Tuesday, 12 March 2013

interview: Alex Chandon

Alex Chandon is the enfant terrible of British horror, director of Bad Karma, Drillbit, Pervirella and Cradle of Fear. This interview was conducted in November 2001 and a short extract was used for a feature in Fangoria.

What was the inspiration that made you want to make Cradle of Fear?
"Well, I’d directed two promos for Cradle of Filth. The first one ‘From the Cradle to Enslave’ went off and did really really well. We put two and two together and thought let’s make a film featuring the band. So that was the initial catalyst. Then sitting in the pub, as you do, and chucking around ideas, we just thought at the end of the day it’s going to be easier to do an anthology. Because we knew we wouldn’t have a huge budget and it would be a nightmare to keep people working for us and keep the same actors and stars for more than a few days.

“As soon as we thought ‘Right, it’s an anthology-type movie,’ that was the catalyst to come up with some stories. Then it was a case of raising the money. We didn’t find much encouragement with the normal British film industry, funnily enough. So when it was the year 2000, everything was going very 2000-y - this was in January - I just thought I’d raise the money myself. Which is what I tried to do - and it worked."

So where did the money actually come from?
"From about 40 different people all putting in small amounts. All private investment. It was literally ringing them up, showing them the business proposal, showing them the video for the band, letting them know what they were getting themselves in for - see if they went for it. I think the fact that Cradle of Filth are doing quite well - they’ve just signed to Sony - that helped. As far as I’m concerned, even though I didn’t want it to be a heavy metal film, I was quite happy for it to be based on their imagery. Quite dark and gothic and covered in blood. In those respects there was that sort of mutual attraction and it all seemed to work."

How did you and the band first get together?
"Just doing stuff in the past. A model who was in one of the Cradle of Filth photoshoots gave the art director a copy of Pervirella and he was looking for a director for their promo. I think the band had already seen Bad Karma and Drillbit. So we just met up on the strength of that and got on like a house on fire straightaway. I went off and did that video and they all loved it."

Did the band have much creative input into the film?
"The lead singer Dani did more than anyone else. Not so much in the storylines, although he was always there, but I pretty much wrote everything. But I asked him about the sequences featuring him. I didn’t want him to do anything he was uncomfortable with, and I also didn’t want to stray too far from the image that he had for the band. The fans would be disappointed if he wore a pin-stripe suit and a bowler hat!"

He’s the character who is a puppet of the real villain, yes?
"Yes. We called him The Man. We never actually name the character but in the script he’s just called The Man. He’s the spectral link between the stories, avenging his father’s incarceration for eating too many children. The difficult thing about working with a band was that they had so many commitments with tours and photoshoots and writing albums, so it was very difficult to pin down Dani for his sequences. We used all the other band members in cameos, but it was tricky just finding them, let alone keeping them there for a day and filming them. Doing photoshoots is different: they’re the stars of the piece and they can look into the camera and mess around for five hours and get really drunk. But on film you can’t get that drunk! And I always had to say to stop looking into the lens.

“Apart from that, we had all the other problems you have with low-budget films. But I think my strength was, having done stuff like Pervirella before, learning from mistakes that we’d made, I’d learnt how to use low-budget and make it look more expensive than it is. Getting good results, using a good crew, a lot of people I’d worked with before. A lot of people from the industry have actually given their services for nothing so that’s why we had a good level of, say, effects work."

The movie looks a lot more professional than Pervirella, which was deliberately cheesy fun. How have have you as a film-maker progressed from Pervirella?
"Pervirella was a brilliant experience, especially because we shot on super-16 so I can actually say that I’ve shot something on film. But I say now and I said then that it was more Josh Collins’ film in quite a few respects. In a way, I was making his film, even down to him having final say on the edits. He deliberately wanted that kitsch, cheesy look, so it was difficult to bring something super-slick to that. That’s not what he wanted, which is fair enough. I think with Pervirella we achieved that kitsch, fun, you-can-see-the-strings sort of look.

