My affection for Bloody Cuts has been well documented on Daily Grindhouse. Fueled by creativity and talent, the group has been making slick, effective horror shorts for two years now, and the quality of the work has increased to match their growing ambitions. I’ve been lucky enough to have latched onto the series very early on, and with the release of their latest short DON’T MOVE, I had the tremendous opportunity to sit down with Bloody Cuts masterminds Anthony Melton and Ben Franklin to talk about where the project stands, the difficulties of crowdfunding, and what we should be expecting from the group in the future.
Sweetback (SB): Before we dive into the most recent film, give me a sense of your overall feelings on the project right now. You’re eight episodes in. What have been the big lessons, and how effective have you been at capturing an audience?
Anthony Melton (AM): Eight episodes in roughly two years. Crazy.
We’ve been lucky enough over the last few months to be able to show the whole series at both the Bootleg and the Horror on Sea Film festivals, and my experience from sitting amongst the audience will help me answer this question.
Whilst the Bloody Cuts team is very proud of each episode, it is very clear that there is an obvious progression in our abilities as filmmakers throughout the series and you can see from film to film learning’s from episodes previous.
From script to screen and beyond, Bloody Cuts is very much a film school of sorts for all involved and I suppose that’s one of the greatest allures to the project. With each film we try and tackle something we haven’t done before, whether that be choosing unique locations, using new technology in our workflow or crafting new and ambitious practical special effects with Millennium FX.
Despite our efforts to grow technically it’s very encouraging to find that audiences have differing favorites from across the series, which is testament to the ideas and concepts of the earlier films.
Bloody Cuts is still going strong and thankfully our audience is still growing consistently, for which we are very thankful. One of the biggest lessons throughout the series informs us of the importance of promotion, marketing and a strong launch to kick the films off into the web-o-sphere. This as it turns out is not as easy as it may seem. For our earlier films we relied pretty much on social media as a way to connect with an audience along with a very basic website, but we quickly learnt that in order to survive amongst the overwhelming white noise of the internet, we had some work to do.
Primarily our audience exists online and in order to stay connected with existing followers whilst growing a larger audience we’ve had to permeate as many channels as possible, given the very limited time and budget that Ben and I can muster outside of the production of the films themselves. So what began as a few tweets has now become: A broader website rammed with special features, a blog, an online shop, You Tube channels hosting the films as well as the Making-Of’s, Vimeo Channel, Twitter, Facebook Accounts, Facebook Pages, Pinterest Boards… the list goes on.
This can very quickly become overbearing whilst pretty much everyone in the BC team has day jobs to go to and families to look after. Thankfully though, we’ve had an Amazing amount of support from both within and outside of the team. We’ve built a pretty solid network of supporters that immeasurably assist us along the way who are invaluable for getting the message out there when we launch a new film. We rely on folks like yourself (Doug) and Daily Grindhouse for your generous coverage and exposure so I guess part the lesson I speak of earlier is developing these sorts of relationships as they are key to growing an audience online, particularly when you’re trying to do it on a shoe-string budget.
I’d hope that our audience continues to grow, and people keep enjoying our films as reading comments and reviews of our short slices of terror truly does make it all worthwhile… I know there’s so much more that we can do to spread to word of Bloody Cuts so whilst people are still enjoying our films, Ben and I will endeavor to do more.
SB: There’s been an interesting confluence since the release of the first two episodes in late 2011. The anthology format – which appeared to be dead and buried – has returned with gusto. Do you think the release of V/H/S, CHILLERAMA and THE ABC’S OF DEATH have changed the public’s perception regarding shorter horror works?
AM: Bloody Cuts was born of an idea from Ben and Jonny Franklin and was forged by their general love of horror but heavily influenced by their fondness for shows like Tales from the Crypt, Twilight Zone and the Masters of Horror Series, which pre 2011 had kind of fallen out of favor.
I think Bloody Cuts episode 1 was released just before the resurgence of this new wave of Horror Anthology, and whilst I’m not saying we’re pioneers or anything, I do imagine that this resurgence is a generational influence, dare I say it – part of the cultural zeitgeist, that Bloody Cuts managed to tap into.
