I last interviewed production designer Melanie Light in 2009. Five years on, in March 2014, Mel kindly answered a few questions to bring me up to speed on her film-making exploits.
What were you called on to design for Alex Chandon’s terrific Inbred?
"As Inbred was such a low budget - micro budget even! - feature film and at the time I would say I was still fairly new to the production design side of the industry, then I kinda was a 'make it happen' person. I did a lot of multiple jobs within the art department and this can make it hard to then focus on the real design of a film. Alex is very visual and has some great ideas and storyboards, which made my hard job easier. I loved the script when I first read it and cringed at the 'shit pump' scene. I could really see the story and loved the humour involved.
"When being told that you basically have no money and they have everything at the location you've not seen, it makes being the head of the art department very hard. You never know whether to believe them or not (this being the second time I've been told this). I took a few hero props up there with me and filled my crappy car with tools and a few dressing props from other twisted horror films I'd worked on. I was in Thirsk a week or so earlier than most people and was running about in my car finding set dressing, getting stuck in traffic, picking up a minibus, throwing things together, making fake dead goats and flame bars, organising masks and pub signs. Luckily Alex has some great connections in the SFX and VFX world and some art department stuff was already covered. Having a team of two other people and being in the middle of nowhere is something that we managed to make happen but I wouldn't like to have to do it again. I luckily got a stand-by the day before the shoot, otherwise I think the art department would have crumbled.
"I'm a very hands-on designer and art director. I like mucking in, lifting and dirtying down organs (hell, there was no one else to do it). Having the ability to do many things helps make a difference. We threw things together with what we found, which added to the style of the rustic 'inbred' British countryside.
"What I did get to dress and put together came really easy as, being a huge horror fan, I know what works for the right atmosphere with textures and colours. We had an awesome DOP who had a great grade set out in mind and the way the colours fell into place worked out really beautifully. I would love to work with Alex again and I see him as an inspirational creative person who has been very helpful within my own projects."
How and why did you make the move from production design to directing?
"Having worked on many horror films for my friends and and then a few as 'jobs' I started to feel some frustrations within the scope of the industry (not through friends' projects) and felt like: 'I could do this.' I felt like my on- and off-set experience was enough for me to make the move. I also felt the sudden confidence which I had lacked before. Switch, my first short film made for £400, was a starting point which I lucked out on with help from friends and the British weather forecast. It was my first born and a good little lesson. I was super happy with the way it had made itself into the Frightfest world and then into the BEV Festival of Horror that year too. Having a piece of work shown at the ICA, an arts venue I had visited ever since I was at art school. was a great honour for me. (It was also just down the road from the Queen! Haha!)
"I much prefer directing. I feel like it's a true form of art. You are the catalyst of the whole thing from the words on paper to the details of costume, choosing the actors, deciding on the music and sounds, the look and the shots. I'm lucky to have been in the film industry for over seven years now and have seen and worked with some great people, so I have a standard of which I want to be a part. My abilites and visions have come a long way for each new project. The only downside is getting it out there, finding the time and money to make it happen. But when it does, it is very satisfying - no matter how hard it usually ends up being!"
What has the response been to your two shorts Switch and Escape, and how pleased are you with them?
"As I said before Switch was my firstborn and was a lot of fun. I even have a tattoo to represent it (zombie hands holding a clapper board with Switch on the title). It still entertains but now I do look back at it and see how it really does look like £400! I am so much better now. Escape was a hard one. I had a lot of personal issues going on behind the scenes that made the whole process a lot harder then it really needed to be. It was a huge labour of love and part of me really hated getting it all finished. I was so excited by the whole thing but it's like a bloody curse. I didn't get into any festivals but I think I should have aimed lower on that front.
"We had to ADR the whole thing. I felt like no one liked it. It looks fantastic, the acting is great and the location is beautiful. I wanted to make something cinematic and that I did, to prove that I have an eye. This I feel comes across. It seems strange now as Escape's time has become more present now then when it was first made. Part of me thinks I'm crazy for deciding to make a short film in the Nevada desert but I was adamant that I wanted to be different and make my short film abroad and out of the UK. I also love the landscape of Nevada. I am super proud of the final product, I just wish the bullshit that I had to deal with to get it done didn't attach itself to it like a dark cloud."
You’re very involved with ‘women in horror’ projects but, if I can plays Devil’s advocate for a second, in 2014, in an industry largely populated by young, modern people and with technology that allows anyone to make and distribute their own movies, what need is there to promote ‘women in horror’ as a concept?
"I am very much getting more involved into a 'sisterhood' of the film-making industry, and in life in general. The amount of patriarchy that is shoved before our eyes on a day-to-day basis without the notice of the regular human is ridiculous. For instance, standing inline at Sainsbury's I noticed a seaweed snack packet with images of fit men running on the front (eat these, boys, be fit). Hello, there are women out there too!
"Having been a part of male dominated industries for so many years from tattooing and film and being a part of that niche, the 'scenes' I am into are always largely male dominated. There is still a huge amount of sexism in the trades. I'm fortunate enough to be toughened to the years of experience of jibes on set and the realisation that as a minority group it is very hard to have your voice heard. I myself am a very strong woman and without being a voice in anyway I can, then how is there to be a change? Yes it is 2014 but this sexisim within the whole world every day is still very much present.
"Plus Women in Horror month is fun!"
What are your current plans for The Herd, and any other future projects?
"The Herd is going to be epic (probably in getting it made too). It is a story written by a dear horror fanatic vegan friend of mine called Ed Pope. It uses women as a human reprensation of the torture of the dairy farming industry. Women being forced to have babies and milked, males being drowned as useless. All for the creation of the ultimate anti-aging cream.
"So far I have already attached some great cast: Victoria Broom, Pollyanna McIntosh and Jon Campling. I have a wonderful DOP called Bartlomiej Sienkiewicz and our composer is Laurent Barnard from the band The Gallows. I'm super excited. The script has been in my hands for over a year and only now have I been in the postion to make it start to become real. I will have the SFX team from Inbred and my good friend Tristan Versluis. This film will finally have the production and costume design I have always wanted and the cinematography to match. It has a hard hitting moral and the subject matter, something which has never been touched on to such an extent. We are launching a crowdfunding campaign from April 1st! We have already have a keen support from many animal rights groups too. I just need to attach some names and we will be laughing (I hope). It will have a strong graphic and grungy feel for the true fact of real pain and suffering for the miserable industry that feeds the human existence.
"I have also written a 'female serial killer' feature-length film which I intend to re-write and then push for funding. I write what I know and understand and that is from a female protagonistic force."
What is the most important thing which you have learned since our last interview back in 2009?
"Since 2009 I have really chilled out and learnt a lot within the film industry as well as life in general. The only way to make something happen is to make it happen yourself. I use anything which could be a form of financial savings to put into projects and to progress my work. I've been non-stop these last few years and it has been a struggle to find the time to make my own work. I did manage to shoot a great little ident for the Frightfest 'Turn off your bloody phone' segment last year which went down a storm and had the primetime Friday night slot before VHS2. I was super proud of this and had once again a great team involved. That went off to LA and Portugal too!
"I'm really excited about 2014 as The Herd really has been a slow work in progress but the amount of love that has been already going into it and the time to find the 'right' team is going to really pay off!"
See also:Melanie Light interview (2009) - The Devil's Chair, I Love You, The Scar Crow