Ballycastle Film Festival

April 14, 2008

Ballycastle Film Festival 2008Andrew Harrison and I spent a very enjoyable weekend on the north coast of Ireland at Ballycastle Film Festival. On Saturday morning we hosted a 90-minute presentation on doing special effects with little or no money. Using a lot of audience participation, we demonstrated how to produce see-through ghosts, fake punches, meat cleavers in throats, etc.

Later in the day we held the premiere of our latest Ballycastle Film Club production, Do Not Disturb, which went down a treat with the audience. Various filmmakers arrived throughout the day, giving talks and showing movies. Later in the evening, most of the movies filmed by the club in 2007 were shown, in anticipation of a special award for the Best Film of the Year. Our movie from October, The Siren, won, to the delight of the cast members who showed up. Andrew and I were presented with a fantastic Oscar-style trophy, and all the kids who took part in the movie were presented with a framed certificate.

Here’s hoping Ballycastle Film Club goes from the strengh to strength in the future. It’s great that a little seaside town has this activity for young people.

Ballycastle Film Club presents Do Not Disturb

April 13, 2008

On 1 March Andrew Harrison and I headed up to the north coast to make our third film with Ballycastle Film Club. In preparation, my mind had drifted to a memorable short story that I read about ten years ago in the pages of small-press fiction zine RQC (short for Really Quite Cosmic). The story was “Student Seance” by James A. Tucker. I decided to write it as a script from the ground up, without re-reading the original. I wrestled a bit, as a Christian, with a subject matter; it’s difficult telling a fantasy story featuring an occult activity that you believe is genuinely dangerous, but I found a balance that I quite liked. Sadly, I’ve no way of notifying James that we’ve made a movie out of his story, or of even asking permission. But it’s a non-profit movie, and I hope he would be delighted by our choice rather than offended. Maybe he’ll discover the movie one of these days if he Googles his name.

At Ballycastle Film Club, I was delighted to see the return of some old faces, as well as some new ones. Do Not Disturb was premiered yesterday evening at Ballycastle Film Festival, and received a hearty round of applause. Hope you enjoy it, too.

Fun with a meat cleaver

April 8, 2008

Andrew and I are heading for a film festival in Ballycastle this Satuday, to deliver a presentation about our filmmaking exploits - specifically the area of doing special effects with little or no money. We’re in the process of preparing some material. I thought I’d share this semi-successful experiment we tried yesterday …

Maxim Media wants Dark Light

March 11, 2008

In some surprising news, US company Maxim Media Marketing Inc. has asked specifically for our old vampire movie Dark Light. This puts the movie in with a shot at being televised here, there, and everywhere, and maybe even released officially on DVD. I stress that this is not a distribution contract; it’s is a marketing contract - for seven years, no less! Maxim Media will take on the responsibility of trying to sell the movie, and profits (if any) will be divided between them and Midnight Pictures (Andrew Harrison and myself, with Paul Barton, who was co-producer at the time).

Long-time visitors may recall the Mexican deal we had with Saul’s Pupils. Andrew and I always wondered what happened with that. We had an uncommunicative agent at the time. Turns out the company never got off the ground. It’s something of an embarrassment, because we had major publicity on that one, in the Observer newspaper, no less.

So, until the cheque’s in the post, I’m not going to get over-excited about the Dark Light news. I am, however, going to give it my all. And that means putting together an effective trailer to help sell the movie. Here’s my attempt:

Partial credit for this trailer must go to Philip Topping, specifically for the computer-generated titles. These are from Phil’s original teaser. I felt that Phil’s version didn’t show nearly enough clips from the movie, so I had a go at incorporting his work into a longer trailer.

The whole movie (roughly 65 mins) can presently be watched on YouTube. That may not be the case for long, depending on what requirements Maxim Media stipulates. So, if you’re interested in watching the movie, don’t dawdle.

Introducing Glenn McKee as “Roy”

February 27, 2008

Sometime over the next few months, Andrew and I will be holding auditions for the various parts in the new film, but there’s one role we have filled already: the character of “Roy.” He’s the man who lives in the house being terrorised by the mysterious parka’d stranger. Local actor Glenn McKee (photo) will play the part.

Well over a year ago, Glenn sent us a DVD of a film he starred in called Morton’s Fort, where he played the part of a traumatised prisoner accused of molesting a child. This film was one of a series, produced as part of a festival called NORMA Shorts. Glenn was awarded Best Actor out of all the actors in all six shorts shown at the festival. It was a great performance, and Andrew and I have wanted to use Glenn ever since we saw it.

