Sweetback (SB): I’m sort of tickled by the opportunity to talk about THE VEIL with you. I remember when I first saw the film back in 2009, and how impressed I was by what you guys accomplished on such a small budget. And you were actually nice enough to contact me at the time.
John Chance (JC): Thank you Doug, appreciate that. I wanted to reach out to you, I’m happy I did.
SB: Talk about what prompted the decision to revisit THE VEIL and re-edit it into this new UNMASKED EDITION.
Richard Chance (RC): When we reached the end of the five-year film contract we were afforded the opportunity to go back to the film and alter it. John seized upon this chance. While I was working on the novel: The Guardian of Greyworld, which has been selected for the second stage at the upcoming Amazon Breakthough awards, and working on THE TIMESLIP script; John took the opportunity to tackle The Veil once more. We had always considered THE VEIL a labour of love; but perhaps like a spoilt child, loved too much it became too big and needed to come under the surgeon’s knife as it were. What we have now is a leaner, better less self indulgent love child.
John Chance (JC): I think we were pretty unanimous in saying that we didn’t like the DVD the distribution company made, it was a low quality copy.
It didn’t match our masters, not even close. Also, as filmmakers we didn’t receive any payment in return either except an initial small payment for signing. To any new filmmakers, investigate the distribution company first, before signing anything.
So, we wanted to put something out that we could be proud of – the way we intended it to be seen back then. Better quality, but not without losing the grit and grain of the way we shot the film. We thought we could put something different out for old and new fans alike, a different cut, shorter and more accessible, but without losing the impact of that epic length of the original.
SB: The IMDB lists filming as lasting more than four years, from December 2000 until January 2005. Were you filming on weekends and holidays, or was it just a case of refining the process as you all got better at making films?
RC: We were working at weekends and during the week when we could. You have to understand that it was three people making a movie for most of the time with no outside help. The end result is good: THE VEIL still stands the text of time. After all how many people can say they made a feature length film. In saying that we are better at making films. Our current Chance Encounters worldwide project THE LAST WAR had over 20 people involved in the process, all working towards the goal of making the movie. Does it get any easier with more people involved? Certainly not. But we have expert CGI artists like Chris Davis and established graphic artists such as Andree Walin which will make THE LAST WAR a fantastic film.
JC: It was a case of who we could get over and when sometimes. We’d plan what we’d film, and people have lives and jobs, work all day, then go from that, to coming over our house put on 2hr prosthetics make up – then, wait to go out and film after midnight (and no one was in town) wondering if we’d get caught by the police on that occasion. It was asking a lot to do – for free. We appreciate the people that helped. Consistently though, it was the three of us; Richard, Michael and I, because we knew we were on to something. This was our first film and it was a feature – on a no budget. Our funds were what we could afford and make. It forced us to be more creative and we really saw what we were capable of. All in all production and post was done in four years. If we had the privilege back then to work on it every day I know we could of completed in 40 – 60 days or so, it was our first film so I have to bare that in mind.
SB: At what point was the decision made to have (nearly) the entirety of the film be in black & white? It’s a ballsy move, but was it out of necessity?
RC: We wanted the film to have a neo-gothic/ documentary feel. A feeling which coincided with the oppression the character’s feel within The Veil. They are surrounded by disease and its victims, there is no escape. In the end death is the only release, blood is the symbol of this and it is the first thing we see when the screen is covered with it towards the end of the film.
JC: It was an artistic move. For what we were working on, the style we were going for. We wanted something gothic and raw looking, so essentially compared to the cameras we were using it matched the strong black and white contrast that was already there. The protagonists are dressed in mainly black dark clothes and the walls were stark white blend that with shadow and light – it was a great combination. Nothing better showed that then the lightning scene – when the electricity goes out and zombies appear from the darkness only seen in glimmers of light – worked perfectly. And later in the abandoned warehouse fight, I love the raw look it has.
SB: One thing I love about THE VEIL is that it takes the zombie outbreak extremely seriously. Genre fans are used to a lot of comedy in their zombie films, and even Romero’s films have their share of humor – but with THE VEIL the weight and hopelessness of the situation is always in the forefront. Was that always your intention when working on the script to treat the zombies as a real threat?
RC: The masks are an important factor here and need to be discussed. The characters, seemingly, do no know the situation they have been flung into they have been told to wear the masks as a preventive measure. Whether the masks work or not the characters are forced to wear them through the constant fear of being infected. It is this essence of the unknown, in addition to the physical manifestation of the fear: the infected, which are always present outside (while we are trapped inside with the group) and ready to attack which creates the overwhelming feeling within the film. Some scientists believe that there will be a global pandemic, that it will be airborne. This has happened before (the so called Spanish flue, or 1918-19 global pandemic which killed an estimated 20-40 million people) and will unfortunately happen again. If there is one supreme species on the planet it is not man it is the virus (then insects…) it is this fear (tied in with the great unknown death) which permeates through our film The Veil and our culture.