“I guess it was doing that first promo for Cradle of Filth: we were under pressure with a deadline and they wanted it to be super-slick. So that was a chance for me to do horror with a decent budget and see if I could make something really nice. Everyone was blown away by that so we realised we could do this. So I did see it as a big change from Pervirella. Pervirella was supposed to be that sort of cheesy look. I always wanted to make something slick and nice but to do that I knew that I needed to have people around me. With the birth of digital video, you can shoot something reasonably cheap and get a look almost equivalent to 16mm. I had the right medium and time and crew to be able to do something this slick. I’m really pleased that it looks this good - now I can’t wait to get my hands on ten times the budget and see what I can do with that."

Can you say what the budget was?
"I can’t really because it’s a bit of a double-edged sword. It was a low budget but I don’t want to say how low it was because we’re still trying to get distribution deals. If I’d had more money I don’t think it would have made the film much better, but it would have bought us all piece of mind. It was two years unpaid, everyone put a lot of effort into it. Obviously we want to make some money out of it, hence the way we’re selling it at the moment through the website, but when we do the next film we don’t want someone to say: ‘Here’s the same amount of money, give me the same sort of film.’

“There’s only so much you can do for nothing and it gets to a point where you just think: ‘Fuck it, I want a house, I want a car, I want money, I want a few luxuries.’ Also to make a film where I don’t have to rely on my mates. They’ve done it for ten years now so they’re getting a bit pissed off, so it would be nice just to sort them out. I’m still using the same effects people that I used on Bad Karma."

Have they gone on to other things?
"Duncan Jarman at the moment is doing Stig of the Dump but he’s just come off Band of Brothers and before that was Saving Private Ryan. And he’s won two Emmys for Hallmark productions. He did Arabian Knights and Jason and the Argonauts and Alice in Wonderland, which he won the Emmy for. And Dominic Hailstone, who came in on Drillbit, he did the Aphex Twin video ‘Come to Daddy’ that won all the awards. He recently did Farscape and he worked recently on Danny Boyle’s new film. He’s directing a short film now. So yes, a lot of our team are doing bigger and better things. I’m finding it quite a struggle because what we’re doing is quite a niche market in the UK. I think in America there’s far more independent horror films and independent productions as a whole, but in the UK the industry doesn’t encourage commercial films, especially horror/gore/slasher/effects films."

Regarding the level of violence and gore, were you mindful of what might get past the BBFC or did you just throw it all in regardless?
"It was sort of the opposite. I was mindful of not getting an 18 certificate. Basically I didn’t want to get an 18 because I knew we weren’t going to get a certificate when we were selling it ourselves. We found we could do it legally over the internet as long as the video was actually sold from Holland. So we avoided getting a certificate, saved all that money. It would probably be about £2,000 and I think they’d cut a couple of scenes so then we’d have to recut it at our own cost, so it can be much more than that. So we just thought it’s not worth it. Also we thought it would be nice to know we couldn’t get an 18.

“But one guy from the BBFC came to the screening at the Prince Charles. He got in contact and he thought if we got them on a lucky day it might get passed uncut. Another chap who works for the BBFC said they’d have problems with the scene with the cat, even though, as you said, it does look quite fake! But I think it’s the principle of animal violence. They don’t like it: cats and breasts. That’s why the blood-on-tits shot was in there."

Are you establishing yourself as the enfant terrible of British indie horror cinema?
"Only by default, I think. The fact that there isn’t anyone else really doing this. Because I did the Cradle of Filth promos and now this, and nothing else inbetween. Someone’s approached us about developing one of the short stories into a longer feature. So that will take us down the same road, and then more Cradle of Filth videos next year, and I’ve got another idea for a horror film. As I say, if there were other people in England, I would love to have competition. And I do know other people in England but it’s so difficult to make something. I would love a bit of competition but there doesn’t seem to be any and I’m quite happy to take that crown."

