For too long ‘She’ (Fiona Dourif – True Blood, Curse of Chucky) has been downtrodden, the victim of an unbalanced relationship, a controlling partner. Strangling the last drop of any true love ‘She’ once felt for him, ‘He’ (Phillip James – The Drummond Will) is about to feel the vengeance of a woman scorned. As ‘She’ finally makes her stand.
‘SHE’ is the kind of thing we really like to get behind here at Back To The Movies. A low budget, intense, indie, revenge film, brought to us by a couple of up and coming British writer/directors, and featuring a sparse, two person cast that oozes raw talent and potential.
It’s no coincidence that the film has been selected to premiere at Film 4s annual horror Goliath, FrightFest. With audience reaction so far ranging from favorable to traumatized (in a good way though), the fifteen minute short seems to be doing its job and showcasing the abundance of talent at the heart of this graphic little creation.
So it was with great anticipation, that Back To The Movies sat down with writer/director Mark Vessey and ‘She’ herself, Miss Fiona Dourif.
Mark, how did you come across Kickstarter, the crowdfunding website you used to raise some of the funds?
Mark: I think I learned of Kickstarter round about the time that Zach Braff funded his own project. I actively avoid news when I can but I’m guessing this was round about the time that crowdfunding really blew up. Narcissistically, it was something I never really paid much attention to until considering it for ‘SHE’. I still have mixed opinions on it, despite it playing a large part in bringing my work to life, but that’s a rant for another time.
Had you and Chelsey (Burdon, co-director/co-writer) already met by then?
Mark: Yes, Chelsey and I were collaborators a while before we took the crowdfunding route, but not that long. In fact it was probably less than a month since our first meeting before I sent Chelsey the first draft (then under the working title of No Love Lost) so we didn’t waste any time creating our own brand of evil.
Once you started, how quickly did the funding come together?
Mark: It wasn’t a quick and easy process by any means. The preparation, promotion and process of the Kickstarter project took about two months (which is impressive, I think, as the suggested period of time to dedicate is about a year) but additional expenses, self-funding and various other aspects dragged it out a bit longer than expected.
Did you find social media played a part in spreading the word and helping to get the ball rolling?
Mark: Oh definitely. A huge part. A good part of our backers/’fans’ are fans of Fiona who found us through twitter. Social media is an integral part of indie filmmaking, in my opinion.
Fiona, you have somewhat of a reputation between your fans for interacting with them via social media. Is that something you enjoy?
Fiona:Are you kidding me? Yes! I love that people are into my work. I just hope I can give them back as much as they give me.
What perks did you offer your backers for helping fund the project Mark?
Mark: Perks varied from signed & unsigned posters, DVDs, stills & scripts. Sadly we didn’t have the resources or fanbase to offer anything outside of the norm, but one (un)lucky backer will be receiving a very special prop at our premiere. That’ll be fun. The project page can be found here – https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1556523854/she-short-horror-film
Did you attract your cast and crew before or after you secured funding?
Mark: We had the majority of our crew a while before we initiated the project, and Fiona was the first person we got on board. It would have been an entirely different process, and film, had we not got named cast & crew members on board.
I guess it all depends on the strength of the project. Like I said, Fiona was the first person we got on board and we had nothing to show for ourselves at the time other than an unfinished script. It’s not impossible to do either of the things you mentioned, but if you have a project that people can believe in and get behind, then the true camaraderie of the indie community shines forth.
Did you maintain creative control over the project or did you allow your colleagues to pitch in?
Mark: Naturally we had the final word on every creative aspect of the film, but we encouraged cast & crew members to challenge us and bring their own suggestions to the table. This made the production process an absolute blast and ensured everything ran smoothly. It’s something I would advise every person in a creative position in the film industry to do. You’re nothing without these people so don’t treat them like they are your puppets. Collaborate with everyone.
Naturally every experience has it’s pros & cons. What were Kickstarters?
Mark: The pros outweigh the cons, in number at least. It’s a fantastic way to build a fanbase and interact with people, but also to be more ambitious than you previously thought possible. When we first started out we toyed with the idea of starring in it ourselves (something that will be quite hilarious once people have seen the film) and shooting on whatever we could afford: i.e. not much more than our phones.
The major cons are a different beast entirely. Kickstarter is a very divisive thing in the indie & horror community. There’s a belief that if you don’t entirely fund your own project and bankrupt yourself (which we did, by the way) than you can’t be taken seriously as an indie filmmaker. Others see it as panhandling and disrespectful to the true (elitist) spirit of low-budget horror.
