Saturday, 12 September 2015

interview: Simon Savory

I first came across the name ‘Simon Savory’ when David DeCoteau was discussing his adaptation of Poe’s House of Usher. So, a couple of years later when I received an enquiry from the British distribution outfit Peccadillo Pictures about the thriller You Belong to Me, I instantly recognised the name of the publicity chap who had e-mailed me. Simon very kindly answered a few questions for me in March 2009.

To what do you attribute Peccadillo's success and growth since it was launched in 2000?
“That’s really a question my boss, Tom Abell, would answer better than me. However, I’ve been lucky enough to work at Peccadillo for two years now, and it is by far the most rewarding, satisfying and exciting full time work environment I have ever experienced. It is also hard work, but every day is different.

“Peccadillo has always prided itself on bringing gay and lesbian cinema ‘with a difference’ to the UK. This is what separates us from TLA, who do more commercial and mainstream gay films. We focus more on foreign language, art-house, controversial and below-the-radar films. Recent examples are Argentine intersexual film XXY, Olivier Meyrou’s chilling gay hate crime documentary Beyond Hatred, Before I Forget which is about what happens when rent boys grow old, and the quite frankly bizarre but brilliant and very faithful adaptation The Last of the Crazy People by Laurent Achard, which we are releasing on DVD May 18th.

“These are films that probably would never have had a UK release, and we certainly take risks in picking them up, but it’s something we feel needs to be done to justify our existence. Also, sometimes they can be unexpected hits, as XXY proved to be. We also do the odd ‘straight’ film, purely because we think they deserve a release, such as council estate spaghetti western Saxon and German jail drama Four Minutes, which we put out under out the Petit Peché label.

“It hasn’t been an easy ride putting out all these difficult films (granted, there have been big hits like Lost and Delirious and Summerstorm), but along the way Peccadillo has garnered a very faithful following among gay audiences who are looking for something a little different from the usual rom-coms that get thrown their way, not that there’s anything wrong with that!

“Now Peccadillo is entering a new and very exciting phase: gay short films. In 1993 Tom Abell’s Dangerous To Know was the first distributor to release compilations of short films on the VHS format. Lesbian Lykra Shorts and Boys on Film introduced a number of new film-makers to an international audience. They became a popular way of showcasing new talent who went on to become celebrated and successful filmmakers. These compilations were followed by Lesbian Leather Shorts - which included a short starring a very young Lucy Lawless!

“Our first DVD volume, Boys on Film 1: Hard Love, has been doing really well (it contains a short I think your readers will like, Gay Zombie, which is my favourite!) and two volumes are to follow before the end of the year. Boys on Film 2: In Too Deep is out in June and has a terrific short called Cowboy by director Till Kleinert who is definitely one to watch in horror circles. The film blends gay romance with cannibalism and a combine harvester massacre! Beyond that, we have plans to build on our little cult and horror label, Bad Cat, currently home to Bruce La Bruce’s films and a lesbian vampire film, Vampire Diary. So, in short, Peccadillo’s success is attributed to hard slog, creativity and a love for what we put out.”

How accurate would it be to assume that the genre films that Peccadillo distributes might find a smaller, niche audience among gay viewers but counterbalance this with greater mainstream appeal?
“This is another thing we strive really hard to accomplish. It is something that is still possible to do in countries like France and Germany, but British attitudes, especially in the industry, are somewhat different. First of all, to get a predominantly gay film out to a wider, more mainstream audience, you have to give it a cinema release. With that, you can get advertising support from various funds and you also get all the press writing about it, as they have more of a duty to write about cinema releases than the massive number of DVDs that get put out. There’s still a certain cachet in having an independent film on the big screen that earns the coverage of journalists.

“However, getting the films into cinemas is very hard because in the UK most cinemas, even those that you might think are truly independent, are in fact parts of chains, or they outsource their programming to a larger company that picks commercially viable films for them. This leads to two bands of cinemas, your commercial multiplexes and your small art-house cinemas, and the latter all tend to be showing the same films at the same time, and this is because programming is run by a very small select group of people, which is a pity.

“The only real way now to get diversity out there is to bypass conventional releasing methods by taking films on tour or to festivals, which we are currently doing with Boys on Film at the London ICA and Greenwich Picture House, and with the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, Bradford Film Festival, Cambridge Film Festival and so on. What I preoccupy myself with most at Peccadillo is making sure our DVD releases get the maximum coverage possible in the press. Gay films for gay press is easy. Outside of that is another story!”

What is your own background/experience in the cinema industry?
“I started out in 2001 doing a film degree at Kent University, which really was just an excuse for me to write essays about Dario Argento and John Carpenter between getting incredibly drunk at some pretty mucky night-clubs! For the three years I was there, I would shuttle between Canterbury and London doing internships: making tea for Michael Winterbottom and making photocopies for various producers before settling into a nine month internship at Tartan Films (during their golden age: Battle Royale, Irreversible and Ted Bundy!)

