My longest, most detailed interview with Jake West to date was done in May 2009, shortly before the release of Doghouse. A very heavily edited version of this was published in the late, lamented DeathRay magazine.
Pumpkinhead 3: a bigger budget than you had before but with the constraints of the Sci-Fi Channel format.
"Which tied my hands in many ways, because it was a made-for-cable project. The Sci-Fi Channel have a lot of strange rules which you have to get familiar with when you do a project for them. You can’t have any real swearing, well, any swearing, because of Middle America and the Bible Belt. You can’t have any drug use."
All the things we look for in one of your films!
"Exactly. So that took a lot of the ‘Jake West stuff' out."
Was it a positive experience for you, working on that film?
"It was a positive experience. Any film you get to make is a pleasure, in terms of learning, from the point of view of the director. You don’t get good at making films by not making them, you get good at them by making them. Certainly, making a Sci-Fi Channel film is very hard work. We’re shooting in Romania with a crew that don’t speak English. We shoot for 19 days and we don’t have the creature shoot ready until the eleventh day. All these things that tend to make you think quite practically about how you’re going to get thing made. So from that point of view, the pleasure was that I got to work with Lance Henriksen and Doug Bradley. You met the guys doing the creature effects, Gary Tunnicliffe’s guys. They were fantastic. There was lots of positives and also there was lots of difficult stuff."
Were Sci-Fi Channel happy with the film?
"Sci-Fi Channel as far as I know were very happy with it. It got reasonable ratings and it’s a film that they can keep on screening every Halloween. Certainly the feedback we got was good and the lady from the Sci-Fi Channel said to me if I wanted to make more stuff for them she could get me some work. To be hired as a film-maker is a great way to make a living and anyone who moans about it, there’s something wrong with them. But obviously as a film-maker, my ambitions are beyond work-for-hire projects - and that’s why something like Doghouse is such a breath of fresh air.
Dan Schaffer, we developed that over a year and it had the kind of love and attention that you want these kind of films to have. Pumpkinhead had to be done very quickly on a budget. It was more money than I’d had but you’re paying for a full crew, you’re shooting in a foreign country. It was only $650,000 or something like that so it wasn’t a huge budget. It just felt a lot for me. Because we had, like, film cameras! You came out to the set and I think you saw that we were enjoying it."
Absolutely. I had a good time.
"For me, one of the most disappointing aspects was the very shoddy CGI. I shot all of those plates assuming that the creature that was going to be put in was actually going to be quite reasonable. Now I know Sci-Fi Channel sometimes have cheap CGI but the stuff in Pumpkinhead was like Playstation 2. I was very, very disappointed with that work - which I had no opportunity to do anything about, unfortunately. It was all added in after the edit was finished. It was just dropped in and it was just soul-destroying to see that, because obviously a lot of people commented. And quite rightly so because it wasn’t good enough. So that very much turned me off CGI. That’s why, with Doghouse it’s pretty much all make-up and character effects."
So what were your career options after Pumpkinhead was finished?
"Well, what Pumpkinhead did, because I got paid for it, rather than a film like Evil Aliens or Razor Blade Smile where I had to invest my own time and effort and hope I might get something back one day. Which is not a way of making films and making a living and that’s why I do all the Nucleus work as well, because it generates some cash, and I hire myself out as a freelance editor. Whatever way I can earn money between projects is a way of being able to develop the next project. What Pumpkinhead really did is it afforded me enough money to spend some time developing a project without needing to go off and find other work.
“That’s where Doghouse obviously benefited. It meant I wasn’t distracted in trying to develop Doghouse and having to do a lot of other things at the same time. And working with Dan Schaffer was an absolute pleasure because we just click and are on the same level. It was a pleasure for me not to have to write. I’ve always had to get involved with writing my stuff because I couldn’t afford to hire a writer. I love structuring stuff but the actual writing process isn’t my naturally favourite part. I’m not saying that I won’t write again but certainly working with Dan was such a pleasure for me because he’s such a good writer in my opinion. That’s why, when we sent the script out, it got picked up before we’d even shot a frame. For an independent film, that’s virtually unheard of, certainly in the UK."
"Basically it was just by pure luck. I did an interview about Evil Aliens for a magazine called Alternative London, which you may be aware of or not."
I can’t say it’s made it up to Leicester.