So where has Cradle of Fear shown so far?
"Frightfest was brilliant because that was Leicester Square in London, the Prince Charles Cinema, projected from the digibeta master. It just looked absolutely amazing on the big screen, like a real film. Full cinema, brilliant response. Since then, it’s been a quiet time of year for festivals and also we missed a lot of deadlines for Halloween stuff. It was recently shown at the German Halloween Filmfest which Eileen Daly attended and we won Best Special Effects, which was cool. Eileen said it wasn’t a big festival but it was up against independent films. Then it was shown on Hollywood Boulevard, again on Halloween, and it won Best Editing and Best Special Effects."

Have you had any interest from any distributors?
"Yes, that’s what’s going on at the moment. It’s a priority but we don’t want to do a release now, we want to do it after Christmas, so we’re not in a desperate hurry to sign the first offer that comes along. At the moment we’re talking to two reasonably big video distributors in the UK and we’ve got a sales agent in America. We’ve got a couple of chaps in America interested. A lot of people are interested in the DVD as well, which is something that we deliberately try not to talk about. We’re just saying that there might be something very special for next year. So the bottom line is that we are talking to distributors but we’re also looking for distribution so if anyone’s reading this and likes the movie...

“It’s difficult to find territories in the Far East. Cradle of Filth are quite big in Japan but we haven’t had any orders from Japan, which we put down to the translation problem with the internet. So there’s markets that we want to break, but they’re quite difficult to get into. But it’s early days as far as we’re concerned. Even getting stuff in Fangoria is a dream come true because it’s a magazine I grew up with. Stuff like this, letting people know it’s finished and it’s out there, will hopefully benefit us in the long run and lead to more sales and more outlets."

Who are your horror influences?
"They are Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson, Paul Verhoeven, Martin Scorsese, early John Carpenter. I haven’t seen John Carpenter do anything good for a long time. Maybe They Live was the last thing that I thought was half-decent. But his early stuff was masterful so I don’t know what happened. Maybe he just stopped taking drugs or got married or something. Same with George Romero. Early Romero, early Argento, early Cronenberg. Starship Troopers was my favourite film of recent times, and before that Jacob’s Ladder. But there’s been nothing in the horror scene from America that I’ve liked for so long. Oriental films turn me on at the moment. I’ve been two years in the wilderness, editing Cradle of Fear, so I’m playing catch-up. Not so much The Ring and Audition, which are spooky, but extreme stuff that they’re getting away with like Evil Dead Trap, which I think is just whacked: Fulci meets Argento meets John Woo."

What about the influence of British horror, such as Amicus?
"Those are the directors that influenced me. What they were doing was low-budget stuff. But as far as films go, what I grew up with was the Hammer double-bills on BBC2, then Appointment with Fear on ITV which usually showed Amicus ones: Tales from the Crypt, Asylum, Vault of Horror and all those films. They were always my favourites. I do think they went into my subconscious. So the stories weren’t that difficult to write. I watched those films and realised that you don’t have to state the obvious. Like: why should there be zombies? You just have zombies - and it’s cool. Also filming it in England with English accents, it’s always going to have that English thing.

“It was brilliant that people like Alan Jones and yourself mentioned films like Asylum and Tales from the Crypt. Dani Filth absolutely adores all the Hammer films. He would die for Christopher Lee’s signature. He just loves that old retro stuff and I think that’s where we want to go. Obviously we want a bit of a budget and we want castles, something really gothic and atmospheric. I love the hectic gore and it was fun doing it on this, but I’d like to tone things down a little; still be quite heavy but maybe a bit more serious instead of comical. But having said that, if you can fuse the two - like Bad Taste and Evil Dead - and it works, then I think that makes it quite a fun film to watch.

“I’m always concerned about what my audience think rather than what I think, and I’m quite keen on giving people a good time. So I wouldn’t make something like David Lynch’s Eraserhead now. I’d make that if I was successful. I always get pissed off with a film like Funny Games which has got the most ridiculous plot thing at the end which just fucks up the whole film. I just think that’s a cop-out in film-making. Blair Witch again - I think that’s brilliantly experimental idea on film, but it made me feel seasick. I hated it and its whiny accents. But I just thought the idea was brilliant. If I’d seen that film on video I’d have thought it was amazing, but I think it just put out the wrong idea about horror films at that particular time.

