SGM Spotlight interview conducted by Marc Lissenburg
Celluloid Screams 2012 was memorable for a multitude of reasons. For a start there was a line-up heaving with contemporary gems, vintage classics and a healthy sprinkling of innovative short films. But beyond the bustling schedule was the cordial atmosphere shared by the attendees. While taking a breather from the onscreen mayhem, I clinked glasses with Horror Blog-ess extraordinaire, Alice Hayley Roberts, who enlightened me to an intriguing new independent movie called THE SHADOW OF DEATH by composer and self-taught filmmaker, Gav Chuckie Steel.
After being treated to the 80 minute grindhouse themed slasher I got in contact with its creator, who was only too happy to have a quick chatÖ
ML: Hi Gav, thanks so much for taking the time out to chat to SGM.
GCS: Hey no worries man!
ML: Well I got to say, the movie was great fun but I note that sadly that is not currently available on DVD. Where do we stand with DVD distribution?
GCS: Because itís such a cheaply made movie and its production value doesnít look incredibly great I havenít even gone to distributors yet. I mean itís not like I am going to sit around thinking "theyíre gonna come to me"!!!
Itís hard to know what to do. Being my first movie, I went in reading books and watching documentaries of Peter Jackson, Robert Rodriguez people like that. So now I am at the stage of saying Ďyeah MAKING the movie is EEEEASY!í Getting the movie OUT THERE is really hard. Even festivals cost a lot to even submit the film regardless of if you even get it shown. So no, there is no distribution deal in place at the moment. I have even thought about giving it away for free, on the internet maybe. I didnít make it for the gain of money; I made it more for the chance for people to say "Hey, this guy can make a movie".
ML: interesting point you made about marketing and distribution. We have noticed SO MANY movies that have had to their titles changed for the UK market.
GCS: Marketing and distribution is just a nightmare. In the film industry, the money that goes into marketing is ridiculous. I think LIONSGATE spent $20 million on worldwide marketing alone last year. For me it was like getting people to print flyers for me for free to give them out at festivals. Itís another level to the majors (studios). They have massive departments that simply work on marketing with masses of staff members just looking at current film posters trying to see whatís popular and copy it.
And thatís not why I did THE SHADOW OF DEATH. For me it was like going back in time for my love of horror films. And I think this LOVE we have for horror movies just gets lost the higher up it goes to executive producers etc.
ML: IMDB cites the budget being £250! Is this tongue in cheek or is there a ring of truth to it?
GCS: I called IMDB about that and told them to put it up but they asked why so I said that I Ďdidnít think people would take it seriouslyí at £250. But no, not £250: it was actually a grand (£1000).
Minus soundboard £300 and the camera which was also £300 it was a grand for petrol and food mainly. Most of the cast and crew did it for free anyway.
I donít know what they thought of me Ďcos I didnít know what the fuck I was doing but they all came on board and I am sure they wanted to go on to do other things. Everyoneís got to start somewhere I suppose.
ML: So tell us a little about the length of the shoot?
GCS: Well it was done at weekends so over two months really. I guess 20 maybe 22 days when it came down to having to go back to do insert shots. Night shots at my house in that whole nightmare sequence going up into my loft.
ML: Itís interesting because some low budget shoots are done in under a week yet the Frank Henenlotter commentary track on BASKET CASE revealed BC took over a year because they only shot at weekends and when they could raise funds..
GCS : Yeah I know what you mean. BAD TASTE took 3 years, only shooting at weekends. And I mean some weekends no one would turn up and he would go home all sad...! But that is what happens with independent projects.
But I shot REAL quick. I was doing Ďsingle takesí as much as I could. We didnít have lights and stuff as we were working outside. As long as the sun was up and it wasnít raining we could film. But I was doing all the filming myself so I didnít have to talk to a camera crew for example saying ĎI need thisí or ĎI need thatí. It was just me doing everything. I mean if there as a shot going on and there was a airplane overhead doing a load of noise I was doing the sound anyway so it was like Ďoh donít worry about it, I can just score over this part. So it made it so much quicker doing it by myself but at the same time I didnít have enough opportunity to focus on the actual actors and their performances. As long as it was in focus on the camera I shot! Of course little things like the continuity for example suffered a little here and there.
ML: I would just like to ask a little about the music in the movie? I understand you are a keen composer so was the music pre written and fitted in or did you write the music specifically for the movie?
GCS: I had written some of the soundtrack beforehand. But mainly I would just come back from work and bang out a song knowing I needed a song for a particular part of the movie. An imagined scene massively influenced by John Carpenter was when Craven is driving along and it starts off as folk music but then goes into more synthesized melody: that is all John Carpenter.
For the actual music score I basically sampled loads of old horror movies from the 30ís and 40ís which are now in the public domain so I recorded just little notes and strings. Put them across my keyboard at different octaves and pitches and combined it make this almost unique score. I hate synthesizing strings, it just sounds so false.
The soundtrack was just from friends. There is a Hip Hop tune at the beginning and the folk songs were written and performed by a local folk band. It was just getting my friends involved really. In that moment of time it was like Ďok, who has a band?í while bringing who was around me at that moment into the project. I mean maybe when I am old and look back at it, I will think Ďok cool thatís where I was in that point of timeí.