"It was available in Camden Market and other places. The journalist on that was a goth girl called Secky - Secretia - and she was just great. We hit it off when we were just chatting. We did the interview and then had a couple of glasses of wine and carried on talking about stuff because we had a lot in common. She said, ‘Have you ever read Dogwitch?’ I said, ‘No, what’s Dogwitch? That sounds cool.’ She said, ‘You’ll absolutely fucking love it, it’s the most hilarious amazing thing!’ When she told me that one of the reviewers who had read Dogwitch had likened it to Evil Dead II, I thought hold on, I’m in.
“So she said, ‘Look, I’m friends with Dan Schaffer, the guy who writes it. I think he really loves Evil Aliens as well but I’ll check and I’ll get you one of his comics to read.’ Naturally she just thought that we would click and her perception was correct. I said, ‘If you can get me a copy that would be fantastic, if that’s cool.’ And I thought maybe I’ll never hear from her again, maybe it’s the wine talking and that’s the end of it. But literally the next week, she said, ‘I’m in Camden, are you home?’ And she dropped off the first two volumes of the Dogwitch graphic novels. And I read it and immediately got back to her.
“I thought it was absolutely fantastic, some of the best and funniest stuff I had read in a comic book for ages. And I loved Dan’s artwork as well. He’s a great visualist and a great writer which gives him a big advantage I think. Because I loved it, I got in contact independently with Dan Schaffer and said, ‘I think your book’s brilliant, I’m friends with Secretia, if you’re around let’s have a drink.’ And we hooked up, just on that chance meeting. So it was a bit like meeting you and you recommending a bit of work and then meeting the creator of that work. So it was one of those very, very fortunate situations. If that hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t have Doghouse."
"Dan came up with the initial idea when his girlfriend had a really bad cold or really bad flu - and he thought she looked a bit like a zombie! Then we were just throwing some ideas about. I can’t remember this a hundred per cent clearly but I remember us saying what if a bloke had a really bad cold: it would be man-flu. Then that introduced the whole gender thing because Dan is very interested in gender politics and a lot of his work has dealt with that. I think the idea of something we could then genderise and have a battle of the sexes subtext in, seemed a hilarious idea for a horror film. Certainly for a zombie film, it seemed a very fresh way of doing the zombie idea in a way that we haven’t seen done before.
“Then you say hold on, has it not been done before? Let’s just check. Literally, it was something we felt had not been done before. Subsequently I found out, from reading things on the internet, that some people think Doghouse is ripping off Jack Ketchum’s Ladies Night. Ladies Night is a project that Stuart Gordon was developing for some time. I met Stuart, ironically; I was on the jury with him at the Fantastic’Arts Gerardmer international film festival in 2008. We were both jury members. I was telling him about Doghouse and he said, ‘Oh, I developed this thing called Ladies Night.’
“But I didn’t know it was a Jack Ketchum novel and things like that. So on the internet I’ve been reading some people saying it’s a rip-off of that but it isn’t, it’s an original idea by Dan Schaffer. Jack Ketchum’s stuff is very, very violent, visceral, super-nasty. But Doghouse was developed very much as a horror-comedy idea with a real sense of Britishness about it. So I hope that it’s not like Ladies Night. It’s always weird when you’re doing something you think is original and then other people starting saying you’re ripping something else off. That’s certainly the case here."
The Scar Crow, has a bunch of lads in the countryside against female ghosts. There’s a microgenre developing there!
"That’s interesting. It’s kind of weird because obviously all horror films to some extent have virtually the same set-up: a bunch of people go somewhere and they get trapped and something happens to them. That’s virtually every horror film. Sometimes it’s weird that you might get a cycle of films. But The Scar Crow is a very independent film so obviously most people aren’t going to be aware of that. Not that it doesn’t deserve attention but it’s not going to be in the public eye.
“Whereas something like Lesbian Vampire Killers is obviously something which had a huge marketing budget and had a massive presence because it had Horne and Corden, popular comedians. Unfortunately for that film I think the Corden-Horne bubble had burst. It seemed that their TV series didn’t live up to expectations. As I said to you, I really enjoyed Lesbian Vampire Killers on the level of it being just a comedy but I didn’t think it was a horror film particularly. It didn’t have much horror content in it. Doghouse is genuinely a horror-comedy whereas I would say that Lesbian Vampire Killers is a comedy with some... vampires in it!"
Is the horror-comedy balance in Doghouse about the same as you had in Evil Aliens?
"I think the horror-comedy balance in Doghouse is probably better than it was in Evil Aliens, in a sense, because the capability of the performers in Doghouse allows them to create much more realistic characters who are believable as this group of guys. Whereas I think Evil Aliens was much more a deliberate splatstick. We didn’t have any really accomplished actors, it was just for the glee and gore and fun. Evil Aliens was my homage, my love letter to all the movies that I loved as a kid. And obviously people who got that really got on board with it and loved it and people who hated it criticised it for not being original enough and for being too influenced by things, I can understand where they’re coming from with that but the spirit of Evil Aliens was just to have a good time.
“Certainly with something like Lesbian Vampire Killers, every scene felt comedic. None of it was played for being real. They were treating things as a joke so therefore the whole film was a joke and it did feel more jokey. I don’t think Doghouse has that flavour. I’m very reticent to compare Doghouse to something like Shaun of the Dead because it’s the obvious example that everyone always quotes, because it‘s the most successful British film of the last x years or whatever in the genre. It’s a tired comparison really but what I do feel is that tonally Doghouse is much more on a level of Shaun of the Dead. Because Shaun of the Dead had beautifully observed performances. You can see how comedy can work at a higher level when performances are that good.
“You’ve had a little glimpse, a little taster of Doghouse and hopefully you’ve got a sense of where that’s going to go. Like I say, I feel that when you see the whole film, you’ll hopefully understand that, although Evil Aliens and Doghouse are two sides of the same coin, they’re definitely different sides of the same coin. How you can do something with more money and better actors and a better storyline. I think Doghouse is a better film. Not that I dislike Evil Aliens, I just think Doghouse has a better chance to cross over more to the mainstream and connect with people who certainly wouldn’t see a film like Evil Aliens. By having our cast - Danny Dyer, Noel Clarke, Stephen Graham - we can reach that mainstream audience.
I have always maintained that an effective horror-comedy is one where, if you take the comedy element out, you still have a decent horror movie.
"I agree with you there, Mike. Certainly when you’re watching Doghouse you’ll know you’re watching a horror film, because it is very much ‘in genre’ still. Where I will liken it to Evil Aliens is that I make my films with a love of the genre and that’s definitely there. And it’s proud to be in that genre. I think where some films go wrong is that they’re a bit embarrassed about being in the genre. If you look at Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, those guys love the genre, they know their references. They have respect for the genre, despite doing it as a comedy. Whereas I think Lesbian Vampire Killers felt more like it was a spoof and I think that’s always a danger.
“When I saw Lesbian Vampire Killers, it was a fun movie but it felt more like a Carry On film than it did like a Hammer film. Although the production design was very good and I enjoyed lots of different bits of it. But it was just a comedy at the end of the day. It didn’t feel like it had a big horror influence. I met Phil Claydon who’s a terrific bloke and I don’t want to say a bad word about the film because a lot of people just slagged it off. I know how difficult it was for him to get the film off the ground and make it, and all the things that people don’t appreciate.
Moving back a bit, what happened after you and Dan Schaffer had written the Doghouse script?
"We’d finished writing the script and we’d done a couple of drafts of it before we were ready to show it to people. Just by pure chance I got invited to a photo shoot for a magazine about UK rising film talent. Somehow I got recommended by somebody! I don’t normally get put on those kind of things. Ironically, I think the magazine went bust before they did the article. But on that shoot I met Terry Stone who was one of the executive producers of Rise of the Footsoldier. He had done that with Carnaby Films and he was looking for some other projects.
“He knew that I’d done Evil Aliens and he knew I had a bit of a following with the horror audience and he was interested in any kind of horror stuff that I had. And I said your timing is pretty good because I’ve just finished developing this with Dan Schaffer and told him about Dan and what we had done. He said, ‘That sounds fantastic,’ and I said, ‘I’ll tell you what, I’ll give you first look at it and you can decide yourself whether you like it and whether you want to get involved.’ Because he was saying that he felt he may be able to get some money together. Because he had a company called Hanover Films that raised money for stuff.