“Then I went to Paris to study cinema for a year, but the only real bonus of that excursion was going to the Cannes film festival and taking part in the nude’n’bloody Troma parades with Lloyd Kaufman and his gang of loons. I continued to be a Troma loon myself every summer in Cannes for four years after that. From there I went to work on the eggscellent Troma film Poultrygeist in Buffalo, NY as a production assistant, before coming back to London and being film editor at a great music/fashion magazine called Disorder. A short while after, I came to work at Peccadillo.”

How did you end up writing for David DeCoteau and how familiar were you with his work beforehand?
“The first DeCoteau films I watched were Bram Stoker’s Legend of the Mummy 2 (aka Ancient Evil: Scream of the Mummy) which I remember mostly for the random boyfriend who comes on screen for three seconds towards the end before getting killed (brilliant!) and The Frightening which was my first introduction to Dave’s notorious shower scenes! Very few of his films have made it to UK shores, and I think all of his 2000-2003 movies came here to capitalise on the success of the Scream movies.

“He’s a professional horror film director who never held back on putting male flesh on screen, which for a gay horror fan like myself was a godsend after all those years gawping at the hot jocks in ’80s slasher movies who were given such short shrift! I sent him a message on MySpace many moons ago, just stating that I was a fan, nothing more, and by complete coincidence he was on his way to the UK for the first time, to location scout for The Raven. I was very lucky with that, so I seized the opportunity and offered to take him around some old buildings in Kent that I thought might interest him. He came, and off we went, along the way stopping off at Pinewood, Ealing Studios and Oakley Court (Rocky Horror!) - I wish I’d brought my camera! I told him I wrote and a few months later he asked me to re-write a script, I think maybe he was testing me, and he liked it. House of Usher was the result of that.”

How much do your Poe films owe to their nominal source material?
“Well of course I try to be faithful to Poe as I love his stories, I had already read them all before I even met David. House of Usher is as faithful as I think it could ever have been. Of course, there are no gay ghosts in the original, or buff manservant, but this was a short story stretched to ninety minutes, you have to add some fresh elements to the mix otherwise all adaptations would be the same. At the same time I didn’t want to disappoint Poe fans, so there are several subtle nods to his works and the man himself: the cognac, the closing voiceover, Victor’s surname (Reynolds is the name Poe called out on his death bed nobody knows why!), lots of little references like that.

“I also threw in some little quirks related to photography, botany, some meta-textual hokum and, unwittingly, a Caligari-esque ending which I totally didn’t realise until I read it in a review! I’m really happy with how it came out. David is a magician when it comes to conjuring up ninety minutes of solid entertainment within such tight budgets and time constraints. And as for the casting, he picks some real humdinger actors! Michael Cardelle is mesmerisingly beautiful and very talented, while Jaimyse Haft happily chews up every scene she’s in.”

What sort of films (or specific titles) do you particularly enjoy watching?
“I’m very much into horror stories and slasher films of course, and have a soft spot for murder mysteries, crime novels and gothic fantasies. Anything from Hitchcock, Argento, Carpenter, Agatha Christie, Daphne DuMaurier, Bernard Rose, Easton Ellis, Lawrence Block, Poe, Cronenberg, Lovecraft, Conan Doyle, the list goes on! My favourite films are probably ones like Tenebrae, The Eyes of Laura Mars and Don’t Look Now, as they constantly make a point of something that exists in the real world outside of the film, something that exists right beside you, behind your sofa, in your popcorn or beneath your subconscious, and more often than not that is far more frightening than what’s on screen.”

What are you working on next?
“Well David just wrapped The Pit and the Pendulum and did such a good job on it. I really enjoyed writing that one and I love how he filmed it. It’s safe to say that the only similarity it has with the story is the pendulum itself. It’s not like you can film a whole movie about a guy underneath a pendulum, unless you’re witnessing his dream or the deliria in his head, but that would smack too much of a cop-out I think. So, we made it into a contemporary Hammer/Corman-esque throwback, complete with campy dominatrix with an obsession for hypnosis, and a group of student athletes who practice wrestling, diving and, er, storm chasing!

“Essentially I just tried to mould the script into one big metaphor packed with references to clocks, pendulums - even the characters ‘swing’, ha ha. Then there’s all these cacti lying around which, because the film is about these asexual characters and eroticising pain, is a pretty self-explanatory metaphor. Lorielle New plays the lead with relish, it is one to look out for!

“Next up for David and I is a Sherlock Holmes adaptation. I have a really good feeling about it and I know that his spin on it will be an exhilarating one. It’ll be faithful to the plots of the original stories, but there will be some interesting new characters cropping up and of course many a gay/lesbian sub-plot! I’m also collaborating on a script with a director in Luxembourg, about a Catholic girl who goes to ‘rescue’ a female cage-fighter and a post-op transsexual from a life of sin. We’ll see what happens with that one.”

Interview originally posted 17th March 2009

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