JC: Absolutely. We always wanted to show it somewhat in the style of a real time experience. We go with the group, feel their anguish even later – the claustrophobia of wearing a mask and feeling trapped within it and a hopeless situation. We love Romero movies and of course like many people were inspired by those films and Peter Jackson’s early films too. We wanted to show that underground, bare bones feel and a very real minimalist approach. When we were making it we could see zombie films we starting to become popular – and now, it’s crazy – there must be a thousand zombie titles with ‘Dead’ in the title. We always no matter what wanted to be different. It’s a hard thing when you start something, then everyone else jumps on to. But among all the films out there – though I know there’s so many things we’d do differently now, learning after five or so films, but it has remnants of us, what we care about in our films. Dark, full of emotion and moody. So I smile that it’s so different, its old school but still original and we never sold out – even back then to use ‘zombie’ or ‘dead’ in the title name. Maybe it will be one of those quiet little films people discover and enjoy, or later on, something that people will say – oh, this was their humble first film, full of ideas and inspiration, look where they ended up!
SB: The other immediately noticeable thing about THE VEIL is the leads spend most of the film wearing gas-masks, completely hiding their faces. For most of the first half of the film, the only faces you regularly see are those of the zombies. What prompted that decision, and was it difficult acting with a mask on?
RC: Ah, just mentioned the masks. Well you can tell who is talking by height, weight, costume, voice, and body language.
They were the faceless dead on the battlefield; or it can be looked at as faceless government organizations. In addition to the oppression already mentioned caused by fear.
When the masks are off, in flashbacks and at the end it is a profound moment, one that transcends reality, from black and white to colour. We see and understand the truth. Could it be that the protagonists feel they are going to die anyway and it is this unmasking which symbolizes the freedom of this knowledge that we are all going to die and mirror those already dead…?
JC: That was another case of us wanted to keep things very real. In films the hero or ‘name’ takes off their mask and everything’s cool. It’s like wait a minute! I thought this was a virus! How contagious is it? In reality I think just to be safe – I would keep my mask on. So, that’s another wonderfully original thing about the film – we didn’t sacrifice realism for cause of a studio saying; ‘we must see our leading man!’ I think then we knew, this could turn off a majority of people, but maybe they weren’t the ones we were trying to reach anyway. This is a survival film – and it’s not pretty or convenient. They must keep their masks on and we wanted to play with that. There are not many modern black and white zombie films out there today, and probably none where all the heroes are masked throughout, most part, so again it works to our advantage as a stand out among other independent movies.
SB: The zombies in the film have a very distinct look – much closer to the “crustier” look of Lucio Fulci’s zombie films than George Romero’s more natural “ghouls”. How did you go about making up so many people on such a small budget?
RC: We went back to the prosthetic roots with THE VEIL and Dick Smith’s make up guide, it’s great. We wanted each zombie to look different to reflect their death, rather than generic zombies. One guy died on his bike in the original version, another’s barely more than a skeleton- each one’s different…
JC: We got better as we went along. Richard and I have always been SFX fans and the make-up’s got better, as the film progresses. You can almost see zombie’s deteriorating before your eyes! Fresh to the disease they were ‘ghoulish’ then skin starts to fall off as the days go on. We thought we’d have some zombie with beady eyes and a comb-over and another that looked like Andy Warhol and so on, so forth. We had our own prosthetics, bought some cheap pyrotechnics. Sometimes people were not there all at one time, as they could take an hour or two to make up, so we might pick up a week or so later, weather permitting!
SB: There’s a lot I love about THE VEIL, but perhaps my favorite thing is the droning, ambient musical score. It really suits the apocalyptic nature of the story, particularly in this more action-oriented cut of the film. What were the intentions behind the film’s soundtrack?
RC: We approached some friends who were in bands to make music. We gave them an idea of what the scenes involved and they produced the soundtrack with this in mind. After seeing what they came up with we edited the visuals to the music track. This especially works well in the long action-orientated chase sequence at the end which is also my favorite scene. The timing of John’s editing and the menacing music (the drums and string instruments) compliments the footage creating a powerful and thrilling result.
JC: As the film was being made, some friends of ours were in bands. It was artists uniting. They were into the same sorts of things we were, we naturally asked if they could do something for our film. Meanwhile, me, and Richard did some synth pieces then played around with them. We wanted a proggy, minimal score, as with all our films we take the soundtrack very seriously – the soundtrack must compliment the visuals. For instance, in all the darkness, the one moment when dawn breaks and the storm has passed, a nice guitar piece in a daytime showing them relaxing for once, the music and images expressed a glimmer of hope, the world amid the catastrophe was still a beautiful place. I also feel the droning sounds and music matches the shades and weaponry on screen, it’s like a rusty iron ship going down.