I was a DJ for years and I love ALL SORTS of music so I just wanted to put in all my influences. Just chuck it in and see what happened rather the just go for say all folk music for example. ML: The movies leading lady is played by Sophia Disgrace the newly appointed Kommander of the Nigel Wingroves Satanic sluts. I am sure I am not the only one with the time for a Satanic Slut so tell us a little about how you got her onboard?
GCS: I literally just put shouts out on Facebook and people came back with answers for me. Some said you should try this person or that so when Sophiaís name came up, I actually knew Sophia from a movie she did called ANIMAL SOUP. I was actually originally going to compose for that movie but never actually ended up doing so. But I knew who she was so thought letís give it a shot. I never at the time had anyone for Debraís role so I gave that to her. But then I thought Nancy was so much better for her. I mean being Debra meant taking all her facial piercings out and changing her appearance completely so it didnít make sense
Anyway, she got back to me on Facebook and she came across. She didnít even take any train fare, I just gave her food. She was so dedicated like one day we were filming she came on set and she hadnít slept as she had been performing the night before. She caught some kip in between me doing shoots and that was great because her character was supposed to be a stoner anyway! To see her looking zonked out when filming I was like Ďyes thatís great! Letís go with that!í
ML: Must have been great fun inventing the death scenes... Tell us a little about how you came up with those ideas?
GCS: My mate Mark Kelly was the effects artist on it and years ago we said in a drunken chat yeah letís make a horror movie. He was a butcher and so I suggested he do the effects with stuff he could get hold like pigís eyes and things like that. The original idea which was just going to be about eyes; taking out eyes, "see no evil" type thing but digging eyes out of people left right and centre I just thought would be boring
So we sat down and discussed what he could actually make and it was him who said we could get a bong and get it to look like it could be pushed through ahead. So he came up with a few ideas, I came up with the machete in the face from Friday the 13th, a kind of homage I guess. ML: There was at least one Fulci homage with the eye gouge, but the one arm cycle death was hugely original!
GCS: Yeah yeah well since then I realised we could just cover someoneís arm with blue material and take it away CGI style. But we got a guy, I had never met him, called Bandit basically because he as only got one arm. He is a mountain biker, a bmx-er into that that sort of thing. Basically a mate said he had a mate who only has one arm so I thought "Hey great! We can chop his arm off!"
So thatís how that came about really easy. But essentially it was old school effects the whole way.
ML: There is an old school feel to the movie especially the opening titles with some subtle scratch like effects on view..
GCS: Yeah it was weird because I was watching (Tarantino and Rodriguezís) Grindhouse when my sister said a mate of hers had a camcorder for sale for about £300
But yeah the scratches were like an old school gimmick but we didnít want to go over to the top. The main rule for every aspect of the film was less is more. Everything is just really subtle. There are a couple of shots with the killer in the background, in the woods and I donít know if people even see that. Really really subtle..
ML: So now you have completed this project what does the future hold for Gavin Chuckie Steel?
GCS: Well Dan who plays Craven and I have co-written an epic Zombie movie set on a council estate called AZBO and yes the Z in the title stands for zombie!
Itís a big scale epic project. We have written the script but itís locked away and forgotten about for now so we really want to do it justice when we get round to doing it.
Currently we are writing CRAVEN VS THE DEVIL WORSHIPPING DOGGERS. Itís a spin off sequel to THE SHADOW OF DEATH if you will. It starts with Craven waking up with an eye patch in a mental institute. Some ones gonna get kidnapped and he will go back to THE SHADOW OF DEATH woods. Itís kind of an 80ís Action type movie..
But the next one I AM filming hopefully is in pre-production from January, and is a movie called INSECURITIES. It features two security guards, one played by Daniel Carter Hope who played Dan in TSAD; the other hasnít come on board officially yet but he is an actor who everyone knows. Basically they play security guards on a Halloween night, sat at their reception desk.
Itís very like THE SHINING meets ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 mixed with THE INNKEEPERS! Something like that but set in one location. Itís not mad blood thirsty like TSOD but a real tension film rather the going for gore..
ML: Sounds interesting. I say that because one of the great sequences from TSOD was the black and white nightmare scene...
GCS: Well with that scene I wanted to get out of the cabin. My main gripe with the movie is the cabin kind of slows it down. So the nightmare scene was a way of breaking that sequence up.
But I enjoyed filming it and it was scene that I imagined years and years ago. Had storyboarded it and everything and had a professional photographer that came along that that did it for free as he was a friend. It was a nice insight into building tension with inside areas and I am going to really push that onto INSECURTIES.
ML: Well listen itís been a blast chatting but I have to end by asking what are your top 3 horror movies of all time and your top three albums also..?
GCS: Top 3 horror movies? (Laughs) Well I am in front of my movie collection at the moment so that might be easierÖ
Got to say the original HALLOWEEN! I am a massive fan of that movie, have loved it since I was a kid. Oh man.. (more laughs) .. itís just too hard to say reallyÖ
ML: I know itís an unfair question really! I go with SUSPIRIA, THE BEYOND and then have about 10 others fighting it out for bronze!
GCS: Yes thatís it!! Ok letís go with THE BURBS and JAWS!
As for albumsÖ Iíll say BLACK SABBATH by BLACK SABBATH; WHITE ZOMBIEís ASTRO CREEP & ENDTRODUCING by DJ SHADOW.
ML: Nice one... Gav, thanks so much for your time... and best of luck with those future projects...
GCS: Hey thanks a lot, it was great chatting!
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