The second installment of how I produced an award-winning sixty-eight minute horror film on a budget of three hundred pounds in 1994.
Following a couple of months of rehearsal and preparations, on the 1st May 1994 the embryonic film unit that was 3DF Films – named after the initials of the Director, Composer, and two Co-Producers – Duquemin; Davison; Denton; Feely – gathered for the first day of actual photography.
We had a shooting schedule – yay us! – and even in my naivety I had realised that location needed to be the determining factor for shooting, not script order. Not only were there organisational considerations – getting film equipment, people, and props into a location takes time and once you’re there you want to shoot everything you can, in one go – but there were also access issues. The script called for shoots in some locations e.g. a bar and a library which we could only access on Sundays.
So on Sunday 1st May 1994 we arrived at Baloo’s – a local bar owned and run by a friend who had kindly agreed to let us shoot there (thanks, Neil!) We all hung out there most of the time anyway, so it was almost like shooting at home.
The scenes in question were from about twenty minutes into the script, with protagonist Jim celebrating inheriting a fortune with his friends Patrick and Leo. It was a night scene but we would be shooting during the day so the first order of business was blacking out the windows.
We got very used to doing this, as you do when you shoot a horror that is mostly night scenes, but necessarily shot during the day.
In terms of difficulty, it was a baptism of fire – being a bar scene, it required a lot of extra’s which necessarily made shifting equipment for different set-ups more time-consuming and awkward. We also had a lot of material to cover, a lot of angles and dialogue, and all with an entirely new and untested crew.
Oh and the first death in the film had to happen, a fatal stabbing in the street outside.
Yeah, that was a stressful day, but we got through it and for the first time we had some basic footage to show for it.
Some memories and reflections from the ensuing six-month shoot:
- It went on forever. God, it felt like we would never be finished. Whereas we had a shooting schedule that broke up the script into specific chunks, there were inevitably lots of changes to when those specific chunks would actually get filmed. Things got in the way.
- We were pretty ambitious with visual effects, considering we had sod-all money. We wanted the Drell Vorgora (the vampires) to have a non-human facial appearance, something the Buffy television series hit on a few years later. My friend Tenpole had drawn a fantastic sketch, incorporating spiralling grooved patterns into a partially bestial face. He then produced rubber casts which we glued onto the actor’s faces- what we hadn’t anticipated was that because the casts were glued air tight, and covered the nose, we could make them ‘pulse’ slightly by breathing in and out. That was cool.
- Meanwhile, my friend Jon produced individually-fitted vampire teeth for the three vampire actors, triangular knives that looked like they were made of slate, and a severed head matched to the actor who got killed at the finale of the film. Said severed head was painstakingly individually threaded with hair; said actor then got his hair cut down to a number one during shooting, meaning the whole thing with the hair had been a waste of time. Hmmmmm.
- When you’re doing a B movie vampire film, you want gore and you want blood. And as we discovered, fake blood is not as easy to manufacture as you might think. It has some odd qualities, being dark, sticky, and viscous. Ordinary shoots use professional fake blood – yeah, that’s a thing – but remember we had no money. We ended up with some bizarre concoction of coffee, syrup, and food colouring in the end.
- We learned on the job how different film acting is to theatrical acting. When you’re on the stage, you have a live relationship with an audience sat at least twenty feet away from you; on a film-set your audience is effectively that box sat on the cameraman’s shoulder! And crucially the actor does not determine what the audience does and doesn’t see, via his positioning – the cameraman does that, too. Also there is a critical difference in terms of distance – when you shoot a film the audience may be as far away from you as twenty feet but equally they may – and usually are – much much closer. This means that filmic acting calls for a much more subdued subtle style. All of my actors were from a stage background so this was a big adjustment for them.
- We also learned about the limitations of acting ability. Had we been making a slasher, all your antagonist needs to do is pull on a mask and pick up a chainsaw / axe / machete / razor blade etc. But our antagonists were conceived as ‘thinking animals’, both simple and complex, hundreds of years old and possessed of superhuman strength, dexterity and senses. A bunch of twentysomethings struggled somewhat to put that across. I’m allowed to say this – I was one of those actors.
- I had no idea how important lighting was, I thought it was….well, just the process of lighting so you could see what you were filming. I had no idea that lighting actually shaped, changed, and determined the terrain of a scene. I came to think of lighting as ‘sculpting in space’ and to this day I think my co-producer Chris is a bit of a genius at it.
It is worth adding that we learned a lot about timing, scheduling, and the discipline of filming. When we made our second film in 1995, we got the shoot down to two and a half months, and films three and four were shot over sixteen-day continuous shoots.
Anyway, sometime around November 1994 we finished principal photography and moved into the post-production phase. For me, the big thing that came out of that was the importance of music. I had a sense that it was important of course and I had my own list of favourite movie themes. But to see an edited scene before and after the score is added…makes you understand the enormous contribution of the music to the overall emotional impact of the scene.
Our composer, Nick, did a brilliant main theme which runs over the closing credits. It was called, ‘Retreat From Nature’, which links beautifully to the central concept of the film on two levels – firstly, our protagonist, Jim is literally retreating from nature (as symbolised by the Drell Vorgora), but beyond that, there is a general idea in the script that mankind itself has retreated from nature, with its cities and technology.
And on a personal note, I always chuckle at the lyrics of, ‘You’re Gone’, one of the pop songs that Nick composed to play in the background of the bar scenes:
Back to the wanking’
The finished version of, ‘Blood Hunt’ was finally screened to the public in January 1995 – it’s on You Tube and IMDB if you want to take a look: