It takes a lot to get me excited. It really does. However, when something strikes my fancy, I’m liable to fly a bit off the handle trying to praise it. If it gets my (figurative) motor running, then it’s certainly something special. And when something is special, I need to write about it. One such special thing are the BLOODY CUTS shorts currently being posted at bloodycuts.co.uk which mix high production values with traditional horror tropes to create delicious, bite-sized pieces of terror. While only two have been posted so far, the potential for the future is limitless and I suggest you get on board now – because the people involved could very well be bringing you your new favorite horror features in the near future. Ben Franklin from Bloody Cuts (and Popply Quick Pictures) was good enough to talk to me about anthologies, action figures, and the challenges in making ultra low-budget look like a million bucks.
Sweetback: Let’s start at the beginning. The two BLOODY CUTS shorts show an obvious love for horror films – and slashers in general. Where does your own interest in horror come from, and what are some of the media – films, television, books – that pushed you towards the horror genre?
Ben Franklin: I’m not sure at what point the love of horror manifested itself, but as I grew up in the 80’s at a point where kids films had a slightly darker edge, I think it heavily influenced my passion for the genre. If you look at GOONIES, GREMLINS, POLTERGEIST…. These were pretty edgy films for children, and for me were a big influence.
I recall being in the local video rental store, where the 18 rated tapes were often dotted around the same shelves as the kids section. Seeing stuff like HOUSE with the floating corpse hand on the cover, got me really curious and a natural desire to see what the film was about. As I was too young, and having sensible parents, I was never allowed to watch them, which made them that much more taboo to me. As soon as I could, I would get access to those films (sometimes through unknowing Grandparents!) and my love for horror begun to really grow from there.
That curiosity for the macabre really carried on throughout my childhood years, demonstrated in the horror fiction I would read, the art I drew and the films I made on my Dad’s old High-8 camera. During my younger years at school I can still remember the time my mother was called in by one of my female teachers, because she was so disturbed at some of the stories I was coming up with in my creative writing classes!
Again with the resurgence of commercial horror in the mid 90’s onwards I was drawn towards it once more, becoming a fan as such and if you were to look at my DVD/Blu-ray collection I think that would be more than evident. I went through a long period of watching every horror film I could get my hands on it, which really cemented my love forever!
SB: What about your own background? Did your interest in films and film-making come at an early age?
BF: There’s a family story where I was around 8 years old, and it was put to me as to what kind of career I’d want to have. Astronaut? Fighter pilot?… Nope, a film director. I’m pretty sure I didn’t even know what it was at the time, but looks like I’ve somewhat followed through on that promise. As I said I used to film my own home made films with my Father’s camera, and these were always horror influenced.
From there onwards I continued writing during my teenage years, although around that point I was far more interested in making it as a musician. It wasn’t until I came out of University at around 25 that I’d suddenly found my passion for film again, and got a job at a video production company, called Spectrecom, where I still am several years later as a Head of Post Production.
SB: Popply Quick Pictures is the production company you put together for the Sci-Fi 48hr Film Festival 2011. How did your group come together, and had you all worked together previously? What were the rules for the making of the film?
BF: Myself and a couple of guys I work with on a daily basis, one of which happens to my brother Jonny, heard about the competition a couple of weeks before it started, and were naturally attracted to the prize of a feature film contract. Without much time to arrange things, we decided to shoot in the countryside near my parents, thinking that we could find some kind of background that could double for a post apocalyptic world. Then we recruited pretty much all of our family to crew up, who of course had done nothing like this before, which makes the results of the film that much more surprising I guess. The rules stated a 5 minute running time, using a title, piece of dialogue and prop that they gave us randomly on the day. We had to write, shoot, edit and complete it in 48 hours, also taking into account a 3 hour train ride into London to deliver the film. Not much sleep was had that weekend!
SB: The short film you made – 2 YEARS OF SUMMER – is quite extraordinary looking for such a low budget. Was the chemistry between those involved evident right away? And how the heck did you get that tank?
BF: Thank you for the compliment; we were very conscious of making sure it looked as cinema worthy as possible, even though we had no budget whatsoever. Everything was begged and borrowed (no stealing), and that really came down to having very generous family members and neighbours. We were raiding sheds to find old furniture and using any contact we had to get the props we needed.
With the tank we got very lucky. A local man, who happened to be a friend of my Grandfathers (and named Michael Knights), kindly lent us the fake weaponry. He also happened to have a tank, which was something we found out quite late on into the production. We needed something for that opening sequence, and it was absolutely perfect. It was pretty much a one shot wonder, due to time, so it’s remarkable just how well it came out. In the whole competition, I think it was one of the standout set pieces, and probably a big reason as to why we made the finals.
SB: Ok, let’s talk about BLOODY CUTS and the concept behind it. 13 short horror films combining to make an anthology. How did the initial idea come together? And what made you go with the anthology format?
BF: I adore anthology shows/movies/books, and have always wanted to make something like that as a result. I’d been talking about doing it for as long as I can remember, so when I had some extended leave from work whilst waiting for my second child to be born, I finally got my head down and started writing out the series “proposal”, and from that our pilot episode LOCK UP was born (following my daughter!).
I’d also been heavily influenced by other US based web series, like Fewdio and BlackBox TV, and knew I could do something the same, if not better, for very little to no money. And when I say no/low budget, I don’t mean the Hollywood definition, I mean between £0 – £100! STITCHES broke the bank at an estimated £120, and we’re hoping to do bigger and better with some crowd funding through IndieGoGo very soon, which will cover at least the potentially pricey location costs.
SB: Talk about your own creative role in these films. How are they conceived, and have the entire 13 already been mapped out?
BF: I pretty much oversee it all, from conception to completion and marketing. I produce each episode, and will be the Editor on many of them, having done the Post on both LOCK UP and STITCHES. It’s my vision, as the creator(!), and it’s definitely a labour of love that I’m very proud of.
Story concepts come from mainly myself and the core team members, as well as our main writer Joel Morgan, though we’re happy to work with outside parties if we get any strong enough ideas put our way. We’ve got what we call “The Black Bible”, which carries a 3/4 page synopsis for each strong story we’ve written, probably totalling around 15 films as it stands. Some of those are in first or second drafts, and we’ve made a concerted effort are ensure they are all very different. Although we’ve not mapped out the order, I have a fair idea of where it’s going, and we’ll be delving into many of the different sub-genres to ensure it stays fresh and exciting throughout.
SB: The first film LOCK-UP packs a surprising amount of suspense into its brief 3:35 run-time. Have you found the restrictions limiting?
BF: The only restrictions I’ve found were in how I wrote the characters. There’s basically no development or arcs, because we can’t afford the time to really do that. What I look to do in each story is build a basic premise and then resolve it with a strong payoff. It’s integral that we feel something for our character(s), but we can’t afford to spend much time with them other than for the purposes of that specific storyline.
Along similar lines our bad guy in Episode 2 – STITCHES had such a great backstory that it could have been a film in itself, but at no point could we explore that. Maybe we can look to do that at another time…
SB: It’s also shockingly professional looking. What were the budgets for the two films – LOCK-UP and STITCHES – that have been posted? And how long was shooting for both shorts?
BF: Many of us are experienced enough to know how to make something look professional, so that comes very easy to us. Of course you’re limited somewhat by budget, but between us we own a lot of equipment, or have access to it. We’ve found hire companies also to be very generous and through our fantastic new sponsorship with Millennium FX (who I will get to later) we’re able to create monsters, gore and other prosthetics for nothing. STITCHES was the first film where we had them on board and I think that’s telling in the hideously gross look of our clown, which is something we never could have done without them.
But in terms of actual production costs, were we to be smart enough to be accounting for the films so far, I’ve found that it’s been incredibly cheap to make these films. Excluding our own personal travel expenses, the actual cost of LOCK UP was probably in the region of £40. STITCHES cost a bit more coming in at about £120, and so far our third episode seems to be looking to come in at a similar budget again. Future episodes will undoubtedly cost us more, purely down to expensive location costs, meaning that the only way we can realistically carry on and see the series through is with crowd funding, or an investor.
