TNC Archive 2016
Short film set in 1982. Twelve-year old Doug is drawn into the lurid world of VHS horror as he explores the mysterious disappearance of his father.
Hey Prano thanks for talking to The New Current, how have things been going?
It's going good thanks. I released my latest short NASTY into the world about 3 months ago. It world premiered at the BFI London Film Festival and that same week won Best Picture and Best Director at the Maverick Movie Awards, so a pretty dreamy start to the NASTY journey. We screened at some great festivals in 2015 including Aesthetica Short Film Festival and our South American premiere at Bogota Short Film Festival to mention a few, and now 2016 is looking brilliant already. Its been nominated for the Best Woman Director award at London Short Film Festival and is up for Best International Short at Slamdance Film Festival, which is an Oscar-qualifier. Along with all this comes our German premiere at British Shorts Film Festival in Berlin, followed by a nomination for the Deadline Award at Landshut Kurz Film Festival in March.
It's kind of hard to predict how a film is going to be received when you're so close to it, so to see it doing well feels really good.
How does it feel to have your film part of the first British Shorts Film Festival this year?
I've known of the festival for some time and heard excellent things from other filmmakers. The standard of shorts is really high so I'm very proud to be part of the festival. The idea of having a focus specifically on British shorts in another country is really interesting to me, so when the program was released I was keen to see if I knew many of the other films or directors who'd been included, seeing as they're from 'my endz'. There are some seriously good shorts showing - I saw 'Solitudo' by Alice Lowe (which screens in Midnight Movies with NASTY) at LSFF last year and loved it, plus ManOMan, Over and Operator which I've seen at festivals recently are all so so good. It's great having a short on the circuit because you get to see what other people are making too, and the selection at British Shorts is exceptional.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
Pretty much yeah. When I was younger I was obsessed with watching films and drawing - that's all I did - I would just watch the same films or tv shows on repeat and draw and draw. Then I had an idea that I wanted to become an actress, so I went and did a performing arts course as soon as I could leave school, but quickly became much more interested in shaping performances from the outside; in creating experiences for an audience. My course was theatre-focused, and maybe the control freak in me found the stage frustrating in some ways... I wanted control over what the audience was seeing, and how and when they were seeing it, and I wanted to be in real locations, so I began to shoot the scenes we were given in real locations too, and somehow work out a way to show that footage on stage, or at other times have cameras on stage linked up to live feeds so I could show the audience a close up, POV or simply a different perspective of what was going on. Thinking about it now I must have been pretty bossy, or maybe I just had great teachers who were willing to let me pursue my interests. Whatever happened, that's where filmmaking became the forerunner of my passions - it's where I could combine my passion for composition and concepts within drawing, along with my passion for performance.
What was the inspiration behind Nasty?
Its main inspiration is the social hysteria surrounding VHS horror in early 80's Britain. When VHS first became available in the home there was this boom in low budget horror. In the UK, some believed these films were going to turn society into crazed murderers, and create the next generation of psychopaths. There were some amazing tabloid headlines like "Taken Over By Something Evil From the TV Set" and "Rape of our Children's Minds". Loads of horrors that are being remade today were banned back then, like Evil Dead and Cannibal Holocaust. It was like all the bad stuff happening in the world could be blamed on horror films. I wanted to explore and sort of satirise that notion (and time) very very slightly. I guess I'm fascinated by our relationships with fiction and our fears, and for me that period is full of inspiration and strange memories of a paranoid world.
"It’s important that as a director you understand an actors process and can shape a performance and drama, but if you don’t find the right people to work with in the first place then you make your job a hundred times harder."
What has been the biggest challenges you faced with this film?
Hmmm... Well, in my mind NASTY is a fairly layered film. For example, on one level it's about a boy searching for his missing Dad and on another level it's about the social hysteria surrounding Video Nasties, which is kind of boiled down into a family scenario. It balances two worlds - eerie, grey suburbia and the bold, lucid world of 80's VHS horror. There are a lot of clues and references in the film but I didn't want them to be like huge flashing neon signs saying "THIS IS WHAT THIS FILM IS ABOUT!!!" You want the audience to see and decide, or feel like they decide, for themselves. But at the same time you don't know exactly who your audience is for a short, or how much they know about the era - particularly young audiences who haven't even heard of Video Nasties.
You don't have time in a short to go into lots of backstory or history and explain certain elements in depth – and if you do, that’s spelling it out for the audiences who know the history... So it was a challenge to know how heavy handed to be with some aspects. Personally, I like to watch films that don't spell things out – where I’m able to exercise my brain and see things for myself. When this approach is effective you end up with a much more personal experience as a viewer, where you feel YOU understand things in the film that probably nobody else sees – and that's a good feeling. But as a filmmaker that's a scary balance to strike – especially in horror / thriller genres where audiences at once have certain expectations but are bored of things being spelt out for them. It's a challenge that I find endlessly fascinating and enjoyable though... Another big challenge on a practical level was shooting a period film on a not-huge budget.
