The Fallow Field is a gripping low budget horror steeped in pagan mystery and it is out right now. Having already spoken to the editor and producer Colin Arnold we where got a chance to talk to The Fallow Field’s writer and director Leigh Dovey about crafting and creating a truly brilliant and truly British horror movie.
Love Horror: How did you get involved in filmmaking?
Leigh Dovey: I’ve always written scripts and I worked in television news and documentaries to pay the bills whilst banging out feature projects in the evenings. The turning point was finally having the courage to start networking and pitching those projects instead of just asking my friends for feedback. Once I started I realized I was serial pitcher. Directing came about because my features kept being optioned only to then fall apart before they could be made. After a lot of frustration I knew if I wanted to see one of my stories on the screen I’d have to do it.
Love Horror: You wrote The Fallow Field. How did you come up with the very original idea?
Leigh Dovey: I’m lucky, I have ideas very easily, though they often tend to be a bit out there. I don’t know how the ideas generation process works for other people, but I literally have them pop into my head – probably the result of a misspent youth watching far too many weird films and storing up all these memories to twist and develop later on. The original idea for The Fallow Field was a bit more of a siege movie about an estranged son returning to the family farm to visit his dying father and falling foul of pagan druids trying to complete a Faustian ceremony there. I started mucking around with that notion and it changed a lot. Looking back there may be the hint of a prequel in that first story.
Love Horror: You also directed the movie. Was that easier or harder than writing the script?
Leigh Dovey: I find scriptwriting pretty straight forward, but I have had a ridiculous amount of practice. It’s still hard work but the process and ideas just come naturally. Directing the film should have scared me, but I think I wanted to do it so badly and was so busy and immersed that I couldn’t afford to be scared at the time, so the directing thing was fairly straight forward as well. I think if you surround yourself with good people and break everything down into small chunks it’s all very do-able. It’s definitely tougher than writing though, you have project confidence all the time, be there for everybody, have an answer for everything.
Love Horror: The Fallow Field is a very British movie with strong pagan overtones, reminiscent of such classics as The Wicker Man and Blood on Satan’s Claw. Which movies influenced the film’s story and style?
Leigh Dovey: Blood on Satan’s Claw and The Wicker Man without a doubt. I think there’s a bit of Witchfinder General in there too and a big nod to Ozzie nature horror The Long Weekend. Then there’s a whole raft of other influences lurking about from Stephen King to Deathline to The Living Dead at The Manchester Morgue. I saw Pete Walker’s Frightmare after making it and found there’s a lot of parallels there, though I had seen The House of Whipcord when I was younger. And of course not many horror directors escape the influence of early Carpenter do they?
Love Horror: The story and characters are central to the horror in The Fallow Field, unlike many other films in the genre. How did you go about casting the two key main characters and getting such great performances from them?
Leigh Dovey: We had a huge response to casting but when we did auditions it was surprisingly obvious who we had to pick. I was convinced Steve Garry was Matt as soon as I saw his head shot and was relieved to find he was a great actor as well. Michael Dacre nailed the Calham role too, but then we called them back with other short-listed candidates for longer auditions with different key scenes, because no matter how good they were individually, it was essential that they had great chemistry together. And they did. After casting we took the leads away for a few days and work-shopped the hell out of it.
Love Horror: The countryside and setting in the film is very important. How did you find your locations and what was the shoot like?
Leigh Dovey: We wanted to be near to Figment and Shere in Surrey is relatively close to Guilford, but also buried in this vast, timeless landscape. It’s pretty, but foreboding. We were scouting the wider area when Rachel from Figment suggested we take a look at the farm and it was perfect. The shoot was tough though. We squeezed a lot into a short schedule and everybody worked their asses off. Colin did a great job of pulling everything together and people were really well looked after, but they were exceptionally long days and nights. Having said that, everyone still had a blast and there was a real sense of camaraderie on set. It’s a cliché but there was a family atmosphere.
Love Horror: The movie does a great job unnerving and frightening the audience in a subtle way without showing too much. How do you go about creating that atmosphere of fear and making sure a viewer is scared?
Leigh Dovey: It’s the equivalent of building up to a dark musical note and then holding it and stretching it as long as is unbearably possible, versus just a sudden nasty sound or effects shot. Close framing, moody lighting and shots, disorientation, evocative, tactical sound design, sincere performances and a disturbing soundtrack all help, but I think if you create a bubble of tension, a small world where you care about the characters and fear for them, then the best work is then done by the audience themselves. They create their own fear. Having an amnesiac protagonist as a vessel for the audience really helps you sustain this, the more he learns, the more he wishes he hadn’t.
Love Horror: What do you think of the current state of British horror, especially compared to the output of the USA?
Leigh Dovey: I think there’s a get up and go in UK horror here that has been present for longer in the US. Maybe the advent of cheaper technology is responsible, but I think film makers here are realizing they can go out and take risks. There’s still a lot of stuff that doesn’t work so well and a lot of crap that exploits genre fans, but at least people are making films. I think there’s a valid reflex twitch against low budget indie horrors, but every now and then there’s a really nice, dark surprise waiting out there.
Love Horror: What’s your advice for budding horror filmmakers out there who want to get their movies made and seen on the big and small screen?
Leigh Dovey: Write well or call in a good writer. Your script can do so much of the work for you. A lot of film makers obsess about cameras, I think it’s pretty pointless. More focus on the story and the actors will make your project a lot stronger than just a succession of pretty but uninvolving sequences set to cool music. Cool aesthetics can work but often push the viewer away instead of drawing them in. Imagine you’re writing a novel, ensure the tale itself is fascinating before you even pick up a camera.
Love Horror: What’s your favorite horror movie?
Leigh Dovey: The Thing. It’s bleak, relentless, moody, scary, nihilistic. And it’s got lots of snow.
Love Horror: I read that you have written several other features as well as two novels. What’s next for you?
Leigh Dovey: There’s a lot of writing for other directors at the moment. There’s a post apocalyptic sci-fi shooting in Oz this year and a very odd psychological thriller set in the UK too. I’m working to set up more horrors to direct, finance permitting.
Love Horror: And finally, the main character in The Fallow Field suffers from memory loss, what memory would you lose if you could?
Leigh Dovey: I’d be tempted to say loss itself – the pain of loss, be it time, people, feelings, but then those losses and our handling of them shape who we are, so they’re necessary, vital even. Plus it’s all good experience for the next writing project.
Love Horror: Thank you for answering our questions and good luck for the future.