Baddie, every time, but in truth most characters are a bit of both…


What made you want to be actors and how did you get started in the industry?

John:
I used to perform in plays at school, and I just found that acting gave me a buzz like nothing else did. I went on to university, where I got heavily involved in the student drama scene, and then to drama school, where I spent a year just really honing my craft (if that doesn’t sound too pretentious!).
Getting started in the industry is hard – you’re constantly getting started all over again! I’ve done a lot of theatre, but I had to do a number of unpaid short films before breaking into independent movies.
I’ve done three independent features now – Dead Wood, Together and Macbeth (which also stars Anthony Head), but it’s only now that I’m starting to get work on TV, and that’s like starting all over again, too! You just keep persisting, but there really are no guarantees of success in this business.

Emily:
I can recall the exact moment I wanted to become an actor. I was 12, and standing on stage in front of my entire school while they booed at me.
It’s not only that I was heavily disliked, I was the wicked witch in a school play and I was thrilled that I could manipulate the audiences reaction with the slightest curl of my lip.

As actors, what advice would you give to all those amateur scream queens and horror heroes trying to make it out there?

John:
I think getting proper acting training at a recognised drama school is really important, because it’s such a competitive world.
But in terms of getting into horror movies in particular, to be honest it really pays to watch a lot of horror!
It means you know the conventions, so you have an idea of how to react when you read the script. I think part of the reason the guys were finding it hard to cast Milk in Dead Wood was because a lot of people they saw didn’t really understand how to perform in a horror movie.
You can spend hours wondering about your motivation when being chased be a demon, or you can just think to yourself
well, it’s a demon and I’m dead if it catches me so I guess my motivation goes something like AAAAARGH!

Emily:
In my experience if you want to get into filming horror movies it’s important to really like energy drinks and to not really like sleep.

And following that, what horror movie or series would you love a role in?

John:
Seeing as he seems to be back in the saddle again, I’d love to do one of Romero’s zombie movies.

Emily:
I’d like to be shooting up scary space monsters in aliens.

David back to you, how long did the whole film take in the end to make and how much did it cost in total?

David:
It’s almost embarrassing to realise Dead Wood took around 5 years from filming the first frame to screening the film- which we subsequently cut a few minutes out of (including a scene starring my Niece) for the DVD release.
The main reason for this was that just three of us made everything. We all have day jobs so could only work on the film in the evenings and at weekends plus we shot, reshot… reshot again then shot a few more pickups on most of the film- so any given scene is made up of shots from an 18 month period.
One shot could be mid summer then we cut to mid winter, the key to this was heavy post production which was mostly handled by Rich Stiles who also created all the effects except the “Man pushed into tree” effect. Seb recorded and mixed the sound almost from scratch due to the live sound being unusable.
We don’t have an exact budget for the film as we just tended to use whatever money we had in our pockets, which was mostly spent on transport and food- snickers and red bull should have sponsored the film!
At an estimate we can say the entire film up to this point cost less than one frame of X Men 2 (which is around £15,000).

What was the hardest part for you of making a horror movie?

David:
It was a long shoot, a long post production so just keeping any enthusiasm can be difficult.
There were weekends when we would be up at 5am Saturday and film through until daybreak on Sunday, sleep for a few hours then go back out into the woods until the early hours of Sunday before the two hour drive home.
There were times in post I just wanted it finished and out there, even if it had rough edges but the extra polish is what made Dead Wood stand out in the UK horror market, it wasn’t shockingly violent or incredibly dark so it needed to look slick and professional.

And what advice would you give to all those amateur monster movie makers out there?

David:
Don’t sit around waiting for money- nobody is waiting to give you money- so just get a camera, an actress and a monster and start filming.
If it doesn’t work, change it and try again. Above all Dead Wood taught us how NOT to make a movie. Everybody needs to make those mistakes, and will make those mistakes but that’s how you learn what’s right; by doing it wrong.

This one is for everyone. What is the scariest movie ever and what scares you in real life?

