Written and directed by Ed Boase and based on a true story The Mirror details the tale of three flatmates who make a movie about a haunted mirror they have bought on eBay to claim the One Million Dollar Paranormal Prize offered by the James Randi Foundation. Their desire to win blinds them to the evil forces they have brought into their world, which exact a terrible revenge.
A found footage ghost story packed with thrills and chills that premiered at FrightFest this year we where lucky enough to be able to talk to the cast Joshua Dickinson, Jemma Dallender and Nate Fallows about making the film. In our final interview the man behind The Mirror Ed Boase tells all about the truth behind the real story, found footage films and who he would love to haunt.
Interview with Ed Boase
How did you get into film making?
I made my first film (‘Taboo’, a horror) at school, aged 17. I was lucky enough to get Desmond Llewelyn (‘Q’ from James Bond) to act in it. His day rate on a Bond was £30,000. I negotiated his fee down to £100 for a week. I think he was intrigued at being in a horror film. He was charming, generous and at 82 years old the best raconteur I’ve ever met. For a 17-year old to be able to ask anything about Bond was a rare treat.
The Mirror is based on a true story of an eBay auction of a real haunted mirror. How did you come about the story and why did you decide to adapt it?
I read the story about the ‘haunted’ mirror online and did a bit of detective work. I tracked the two flatmates down and met them in a pub in Muswell Hill. They’d clearly been through a traumatic experience and even let me see the real mirror before it was shipped off to Germany (to an occult enthusiast). What appealed to me about the story was its everyday quality. Everyone owns a mirror, and looks at it at least once a day. It felt like a real-life Stephen King story. I was interested in the psychological impact of the mirror as much as the supernatural. The mirror took quite a toll on both flatmates: one was prescribed anti-depressants and became housebound, the other was unable to work because of sudden unexplained stabbing pains. So they both found themselves effectively trapped in their flat with a haunted mirror.
There is a great extra on the DVD of you interviewing the guys behind the real story, what did you think of them and the evidence they have?
I’m not a believer in ghosts or the supernatural, but I’m definitely interested in the narrative possibilities! The guys seemed totally sincere to me. The details of their story remained the same over the course of several meetings. Nor were they in it for the money (I paid them just £500 for the film rights). They genuinely wanted people to know about what had happened to them. They showed me two pretty staggering pieces of evidence: a photograph of a ghostly mist in the flat and video footage of furniture moving by itself. It struck me as a real-life ‘Paranormal Activity’. And, if I’m being brutally honest, I didn’t care if it was real or not. It was a great story. You can make up your own mind by watching the interview below:
What was the writing process like for The Mirror and how did you decide what elements to keep in or embellish to craft it into a full length horror feature?
I made the potentially foolhardy decision to copy ‘Paranormal Activity’, ‘Blair Witch’ (et al) by writing a simple outline and challenging the cast to improvise the dialogue, action, and – to some extent – the story. 95% of the film is improvised. For each scene I’d give the cast a start and end point and let them fly. Really, the writing process took place in the edit. I had 20 hours of footage from a 4-day shoot, which was ultimately compressed into 83 minutes.
When did you decide to make it a found footage film and why?
I’d seen (and admired) ‘VHS’ (2012). I thought the found footage look worked really well for horror. I also liked how it used different types of camera: glasses-cam, Go-Pros etc. The motivating factor though was cost. I was itching to make another feature (my first, ‘Blooded’, came out in 2011) and had been stuck in development hell with another project. Watching ‘VHS’ and then reading the haunted mirror story was a light-bulb moment: I would scrape together some cash and make a film at minimal cost in a single location. Found footage bypasses the costly need for complex lighting and extensive crewing. You pretty much just point and shoot, provided you have a good story to tell. Some people love found footage. Some people hate it. To my mind, criticizing a film for being found footage is like criticizing a painting for being Cubist.
The Mirror was made on a low budget but the effects are great and so is the whole look of the film. How did you make the most of the money you had?
One of the strongest points of ‘VHS’ is that while the picture quality was (purposefully) shitty, the practical effects were anything but. A key scene in ‘The Mirror’ involves a throat-slash, so I cold-called Millennium FX (‘Doctor Who’) and did a deal to provide the practical effects. The throat-slash was actually done in their car park in Chesham at 2am. My advice to filmmakers is: if you don’t ask, you don’t get. People are surprisingly happy to help, provided you ask in the right way.