SB: I watch a lot of movies made on extremely limited budgets, and almost across the board they struggle to reach the 90 minute mark. THE VEIL’s original cut was probably the longest microbudget film I’ve ever seen – running 2 1/2 hours. How difficult was it to cut it down to a (still impressive) 100 minutes without turning the plot into a mess?
RC: We went right down to the core of the film and cut everything else away; what we are left with perhaps loses some of the overwhelming sensation of immersion into an epic two and a half hour film; what we sacrificed we gained back in the newer more view-able version of THE VEIL. A version which loses none of its bite.
JC: It took a while. Essentially we were cutting out perfectly good zombie scenes. It’s hard when you’re so close it yourself. What was really needed? And of course, the characters were important all in their own way and had back stories that were essential. So, certain things just couldn’t be cut, without confusing people or taking out key points from THE VEIL. The Unmasked Edition of The Veil was short as this film could get without losing its appeal and intention. It was always supposed to be this epic no budget film. It works well, and I’m really happy with this version.
SB: Do you consider the UNMASKED VERSION to be the definitive cut of THE VEIL?
RC: Yes I do, nevertheless I would like to see a bonus disc/ file where people can see the extras cut away from the original version of THE VEIL.
JC: It is now. The quality whether it be streaming or buying the DVD is the best version out – and you’d really be helping the filmmakers and artists to buy this one too, the other 2008 DVD helps no one who made the film. Revisiting it, it’s a dark guerrilla film any young filmmaker or indie horror fan can appreciate. Maybe, one day, years from now and if the public wanted the original long version – edited and sound improved we’d put it out. I’ve seen what companies with thousands of dollars can do with digital restoration on old films, so, maybe one day! But, right now, this is as best as it gets.
SB: I’m obviously a big fan of both cuts of the film. For readers looking to get their hands on a copy, what would be the best way to do so?
RC: I refer you to John…
JC: The official website for The Veil – Unmasked Edition is here.
There are many ways to watch the film, watch or buy the streaming version or buy a physical DVD. I bought one from createspace, I love the artwork (also made by us the original DVD wasn’t!)
SB: You made the move to the U.S. a few years ago, while your brother Richard still works out of the UK. Is there a chance (HA!) of the Chance brothers reuniting for a project in the near future?
RC: I’m currently working on THE LAST WAR, a worldwide collaborative science fiction film. There is still time for models, artists, animators and photographers to get involved, check out the chance-encounters.org website. I have asked John to get involved in the editing side of things. I have a basic audio – visual cut, but I have a lot on my plate directing, writing and producing, when John edits it will ease the burden a bit.
JC: Richard is still looking for a CGI artists and people but it’s starting to look fantastic. It’s a collaborative SCI-FI feature film where anyone can contribute! Aside from us both writing, there of course will always be times we will work together. Meanwhile, I’m looking for a horror producer for SOMETHING LIKE A PHENOMENON a nominated screenplay I’m trying to make into a feature film. I have Michele Mulkey an industry SFX artist onboard for the future film who’s worked on tons of stuff on TV and film – now; it’s just trying to find people who’d be interested in getting involved.
SB: And for those looking to make use of your own directing, acting, and voice-over talents, what’s the best way to keep up on your work, and hire you for projects?
JC: Go to our film site is to get involved in THE LAST WAR SCI-FI project.
For potential crew and horror producers go to the SOMETHING LIKE A PHENOMENON website.
For acting, voice over work my website is VoicesByChance.
SB: I’ve asked you before about your advice regarding first-time features, so I’ll switch it around a bit. Nearly ten years since its initial release, what are your own thoughts on THE VEIL? What are its biggest strengths and weaknesses?
JC: Weaknesses: I think everyone looking back feels they want to change something. The characters are masked throughout (it’s not for everyone – it’s an acquired taste) some FX, but, I guess more than anything – there was some things that could have been better if had some money and better equipment. Essentially, our story is their story – the story of the broken heroes, up against everyone, the underdogs!
RC: I agree. Looking back you automatically want to change things, look at most films it’s the same. A weakness I would have to say was budget, we could have afforded a better camera. But the budget was also a strength, we had to work around our problems and succeed without throwing money at things to resolve the issue. A small crew meant less problems and more of a unified vision.
JC: Strengths: It’s original. Probably nothing else like it around right now. It’s a throwback to early independent film, you can literally see on screen the sweat of us doing everything. It’s tenacity, the raw, unorthodox approach at making a movie. The result – some fantastic scenes, memorable zombies, explosions, guns, knives, and a helicopter (yes, we rented one) it great lo-fi entertainment and unpredictable!
SB: Thanks again for taking the time, guys. Really had a great time re-watching THE VEIL.
RC: Thanks Doug!
JC: Thank you Doug! It’s been fun talking with you.
- [NO-BUDGET NIGHTMARES] PODCAST #80: PLAGA ZOMBIE (1997) - July 25, 2016