Short Film Corner 2022
Tobi Coventry (Producer)
May 9th, 2022
Three young girls with a monstrous secret start to unravel in the English Fens.
Hello Tobi, it’s great to get to talk with you, how have you been keeping after everything that’s been happening?
It’s been pretty intense, to be honest. Lots of anxiety and uncertainty, but work has kept going, and lots of fun projects on the go. So, a mixed bag!
Have you been able to remain creative at least?
I’d actually say that the past couple of years have been the most creative of my life. Blood Rites has allowed me to work with a host of passionate, resilient creative people. It’s been amazing and really kept me going.
What does it mean for you to be apart of the Cannes Short Film Corner with your Blood Rites and what do you hope to take away from this experience?
I’m really excited for the film, which was such a labour of love and effort, to be out in the world. This is my first film as a producer, so I’m looking forward to connecting with other producers and filmmakers and enjoying the ride.
As a producer how important is it for festivals to give and offer multiple platforms for short films?
It’s very important. Short films, in my opinion, should be more than just for industry – they can be exciting content for people to enjoy and be inspired from, and I think there should be more and better access to these films.
What was it about Polly Stenham’s screenplay that interested you so much?
Polly can create a unique character with just a word of dialogue, it’s amazing. When I optioned the short story, Polly was the first and only writer I took it to. I loved her modern take on the themes with Blood Rites, her brilliant sense of atmosphere and the uncanny, the dark humour and grime that added something extra special and unnerving to the story. This is a horror film where we follow the monsters, and that made me very excited – there was a lot of emotion and fun in the script which felt very fresh. I remember the first time I read the first draft of the screenplay, on a train after a creative weekend working with Polly. I got goosebumps – I thought ‘this is magic.’
Once you had this script what where you next steps in making this short film a reality?
I pitched it to BBC Film, who went on to fund the project and we started the process of developing the script and looking for a director. Our exec at the BBC really challenged us and pushed to tell the story we wanted to tell, and explore the film creatively, which was a lot of fun.
Did you already have an idea of who you wanted to direct Blood Rites?
I knew that I wanted the director to be a woman, and someone excited by horror, but also a person who connected strongly to the material. I was very lucky – there were about five or six directors who were keen to make the film, so I had a choice. When I met Helena and heard her vision and ideas, as well as her evident tenacity, it was a no-brainer. Also, her documentary background meant she knew how to construct a story very confidently. We both realised we are two weirdos with a love of horror that centres on emotion and intrigue. Helena is a force to be reckoned with, and her vision, kindness and persistence meant I was in very safe hands.
"This is a film that doesn’t explain itself too much, and some of that evolved in the edit, but the screenplay is so special that we didn’t need to move too far from it."
What has been the process like for you working with Polly and director Helena Coan on this film?
Truly incredible. It’s been a really collaborative experience and we’re a great team. Polly and Helena are both very talented, experienced and professional, and very generous creatively – I’ve had a lot of pinch myself moments to be honest, making this film. I feel very lucky to have learnt from them both, and ultimately it’s been a hell of a lot of fun.
What has been the most challenging aspect of making Blood Rites?
Making a short film in the middle of a pandemic is something I would never like to do again. I’ll say that much! Further than that, we knew we wanted to make a horror film that was challenging in itself – in Blood Rites you follow the monsters themselves, and the goal was to make these characters exciting, dangerous, and also vulnerable, so that the audience could decide how they felt about these girls for themselves. I have to give a special shout-out to our cast, Mirren Mack, Ella-Rae Smith and Ellis George, who totally embodied these girls. Also, we had an ambitious shoot, and a tight Schedule, which was scary, but my co-producer, Lorine Plagnol, and our DOP, Simona Susnea, and First AD, Julian Lara-Cid were absolute pros, and we got it done.
With a screenplay like this how close do you like to stick to the text, is there much flexibility?
There was some flexibility. Certain scenes were slightly changed, and things moved around to serve locations and schedules, but not much. This is a film that doesn’t explain itself too much, and some of that evolved in the edit, but the screenplay is so special that we didn’t need to move too far from it. Helena added some amazing, really visceral VFX and stylistic touches that elevated everything even further.
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
Jurassic Park and The Exorcist! Those were two films growing up that fuelled my obsession with film, especially horror. I grew up gay in a small, pretty boring town, and watched films and read books avidly to escape and find drama in the world. I would go to Blockbuster and look at the images on the back of the horror tapes, and terrify myself. I realised there was a power there, and then I realised I had a million ideas and wanted to make my own films.
Your the founder of Dialogue Scouting how did this come about and is there any book out there you’d really love to see adapted into a film or TV series?
I’ve run Dialogue Scouting, which is a book scouting company for film & TV producers, for about seven years now. I started the job as a way of working closely with production companies. I’ve always loved adaptation so it felt right. Blood Rites is actually based on a short story by Daisy Johnson. I am absolutely dying to see Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie adapted. It’s got everything, including an amazing soundtrack…
Now that you have produced a horror short are there any other genre of films you keen to produce?
I want to do a gay love story, or a queer thriller. Or maybe even an 80s style action story with weird characters. Gay Sexy Die Hard sounds pretty appealing to me.
What would you say have been the most valuable lessons you’ve taken from making Blood Rites?
Saying ‘I don’t know’ and asking for help, and seeing how kind, supportive and inclusive the filmmaking community is. People are amazing.
Do you have any tips or advice to offer future producer?
I would say make sure the material you are working with inspires you, and keeps you going. Find something that you really connect with and your passion will push things forward. And make sure you are surrounded by people you trust and who inspire you. Making a short film is hard, but so rewarding.
Is there any advice you wish you had known before you started out on your filmmaking journey?
Patience – you’re going to need a lot of it. More than you ever thought possible. Blood Rites took me nearly five years… And you will probably cry.
And finally, what would you like audiences to take away from Blood Rites?
I hope the film tells people to fly their freak flags and enjoy their monstrosities, but mostly I hope people have a lot of fun and feel beguiled …and maybe a bit hungry.