Since then, Glenn has played the lead role in another short film, Checkout, where he plays a mentally-challenged supermarket worker in love with one of the checkout girls. Another great performance, revealing Glenn to have quite a bit of versatility. We’re very glad to have him aboard.

A little Photoshop playtime

February 20, 2008

I thought I would sit down for an hour with Photoshop and put together something that captures the flavour of the movie we’re about to make. It’s a mash-up of some photos I found using Google’s useful image search facility (you can bet there are no trees like that in Portadown, unless there’s a Portadown, California out there). I found a lot of parka coats in an online catalogue. Although this one lacks the traditional fur-rimmed hood, it was the only one that had an air of menace. Obviously, this mash-up isn’t what we’ll use for the final artwork when it comes time to promote the film, but maybe we’ll use the same idea. The movie title reflects my current favourite, and may change. The tagline is whatever I could think up in the space of a couple of minutes.

What do we call this film?

February 14, 2008

Andrew and I have been trying to decide on a title for the forthcoming movie. Our bad guy is someone dressed in a parka with the hood up, hiding his face. He stands on the street at night, completely unmoving, pointing at his intended victim from a distance. First, we tried to come up with a title based on the antagonist’s unnerving stillness and on the creepy way he appears closer night after night. On the table we have …

  • Night After Night
  • Someone in the Night
  • Still Fear
  • Six Degrees of Fear
  • Level 6
  • The Approaching Fear

No good. Concepts like “stillness” and “advancing” simply aren’t potent enough. Then we thought, the film is all about getting increasingly scared night after night. So …

  • Dread Level
  • Fearometer
  • Terminal Fear
  • The Ascent of Fear
  • The Scale of Fear
  • Fear Grade

The bottom two appealed to us most from this batch. Then I got the idea of using the word “dread” to put a new spin on catchphrases containing the word “dead.”

  • The Dread of Night
  • The Dread Man
  • Dread Man Walking
  • Dread Rising

Andrew came up with that last one, and I feel it’s the best option so far. Okay, it’s only catchy because there was a videogame called Dead Rising, but maybe that’s all the justification we need. Mind you, with Google putting the whole world in one basket, it’s disappointing to discover all four of those titles already in use for something. I welcome any further suggestions for a title.

By the way, it was Andy who came up with all the silly ones. Well, actually, I take the credit for Fearometer.

The return of Midnight Pictures

February 12, 2008

A couple of years ago, Andrew Harrison and I drew Midnight Pictures to a close. We’ve done no filmmaking since summer 2005. Well, no serious filmmaking; we’ve made a few mini-movies as part of children’s workshops in conjuction with Ballycastle Film Club. If you thought Don’t Look in the Attic was going to be the sixth and final film from Midnight Pictures, I’m delighted to change your expectations.

It began on Saturday night, with my friend Earl sharing a creepy idea for a short story. Imagine yourself looking out of your bedroom window late at night, seeing a figure standing across the road on the footpath, in the glow of the streetlights. He’s not moving, and he appears to be staring straight at you, although it’s hard to tell with the shadows. The next night, the figure is there again, except this time he’s standing about ten metres closer, again staring. The following night he’s right outside your garden gate. We bounced ideas off each other and made some progress with where this story could lead.

On Sunday evening, Andrew and I got together for our weekly DVD watching session, and I shared the idea with him. I knew he’d like it, because he digs David Lynchian weirdness. We ended up talking for quite a while, attempting to develop the story. And the old magic started to flow. We figured it all out: who this strange character was, what he was up to. We came up with some cool cliche-breakers and an ending that will give children nightmares!

It’s only Tuesday, and I’ve already written the entire script: 3,300 words. I’m guessing it will translate to about 30 minutes. It’s been a long time since I got this enthused about a project, and it feels great. The only thing lacking is a good title. I’ve often said to Andrew that it would be great to have several short films that we could eventually join into a single feature film in the style of Creepshow. Perhaps this will be the first. Rest assured, we won’t be keeping our short feature under wraps for several years while we accrue 90 minutes worth. We’ll be too excited to show it to you.

The next stage is to get the right people on board, both behind and in front of the camera, and to make the necessary arrangements regarding locations and effects, etc. Because of the amount of night-time footage the film requires, it’s not likely we’ll commence filming until around September. But you should consider this blogpost my official statement green-lighting the project. For the past two years, I’ve been concentrating solely on writing fiction. It’s time to put the pen down for a spell and pick up the camera. Midnight Pictures is back!

The Ballycastle sea monster arrives

November 6, 2007

On Friday evening Andrew Harrison and I travelled up to Ballycastle for the premiere of The Siren, a movie we made a few weeks earlier with the town’s filmmaking club. We had a brilliant turnout - over fifty bums on seats. The film went down a treat, generating a lot of (intended) laughter, and a hearty round of applause. It’s a wonderful feeling to see people get so much enjoyment out of something you’ve toiled over. Philip Henry, the man who wrote the novel on which our movie is based, also attended the event. I’ve corresponded with Phil online for several years, and it was great to finally meet him.

Aside from a few pre-production shots, the whole movie was shot in one day over a mere five or six hours. Amazingly, it’s about thirteen minutes long. I hope you enjoy The Siren as much as our little gathering did …

Chapter 1 of 2:

Chapter 2 of 2:

The Ballycastle sea monster - on camera

October 15, 2007

Andrew Harrison and I spent Saturday up at the north coast, where our friend Harry Hamill runs Ballycastle Film Club. Nine kids, aged ten to fifteen, showed up, and we filmed a short monster movie that I had scripted earlier in the year: The Siren, loosely inspired by Philip Henry’s novel Mind’s Eye. It was a hard day’s work getting everything done on time, but it was a whole lot of fun - especially watching Emma drag Alex into the freezing cold ocean on his back. Such enthusiasm! We also had a chance to use some excellent cameras, supplied by the Film Club.

The photograph (kindly supplied by the Ballymoney Times, who showed up to cover the event) shows Harry, myself and Andrew, with Alex, Emma, Lee and Alanna. If you look closely, you’ll notice the grotesque fingers from Don’t Look in the Attic. Those are actually the legs from a life-size model kit of a facehugger from Alien!

Andrew and I will be editing the film over the next two weeks. It will be premiered at a Halloween festival in Ballycastle on Friday 2 November. Right after that, we’ll be sharing it online, of course.

Welcome to The Dead Club

July 10, 2007

Last weekend, Midnight Pictures was invited to travel up north to the seaside town of Ballycastle, to do a one-day filmmaking workshop with the town’s already established Film Club run by our friend Harry Hamill (who stars in several of our own films). Only two people showed up to take part (maybe due to the rain), which meant we couldn’t film our intended story. Nevertheless, Andrew Harrison and I didn’t let that dampen our enthusiasm. A quick scout around an adjacent ruined building got us thinking along post-apocalypse lines. It really was a fantastic location (as you’ll see). And what post-apocalyptic scenario did we choose? Do you really need to ask? Well, for the first time since 1993, Midnight Pictures returns to where it all began … zombies!

I’m quite proud of how this movie turned out. We managed to record a complete six-minute movie in the space of five hours, complete with zombie make-up and blood (courtesy of some art paint we found on the premises). I spent yesterday and today editing the movie, and it was a real joy seeing it come together. I was especially pleased with the climactic fight scene, which felt genuinely tense to watch.

Hope you enjoy The Dead Club

Saul’s Pupils causes offense at festival

October 30, 2006

Last Friday evening, Andrew and I were invited to participate in a Halloween Festitval at the seaside town of Ballycastle. The first evening consisted of a large-screen showing of our 2002 film, Saul’s Pupils, followed by a Q&A session. About 1000 leaflets had been distributed, promoting the event. We discovered that the printing company had made a serious blunder on the leaflet. Instead of writing “18+”, they wrote “12+”. Now, anyone who has seen Saul’s Pupils will know that it’s not exactly what you’d call family friendly; it contains a lots of unnecessary cussing and lots of gore.

We had about twenty-five bums on seats, and several of them didn’t look a day over thirteen. Oh dear. Anyway, what could we do but get on with showing the film? Everything went well until about halfway through, when a woman in her forties suddenly got up and left. Ten minutes after that, a row of three girls in their late teens got up (right after the scene where Trent disposes of a body by cutting it up into smaller pieces). I was standing around at the back of the hall at the time, and one of the girls approached me on her way to the exit, saying, “This is definitely not for 12-year-olds.” I shrugged and said, “It wasn’t my decision.” Thankfully, the rest of the audience stayed put (including the youngsters, who appeared unfazed by the violence), and we received a hearty round of applause, and a few cheers, as the credits rolled.