So V/H/S et al has fed a demand whilst creating new interest for this kind of format that I hope proves to exert longevity. I suppose that in a world of the diminished attention span the horror anthology has a new home, but like all trends I’m sure we’ll see a cyclical pattern.
Horror in general is absolutely everywhere at the moment and is very much still the ‘Genre of the moment’ both in the Cinema and on Box. Undoubtedly it’s mainstream marketing clout will run it’s course in time but this current golden age of Horror can do nothing by bolster the Genre’s faithful core audience, which seems to have just gone from strength to strength since it’s earliest days.
Believe in Horror.
Ben Franklin (BF): I’ve always felt there’s a really gratifying thing about short form storytelling, which in its condensed form means you have to strip out a lot of the fat that otherwise would have existed. I’ve always loved reading short stories in particular, and found that they better serve my short attention span. Couple that with the way information is delivered at such speed online now, and the ‘YouTube’ generation who want bite-sized information, and the ‘anthology’ way of telling storytelling starts to make sense and become relevant again.
I was influenced, prior to Bloody Cuts, by online filmmakers like Drew Deywalt, who were creating super short horror films on YouTube, and were quickly building an audience who were looking to spend a few minutes on so getting scared on YouTube. Look at how popular ghost videos are online, they literally get millions of views, and that’s because people like to be terrified, but don’t want to spend 2 hours being disappointed by the latest Hollywood production.
So I do think that what we did was quite timely, although in fact we originally set out to make much smaller and simpler videos and quickly realized that if we really wanted to test what we could do we needed to be more ambitious. LOCK UP, our pilot episode, was really going to be the model for the whole series: Simple setup + scary ending = fun 2 or 3 minutes spent on YouTube. But we knew we could do better, and I think each film has demonstrated our desire to push what we can do within our limitations, and thus developed into even more of a proper short story format than we might’ve imagined.
SB: (To Anthony Melton) When you started working with the Bloody Cuts team, was it always with an eye towards directing? It seems like everyone wears a number of hats on the Bloody Cuts crew.
AM: I had called myself a filmmaker for over 10 years, and in truth hadn’t actually made “a film” since a very, very awkward self obsessed, naval gazing load of rubbish that I made at university called – sick bags on standby – INNOCENCE LOST.
I had produced a series of corporate video over the years, and occasionally edited some bits and pieces as well as producing a little motion graphics, but around the birth of Bloody Cuts I had found myself a freelance creative mainly producing Websites for small businesses, so I had drifted away from filmmaking in it’s purest sense.
Sitting by my computer staring as a string of characters beginning with PHP I received an email alerting me to a group of young filmmakers in my home town making a short for the SCI-FI-LONDON 48 Hour Film Challenge looking for actors to take part in their film. Being an actor (I’m not an Actor) I got in touch, to see if they needed any more crew for the shoot. After sending Ben Franklin 10,064 emails, he and Jonny Franklin along with Ben Kent finally agreed to let me come on board and do a little post-production for them as part of their team.
That team is truly where Bloody Cuts was born and after my work with them Ben and Jonny graciously asked me to come on board for what eventually became Bloody Cuts.
Initially I helped the Franklin brothers choose the name and I designed the original knife logo concept, which led on to the first very basic Website, and then some marketing materials for the launch of LOCK UP, and then the Making-Of for STITCHES and then it snowballed from there. I guess I was just happy to be involved with the project as I really enjoyed working with Ben and Jonny for the love and passion of filmmaking, no BS, no bravado just the reward of producing the films. Over time my interest to get more and more involved on-set grew to me eventually directing an episode. And this one time… in band camp… (Sorry wittered on there).
I think that story is fairly indicative of the way in which the team members of Bloody Cuts approach their roles on the series. We’ve had so much time and energy contributed to each production as I think folks genuinely enjoy their time on-set and get the opportunity to try different roles and responsibilities. Changing up the team keeps things fresh and whilst it’s mostly the same faces in the crew donning different hats shifts the dynamic around and hopefully comes through in the final product.
