I feel spoiled when I watch a BLOODY CUTS short film. So often I’m stuck watching movies with small ambitions, weak acting and low production values, so to get to spend some time with works that are so well crafted is simply a joy. Last year I encountered their second short STITCHES, and was lucky enough to interview series creator Ben Franklin, and now that the following two horror shorts have been released, I thought it would be worthwhile to reconnect with the project and see what’s been happening. The recent release of the short MOTHER DIED commanded a lot of attention, so I asked writer and script supervisor Joel Morgan to chat about the development of shorts #3 and #4, how he got involved with the project, and what’s coming up next for BLOODY CUTS.
Check out my review of PREY and MOTHER DIED right here.
Sweetback (SB): When I asked Ben about the films that molded him, they reflected those of a lot of kids who grew up in the 80s: POLTERGEIST, THE GOONIES, GREMLINS. Were you raised on similar Spielbergian epics? And when did your interest in horror films – or genre films in general – come about?
Joel Morgan (JM): I think – like most kids who grew up in the 80’s – my main frame of reference for films growing up was STAR WARS. I’m still a huge fan and that really shaped my imagination in a formative way. Certainly – like any right minded person – I’m a big fan of Spielberg’s work like E.T., INDIANA JONES and JAWS.
I was more of a reader rather than a film fan as a kid though, so I think my tastes in a lot fields were shaped by books more than cinema initially. This meant checking out pretty much every book in the crime and occult sections of the library along with devouring the works of Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft.
I never really got a sneak at anything horror related due to my (very well meaning) parents keeping that sort of stuff at arm’s length until I was a bit older. This of course heightened my interest in the forbidden and exotic wonders that lay behind titles such as NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE! I’d love to say I saw all the classic video-nasties on VHS before they got banned but that’s not the case. I have tried to make up for lost time though!
This shaped my interest in the dark, weird and wonderful which I carried into my teens where I really became a proper film fan. Once I got my own TV in my room (God, I sound old here) I got the chance to see classics like HALLOWEEN on late night TV and that set my love of horror rolling.
SB: Now, you work as a Writer and Script Supervisor on the BLOODY CUTS shorts. I first noticed your name on the STITCHES short, which features a demented – and quite memorable – killer clown. Let’s talk about how you first got involved with Ben Franklin and the BLOODY CUTS crew, and what sort of writing background and experience did you have coming into the project?
JM: I started writing properly when I was studying Film at university. I’d always tinkered with creative writing and merging that with my love of film made screenwriting an interesting route to take. I wrote a lot of very embarrassing pastiches of Tarantino and Bruckheimer/Simpson movies before I started to develop as a writer, understanding how to tell a story effectively and find my own style.
My first proper screenplay was a psychological horror movie that was picked up on a zero-option deal (you get paid if it gets made) by a low-budget production company, but it never really moved anywhere. I spent quite a long time working on self-published comic books with my friend Kel Winser and writing unfinished spec scripts. Then about a year ago a call came from the dark side…
Anthony Melton – one of my oldest friends – was involved with what became BLOODY CUTS when the team made a short sci-fi film for the 48 Hour Sci-Fi Film Competition. He mentioned he was working with them in his role as Digital Producer and said I should send them a script for a short horror film. I came up with something I thought was solid and sent it off to Ben Franklin. I’ll admit I hadn’t watched the first episode LOCK UP at this point as I didn’t want it to influence me. Once I did sit down and see it my reaction was ‘Wow – these guys know what they’re doing and I want to be involved!’
Ben sent me one of his own scripts to look over, and then the rest of the material he and the team had. Shortly after that I got involved with working on the script for what became the second episode STITCHES. From then on BLOODY CUTS began to consume my soul – in a very good way of course!
SB: Talk a little bit about your role in the BLOODY CUTS project as a whole. What does your job as script supervisor entail? And how closely do you work with the writers of the shorts that you don’t write yourself – such as MOTHER DIED?
JM: In the main I work on helping to develop an episode to the stage of being a shooting script, either working as a writer or giving my advice and input in a consulting sense. That can range from generating an idea myself, brainstorming and collaborating on potential episodes and concepts with Ben or working with material we’ve had from other writers and directors.
With MOTHER DIED writer/director Neill Gorton came to us with a script that was great from the start, a really powerful screenplay that had a ‘you-won’t-see-it-coming’ twist climax. The next episode in the series was such a great script from Ben Tillett and Jake Cuddihy that (whispers) I wish I’d written it myself…
We hold ourselves to quite high-standards in terms of trying to make films that are as original and different from each other as possible. At a simple level Ben and I work on making sure the stories we tell are the best they can be, whether I’m involved in them as a writer or not.