I don’t feel particularly bad about the walk-out. Part of me is amazed, because it’s the sort of thing you expect from a big-budget movie like The Exorcist, not a shoe-string outfit like Midnight Pictures. The funny thing is, during the original premiere of Saul’s Pupils, there were about one hundred and fifty persons present, and nobody walked out. I guess Friday’s experience illustrates how important is it to tell your audience what to expect. “Contains graphic violence and bad language” is a pretty important piece of information to include on any advertising.

This has got me thinking about the issue of good and bad taste. As a Christian, you would expect me to take a fairly conservate view, but the truth is I struggle to make my mind up. Usually, I want to avoid anything gratuitous, because it’s hard for me to defend it, and these days I don’t think I’d want to make a film quite like Saul’s Pupils. However, I also think it’s important to show death as death (if it’s part of the story). Watering it down minimises how devastating it is. The violence of the likes of The A-Team - where bullets fly and nobody ever gets killed - is more questionable than the back of somebody’s head being blown off by a shotgun blast. Showing the latter to under 18s is regarded as questionable (even though it’s the truth), but nobody ever questions the dangerous subtext of The A-Team, which is aimed at children: “Shooting real guns never kills anybody.” The truth is, western civilisation has certain hang-ups. I find it interesting to watch films from other countries (especially Japan), because different cultures have different hang-ups … and different permissions. We’re sitting here in the west thinking that we have to be oh-so careful about this and that, when all we’re really sitting in is a culture trap. The most offensive scene in Saul’s Pupils, where a body gets dismembered, is pretty hard on the senses. And sure, it could have been cut, and maybe it should have been cut. But it actually has something to say: “Look, everybody. If you murder someone, this is what you have to go through to get rid of the evidence. It ain’t nice to watch, and it ain’t nice for the murderer, either.” Another point of possible offense in our film is that it’s women who get targeted for murder, not men. We could be accused of being mysogynistic, but Andy and I actually had an important discussion about this: if you were a man and you were planning to kill somebody - it doesn’t matter who - would you target a man or a woman? You’d choose a woman, because the kill would be easier (statistically, at least). And that’s the truth.

Then there’s that part of me that sometimes does want to include graphic violence, in special cases where the gag is just too good to pass up. In a (possibly) forthcoming film, Shadow of the Dead, we’ve got a scene where a zombie gets its head blown off with a shotgun in a totally original and shocking and hilarious context. Is this explosion of brain matter really necessary for the story? Nope. But it is a hoot? You betcha. I have to ask myself, is it right to turn grisly death into a source of humour? Is it a reflection of how messed up we are, that we laugh at it? Should I be trying to rise above this instinct? But then, in the interests of consistency, consider the school movie, Cat Trap (which you can download on the sidebar), a film that would never offend anyone. It finishes with a schoolboy being dragged off-camera by a panther and eaten. It might be non-gratuitous, but the event is the same kind. And clearly, it’s designed to make the viewer laugh. Why should the same idea - laughing at a grisly death - be offensive in one context and not another. When you break it right down, it’s simply a matter of western civilization having a hang-up about gore.

You know, when all’s said and done, I think the best advice to myself is “Lighten up, Sloan.” There’s nothing morally upright about been squeamish to gore. In fact, if surgeons had that trait, a lot of people in their care would die. With Don’t Look in the Attic, Midnight Pictures has moved away from gory material for the time being. But if we ever make Shadow of the Dead, it’ll be impossible to stay away from it. Can you imagine a zombie film without gore? Flesh-eaters without the flesh-eating - that would be very odd.

Of course, I’ve seen movies that are simply about gore and nothing else. Good story-telling is sacrificed, and a collection of brutal set-pieces are strung together and called a movie. I have no respect for this kind of film. I guess my take on the whole thing is that I want to tell entertaining stories that surprise the viewer/reader. And if those stories happen to have brutal elements, so be it. The only way to please everybody would be to rip the heart and soul out of everything you come up with.