SB: What were the biggest challenges you faced in the making of both films?
BF: Location as I’ve already mentioned, is always a challenge. Fortunately we were able to use our place of work for LOCK UP, and after much deliberation my parents house became the location for STITCHES. Budget wasn’t too much a constraint on the most part, so really the big hurdles we had to overcome was actually in writing the script for STITCHES, which we knew had to be a real step ahead of LOCK UP in just about every way. We did about 7 drafts in the end, and worked hard to get it as tight as possible, and eventually came up with something we felt was a solid follow up.
One thing that was a little tricky with STITCHES, was that we needed to shoot pretty much the whole film in the day, because of the late setting/early rising sun in the British summertime. In rooms with lots of natural light that’s always really tricky of course, but I think we pulled it off brilliantly even if I do say so myself.
Finally, with STITCHES we also knew a big challenge was to be coming up with better makeup than the very cheap plastic mask we used in “Lock Up”. So with a bit of Googling I came upon London based Millennium FX (www.Millenniumfx.co.uk) owned by effects supremo Neill Gorton. Seeing their history of amazing work, I thought it was unlikely we’d be able to do anything through them on our zero budget work, but as with everything about BLOODY CUTS so far I’ve found that there’s some very generous people, and that it’s always worth trying! So one Saturday afternoon, I fired across an email to them, and before I knew it I was walking around their premises being introduced to the team!
They agreed to work in association with us, basically as a sponsor, having been so impressed with what we’d done with no money on LOCK UP. Neill Gorton comes from a low budget horror filmmaking background so totally knew where we were coming from, and we’re eternally grateful for everything that they’ve done so far. God knows what STITCHES would have become without their ace designs and prosthetic work!
SB: While LOCK-UP is a compact nugget of suspense, STITCHES tells more of a story. I don’t want to give too much away, but the final reveal certainly tugs at a common fear. How was the story developed?
BF: I know some people have preferred LOCK UP to STITCHES because of the familiar ground of an empty building late at night, and the idea of isolation and travelling into the unknown when you’re doubtful as to just how safe it might be. It’s more relatable in that respect, whereas in Episode 2 I think we have something which I’ve referred to our Hollywood production because it not only plays on more cliches, but features the stupid teenager who walks herself right into trouble!
I guess I’ve given the ending away here somewhat, so spoiler alert!…
I’m a big fan of urban legends and in exploring story ideas early on I was reminded of the classic “clown in the corner” tale, which even on paper is quite a fear inducing idea. So I went about adapting that into something a little different, where I could embellish the story a little and set it up differently enough from the source, so that it felt fresh.
Clowns are an easy choice when it comes to horror, and I wanted the chance to try and create a memorable character that could quite easily be a slasher type character in the Jason Vorhees/slasher mould. Whether we achieved that is up to the viewer to decide, but we made a concerted effort to avoid the obvious in his overall look, whilst playing on certain tropes that we all know and love/hate. If you’re on YouTube, search for “scary clown” and see the results; there’s a weird fascination for these men behind the mask, so its not a good time to be a sufferer of coulrophobia!
SB: I’d be remiss to not ask: Who owned all of the figures and figurines in STITCHES? They got my geeky heart all aflutter.
BF: Had we been able to get more coverage you’d have seen a lot more toys, as we’d set dressed many more collectables around the place. There was probably in excess of 50 toys, mostly still in their original boxes, which were mostly owned by my brother and I. Our writer Joel Morgan also contributed some which were seen in the living room opening scenes. I love the McFarlane figurines, and was disappointed to see my collectable Edward Scissorhands get snapped to pieces in the opening, but it was a worthwhile sacrifice!
SB: What do you think these BLOODY CUTS shorts are bringing to the table that isn’t currently being offered in horror?
BF: I think the fact that we’re UK based, and that there’s not many other people doing this type of thing over here, is one selling point. Also because we’re able to do so much on so little is surprising to most, and of course our work is highly polished unlike a lot of other quick turnaround web series.