Is it true you had an opportunity to use the actual haunted mirror for the film?
Yes. I could have bought it if I’d wanted to. But something told me not to. In fact, someone: Jane, love of my life, mother to my children. I believe her exact words were: ‘We’re not having that fucking mirror in our house’. I also didn’t want to risk bad luck affecting the shoot. Filmmaking is enough of a fraught, knife-edge enterprise as it is.
You have a great bunch of actors in The Mirror how did you cast them?
I work with an amazing casting director called Gillian Hawser, one of the gatekeepers of up and coming British film talent. She gave Emilia Clarke (‘Game of Thrones’) her first job. Jemma Dallender had a profile thanks to ‘I Spit On Your Grave 2’, as well as being very talented and beautiful. The guys (Nate Fallows & Joshua Dickinson) emerged during the casting process. We saw 40-50 young actors and asked them to tell a scary story in less than five minutes. We shortlisted 10-15 and asked them to improvise in pairs, whittling the combinations down until we had the perfect twosome. It was crucial that the cast could think on their feet, be entertaining and engaging – particularly as they would be improvising the whole film – and look good. Not easy to find. Actors say they love improvisation… which doesn’t necessarily mean they can sustain an audience’s interest for 83 minutes.
The film is predominantly all in one location, what was it like filming and what where the challenges you found in making a found footage film?
There were two big challenges when it came to filming in the flat: where to hide the crew (to give the cast the run of the place) and the building site next door. The crew spent most of the shoot in Steve (Nate Fallows)’s room, often huddled in the corner, just out of shot. Despite the film being found footage – so theoretically we could have left them to it and gone to the pub – I wanted to monitor every moment, and splashed out on a remote camera monitor so I could see what was going on without having to be in the room. As for the building site, I’d been to the flat (on Tabernacle Street, just off Old Street roundabout in East London) just once before we started to shoot. I’d visited at lunchtime, and it seemed serenely quiet, which must have been when the builders were having their lunch break. Whilst filming, we had to contend with the sound of heavy drilling every five to seven minutes. You couldn’t think, let alone record sound. At first it was a huge inconvenience, but after a while we learned to live with it and shoot in between the drilling. Actually, I think it may have focused the cast and crew more on the task at hand.
How did the actors find the shot?
You’ll have to ask them, but my perception was that they enjoyed the freedom of creating characters, dialogue and fleshing out a story from scratch. I’m hugely pleased with their performances. Some horror films suffer from paper-thin characterizations, which makes the audience less inclined to care when they’re in peril. With ‘The Mirror’, I think the tension comes from the fact that the characters seem real and sympathetic. You don’t want nasty things to happen to them…
The film premiered at FrightFest did you enjoy the horror festival?
I loved it. I wasn’t there for enough of it, but that will change next year. I’ve been to plenty of festivals before, but none with a sole emphasis on horror. Ironic that a festival called Frightfest is full of such lovely people. The organizers (Paul McEvoy, Alan Jones, Ian Rattray & Greg Day) are great; passionate, unfussy, unpretentious, approachable, welcoming. It’s worth making a film just to screen at Frightfest.
Do you believe in the paranormal and has anything supernatural ever happened to you?
No, and I wish something supernatural would happen to me! I went to see a psychic when I was 21 (very strange birthday gift from friend) and asked if I was going to die young and was told ‘no’. Though now I’m 35, perhaps I should be careful.
What is your favorite horror film and why?
‘The Shining’. Without a doubt. It’s a beautifully-made film with one of the greatest-ever screen performances. I first saw the film aged 8, and I remember being terrified by the thought of my dad pursuing me with an axe. Thankfully he never did. Though he was angry when he found out I’d watched the film, ironically.
What’s next for you?
I’m putting the finishing touches to a script called ‘Beyond’, which is a ‘Flatliners’-esque medical students messing around with forces beyond their control-type story.
And lastly if you came back trapped as a spirit in a haunted mirror where would you want to be hung and who would you want to haunt?
Thankfully the reviews for ‘The Mirror’ have been great. Jamie Graham of Total Film put it on his Top 5 Scariest Movies at Frightfest. Luke Owen of Flickering Myth called it ‘the best British horror in quite a while’. UK Horror Scene gave it 9/10. However one reviewer said it represented everything that was wrong with the British film industry. I would be tempted to give them a fright.
Our review of The Mirror can be found right here:
The Mirror (2014) Review