SB: Since we’re now past the half-way mark of the project as a whole, I think it’s reasonable to ask. How far ahead are you thinking when it comes to the series, and the brand as a whole? It seems you’ve collected a group of passionate, talented people and are primed to just grow bigger and bigger.
BF: It’s interesting that the more films we do, the more the road forks off in several directions of where Bloody Cuts can go. We have our own individual goals, which are quite similar in actual fact, but I guess the dream is to truly take our filmmaking to the big screen. I do think we have something quite original to say, and do believe we’ve proven consistently that we can subvert expectations. So with the right opportunity we do think we could do something very very good.
But we always mapped out 13 episodes, and intend to complete them. I think for our own sanity we need to, and considering what we’ve done so far I’m very excited to see where we might end it all.
AM: We are trying to keep things in perspective at the moment, we’ve had an amazing run with the 8 films so far each with their own triumphs and successes, and the series as a whole has firmly developed a recognizable brand and audience which has generated some interesting opportunities for the future.
We feel very confidently that Bloody Cuts has grown into a professional group of filmmakers with whom Ben and I hope to continue to work for as long as we can and whilst the iron is hot hope we can capitalize on the buzz surrounding the collective.
As with most things that go on in the movie world we can’t give you any particular details as to the scope of said opportunities, although Ben and I are working hard along with several Key members of the team, to produce a solid direction to take for the next “Big” project.
It goes without saying that we are obviously both very busy developing the next steps for the series and have some very cool ideas to unleash onto you all. Keep you eyes (and your face) peeled for updates
SB: I want to discuss DON’T MOVE in more detail. One of the things I love about the recent BLOODY CUTS releases is that they feel like complete horror films with all of the fat removed. They are lean, vicious and enthralling. DON’T MOVE has an intriguing concept behind it. How did that develop?
AM: DON’T MOVE originated from a script written by the talented David Scullion that he brought to the attention of Bloody Cuts some time last year. David had written the script as a challenge to himself to see if he could craft a horror story where the main characters couldn’t move.
I think David had actually shelved the script a few years ago and sent it to us on the off-chance that we’d be interested. Ben read the script and had the foresight to add it to the top of the pile for potential Bloody Cut’s episodes. As DON’T MOVE was a corker.
When Ben Franklin, Joel Morgan and I discussed possible routes to take for Episode 8, out of the several potential stories there was no question. We had to make DON’T MOVE. I really loved the concept and the very pure and simple idea behind the film, plus the fact that in the end it didn’t take itself too seriously, the twist itself was the script’s ability to betray the films sentiment and stab a “Tropey” knife, right in the heart of the plot.
After meeting with David it was very clear that this project was going to be a very rewarding creative experience. And we set about developing the existing script into the final draft, which became the short you see today. Whilst retaining the lean and mean approach to the story I really wanted to bring in a rounder opportunity for our cast to get their teeth and claws into so David and I developed the characters to carry a little more drama than originally scripted.
DON’T MOVE would be the largest cast that we’d had in a Bloody Cuts episode so I wanted to set myself a challenge to bring as much character with minimal dialog into the story, whilst making DON’T MOVE the most gore-filled and FX laden piece (Despite repeatedly telling the crew “The Words I don’t want to hear are – We’ll fix it in post”). We were so lucky to have such a fantastic cast for DON’T MOVE and I wanted to allow them to own their characters whilst living the back stories we had written. I was so impressed with each and every one of them as due to the nature of busy schedules etc we only really had a couple hours audition time and then only a few hours together as a troupe before the shoot to prepare, but they knocked it out of the park.
Beyond script development, Jonny Franklin (DOP) and I worked closely to develop the film’s visual style. I produced a series of Mood boards and style guides which Jonny then took to prepare his lighting tests where he crafted the individual looks for the film. A special mention should go to Mr J. Franklin who really leant his visual genius to Don’t Move, definitely producing his best work to date as DOP for Blood Cuts and making my directorial Debut look fantastic.
After a location visit, Jonny and I worked on the preliminary blocking, after which Jonny produced a comprehensive series of plans for lighting and camera placement, which I then broke down into a Shooting Script which Producer Ben Franklin then translated into a definitive schedule. To support this Christopher Goodman prepared some beautiful storyboards to compliment the work he was carrying out in the art department.