But ultimately I’m the first to admit we aren’t pushing the boundaries of horror, and that’s intentional. Because within the constraints of these short films there’s a lot to cover, so it makes sense for us to play on familiar setups and cliches, in turn making our material much more accessible to a general audience.
In terms of what we offer overall, I like to think we’re able to give a lot more bang to the buck than many other web videos. The stories move fast, they feel like they’ve been made with real care and attention (they have!) and we’re able to to deliver a lot to an audience through our professional experience, technical skills and tightly crafted scripts. Its a really approachable series, I hope, that can be enjoyed by any horror fan of any age, and appreciated on another level by more hardcore fans who are able to spot the influences and in-jokes.
SB: What’s coming up? When should we expect the next Bloody Cut?
BF: Funnily enough we’re shooting the as yet untitled third episode over Halloween. Its a different beast to whats been seen already, and we think it’s a really great script. That will be released sometime in November, and we’re well underway with it, pre-production wise.
We’re shooting a cool little promotional film for our IndieGoGo campaign next week, and have a couple of other projects on the go too including a potential offshoot on the series which we’re calling BLOODY CUTS EXTREME, that will allow us to dabble in much more shocking and crazier ideas that don’t otherwise fit into the ethos (and more general audience) of the main series.
SB: What’s the eventual goal for all of the work you’re putting into these shorts? Are you hoping to combine them together into a feature once they are completed? Is there a projected end-date for all 13 to be online?
BF: After the first season of 13 episodes, I’m keen to put together a DVD/Blu-ray that will have some kind of character introducing/bookending each episode, Cryptkeeper style. That’s dependant on how popular it becomes overall, but it would be great fun to do and a great way of collecting them all together into one set.
I’d love to have BLOODY CUTS continue into several seasons, especially knowing that we have more than enough great stories to do so. And if there’s no desire from our audience to see more, we’ll wrap it up and move onto the next project. For me, it’s just important right now to make sure that all these episodes are as good as they can be, and if we continue the upwards trajectory that its taken so far, the sky’s the limit for where we can go with it really.
In terms of a deadline for all episodes, I’d like to have them all done by end of 2012, though working on the current 2 month turnaround we have for each episode it’s probably a little ambitious. And I’d also rather spend more time making it the best it can be rather than rushing it out there for the sake of it. So I guess we’ll see!
SB: What does the future hold for Popply Quick Pictures? Even from what I’ve seen, I’m rather excited about the idea of a feature. Is it in the cards?
BF: I’m not sure we’ll revisit Popply Quick Pictures now that BLOODY CUTS has taken off, as its essentially the same team under a different name. I’m much more looking towards a full horror feature now, following the completion of all 13 episodes. Our writer Joel Morgan has an ace concept, and is working on the screenplay as I write. So if there’s any funders/investors reading, get in touch to find out more!
SB: If one of our readers wants to find out more about Popply Quick Pictures, or more information about the BLOODY CUTS project, what would be the best way?
BF: The best place to start is of course our website, which is http://www.BloodyCuts.co.uk.
Our YouTube channel is: http://www.youtube.com/user/BloodyCutsFilms
We’re on Twitter quite a bit and you can see our ramblings @BloodyCutsFilms and my own personal account which is @little_horror. Finally our Facebook group (http://www.facebook.com/groups/bloodycuts) has a pretty healthy following so come and say hello!
SB: Any advice for aspiring genre filmmakers who are hoping to make professional looking films on low budgets?
BF: I spent forever making excuses as to why I couldn’t make films, but a lot of that was probably just procrastination. In the end, all you need is an idea and a camera. You can shoot it on your mobile device if need be! No one will take you seriously as a filmmaker if you have nothing to show, so just get there and do it, and learn from your mistakes. In the end you’ll be better off for it and it’s a good way to kickstart your career and get it going in the right direction.
SB: Thanks for your time, Ben!
- [NO-BUDGET NIGHTMARES] PODCAST #80: PLAGA ZOMBIE (1997) - July 25, 2016