“I’m finding people like Cradle of Fear because they like the old school: stab, slash 'em up, bit of sex, no redeeming characters, everyone dies, it’s great. I didn’t know about Rob Zombie’s film, House of 1,000 Corpses, until we were making ours. Rob Zombie is a metal icon in America, a bit like Dani Filth is in the UK, and he was saying that he was doing this film which was a throwback to the '80s horror films - loads of violence and heavy metal. We were both going to finish at the same time, which we did. But he can’t get his released because he went with Universal. That’s obviously a benefit of doing something independently like we did. But I wish him luck on getting it released. I hear rumours that it’s coming out on DVD but no-one’s saying who’s releasing it, which makes me think of Jim Van Bebber’s experience with Charlie’s Family, when someone else gets hold of it and releases it because people want to see it. It’s a funny old world.

“I think there will be a backlash against CGI as well - that’s getting a bit boring. I think we used computer graphics quite well in a couple of shots, with some of the violence, like the stabbing through the cheek. I like to do that - use computer graphics with real make-up and really try and fool the audience - rather than having a computer graphic creature. When you see it, you know it’s a computer graphic creature. It’s not like seeing Michael Myers as The Shape in the bedroom, which is something that still gives me the fear. I think The Others is doing it for the psychological horror. I think the gory, violent, in-your-face horror is going to come back with attitude, and if it does I’d quite like to be at the helm of that."

What was the most difficult effects shot in the film?
"We had some difficulties on the story with the Porsche. Just the visual effects. I ended up having to do a lot of them myself which is why a couple of them have got that Wacky Races quality to them. But that was difficult because the guy whose Porsche it was, basically he just lost the Porsche and we hadn’t really filmed it. It’s a long story. We’d filmed a little bit of it but we’d never filmed it with its hood up or anything like that. So I had to somehow recreate the Porsche, which had its inherent problems.

“But as far as the make-up goes, the most tricky one was the scene with Emily Booth, when she has a one-night-stand with Dani. You know what happens with her. Just because it was such a small room and that puppet was a fucking nightmare to operate. About eight people, with two girls in a state of undress - which was fine! - and about four cameras. We’ve got a photograph of the room, with twenty people in such a small space. So that was a bit of a nightmare. But having done effects before, I made sure that we spent a whole day on the effects. It’s not something we try and rush at the end of an evening. We have fun when we do it. The ‘making of’ film for this film, which we’re sticking on the DVD, is going to be an all-time classic. We had cameras rolling on everything and obviously everything went wrong. Syringes full of blood would explode backwards into the cameraman’s face. Things would fall off walls and hit people on the head. It was all going wrong, just because of what we were doing, but luckily no-one got hurt. And it’s all on film.

“Plus I think it will be educational for people who might be thinking about embarking on this about what it does take. I don’t think a lot of people realise how difficult it is to get something that looks, as you said, quite slick. The other nightmare effects scene was the whole climactic bit. Now I’ve got even more respect for Chinese films, when they do a fight scene. I know it takes ages to do it, but I thought we could do that fight scene in two days. I think it went to four and a half days, and we had to get everyone back to the location. It was just a nightmare."

Where did you find your locations?
"We got a locations manager that found us the little enchanted cottage which was brilliant. A lot of places I’ve used in the past, like the attic of my flats for The Man’s lair and we used the cellars underneath the flats for the bit with the guy with the axe, walking down the corridor. Lots of people’s houses: my granny’s house, my mum’s house, my brother’s girlfriend’s house. we used 25 locations.