NASTY's set in the early 80's so we needed to get the look right. We spent a long time searching for the right location and eventually found this strange, amazing hotel in West London that hadn't been redecorated since the 60's. The place had just the right aesthetic and lived-in feel as the backdrop for the film. Myself and DOP Annika Summerson watched a lot of references from the period, and also contemporary work shot to look like the 1980's to find the right texture for our story. One of the decisions that came out of this was to shoot on 16mm and S8mm as this had the most authentic look and feel. Then came the next challenge – for me at least – shooting on film for the first time (rather than shooting digitally) – but that’s a whole different story! Needless to say, that story had a very happy ending, with me and the rushes being reunited after their telecine and falling instantly in love!
What was the hardest scene for you to film?
I would say the "bed scene" - as it became known as on the shoot. It's the scene where the lead character Doug runs terrified to his Mum's room after the TV has 'spoken' to him. He wakes his Mum up but then hands burst through the bed and grab her. Doug sort of feebly attempts to save her by stabbing one of the arms, but he's totally confused and she gets dragged away through a hole in the bed and disappears. This was all done using practical in-camera effects - the art department built this amazing bed with holes in for the hands to come through plus a bigger hole operated by a lever for Mum/Carol to get dragged through at the end.
On top of this, for the stabbing, we had special effects make up create a wound, plus a knife and half-knife props and blood splattering stuff all prepped. It's amazing how much goes into things that are only on screen for split seconds! When we shot we had 3 extras squeezed under the bed who were unable to see what they were actually doing with their hands in shot. We took a long time to set up and go through one by one with them where their hands could go. It was an intense scene for the main cast - it's a hugely terrifying time for both characters within the story, and it was important not to let the technical aspects distract from the emotional event of the scene on the day. You're relying on so many things working at once - that the actors hit their beats and that your blind, uncomfortable extras hit their timings and find the right position for their hand performances. Re-setting all this took a fair amount of time too, so each time you go for a take you're willing it to go right so you don't have to stop and re-dress the arms, the bed, remove blood splatters etc etc. Albie Marber and Madeleine Hutchins (who played Doug and his Mum, Carol) were totally brilliant and I had an amazing crew, so it all went pretty smoothly. It was just a complicated and fairly uncomfortable scene to shoot for the cast and extras. In fact I expected the exterior forest night shoots to be the most uncomfortable, but after 3 days shooting interiors in a fairly small location it was a relief for us all to be outside with so much space, even though it was October in the UK. It was lovely to be out there.
Is there anything you would have done differently?
Oh what a brilliant and horrible question! ... I was listening to Marielle Heller, director of ‘Diary of a Teenage Girl’ speak on the Script Notes podcast recently. She said that at the Sundance Lab she'd had the opportunity to test-shoot the scenes from her film that scared her the most. This sounds like an amazing thing to be able to do. As directors we prepare like crazy (well I do) - we imagine the scene, we shot list, we rehearse, we explore with our HOD's, we stock test, we location recce etc etc. But on the day it's such a short amount of time that you have with everyone actually there in that moment to make that thing work, and there are always going to be new ideas that come up and new problems to solve, and you really can't prepare enough for that. The idea of being able to test shoot scenes and really explore them thoroughly on screen before the actual shoot sounds amazing to me and I want to try it. Next time I will. I know I prepare a huge amount for my projects, but I always come away with notes-to-self saying stuff like "Prepare more. Compromise less." So I guess I would do both those things … the beauty of filmmaking is that you never stop learning – everything you take from one project is carried onto the next, so in that sense maybe I shouldn’t do anything differently at all, because I feel in a brilliant place for my next project having made NASTY – but that’s the filmmaking addict talking.
What has been the most valuable lesson you've learned so far about filmmaking?
To get on with it. Don’t wait around for someone else to give you money or some kind of ‘pass’ to make a film. You’ll be waiting a long time. Just do it yourself with whatever means you’ve got. That way you’ll also be doing it your own unique way.
What has been the best advice you have been given?
I remember asking a director mentor once on advice about working with actors. He told me “just cast good actors”. I loved that. It’s great advice. It’s important that as a director you understand an actors process and can shape a performance and drama, but if you don’t find the right people to work with in the first place then you make your job a hundred times harder.
As a filmmaker what advice would you offer fellow filmmakers?
If they were starting out I would say… Learn to edit, read lots of scripts, let your mind wonder and be inspired. Find great collaborators, treat people with kindness and respect, watch loads of films, but most of all – make films, just get on with it and do it with whatever means you have.
And finally what do you hope people will take away from your work?
I hope it unsettles people slightly and makes people think. That it entertains and amuses people in its own weird way. To different degrees within my films I identify a desire to inspire change – to encourage us to look at things with new perspective, to look at ourselves, the world, our behaviour, to realize the occasional absurdity of it all and become more free and understanding… but if people just enjoy it then that’s fine too!