“Basically, he read the script and the next day he got back to me, which once again is very unusual in the film industry. Normally when someone says they’re going to get back to you, you never hear from them again. And he absolutely loved it and he said, ‘Look, my company Hanover can put some money in towards the budget of this. And I’d like to take this into Carnaby because they raise money through EI schemes.’ He did that and it became a Carnaby/Hanover production because the guys at Carnaby loved it and they fast-tracked it. Then they started raising money. When I say ‘fast-tracked’, obviously it took them about a year to raise the money but that just meant we could develop the script even more. So after that I didn’t need to ship it to anyone else because it got attention straight away.
“When Carnaby came on board and they raised money for the production, they sent the script away to Sony who came on board as distributors straight away before we’d even shot a frame. Normally you don’t do any deal on your distribution for an indie film until you’ve shot it, and then you take it to festivals or you have special screenings. You know what it’s like and how hard it is for indie films to get distribution on board."
At what point did the film get cast?
"The film got cast, in essence, once we had finished the fund-raising with Carnaby, which took a bit longer than we had hoped. Because there was no point going out and casting until we knew we had all the money in place. The casting process started quite early because I really wanted to cast the net and try to get as good a cast as possible. So we spent a couple of months casting it. But obviously landing a name was really key to getting people excited about it. Interestingly enough, the first person we actually got on board for the film was Jimi Mistry from The Guru and East is East. He was the first biggish name we had on board because he loved the role of Graham. He was on board and then a few other actors started hearing about it.
“We worked with casting director Jane Frisby and that started creating a little wave of fun and people started reading it and realised it was really good. Then Danny Dyer came on board and once Danny was on board it all started rolling from there. We saw a lot of people and when Noel came in I was very surprised that he was interested because he hadn’t done anything like this. He’d done Doctor Who obviously but he hadn’t done anything in the horror genre.
“He came in just for a meeting to discuss what part he might be interested in and I was thinking I don’t know if he’ll really dig it. But he came in and he absolutely loved it. He was so enthused about the project, it was fantastic. Because he had just directed Adulthood which was very different and obviously had done very well at the UK box office. So he came in and he just loved it, then we got him back to do a reading with Stephen Graham and Danny Dyer, to see how the chemistry would work. So he was great and from there we had our bigger names in.
“The hardest part to cast was Vince because in many ways that’s the hardest role in the film. He’s the one who’s depressed because he’s getting divorced. That character has to play all very ‘in’ so we needed an actor who could handle that but it wasn’t a showy role. There was a big development, a big character arc on Vince. So we wanted someone really solid for that and it was only finally the week before shooting that we finally managed to do the deal with Stephen Graham. Stephen came in at the eleventh hour really because we were talking to people who had other commitments.
He does vampires all the time. He’s the dad in Young Dracula.
"That’s right. Young Dracula I wasn’t familiar with because it’s a kids’ thing but I found out about it later and watched it and thought it was really funny."
He’s in Vampire Diary too.
"That’s right. I hadn’t seen Vampire Diary. So we got him in and he brought this unusual energy to this part. He plays this role absolutely beautifully, he’s like an ex-goth guy who’s had a job in the city and he’s actually in the middle of his own breakdown, trying to cure himself with self-help tapes. Because all of the lads are so focussed on trying to cheer up Vince, they don’t notice that he’s really slipped away. He does a fantastic performance in the film, really brilliant, and he was a smashing actor to work with, a really lovely guy. Then Lee Ingleby, he’s a rising star that guy. A really amazing performance; he knows how to bring a lot of humanity into stuff and make it seem very real, and how to play the comedy. Just one of the best actors I’ve worked with in his natural instincts."
What about casting Emily Booth, was that something you wanted to do anyway?
"Having worked with her on Evil Aliens, working with Emily’s great because she’s fun to have around. Also she loves horror and she knows horror. I was telling her about the film as I was developing it. When I was speaking with Dan, because he liked her in Evil Aliens, we were thinking well let’s get her in as one of the zombird characters. She loves horror. Let’s give her a character where there’s not loads of dialogue because that’s not her strength. She’s not really an actress-actress, she’s somebody who’s got into acting through her other work. Rather than give her more dialogue stuff, play to her strengths and give her a really memorable horror character.
Who did you get to do all your make-up effects?