My other role is co-ordinating the promotion of each film and the series with Ben and our Digital Producer Anthony, writing content and copy, contacting websites that support us like Daily Grindhouse and generally trying to get our work out there to as many horror fans as possible.
SB: Now, let’s get into the actual work. In my interview with Ben, he mentioned that the baddie in STITCHES actually had a complicated back-story envisioned. Can you talk a little about how the concept for that short developed, and your feelings on the finished product?
JM: I came onto STITCHES as a writer about 3 or 4 weeks before it was due to film. Producer Ben Franklin along with Director Ben Kent and DoP Jonny Franklin had already written a solid script for the piece. They were very much aiming for an interesting take on a classic urban legend with an 80’s slasher mood, so it was great fun to be involved.
I worked on polishing it up, rewriting dialogue and bringing a bit more story and character to the mix. Trying to set-up the climactic scene in a way that was suspenseful but still believable was the main challenge, which I hope we achieved. It’s a great short and I was really proud to have my name on the credits.
The shoot was also the first time I’d met the guys in the flesh and I remember coming into the house to see Ben K. and Jonny practicing a complicated jib shot on the stairs. Again, I thought working with Bloody Cuts was going to be something special!
We really love STITCHES and had considered doing a bigger project with the character but we found out a feature was being developed about a killer clown called, yep, you guessed it…
We do have a few plans kicking around for him though. We only got to see the excellent Paul Ewan as a psycho-clown briefly and it’d be great fun to see him truly on the rampage at some point!
I think STITCHES also established Bloody Cuts in terms of our goal – to make low-budget horror movies in a professional way with passionate and talented people. That was something we wanted to build on in our 3rd episode PREY.
SB: To my eyes, PREY was a bit of a departure from the first two shorts. While previously the films had really been vignettes, PREY works as a proper short film with a beginning, middle and end. Was it a conscious decision to make something that more closely resembled a traditional anthology segment?
JM: I think LOCK UP and STITCHES were really good opening episodes, but they were closer to vignettes or perhaps scenes from a larger film rather than stories in themselves. Ben and I talked about the next step being an episode that had the professional cinematography and production quality of STITCHES but also had more of a complete story. We’d showed we could handle the technical and aesthetic elements of producing a good looking, low-budget film but we wanted to develop the narrative element.
PREY is a more plot-based script, with more cast members onscreen than we’d had before and with a fun twist in the tale. It’s that tight, compressed short story element I really like about it and that’s something we’ve maintained with MOTHER DIED and future episodes I hope.
SB: Actually, that transitions well into asking your opinion on anthology films in general. Obviously, there’s a great British tradition in horror anthologies with the Amicus productions like TALES FROM THE CRYPT and (my personal favorite) DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS. Do you have a favorite portmanteau film? And do you see the work that you and the rest of the BLOODY CUTS crew do as a continuation of that tradition?
JM: Ben was very canny in creating BLOODY CUTS as an anthology as it gives us a great license to cover a wide array of stories, concepts and horror sub-genres whilst maintaining quite a strong identity. That’s why he’s the Producer; he has the clever ideas!
Certainly the anthology films produced by Hammer and Amicus are a really traditional element of UK horror and that’s something we’ve been inspired by. It’s a great way to tell fun and suspenseful stories, try out new techniques and build experience as film-makers.
My favourite portmanteau – and I’m not sure it counts – would be the first episode of Steve Coogan’s horror/comedy series DR. TERRIBLE’S HOUSE OF HORRIBLE. There’s a beautiful pastiche called AND NOW THE FEARING… which takes the piss out of the classic 1970’s anthology with real love and affection. Along with horror and comic books, British Comedy is one of my passions!
SB: PREY fits well into that structure, as it works as both a horror piece, and a bit of a morality tale where a despicable character eventually gets his comeuppance. How did you come up with the concept for the short? It felt like something right out of an old VAULT OF HORROR comic – but with a modern twist.
JM: The original idea for PREY came from Jonny, based on the fear of someone unseen hiding in your room after you’d woken up. I expanded it by developing the idea of a character waking after a one night stand and looking for their female conquest only to realise they may have disappeared. After a number of drafts Ben and I hit upon the idea of the main character being a rather nasty date-rapist and then the script developed into more of a revenge piece with a supernatural slant.
It took about 8 or 9 drafts to get to a shooting script, honing the material over a few months until we were really happy with it. It really came to life over a very busy weekend shoot and I think it showcased every team-members hard work and effort. I like the way it’s essentially quite a classic horror concept wrapped up in a contemporary story, something familiar but with a fresh take.
PREY was a really great experience for us and raised the bar in a lot of respects. My personal love is due to it containing the first line of dialogue a number of people have quoted back to me! I may have ‘Wants? Needs?’ printed on a tee-shirt at some point.