This was definitely our most ambitious shoot to date and I don’t think it would have been possible without the extensive planning and pre-production that was carried out before the shoot, not to mention the crazy amount a Macabre artistry that was going on over at Millennium FX and Fangs FX.
SB: While all of shorts have been visually slick, the creature in DON’T MOVE represents some of the most impressive special effects yet seen in the series. How was the smoke-like effect the surrounds it develop, and what challenges did it present when filming?
AM: I met up with Special Effects Coordinator Kate Walshe from Millennium FX a couple of months before the shoot after exchanging a few emails regarding Monster Style and Kill Count.
To be honest I really thought she’d arranged to meet up to politely tell me that I was totally out of my mind and there is no way on earth that Millennium FX were going to be able to produce the worryingly psychotic amount of gore and creature effects for a film that had a budget of little over £3000.
Far From It.
We sat down over a couple of pints and thinking the best way to deal with this meeting was to just charge on through. So I launched into:
“So yeah… We start on PAUL – he’s sat dead at a Ouija Board, he’s had his heart ripped out… the wound exposed. Blood Everywhere, JILL – Turns on stereo and runs toward door… get’s winched into the air on a sophisticated pulley system then her entrails are ripped out to drop 10 foot onto a fake carpet, then SARAH… Get’s eviscerated in the Kitchen by a 8 foot DEMON, stomach stabbed, face slashed… then… I want the DEMON to teleport in behind Marc and stab through his torso retracting his hand to leave a bloody mess. The DEMON then teleports away leaving ANNA, who thinks she’s survived, walks to the door in in the plain sight of GRAHAM (who covered in his own fake vomit) and get her head crushed in the DEMONS blood soaked claws.”
Kate took a drink of her beer, She had a slightly perplexed look in her eye, She’ so gonna tell me to fuck off. She finishes hers though. She speaks.
“Do you think maybe the demon could flay the skin off of ANNA’s face in full view of the camera, that’d be much better.”
OK fair enough… I’ve dramatized that a little bit, but you get the jist..
And that sums up every moment of Millennium FX’s involvement with DON’T MOVE; they totally delivered and then went the extra mile. Mile after blood soaked mile.
If you’ve ever read anything about me before (although I’m sure you haven’t) I have an unhealthy level of respect for Clive Barker’s HELLRAISER. And I couldn’t have been spoiled more with our Demon for DON’T MOVE.
The Demon was created by horror special effects legend Cliff Wallace whom worked on the original HELLRAISER film as well as going on to work with Guillermo del Toro. I think you’ll spot some consistencies with Cliff’s previous incarnations for Guillermo.
I had given Cliff a written brief along with a few reference images… but in many ways the Demon is true on true a Cliff Wallace creation. I saw the head when it was just a clay sculpture and I think all I could really say was “HOLY SHIT. WOW! Erm… TREMENDOUS… erm… yeah carry on”. I was truly blown away. The final Prosthetic and Costume (Produced at Millennium FX alongside Bloody Cuts’ Costume designer Charlotte Barrett) looked fantastic once applied to our Demon performer, Ian Whyte. Standing at just less than 8 feet tall, it scared the living daylights out of cast and crew alike, but even though Cliff had conjured a terrifying spectacle we still had a long way to go to picture its Hellish visage as written and developed by David and I.
Ben and I were very aware of our budgetary constraints in terms of beings able to produce an entirely non-corporeal supernatural entity and also the limits to be able to render it in 3D too. So we always wanted to go with a physical model knowing full well that an underfunded CGI monster would instantly kill the film.
So I had given Visual Effects Supervisor Ben Tillet a very rough brief to allow him to create a style to add a supernatural aura surrounding the Demon. This aura was supposed to represent the Demon’s evil tethers to the other side whilst also acting a visual metaphor to describe it’s ability to stretch out and sense movement.