"The make-up effects were done by Karl Derrick. I’m sure you’re aware of his work. He was make-up supervisor on Terry Gilliam’s The Brothers Grimm, he worked on some of the Harry Potter films, he did 1408 with John Cusack. The guy’s done a lot of work and he was very, very good. We needed a make-up artist who could do stuff as good as you could get it. Obviously with zombie make-up we’re all used to seeing a certain level of zombie make-up. But this had to be stuff that had character design in it as well. You saw a lot of the concept drawings, Mike. We did all those concepts, which were incredibly helpful when we were taking the work out to tender to the make-up companies because they could see exactly what we were trying to achieve: this is pretty much where we want it to go. Obviously the budget will affect what can and can’t be done, but let’s talk about it and how would you do it?
“Karl had wanted to work with me on Pumpkinhead originally and had put a pitch in on that but he just couldn’t compete with the cost that Gary Tunnicliffe could do. Gary had an outfit that had done a lot of films in Romania and had an infrastructure there so he could do that for a lot less than somebody coming over from the UK. Basically, Karl just couldn’t afford to do that, the building of the full creature and all the rest of it, on the budget that they had. In the end I don’t think Gary made any money on Pumpkinhead, I think he just did it because he fancied the idea of doing the new Pumpkinhead. He didn’t really make a profit out of it as far as I can tell. So anyway, I knew Karl and was enthusiastic to work with him. He was the only guy who came in and basically showed how he could structure it. We had a lot of performers who needed a lot of make-up. He needed a lot of make-up artists who were going to be doing the applications and the sculpts. It was a huge job.
“And it needed more forethought, so therefore we needed the right heads of department for this. That’s why getting Karl involved, and his level of experience, became invaluable. And having Matt Button, the production designer, who had worked with Carnaby before. We went on numerous location reccies, trying to find Moodley, with Matt and he’s the one who eventually found the hospital for us. He was doing another shoot for a Sky job and he found this place. No-one had ever shot on it before until he arrived there and he went, ‘Right, we could turn this place into a village,’ because we’ve been looking all over the place. We had been inspecting disused airfields.
“Just trying to get permission for what we wanted to do would have been impossible in any normal town or village. They don’t want you blowing stuff up at night, a huge amount of noise, zombirds screaming and attacking. It became a practical thing to try and build a real village. It was really nice and quite magical to see this place being built before you. That was a really great thing but that took a long time to sort out as well. It meant that we could do things properly and we could think about them and plan it so it would work for the shoot, which was really nice. Unlike Pumpkinhead where you turn up in Romania, all the Romanians tell you you can do things and then you turn up on the day and they go no you can’t do that. Which isn’t a very nice way to work. This way, we could plan it and be certain about what we could achieve."
"Oh yes, absolutely. It’s always difficult when you’re doing something with a big ensemble cast anyway, which I’d learnt on Evil Aliens. Because in Evil Aliens we had several main characters and the way I wrote it was so that they got split up fairly quickly. Because I knew how much hassle it is directing large groups of people all the time. If you’re doing a dialogue scene with seven or eight people in it, it actually is quite complicated because of all the eye-lines. It’s the kind of thing that when you’re watching it you obviously don’t really think about but when you’re shooting, it becomes important. When you’re working with good actors, you’ve got to make sure that each of them gets their coverage. Just stuff like that.
“So Doghouse was a logistical challenge from the point of view that we had a large amount of characters who stayed together for quite a while. When you see the film (and this is a spoiler) none of the guys get killed until the third act. Because we were trying to really make people like these characters before anything happens to them. So they get away from narrow escapes and you get some other kills but not them. So it was designed to work slightly differently. So yes, logistically it was tricky to film. Plus with all the make-up times involved. Sometimes we would have a lot of zombirds in their make-up and they would all need three or four-hour make-up application time. So it just means that the production has to be very. very well organised.
“The advantage of having money is obviously you can then afford to have the right amount of people applying the make-up. We had a good line producer who was Gerry Toomey, who’s incredibly experienced, who made sure that all that stuff ran like clockwork. So that’s working with experienced people and having a bit of money. If you can’t do that on a low budget, what tends to happen is people say they can’t do it or they turn up late or whatever. On low-budget films it’s actually a lot harder. But on Doghouse we had two million pounds. Even though that’s still a low-budget film, we had the budget to pay people and we had the right people there. That meant that you can be the captain of the ship and not have to do lots of other jobs at the same time. Whereas on Evil Aliens I was bloody unloading the van. That is an appreciable difference which is great because it means you can concentrate more on your job. Which is how you want to work as a director."