SB: Once the concept is worked out, what’s the next step for you? Obviously when working with tight budgets, there has to be a lot of planning beforehand. Do you stay closely involved with the creative process as it develops?
JM: I think the key with low-budget film-making is being creative within the restraints a lack of money brings. Making a short film that works is deceptively hard as you have to trim a story or idea down to the core elements and make it very compressed and succinct but still engaging.
With a tight budget we do have to be very creative and efficient in how we approach things and that does involve months of planning and pre-production for each episode. As the Producer, Ben does a brilliant job of bringing the film together and getting the ever-growing BLOODY CUTS team working in all areas. Pretty much all of us have a day-job or are in education, so we spend a lot of our free time making our short slices of horror.
We’re very lucky that a lot of the BLOODY CUTS team work in the film and media industry too, so we have access to professional equipment and resources as well as a range of skills across all areas of production.
The main goal is to make films that look professional and are enjoyable whilst not looking like they’ve been filmed on a weekend at a relative’s house. Which – of course – so far they have!
SB: Now, MOTHER DIED is something else entirely. Even speaking as a fan, I think it’s the best thing you’ve yet put out – and I’m not just saying that because I get a thanks in the closing credits. It’s actually an amalgam of the styles of the first three shorts, in that it feels like the audience comes into the middle of a story that we get to see play out to completion. While you didn’t write it, how involved were you with the wider concept?
JM: MOTHER DIED was a big step up for us on all levels and it’s great that so many people have enjoyed it. For STITCHES we had a cast and crew of about 20 people in total. On the Sunday shoot for MOTHER DIED we had over 80 people on site, which for a short low-budget film was quite an achievement!
We’ve been really lucky in having a great working relationship with Neill Gorton and his team at Millennium FX. Without their special make-up and prosthetics skills the horrors seen in our episodes wouldn’t have had the same effect! So when Neill approached us with the script for MOTHER DIED it was a no-brainer (pun intended) to film it as our 4th episode.
The script and concept Neill had for MOTHER DIED was really original and emotive and had a brilliant final scene we thought we be a joy to film. For my part I worked with Ben and Neill in polishing the voice-over dialogue delivered so well by lead actress Sarah Winter. I also worked in promoting the film both pre and post-release.
In addition to spending a Sunday covered in blood and angling for a killer close-up…
SB: Now, I’m going to have to recommend that anyone who hasn’t yet watched the short do so right now, as the next question is going to involve a minor – but important – spoiler.
There. Very good. Now, Joel, you’re credited as playing one of the zombies in MOTHER DIED. I’ve interviewed plenty of people involved in low-budget film-making, and it doesn’t matter your background, your age, or where you grew up; everyone wants to play a zombie. How did the opportunity arise, and how quickly did you jump at it? And was the experience everything one might have hoped?
JM: I have three ambitions in life and one of them was achieved on a cold Sunday afternoon in February. We knew we’d need a number of Zombie extras for the final scenes of MOTHER DIED and I wanted to be one of them. I think Ben mentioned whether I’d like to involved and my inner response was a cool, reserved ‘FUCK YES!!’
We had thirty extras who were put through a SHAUN OF THE DEAD style Zombie audition by Neill in order to see who’d be given the most horrible make-up and get to be at the front of the horde. I’d like to think hours of research watching Romero and Fulci flicks marked me as an undead thespian of some note!
It was quite an experience to be sat in a chair for an hour and a half being made-up by the UK’s best special FX make-up artists. It was certainly amazing when Rob, my expert make-up artist, showed me a photo of how he’d transformed me into one of the shambling dead.
The actual shoot was exciting, incredibly fun and very cold. I really did get into the role and was complimented on my slack-jawed, broken limbed and hungry portrayal of a Zombie a number of times. At one point Ben said to me ‘We noticed that you were the only extra who stayed in character as a Zombie in-between takes.’ I think that’s the finest compliment I’ve ever been paid.
A photo of me as a torn-to-shreds Zombie has replaced another showing me shaking the hand of the real Alan Partridge on my Face book profile.
SB: Now, by honest. How cool was it to see the response to the release of MOTHER DIED? I’ve kept up on the BLOODY CUTS project since near the beginning, but the feedback seems to get larger, and more impressive, with each release. Certainly getting Twitter messages from both Stephen Fry and (THE RAID: REDEMPTION director) Gareth Evans must have been extremely heartening.
JM: The night we released MOTHER DIED was certainly one to remember! We’d tried to promote it more than our previous episodes, while still keeping the ending under wraps. It’s been really gratifying to see the positive reaction it’s received from the horror community and I think it’s put us on the radar to a certain extent.