Following the theme of things getting knocked out of parks. Ben Tillett and his VFX team absolutely smashed it. Using a combination of 3D mapped Stock elements and 3D rendered particle physics… Ben Tillett, Freddie Smith, Alex Purcell, Wirginia Romanowski and Pete Butler added the final black magic to the incantation that brought the Demon into the world of Blood Cuts.
We’ll be discussing the breakdown of the special effects in a couple of weeks with Film Riot.
SB: What I love about DON’T MOVE is how it respects the audience enough to ask them to piece together the backstory. We begin right in the middle of the action. Was there any concern that viewers might get confused by not having the story explained to them in a more traditional manner?
BF: There’s always a certain amount of anxiety whenever making a film, over whether we’ve filled in all the blanks, and that the film is as watertight as possible. Equally our audience isn’t stupid, and we don’t need to spoon feed them, so there’s a certain amount of experimentation on our part with hoping our audience can work out the story with all of the small nuggets of information we present, and decide for themselves on what’s ‘really happened’ to get us where we are.
There will of course always be a certain amount of people who will question it, and will miss important details that we’ve placed in the film. But then there’s the re-watchability value that comes with it too (have you spotted the Demon in the opening shot of the film?), and the very fact that by us starting the film halfway through we don’t have to bore the audience with back story and setup and get right into the action!
AM: Despite each character having backstory and all cast playing to it, it was always the intention never to literally describe any of this on screen.
My hope was that our cast would infuse enough feeling in the characters so it would allow our audience to assume their position, whilst leaving enough room for a viewer to inhabit the experience, and ask themselves the question, What would you do?
Whilst Ben and I sat in the edit suite (Ben’s Dining Room) as we locked of the edit we did both have a last minute case of cold feet and both looked to each other and asked. Is there enough there? When you work on a film for weeks and weeks, particularly as an editor you can sometimes get to a point where you’re so close to a film where all you see is the slices, the decisions, the corrections… but after a couple of days away from it we both felt confident that we’d left enough in and it made sense…
Thankfully any doubts were erased when we showed the film for the first time at the awesomely accommodating Edinburgh Bootleg Film Festival to a very complementary audience. In fact if anything we actually sliced a little bit out from the film, our reasons for this will be unveiled in due course.
SB: DON’T MOVE was funded through an enthusiastic Kickstarter campaign that raised over £3000. There has been some controversy around larger crowdfunding efforts lately – the Veronica Mars film being the prime example. Any thoughts on how crowdfunding has benefited your own creative efforts? And is there a concern that these massive efforts might start to stamp out smaller directors and producers?
AM: I know Ben has a view on the larger Controversy but from a purely Bloody Cuts Centric point of view I have the following thoughts.
One of the things that we have learnt with the Kickstarter funding is that it takes more work than you might imagine. Unless you’re running VERONICA MARS, you’re going to have to really prepare yourself for a bit of a grind with a Kickstarter campaign. Knowing full well how dominated and commercial the crowdsourcing website has become you cannot rely on people organically tripping up on your project, so you’re going to have to put your project under people’s noses.
Because of the sites popularity and the sheer volume of Kickstarter campaigns that exist, you’re going to need to be really inventive with which rewards you offer and work hard to entice people to donate. It really, really helps to have an existing audience.
We ran an indieGoGo campaign many months ago toward the start of the project and barely raised anywhere near the target. Despite making our very own horror themed promo video and offering some really tasty Series-wide rewards (or perks as they’re called) we just couldn’t gather the interest. Back then we had only a fraction of our audience we have now.
That said, even though our audience was amazing at promoting the campaign, a large portion of the contribution still came from friends and family, colleagues and co-workers. Still, if you can generate enough buzz around you campaign it kind of validates your project when people just show interest thus more likely to make an already warm audience more likely to give.
Do your maths and set realistic targets. Projects closer to goal will get more rapidly funded.
Again referring back to our original IndieGoGo campaign we tried to fund the whole series before anyone had any real faith that we would complete. And considering we were asking for a large amount of money with a seemingly indefinite completion date, out target was well off.
Fundraising for DON’T MOVE was more considered and informed, and running the campaign with realistic targets and deadlines made folks – as you put it – much more enthusiastic to our cause.