"There was a scene that we really, really wanted to shoot but we had to drop just because we literally didn’t have enough time. The thing that fucked us most when we were shooting Doghouse, and it was an incredibly successful shoot. By being on that hospital complex, which we effectively turned into a studio, everyone was staying up there as well as filming there. We had our own village! It was amazing, it was like shooting a film in Pinewood but you’re living there as well. So when you get up in the morning you’re on set, which is incredible. You don’t have any travelling time or anything. What did fuck us was that we had really, really terrible weather last summer.
“It was raining virtually all the time. Which meant that we kept on getting behind schedule because we couldn’t fucking shoot because we were waiting for the rain to stop. We were doing night shoots and obviously at that time of year you don’t get super-long nights. We were shooting August-September so the night would only last a certain amount of time and then as soon as it gets light you can’t shoot. If it’s raining at a certain heavy density you just can’t shoot because it starts reading. We had already come up with the idea, we did a wet-down every day on the town because we knew that it might rain. In England you can pretty much assume it will at some point. So we established the look fo the wet-down which is really good for the lights anyway because it brings everything to life a lot more.
“Obviously there were other things in there that did get dropped, when you go to your pre-production meetings and you start going through the script. There’s another sequence where we had a fight out on some roadworks in the middle of the road. But we would have had to create this huge area of roadworks. There would have been a big hole in the ground, and stuff like that logistically was just going to be too expensive for us to do. So it got dropped a bit earlier. But Dan was on hand all the time so whenever we encountered a problem we were rewriting the script with him there. Because he was there as we were shooting and he never stopped writing, so if there were any problems it just meant that we could work our way around it and still have the right people making those decisions. So it was very organic in the way that we developed the film.
“Whereas normally you can’t do that. On a film like Evil Aliens, if something goes wrong, you haven’t got any time to rewrite, you’ve got to figure a way of either making it work or just dropping it. With this, we managed to keep all of our core ideas in and not lose anything really important. There were a couple of night scenes that got dropped but that’s just the reality of any project. Once again, there’s a finite amount of money you’ve got for something. Of course you want it to be as big and as good as it can but you’ve got to be realistic about what you’ve got to achieve and the time you’ve got to do it. We had six week to shoot Doghouse which is quite a lot more than the 19 days I had for Pumpkinhead. So that was nice and that helped the shoot. Shooting is what really eats up the budget because you’ve got to pay your crew and your actors for the time you’re shooting, and it’s amazing how quickly that money goes when you’ve got a full crew down there."
"Absolutely. I think that really, in fact, in any film that you do, the true art of film really comes into it in the editing room a lot of the time. That’s where you make the final decisions on things. That’s where you give it its shape and its timing. That’s the soul of a film, the editing. I think it’s one of the most important processes and a process that’s unique to film: the manipulation of time and space in vision and sound. It’s what make films unique and I think to ignore the power of that is foolish.
“I love that process, I absolutely love editing. I couldn’t wait to actually get into the editing room. Also, as a director, it’s a pleasure because all of a sudden you’re in a room and the film is yours again. For that period, the film is yours and you can play around with it. You can do that and it’s great when it comes together in a way that you really want to see it come together. From what you’ve shot, seeing it evolve like that. That’s one of the big pleasures of film-making, I think."
I understand you shot this film on the Red camera.
"It was shot on the Red, yes."
What advantage did that give you?
"On Pumpkinhead we shot on 35mm and obviously I loved the aesthetic of it but it does mean that you’re always worried about not being able to shoot so much, especially when you’ve got a limited budget. It gets to the point where you have enough money that it makes no difference but on a two million pound budget it can make a difference. On a horror film where you have a lot of characters and you need to get a certain amount of coverage. Shooting film, we were looking at the costs of it and it was getting a bit too expensive. And it would have meant that we could only have shot with one camera as well.
