NO-BUDGET NIGHTMARES: INTERVIEW WITH THE SHADOW OF DEATH DIRECTOR GAV CHUCKIE STEEL

 

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Sweetback (SB): Thanks for taking a little time to talk to Daily Grindhouse, Gav.

 

Gav Chuckie Steel (GCS): Thanks for asking.

 

SB: THE SHADOW OF DEATH shows off your love for 70 and 80s horror quite clearly. What was the first film that you remember scaring you, and when did your love for the horror genre really start to develop?

 

GCS: Being a child that grew up on 80s horror, the first thing I remember really scaring me to the point it took 3 watches to actually get through the whole film was AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, I think that was really the first film to show me the darker side of horror, especially with Rick Baker’s FX, I think looking back that my passion for the dark side would have started a little bit before AMERICAN WEREWOLF via late night showings of the Hammer Films, and also early BBC 2 showings of Vincent Price films. Then when VHS renting became available, my parents were always super cool and would let me watch anything and rent out anything from the video shops. And that’s when I really started to delve into the dark side of movies.

 

 

SB: While you used horror films as an inspiration for your music, it’s still quite rare to see artists make the transition from writing and recording music to directing films. Was it always something you wanted to do, or did the opportunity jump out at your rather suddenly?

 

GCS: I knew one day I would make a film. I used to make skate videos with my pals but then really got into DJing and Hip Hop and the visual art was replaced with developing my own music and pushing those boundaries where I could. I have always been into producing what I happen to be a fan of at the moment, if that makes sense. As in I could never just be the audience, I always had to be the creator. Then one day I was showcasing some of my music to some industry people and they all agreed I should go into writing for films. This was something that I never really thought of, but at that moment it all made complete sense to me, so I started to look around on the internet for composers/producers required for horror films and I was happy to work for free but I was let down a few too many times and thought fuck it! I will write my own film then that way I can showcase my music. So yeah it was not too sudden, but something that was almost pushed on me to do, but I’m bloody glad it was!

 

 

SB: I was, frankly, shocked that THE SHADOW OF DEATH was your first feature. Despite the low-budget, it has a polish that most ultra low-budget films lack. How much pre-production went into movie? Or was much of it put together on set?

 

GCS: Thanks! No, I took about 2 years to finally get a script together I was happy with. While writing the script I studied other directors I admire (Peter Jackson, Tarantino, John Carpenter etc) and watched and read all I could on the film-making process. Then it got to a point I set a date and just went for it. It was January 2011 that I started pre-production and by April I was shooting with cast, crew and locations ready and waiting, of course while shooting I was still learning my art and developing techniques constantly, but overall on-set was a very happy chilled out environment with an amazing group of people around me all wanting to create something good. And I think this comes off on the film. Nothing is forced, and it all has a very chilled natural flow to it.

 

I knew when filming what was going on constantly as I took on most roles. I could think things ahead out in post while I was in production, as in if a helicopter was above blocking the sound from recording, I did not have to concern myself at times as I knew on this part music will be playing. So little things like this really helped with speed of production, and I was almost doing one takes with everything and everybody, but we were all learning as we went.

 

SB: Because of regular life responsibilities, filming on the project was sporadic. Was it difficult to keep cast and crew engaged over the shooting schedule? And did you run into any difficulty with the shooting locations?

 

GCS: We shot at weekends. I was taking Peter Jackson’s approach of shooting BAD TASTE, where he shot at weekends and even though that was 3 years in the making, I had carefully planned out every weekend and thanked the weather gods we had a Indian summer-like weather condition all through shooting. So I had to cut from the script bits about it raining as I was already planned for it. Everybody had great energy each time we met to shoot. I did not have to push people whatsoever. Again, I think it helped that I was a ball of exciting energy on set! That sounds a bit ridiculous but I was very into it and I think it rubbed off, and the one-take filming was keeping people very much on their toes! If anything, keeping my own home and family life a happy medium was the hardest. My wife did get to the point where she had enough of it every weekend, and then I was working at nights in the week, so a Friday night I am supposed to be working and I am making tons of phone calls to be ready the next morning. So lack of sleep was quite a frequent thing, but having children, I was and am very used to it.

 

 

SB: Let’s talk a little about the casting process, particularly the three women at the center of the story. Had you known them previously, or was there an involved casting process? Was it difficult to convince the three actresses to devote themselves so completely to the project considering the lack of available money?