One thing to be wary of is the cost of delivering your rewards and the imposed cost of committing to your return. Make sure that you do your Maths to ensure you receive the necessary funding after deductions for the creation and delivery of the rewards.
BF: Frankly I don’t know how we would have made Bloody Cuts without crowdfunding. There just isn’t the money out there for genre filmmakers like us, and we aren’t particularly flush in a way that means we’re able to fund these out of our own back-pockets. So for us, and for other serious filmmakers it’s fantastic, and I think the model is perfect in that respect. Where there’s obviously grey areas are when it comes to businesses looking for funding on technology they’re making, or in the case of VERONICA MARS, how they even needed to go that route in the first place.
It’s great that, in theory at least, fans can invest in something like VERONICA MARS, in order to see it revitalized in such a great way. As a fan of the show myself I’m excited for it, though whether I would have justified spending £50 or so (and then the cost the ticket/DVD of the film once done), I’m not so sure. But for those that have dreamed of seeing it again, they’ve been able to physically and emotionally invest in that product and help the writers and crew make that project a reality. I’m happy I get to see that show/film again, and it’s such a great story too, to know that the fans have ‘had their say’ and helped to engineer a brand new life for something that was otherwise seemingly dead in the water.
However I don’t think it will open floodgates for other productions, because the audience will quickly become savvy to what’s happening. Although I’m sure a good few campaigns will arise over time, and that there’s even Hollywood Directors currently prepping their Kickstarter campaigns as I write, I do think that with all these things there’ll be an element of over-saturation There’s also the questionable ethics of running these campaigns only for studios like Warner’s or Fox then taking the rights (and profits) to them once they’ve made their money. We’re in danger of literally paying the studios millions of dollars out of our own pockets, for them to make films for us that they will then charge us again for.
But as it stands I guess we’re really not sure what’s going to ultimately come of this, and it’s interesting to see how Kickstarter has been used to this great effect. I already think there’s a danger now of the bubble bursting on crowdfunding. Every other tweet now is another person asking for your hard earned cash, but for the moment it’s still ultimately a good thing for us and many other people involved in arts/entertainment. As I said, it’s one of the biggest reasons Bloody Cuts exists, but even in that case we still feel pretty awful having to ask people to give us their money!
SB: What’s coming up next for the BLOODY CUTS crew? Is there a time table for the five remaining films, or is that based somewhat on fundraising efforts?
AM: There will be a small Hiatus whilst Ben and I pursue a very exciting development that has occurred after the release of DON’T MOVE. Unfortunately we cannot release any information on this, but please stand by.
That said a hiatus is simply a momentary pause. We will return and we already have the next two episodes lined up for development. So be prepared for some more slices of terror to lurch from the Bloody Cuts towers later in the year.
We’ll soon be releasing the series so far – jam-packed with extras – on Blu-Ray in Full HD. There will be some previously unreleased exclusives and, as always, all profits will go straight back into Bloody Cuts.
SB: For those who want to keep up on the current progress of Bloody Cuts and find out about future releases, what’s the best way to do so?
AM: Please check in to the official Bloody Cuts Website where you’ll find all of the films available for free along with a host of special features.
SB: Finally.. With every release, Bloody Cuts seems to be growing and moving forward. What advice do you have for young or inexperienced directors looking to make slick, polished genre films on a low budget?
AM: Do your home work and watch lots and lots of movies, TV shows… Read books and consume inspiration like a zombie to brains. There are literally so many great examples of fantastic work out there. Share your experiences with you friends and like-minded creative folks, join film clubs, go to local independent screenings in art centre’s and the like.
I’ve learnt that filmmaking is teamwork and collaboration, sure, sure… I know you can do it on your own these days and that might be your thing… Put parties are much, much better when you’re not standing in the kitchen on your own.
Also be prepared to work really, really hard and get your hands dirty. You’ll feel better, trust me. The most important thing is enjoy the process, if you and your team are having fun then nothing else matters.
Be brave, don’t fear criticisms and JUST GET OUT THERE AND DO IT.
Check out some of these superb sites for tips and tricks:
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