“The advantage of shooting with the Red - we were one of the first films to shoot with the Red because it was just becoming popular at that point; not a lot of people had used it. The producers were quite concerned about that because they hadn’t shot Red before so they were saying, ‘Are you sure we should be testing it?’ Because it was still in one of its beta builds when we were using it. What inspired my confidence in it was when we found Jeff Brown who was our Red guy. He was the guy we had on set who was going to be there if we had any problems. He’s an owner-operator, he had the kit but he’s one of the few people in the UK who’d been speaking with Red from the very beginning. He had one of the first cameras and he’d been updating it. Basically the guy’s a complete geek who knows everything about Red, so when something did go wrong it could instantly get addressed.
“Which is fantastic, it gives you a lot of confidence in what you’re shooting. The advantage of shooting onto hard drives means you can keep the cameras rolling and shoot as much as you want. The other advantage was it meant we could afford to have two cameras all the time on set, so I could shoot two cameras rather than one camera. Which once again gives you an advantage because when you get to the editing room you’ve got all that extra footage. I was reading an interview with John Woo the other day. A lot of people say, ‘Oh, John Woo’s style is amazing.’ He said: ‘I shoot with as many cameras as possible because I don’t know how I want to cut it until I go into the editing room. I’ll shoot with different cameras, all shooting at different speeds, and later on I’ll decide how I want to do it.’
“So he doesn’t actually plan his edit because he doesn’t like storyboarding. And John Woo shoots with up to 17 cameras! Now, it’s interesting when you start hearing stuff like that. I really plan my stuff, plan it to be shot in a certain way. I’ve never had the privilege of thinking: what would happen if I shot with 17 cameras? Obviously his films are incredibly well edited and John Woo is a visionary director, I’m not taking that away from him. But to me, to shoot with two cameras was great! That meant we could shoot with two cameras all the time. We didn’t always use the second camera; sometimes when you’re shooting the intimate dialogue scenes you only need one person. But when we were shooting any action we shot with two cameras which was great.
What sort of push is Sony putting behind this? There’s about a month to go and there’s not been a lot about it so far.
"Well, obviously Sony made the decision to release it at the head of summer rather than waiting for an autumn slot because their opinion is that it will do better if it comes out quick. The downside of that is then, obviously I only finished the film on Friday. That means with the print deadlines and stuff, there’s no way they’re going to get that sorted. Because, as you know, print deadlines are two to three months ahead. That means they’re taking a risk on it. You’re not going to get the kind of coverage that you would like. I feel a bit disappointed in that sense but they have committed to a £600,000-£700,000 P&A spend which means there will be a big print campaign and a big television campaign."
Is it going on the sides of buses?
"I don’t know. I’m waiting to find out what their campaign is. We’re having a screening of the film tomorrow and I think they’re going to talk about what that media campaign is then. I haven’t been really very involved in it because I’ve been doing the film! Literally we mixed the trailer last week as well, while we were doing the film, because that was running behind time as well. So trailers are now out in cinemas I believe. There’s been about 600 trailers gone out to cinemas around the country. I’m told it’s a 200-screen release, a proper nationwide release with a substantial TV and print campaign.
“They are spending money on it so I’m assuming that people will know about the film. But obviously the internet and websites is the primary way of getting the word out. How effective that is in the time span we’ve got remains to be seen. Obviously I want to do everything I can to ensure that people hear about the film but obviously they do have their own PR team. Sony are using Vertigo to release the film independently in the UK because they handle a lot of their own independent releases. So Vertigo and Sony are the ones guiding that hand. I’m always worried about these things because I don’t like it when things feel as if they’re being rushed. To me, the film is finished and I’m very happy with the final result of the film."
Do you think it’s something that might do okay in the cinema and then pick up more on DVD?
"With these kinds of films, to a certain extent the DVD is always going to be the market where it’s expected to do better. If it does well at the cinema then that’s unusual because, as you know, most British films don’t do very well at the cinema. But because they’re going out on 200 screens and because of the cast we’ve got, there is a chance that we could make some money at the box office. But it would be very foolish of me to make any prediction on that because it could make no money at the box office and I’ll just end up looking like an idiot for making that prediction. Whatever I say won’t be correct. But if things go well then maybe it could do some business because of our cast.