David:
The movie that I still cannot sit through is The Exorcist. It’s the religion element that scares me, same with The Omen. It’s also just unpleasant watching a young girl projectile vomiting.
I guess religion also scares me in real life, that people can believe so strongly in something they will do the most terrible things for those beliefs without question.

John:
Like I say, I’m no expert on horror movies, but I do know that psychological horror films are the ones that really scare me. So the truly terrifying ones are things like The Exorcist, which I know myself well enough never to watch.
I caught a clip of it once and it scared the hell out of me! Around the time we shot
Dead Wood I was watching a lot of Asian horror – things like The Ring, The Grudge, and The Eye, which really unsettled me. That’s three amazingly creepy movies, right there.

Emily:
The Shinning. And strawberries. (long story)


Do you all believe in ghosts and demons and otherworldly forces? And have you ever had any true life horror experiences?

David:
I’ve never seen anything ghostly and I’m a natural sceptic but I believe enough to get creeped out in the dark by some creaking noise. My brother has some very convincing stories about ghosts he has seen.

John:
I’m undecided, to be honest, and I’ve never had a true-life horror experience myself.
But my girlfriend has seen a ghost, whilst staying the night in a very old house when she was on tour with a play, and it’s hard to argue with her account of what happened.
It came out of a door when she was walking down the corridor at night to go to her room, and it sort of fled when she saw it. She said it just looked like a normal woman, but with reflective eyes, like a cat has. She was freaked out, but she followed it into the room it went into and it was gone – but there were no other doors. The next day, she mentioned it to the family who lived there and they were really blasé about it – apparently she jumped off the roof a few hundred years ago or something, and is one of several ghosts they have there!

Emily:
Some of the filming itself was pretty scary. I don’t believe it ghosts and gouls but while we were doing one night shoot in the woods, the generator went, and I was left waiting while the guys went to fix it. It was pitch black and I started to imagine seeing things in the trees.

Of all the iconic horror movie villain’s such as Freddy, Frankenstein, Jason etc which do you each identify with the most and why?

David:
Freddy is the villain I remember most from my teenage years, his sense of humour always made him easier to identify with than someone like Jason. I am a fan of Michael Myers and remember being terrified by the original Halloween.

John:
I’m not sure I really identify with any of them! But I was fascinated with Freddy when I was a kid. There’s no way I would have been able to watch the movies, but the whole concept of him seemed so cool, and of course he looks brilliant!
I remember, aged about 10 or 11, writing a comic book about him, in which he wore a mask to make himself look normal, and worked in an office! Now
that would have been a cool sequel! Ah, those were the days…

Emily:
None of them, because I like kittens!

What’s next for all of you?

David:
I’ve been feverishly writing screenplays with a couple almost ready to go with Menan Films. One is a rethink of Wake, which we hoped to make before Dead Wood, plus a survival action thriller called Homeland and an action horror about crazed SAS type soldiers called Hunting Ground which is written by horror novelist Paul Finch.

John:
I’m about to appear in the European premiere of The Woodsman, which is the play on which the 2004 Kevin Bacon movie is based. It runs throughout April in London.

Emily:
I’ve got my own theatre company and am touring with a show I wrote. I took it to Edinburgh last year and we got 5stars everywhere! Which was wonderful. Then we had a successful London transfer.
The play follows the story of a painting, stolen from a Jewish family by Nazi soldiers. There isn’t any screaming, but there’s a special effect, and a sort of haunting… Anyway, it’s really wonderful to be in control of my own work and while we tour I’m working on my next script… Which is going to be a cracker.


And finally, fast zombies or slow zombies?

David:
There’s no such thing as fast zombies!

John:
Much as I love 28 Days and Snyder’s Dawn, you just can’t beat a good slow zombie. That’s probably because it’s so much more of a challenge to make something that can’t chase you really scary, so the filmmakers have to be that little bit more imaginative in what they do.

Emily:
I feel like a traitor, but fast zombies terrify me.

To find out more about the film see our review and visit: http://www.dead-wood.com/

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Once a regular human named Alex, Zombie2 now has little recollection of his former life... More

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