 

GCS: No, all three (Corinna Jane as Debra, Sophia Disgrace as Nancy and Jane West as Jamie) of them I did not previously know, Before going into production I had actually shot 3 death scenes on a regular SD camcorder to see if this could actually be done (we then res-hot these scenes later in HD) and I decided to not go the friend route to much with main cast. I think if you are trying to make a movie of this type, even though your friends say they are up for it – when it comes to it, they wont take it as serious as if they were complete strangers. This, of course, is not always the case (Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell for example) but I had to find people unknown to me, also I was hoping that they themselves would take me seriously.

 

Corinna came through after we did a casting call, we gave her an audition and she was great. Nailed it no problem. Sophia was a name someone had given me, and I had seen her in ANIMAL SOUP –  a film I was originally going to score – but again it fell through. But she was perfect for the stoner chick and Jane was actually Andy Clarke’s (Sound Recorder) girlfriend, I had reservations about having a girlfriend of a crew member on set but they both flow well and were very mature about the whole thing. We just got on with the jobs at hand. All cast members had no issues about lack of budget. No-one got paid, and I made this clear from the start. And anyone still on board knowing this, I knew was hungry and would put in 100% and I was right they all did. I gave petrol money where I could and provided cheeses sandwiches on set! I had a friend who came on for two weekends cooking us all meals for free – which did sweeten the deal but I really think everyone could see my love of the genre and that I was as hungry to make something as them.

 

SB: Was it always your purpose to make the film ostensibly a horror/comedy? It’s a tough combination to pull off, as the balance can sometimes weigh too heavily in one direction or the other.

 

GCS: Yep, totally. I was worried that a straight horror would not be a fun thing behind scenes and on-set to film. I thought bringing in the humor side of it would lighten the mood overall and help in the positive process and I like telling gags and joking with people in general anyways. So it was not a hard thing to do. My rule for the whole film and in everything I do is less is more, and with the gags it was that, but when I started to learn to edit I realized I could cut gags at moments to keep it fresh for the audience and also I wanted to play with people’s emotions. So the eye being pulled out of the socket, then straight cut to the wobbly eye glasses was a way to visually play with emotions. I was really testing waters and just trying my luck at stuff. Lots of gags were pulled from the film in edit to keep it rolling and not the audiences eyes rolling!

 

SB: There’s some really impressive gore in the film, thanks to the input of Mark Kelly.

 

GCS: Mark Kelly. Yes, everyone comments on that aspect. I had no idea how to do CGI, and it was a throwback to old school horror, so it has to be on-set make-up FX. Mark is an old buddy from my town. He went to the local art university and was also a butcher in my head this makes him the perfect candidate to do FX! But another stroke of luck was when we came to shoot he was actually working through the week on big-budget films doing FX, so while he was learning how to do things and talking to his work colleagues about what we were doing he could then come to us at weekends and apply these skills and knowledge. He had the opportunity to get hold of things which were being thrown out and no good for the majors, but for us, perfect! So making zombies for WORLD WAR Z, spare limbs which may have the smallest thing wrong were being chucked but for the sort of film we were making it was just ideal. He also would come up with good ways to kill people. My best was the bong kill, and he came up with the whole thing and it cost next to nothing to make and looks great. The guy has skills! Funny thing is now he is a butcher again!

 

SB: Have to ask. Who came up with the great tagline “Today’s the day the worms have their picnic.”? Have you been involved with the production of the throwback marketing materials for the film?

 

GCS: That my friend Matt Powell-Perry. He does that sort of thing for a job. He gave me tons and tons of ideas without even watching the film. Again, he is just another person with great skills. I am a lucky person to have these friends who are very creative. It really helps in making something like a film where there is a ton of different departments to be considered and catered for.

 

I have created all the marketing material so far. I just started to get my Photoshop skills down then ran with it, so I have been completely involved with the promotional poster, etc. But I do always run ideas through the other Deadbolt members to make sure it’s not too shit or to get more input.

 

 

SB: You give a special thanks to Sylvia Soska (of Twisted Twins fame) in the closing credits. What influence did she have on your personally, as well as on the direction of the film?