“Obviously, people have got to know that it’s there but once people start seeing the TV ads and things like that, all of a sudden people are going to start saying, ‘Hey, I saw your film on TV.’ A bit like when Noel Clarke spoke about it last year at Christmas. So I’m assuming that hopefully people are going to be interested in it because of our cast. Much more so than because of me. I’ll do as much as I can but I would imagine it’s Danny and Noel and Stephen who will catch people’s attention more than me because my fanbase is quite obvious. If you look on the web, it’s all over the horror websites, the horror guys all know about it. They’re not the ones we need to get the word out to, it’s getting it out to the mainstream which is important.
“However, you could argue that perhaps sometimes with a campaign like Lesbian Vampire Killers, maybe they did too much and it actually pissed people off. Everyone knew about it months and months beforehand so when it finally came out they were fed up with it. At least with Doghouse they’ll go, ‘Oh, it’s a surprise, it’s a sleeper, it’s come from nowhere.’ Certainly it won’t give people time to get fed up with it. But I don’t know whether that’ going to work in our favour or not, mate!"
Have you left it open at the end so that if this is a big hit there could be a Doghouse 2?
"Indeed there could be. When we were writing the script, it was very much discussed between myself and Dan. There is so much mileage in this idea that absolutely there could be. We designed it and we have sketched out how it could be. But it works as a stand-alone film which is very important because we’re not banking on the fact that we’re ever going to make another Doghouse film. But the actual overarching idea behind it lends itself to being extended and also it lends itself to putting the boot on the other foot with the next film where things will mutate and the virus will start affecting men.
“So you get to see the other side of the sexual politics played out as well. Which is something we thought would be a lot of fun if we wanted to do it. Obviously we need to see how Doghouse does because there’s no point otherwise. We’ve got the ideas for how we’d like to do it but that’s only ever going to see the light of day if Doghouse does well. I don’t want to get involved in developing a sequel to something that people don’t want to see. And I’m really hoping that they do! It would be great if people want to see more of it, but we’ll see."
Are you taking it to Cannes?
"No. I’m going to Cannes because I’ve got duties with my Nucleus Films label, as you know, with Marc Morris, and we need to find a few more acquisitions. Also I could do with a bit of a break and I want to have a few meetings about some potential future projects that we’ve got. I’ve got two more with Dan Schaffer, a couple of scripts that are finished, They’re nothing to do with Doghouse. One is a satirical horror film, like American Psycho meets Clockwork Orange, called The Killdarlings which is very mad and fun. We’ve also got a film called Rollover which is what I call a revisionist action film. A very funny, quirky action movie but with the Jake West stylings in there. Those two projects we’ve got finished scripts on so we’d like to see if we can get them off the ground.
“So I’m hoping to see how that will go but obviously we won’t quite know the lay of the land until we see how Doghouse does. Because people are only going to want to give me more money if Doghouse is a success. If it’s not, then I’ll go back to the drawing board. So I’m very excited about doing some more projects together with Dan Schaffer because we worked so well together on this film. We really clicked, we have a real simpatico thing going on. So it would be delightful if this would be the first of many, but like with all film projects, you never know what’s going to happen!
“You’ve asked me about this in the past: what’s your next project. It never ends up being the one that I told you about! Therefore I don’t want to promise anyone. But these are things which we’re interested in doing and we do have a couple of finished scripts to go on. So if there is some heat off the back of Doghouse, we want to try and press one into production if we can."
Last question. With this, a decently budgeted, named cast film going out widely in cinemas, 2.35:1 and all that... are you finally at the place where you want to be in terms of your career?
"Ironically, it’s quite interesting: from that point of view, when you say it like that, it makes me realise that this will be regarded as my first proper film. So it’s almost like my debut movie. To the wider world, that is. Because obviously the only people who know about my films are people who are into strange cult movies. The rest of the world doesn’t know I’m a film-maker. So in a sense, this is what most people go through with their first film: a two-million pound film with some rising actors and an interesting concept. So in a sense, to the wider world, this is my debut!
“But yes, absolutely. I feel very happy about this because I’m very happy with the script and with the development process and what we’ve got. I’m genuinely satisfied with the film. Obviously, with any movie you always want more time and more money and there’s still things that I could improve and do better on. Because, being realistic as a film-maker, you know that’s true. I think that with Doghouse, it’s a piece of work that I’m very, very proud of and I’m anxious to see how it goes down with the public. It may be that it connects with them and people really enjoy it or it could go the other way. You just can’t tell - but that’s part of the magic, isn’t it?