I should say that I am not guilty of the honour of writing Saul’s Pupils. That was one sick and twisted individual called Glenn Poole. ;-)

Midnight Pictures goes broadcast quality

September 20, 2006

Several months ago, I discovered a mutual interest in filmmaking with a guy called Jonny Martin, who handles tech support for the school. On Monday past, he announced that he’d invested three thousand pounds in a whopping great video camera, the Canon XL2. Last night, I introduced Jonny to Andy for the first time, and the three of us had a look at the camera. The first thing that hit me was the realisation that the photo doesn’t do justice to the sheer size of the beast. And as far as cameras are concerned, big means good. Here’s the spec. The most exciting feature for me is the film-like texture the camera can generate, because one major factor that has held back Midnight Pictures’ credibility is the “camcorder look” of our movies. We tested the camera last night in various lighting conditions and were especially impressed with how it handled poorly lit areas. Excessive grain has always been the curse of cheap camcorders, when filming in poor light; with the Canon XL2, we filmed the exterior of my house, with no illumination but the porch lights, and it looked beautiful, with very little trace of grain.

So, there are no prizes for guessing who’ll be doing camera on the next Midnight Picture. Long-time readers of the blog will recall Andy and I drawing the outfit to a close about a year ago. Speaking for myself, even back then I sort of knew that all we needed a break.

And what is the next Midnight Picture? All I’ll say at this point is that the working title is Not Alone, but I’m determined to think up something better.

Plotting a movie: Two heads are better than one, especially when you’re spooked

August 30, 2006

Something amazing happened on Sunday evening. Andy was at my house. We were in the living room chatting, while the sun was going down. When it was dark, Andy looked out of the window and said, “There’s your mate.” (This was in reference to Arnie, whom I was expecting to call.) When I looked out of the window, I couldn’t see Arnie’s car in the driveway, which was odd because he never leaves it out on the street. I said, “There’s no one there.” Andy replied, “I could swear I saw somebody walking down your driveway.”

Okay, now I was a little unnerved. But, being a big manly man, I quickly waved off the irrational notion of someone skulking around my property in the dark. Andy reckoned he probably misjudged what he had seen at the top of my driveway; somebody was probably walking past the driveway, not into. But it bugged me that he had to use the word “probably.”

I received a text from Arnie to say he couldn’t make it, so Andy and I got on with our chat. After a bit, he said, “Darryl, would you mind closing the blinds. I hate the thought of glancing out of the window and seeing somebody staring back at me.” I did so.

There was a spooky mood in the air now. We ended up talking about the trapdoor in my hallway floor (something I’ve mentioned previously in the context of sewer manholes). I said, “Imagine you get up in the middle of the night to take a pee, and you walk along the hallway in the dark, unable to see much of anything. And when your foot comes down on the trapdoor, you’re surprised to discover that it’s sitting up at an angle, as if someone or something is peering out. The weight of your foot closes the trapdoor, and you’re left wondering: What the hell is underneath me? It starts banging the door, but is unable to shift your weight. But what can you do? You’re all alone in the house and you can’t take another single step.”

Andy and I started bouncing ideas off each other for where the story could go next. A couple of hours later, we had a pretty neat short film all figured out. We have no definite plans to make it, but we’re excited. Comparisons are unavoidable with the theme of our previous film Don’t Look in the Attic, but this one goes in a different direction (and we’d never call Don’t Look in the Basement, you’ll be glad to know). I don’t want to say too much, beause I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I’m just trying to convey something of the magic that happens occasionally and unexpectedly when Andy and I get together. Two heads are most definitely better than one.

What’s interesting is that Andy would have went home two hours earlier, and the story would have remained undiscovered, if not for the fact that he happened to glance out of the window at a particular moment and spot somebody walking past my driveway whom he thought was walking in. Heck, never mind Andy; the existence of the story hinges every bit as much on the walking dude doing what he did at the exact moment that he did. It also depends on Arnie cancelling. Without all these factors, Andy and I wouldn’t have creeped ourselves out and started talking about trapdoors. It seems amazing to me how a terrific story can be born into the world hanging on such a thin thread.

P.S. If anybody is wondering what has become of The End of the World and Beyond, I’ve decided to abandon the enterprise. I need to concentrate on where my passions lie (i.e. writing and filmmaking), or I’ll end up spreading myself out too thin and getting nothing done. I am, however, committed to the idea of podcasting my fiction. Is There Anybody Out There? went down a treat and generated a lot more feedback than The End of the World and Beyond.

Everybody loves Zombie Genocide

August 27, 2006

Andy came across this thread at All Things Zombie. It’s a nice feeling when you unexpectedly hear people chatting about your work and appreciating it.