 

GCS: Well, I did not know of Sylv and Jen when I was filming SHADOW. It was when I was in the editing process I saw they had used Robert Rodriguez’s book Rebel without a Crew as their on-set bible while filming DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK, so I gave a quick message to Sylvia and explained I had done the same with my film and also had filmed a throwback grindhouse type film. She came back to me and we have talked ever since. The thanks I gave her were really from where I was in editing and coming up with slight creative blocks. I would just throw her an email and she would be straight back to with different way out of things, or at least solutions I could try. I just wish I had met them before I started shooting! Now those guys have blown up with AMERICAN MARY, it’s way harder to communicate but I did meet up with them recently which was great to finally do. I think they still have a big influence on me, the way they are so dedicated to the genre and film-making and now where they are is actually pushing me to keep going and look bigger for our next project. Those girls rock and I stand behind them 100%.

 

SB: Was there a concern that with so many recent Grindhouse throwback films that yours might get lost in the clutter? Or did the popularity of recent “tributes” (HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN, MACHETE) prove to you that an audience existed for this sort of film?

 

GCS: Well watching PLANET TERROR was what gave me the idea in the first place. I thought I could get a shitty camcorder and put some grain filter over the top to make my film look worse to look better! And the timing was right with HOBO and MACHETE coming out. I was a little worried people would look at SHADOW as a gimmick, but in some ways I think it stands alone almost as a real love letter to slasher films. As all the Grindhouse homages that were and still are coming out were for real over the top stuff, where mine was – as I said – a real homage to the slasher films I grew up with, I basically wanted to make the film I wanted to see. That’s not being self indulgent, but what’s the point of making something that is not 100% what you want to see on the screen. It was my almost ultimate slasher with all the ingredients taken from all the classics.

 

SB: Can you talk a little about what’s next for DEADBOLT FILMS? I know you have a few more horror-comedies in the works.

 

GCS: Well Dan Bone, who played Craven, helped come on to flesh his character out so we found we worked well as a writing partnership, and I asked him if he wanted to come on-board Deadbolt films. We have now written two scripts; one is a zombie flick called AZBO, its a kind of what if the GOONIES met Zombies on an English council estate. It’s a really fun film and I cannot wait to film it BUT… it’s going to take a big budget to film and I am not ready to take on the film just yet. I still need to figure every aspect of film-making out and really hone in on my directing. With SHADOW I wore a ton of caps which was great to see how all departments work and work together, but I really need to focus on the story/actors etc… So we have written another film, a lot smaller, a real one-setting environment with a very small cast called IN SECURITY about two security guards on Halloween, and the strange things that go bump in the night. I was influenced by RIO BRAVO. It’s a very THE SHINING meets ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13… It’s pretty out there, and we need to do a re-write of it, but we hope to get that in to production this year, but I don’t want to rush it. So in the meantime I have decided to write a short homage to giallos, which is completely straight with no humor, but again it is just to take a step back, as SHADOW was jumping in the film swimming pool with just a small lesson in swimming. So I am going in to the shallow end first and getting a feel of it. I think this is a wise move to do.

 

 

SB: For interested readers who would like to get their grubby little hands on a copy of THE SHADOW OF DEATH – or follow what’s next for Deadbolt films and yourself – what would be the best way to do so?

 

GCS: Well SHADOW has not been picked up as yet for distribution. I made the film for people to see. If someone wants to view a promo copy, drop me a message and I will happily send them a download. Dan Bone is currently working on the www.deadboltfilms.co.uk site, but for now best thing to do is go to www.theshadowofdeath.co.uk site. Over there are the links to the Twitter and Facebook page, and there’s also the YouTube channel link where we have promotional videos and a bit of behind the scene stuff. At the moment the Facebook is where we update the most. Best type into the Facebook search deadbolt films and join us.

 

SB: Anything else to promote?

 

GCS: I think I have promoted all our new stuff through the interview!

 

SB: And, finally, what advice would you give to any readers who – like you – want to set out to make their first low-budget feature?

 

GCS: Just do it! I know that sounds cliché, but too many people talk shit and do not go ahead with things. If you do it, take your time. There is no rush to make the film, and go with your instincts. If something is the slightest bit shit to you, then delete it from the script, cut it from the edit etc…and make sure you surround yourself with a good group of people who have the passion and determination as you do. And remember that if it does not come out the way you wanted it to, or things go wrong. that’s great. Learn from your mistakes, pick up the pieces and do it again properly.

 

Sweetback

Doug Tilley

Doug has been a geek for as long as he’s been alive, but has only been blogging about film since 2008; originally writing for his personal site and eventually moving to Daily Grindhouse where he writes regularly about micro-budget films and film-makers in his No-Budget Nightmares column. At the end of 2011 he started the popular No-Budget Nightmares podcast with Moe Porne, and regularly contributes to a variety of other genre film podcasts. He likes movies, movies and movies.

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