Stephen Fry’s retweet and donation was amazing and gained us a lot of local coverage both in the press and on the radio. I’d just like to state for the record that fellow Norfolk boy Mister Fry is the greatest living Englishman and should be crowned King.
Gale Anne Hurd also retweeted us which was awesome, not only as we’re huge fans of her films and THE WALKING DEAD, but because she’s an Arsenal fan like I am.
THE RAID: REDEMPTION is one of my most anticipated films this year and I’m not sure how Gareth Evans found out about MOTHER DIED but his positive comments were really cool.
So yeah, it’s been quite rewarding! We put a hell of a lot of work into producing BLOODY CUTS so it’s very gratifying to get such a good response and really urges us on to produce bigger and better work. A lot of our success is due to sites like Daily Grindhouse who’ve supported us from our early days spreading the word and we really appreciate that.
SB: Now, you’ve mentioned to me privately that Episode 5 is going to be a bit of a departure from the shorts we’ve seen so far. Considering how different in both look and feel the episodes have been so far, I can certainly believe it. Without giving too much away, what is your role with Episode 5? And what can you tell us about it?
JM: We’ve been very keen to keep each episode as different in terms of concept and tone as we can and Episode 5 is certainly going to be a new direction for us. It’s written and directed by Ben Tillett and Jake Cuddihy who won the 48 Hour Sci-Fi competition in 2011 with their entry THE INTENTION OF MILES.
It’s a dark bedtime story, a gothic period piece filmed in our first proper location and we hope it’ll be a more than worthy follow-up to MOTHER DIED.
I have to admit that Ben and Jake delivered such a great script that my role as a writer/script supervisor was pretty much irrelevant! I’ll be working on promoting the film whilst continuing to develop the scripts I’ve written with Ben for Episodes 6 and 7.
SB: Any word on when it’s going to be released? And what should we expect in the future from BLOODY CUTS? Originally the concept was going to involve 13 short films, which is a daunting task for any creative team. Is that still the idea?
JM: We’ll be filming Episode 5 at the end of April with a probable release sometime early July. So there’ll be a few months before you’ll see it but we believe the wait will be worth it.
We’re still hoping to complete 13 episodes, it may take longer than envisaged initially, but we’re very keen to keep up the quality rather than rush stuff out. We’d really love to produce a BLOODY CUTS anthology as a DVD or Blu-Ray once we reach that milestone. I know Ben would love to have a Crypt Keeper-esque narrator introducing each episode!
And, as someone who works on a daily basis cooking up horrific and suspenseful stories for BLOODY CUTS – I can assure you we’ve got a lot more up our sleeves! I’d like to spill more, but I made a pact awhile back and there are some quite horrible repercussions should I reveal any further secrets…
SB: For those interested in keeping up with the latest releases from BLOODY CUTS, or wish to follow the progress of your work, what’s the best way to do so? And is there a way for fans to contribute to future BLOODY CUTS releases?
JM: You can learn more about Bloody Cuts at our website, watch our films in HD on our YouTube channel and listen to us tweet by following @BloodyCutsFilms on Twitter. We welcome new members at our Facebook group too — http://www.facebook.com/groups/bloodycuts/
There’s a PayPal link on our website should you like to donate to the cause and help support UK low-budget film-making. We’d truly appreciate it and you’ll get your name in the credits next to Stephen Fry!
SB: Looking ahead a bit, is the hope to eventually tackle a feature length project? Frankly, I see the production values of these shorts, and they look more polished and professional than a great many full length features I check out for DAILY GRINDHOUSE. Is that something you see yourself working on in the foreseeable future?
JM: I think that the dream for a lot of us would be to work in the film industry professionally. We try to approach each BLOODY CUTS episode as if it was a ‘real film’ and I hope that comes across in the production values and time we take on each episode.
As to making a feature length film? I mentioned earlier I made quite a specific and life threatening pact with our ‘Producer’…
It’s certainly something we’d love to do, and we have a couple of different projects in various stages of development. I’m working on the 4th draft of a feature screenplay and we also have something else cooking away in the early stages.
All I can say at the moment is that the good people at Daily Grindhouse will be the first to know!
SB: Anything else to plug?
JM: The team and I would just like to say a big thanks to Sweetback, Daily Grindhouse and all the other websites and Horror fans who’ve viewed, shared or supported Bloody Cuts and our films. You keep watching ‘em and we’ll keep making ‘em!
And if you want to listen to someone talk about writing, films, what they ate for dinner and generally rant about stuff you can follow me on Twitter as @joelmorgan23 I won’t send a demented clown or a banshee demon around if you don’t. Honest.
SB: Cheers, Joel.
- [NO-BUDGET NIGHTMARES] PODCAST #80: PLAGA ZOMBIE (1997) - July 25, 2016