“We did the club scene in a gothic-themed pub and we had to be in there at five in the morning because we had to finish at eleven o’clock when they opened the doors for the customers. We asked people to arrive in full make-up because we had no time to put make-up on all those freaks. We went round to gothic clubs and dropped fliers and told people to get to this gothic pub in the middle of the West End at five in the morning, not knowing how many people would turn up, and got seventy freaks from all over England. Stuff like that was mad. Then Oxford Street, where we just went out and filmed without permission - which I highly recommend to everyone. You can get some really nice shots of places that other people can’t, with a little video camera and a small crew. Locations were good, I was very pleased with them. We shot it all in North London so we didn’t cross the river. I’m always a bit biased towards North London so that suits me fine."

How did you pick your cast?
"I wanted to use proper actors and steer away from using my mates, so again this was a progression. Having been making this stuff for ten years, I did know loads of actors. So it was a bit of everything really. Some were proper, full-time actors, like Stuart Laing in the internet story - he’s one of the leads in South West Nine, that new film that’s come out. He’s a friend. Emily and Eileen, obviously I know them. Melissa Forti is an actress in Italy, a friend of the Italian cameraman. Some people we found off Shooting People on the internet, which is a database for film-makers.

“We did a casting session, which I’ve never done before, with people coming in off the street for the odd role. I filled a few like that. And then a couple of the dwarfs and amputees that I know - just freaks from the past! The guy that got his leg cut off, he played one of the rednecks in Bad Karma, the one that gets shot in the head. The guy that got his cock cut off in Bad Karma, Marcus Raven, he’s the art director on Cradle of Fear. I met people at the premiere who want to be in stuff. There’s this guy called Killjoy who fronts a band called Necrophagia - he’s really big in America, and he wants to be in a film, as does Casey Chaos from Amen, another big band."

How close is the finished film to what you originally envisioned?
"It’s actually pretty close. It’s one of the rare times when it’s pretty close. I was about 95 per cent happy with it, so I’d say it’s 95 per cent of what I thought it was going to be, so it’s pretty close to my initial vision. I was flabbergasted at some of the effects that we got going. Like the CGI shot at the end - stuff like that I just didn’t realise it would be that good. I was blown away by it - it just took my head off, man! I learned a lot doing the film.

“Doing the sound effects too, which was another thing that I did. I know people who run drum’n’bass record companies, and along with the Cradle of Filth music I had access to tons of music that I could mix to superglue the film. I just learnt so much on that film, creating my vision. Now, for the next film, it’s just going to go to another level and I can employ all the stuff I learnt on this. If I’d known what I know now, Cradle of Fear would have been a quite different film, just because I know you can do things quite easily that a big studio would tell you would cost billions. You can do things quite cheap and blow people away. I think we’ve done pretty well with this but I’m just desperate to get my hands on a bit more cash - so any investors out there, get in contact."

Are the band happy with the film?
"They absolutely adore it, yes. As far as they’re concerned, it’s another outlet for them and a change of image. I think they’re the first heavy metal band to have done a film, or appeared in a film, to this extent. They love it. They’ve just signed to Epic/Sony and they’re quite happy for their image not to be rubber fangs and to take it a stage further. So if this can get them taken a bit more seriously, which I think it can, then it’s good for everyone. So yes, they really like it. They’re actively helping in designing T-shirts and selling T-shirts and getting involved in publicity for it, so that’s been good. I’m on paper to direct their next promo, but I think I’ll have to wait till Easter for that.

“At the moment I’m itching to do something else, I want to get creative again, but I think I have to wait a bit and choose the right project, not sell myself short any more. Even if it takes a little more time, just do that film that will really, really make us stand out from the crowd. Cradle of Fear’s still underground at the moment. It will go much more mainstream when we get distribution, but at the moment the people who know about it, know about it and like it. We’ve been doing a lot of work spreading word of mouth and the response we’re getting is really, really positive. So we’re doing something right. We’re not burning our bridges. Also it feels like an underground film, which is what I like about it. Someone mentioned blowing it up to 35mm and putting it out at the cinema; we never even went there when we were making the film, but that would be a dream come true. Just keeping my fingers crossed. Something new happens every day at the moment: I get a new e-mail from someone who’s seen it.”

website: www.alexchandon.com
interview originally posted 28th August 2006

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