Another major con is that people see it as an easy, assured option of getting their own film made. It isn’t. I believe there has to be a balance. I don’t agree with people like Spike Lee using crowdfunding to escape the clutches of studio execs (how about you just sell your mansion?) and I don’t agree with people using it for every single project and not putting their own money in.
Not to blow our own horns, but I believe we conducted ourselves in just the right way.
What advice would you offer to people in your position, considering the KickStarter approach?
Mark: Be realistic and evaluate what you have, but also be ambitious and don’t be afraid to take risks. I would also advise people to make a no-budget project beforehand to give people a reason to believe in you. Make sure everything is as strong as it can be. If you don’t have marketable aspects to your film (i.e. a named actress, crew member) then spend at least a year promoting the project and building a fanbase before kicking it into action. Offer innovative and exciting perks & make an engaging video explaining why people should help you. And don’t fuck up.
Obviously you weren’t looking to break the bank with ‘SHE’, what was your budget?
Mark: Under £10,000. We ended up raising over our Kickstarter target, coming just shy of 4k, and the rest was self-funded.
And the shooting schedule? Would I be correct in assuming it was pretty tight?
Mark: We shot on location at a rented accommodation in London. Naturally, with our low budget we couldn’t afford a lengthy schedule, but we managed to wrap in two days with minimal hiccups along the way.
Fiona, would you say this the smallest budget you’ve had to work with?
Fiona:Apart from friend’s projects in my living room? Professionally? Yes. Though I am happy to work with smaller budgets if I like the project.
How did it feel going from a multi-million dollar production, with a lengthy shooting schedule (Curse of Chucky) to a much smaller budget and with an even tighter schedule?
Fiona:(Laughs) This is a great misconception. Actually Chucky felt more rushed than ‘She’. When you’re working with a lot of money and an elaborate puppet, there isn’t much time allotted to actors. We had to cut whole scenes out at the end of Chucky just to finish the movie.
So Mark, how long was the editing process?
Mark: Editing started more or less straight away after we wrapped, and we got the first cut back in just under a month (on my birthday!) Post-production wrapped around May time, due in part to all of us living miles away from each other and having various other commitments. It was an arduous journey, but rewarding all the same.
Which was the most enjoyable part of ‘SHE’?
Mark: Ask me that question next month and I’ll probably say the premiere, unless we get rotten vegetables pelted at us. I imagine most people would say production, but I’m going to be different and say development. The writing stage was where I was at my most creative, and it was a very relaxed and enjoyable process. Pre-production and shooting were both very exciting, but there was a lot of pressure and expectancy on us to deliver. Plus writing is my forte, so I felt in my environment and had a lot of fun with it.
The additions of Fiona and Phillip James to your cast must have been a dream come true. How did you attract the two of them to the project?
Mark: Phillip was picked from a wide selection of actors who we auditioned. In fact, his audition was so good that we amended one of our scenes to fit his mannerisms and actions.
Fiona was entirely different. We discovered her at the Curse of Chucky screening at FrightFest 2013, and I instantly knew she was absolutely perfect for the role. Chelsey agreed, but expressed concern that she was too big and we were too small, and so we abandoned the idea for a while. After failing to find a suitable fit on casting websites, I took a risk and sent her the script. Not long after we received a reply saying she loved it and it was exactly what she had been looking to do. So the morale of the story is: be confident in your work. Send that script to Scarlett Johansson, what’s the worst that can happen?
So what was it you liked about the project Fiona? What stood out and made you want to be a part of this?
Fiona:The script I’d say. I liked how quiet the story is– how weirdly meditative it feels until the very end… I was also reassured by Mark and Chelsea’s emails, which were smart and thought-through. I thought it could be quite good– and it is!
So is it true that your dad (Brad Dourif – Child’s Play, Lord of the Rings, Deadwood) advised you to dive into the indie film scene and enjoy it? That’s where you have the most fun?
Fiona:No, not really. My dad really only talks about how to make the work good- and yes sometimes indie film collaboration has more elements that help with that- but he’s found TV quite satisfying as well. I think Deadwood is one of the projects he cherishes the most.
Mark, how did you go about writing? How did you approach this project?
Mark: Writing started with me toying with a single idea and then writing around it. The finished product was a 4-5 minute black comedy. I wasn’t really happy with it, so sat on it for a while and worked on other things. I was talking to Chelsey a lot at the time, and decided to send her the script to look over and see if she had any suggestions. This blossomed into a collaborative partnership where we spent our every waking moment building the scripts and forever adding & altering. Fun fact: Chelsey, arguably the happier & more charismatic of the two, stripped all humor and added a lot of “grimness”. Something which, in theory, should have been the other way round.
So what would you say inspired the story?
Mark: The initial idea began with me trying to conceive something that hadn’t been done before, as I was growing increasingly despondent with the state of modern horror. I can’t give too much away, but I was watching a lot of Antichrist at the time. Something I expect will be quite evident upon viewing.
Did you look at hiring a visual effects team?
Mark: Certainly not, and I hopefully never will. I’m very anti-CGI, and am of the belief that if it can’t be done practically than it shouldn’t be done at all (on a smaller scale of course.) Obviously things in blockbusters cannot be done practically, but I think Inception & Irreversible (3D penis aside) are good examples of utilizing both well.
How have you found shrouding the film in secrecy but keeping up the anticipation?
Mark: It’s been fun and exciting. I think a lot of the excitement for people has come from how little they actually know. Most of the people that have seen the film so far have said it wasn’t what they were expecting, and that’s mostly intentional. Throwing people’s expectations (in a good way) is a sign of good filmmaking.
Describe the feeling you experienced on learning about the premiere.
Mark: Remember that time when Tom Cruise made an international fool of himself on TV by jumping on sofas, etc. on the revelation that he had successfully brainwashed Katie Holmes? It was like that, but x1000. A thousand Tom Cruises.
So pretty sickly then? Have you looked at distribution methods for afterwards?
Mark: We’re currently exploring different options. A limited DVD run followed by VOD seems likely, but nothing concrete at the moment.
Now you’re about to see your own creation screened to an audience at FrightFest, do you feel this project opened doors for you?
Mark: In terms of Hollywood execs throwing bags of money at us: no. What it has done is given me a lot of confidence and experience in directing and filmmaking in general, and also an actress and crew that I want to work with in almost everything I do.
Fiona, how does it feel to have a movie you’re attached to showing at FrightFest for the second year running?
Fiona:Fun! I had a blast at FrightFest last year! I had a blast with Paul McEvoy, Mike Hewitt and Don Manicini of course, who I would travel anywhere with. We went out all night and watched horror movies by day. What could be better?
And did you enjoy your trip to the UK?
Fiona: Yeah I really dug it. I actually spent 4 years in Dublin when I was 18. I even did my leaving certificate (like your A-levels), so I’ve spent a good amount of time on the British Isles. Though yes, I’m very aware Ireland is NOT the UK. But it had been years since I had been that way so it was nice to head over.
Looking to the future Mark, what projects do you have lined up? What will we be seeing from Mark Vessey & Chelsey Burdon in the future?
Mark: We have one very exciting project that we will be announcing on/after our premiere that we’re shrouding in secrecy for now, but I also have a lot of shorts in various stages of development. The Goat, which centres around a doomsday ritual gone awry, is the first script I’ve finished since ‘SHE’, but it has to be shelved until I have the sufficient resources and people brave enough to make it.
And yourself Fiona? You look to have some interesting projects on the horizon. Fear Clinic, Prescious Mettle, Origami Fox. What else do you have in the pipeline?
Fiona:I’m really excited for Origami Fox. I really liked the script and the director, and the cast they assembled was great. I have a few things coming down the wire as they say but I’m sort of not allowed to talk about them till things fall into place. I’m also writing which is fun and challenging.
If the film is well received Mark, then what are the chances of ‘SHE’ being adapted into a feature?
Mark: We’ve made it very clear since the beginning that we won’t be adapting ‘SHE’ into anything other than it already is, as it will simply not work. The running time & characterisation are just as they need to be, and anything more or less will detract from what we have already created.
And finally,Mark, looking to the future, what would your ideal big budget project be?
Mark: I have three big budget dream projects. A female led heist movie, a “life flashing before your eyes” type deal similar to the production style of Boyhood and the now abandoned von Trier project, and a Salo remake entitled CXX Days. I hate Salo and feel there needs to be a proper adaption of the infinitely disturbing and incredible novel, but I plan on it being the last thing I do before retiring/dying as people would just hate me.
Mark Fiona, thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
Keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming review of the film right here at Back To The Movies’SHE’ will be receiving its world premiere at Film 4 FrightFest on Saturday 23rd August at 12:45pm, VUE cinema Leicester Square.