Producing good independent movies is hard enough for any upcoming filmmaker, trying to do it in the UK can be seen like walking against a gale force storm at times so our very own Indie guru Stu Willis took time out to chat with filmmakers Ben Simpson and David Campion on the success of their film PATROL MEN and the perils of pursuing funding for their latest venture WOODFALLS…
Stu: Hi, thanks for the opportunity to chat with you both. I’d like to open by saying that, considering your tender ages and the fact that your feature debut PATROL MEN was made for peanuts, it’s an amazingly accomplished piece of work – very intelligent, too. I have a very good feeling about your future as genre filmmakers.
So let’s start at the beginning. The pair of you began making short films together while still in full-time education, is this right? Can you talk a little about this – about how this came about, what your sources for techniques were, and what you learned about filmmaking along the way?
David: First off, thank you for the kind words. Somebody said we make "Ed Wood look like Scorsese", so getting positive word of any kind is really very nice.
As for our shorts, we started shooting together in school. One of us would act, whilst the other was on camera and then we would use Windows Movie Maker to edit them. HAHA. If nothing else, the shorts allowed us to be eclectic and experiment with different genres. I’m pretty sure our most successful one featured Ben masturbating over a video of me...based on true events. HAHAHA.
Ben: We quickly began to learn that you need more than a cast and crew of two people to make a film. We made a lot of films with blood and never seemed to master the technique. We’d spend hours making all this blood and in the end it just looked like thick syrup (which it was). It’s noticeable in Patrol Men too, in hindsight it would have been just as cheap to by some stage blood with the amount of food colouring and syrup we were buying.
David: It sucks we can’t make blood properly.
Stu: Are these shorts likely to transpire on DVD at any point?
Ben: If there’s demand for them I’d happily put them on a DVD as extras.
David: …I hope they never see the light of day.
Stu: On to PATROL MEN. Can you reveal a little more about the budget? Like, how was it raised and how was it spent?
David: Budget is always the biggest worry for indie films, but we were naive enough to forget about it. Between myself, Ben and Niall [Patrol Men producer] we worked day jobs solidly and raised a few grand. Biggest mistake we made- we didn’t allocate the budget properly.
Ben: looking back on it we had no clue on how to spend our money we just made up a figure off the top of our heads when we were in pre-production and then worked around it. It gave us so many limitations; we couldn’t even afford a half decent sound recorder. I just had a mini four track lying around in my bedroom and we used that… Never again. With all the locations and actors we had on the film though I don’t think we did too bad with just over £2,000. If we were in that same position at this point in time knowing what we know now I don’t think we would have ever tried to attempt making Patrol Men but our goal at the time of making it was just to get a feature shot, getting it onto DVD for the whole of the UK was never our goal. We got very lucky.
Stu: PATROL MEN has a very quirky, very British feel to it – the type that can be felt in the likes of THE WICKER MAN and TV’s "The League Of Gentlemen". Were either of these conscious influences?
David: The Wicker Man had a HUGE influence on the film. We both watched it constantly during the writing process and production.
Ben: We’d even dance around naked singing along while slapping the walls to get that mood going…
Dave: …It has a really strange quality, which can’t be replicated. We recently watched the sequel [The Wicker Tree] and it felt like a really standard TV film.
Stu: Could you discuss the politics of PATROL MEN? Is there any first-hand experience of the divides and isolation that we witness in the film? Also, am I way off the mark in thinking there were allusions to the once-ferocious independence of the Falkland Islands in there?
David: I wouldn’t say you’re off the mark, but the Falklands wasn’t a conscious reference. However, I like the fact that you can relate these things to it. It’s like the horror ‘masterpieces’ from the 70’s...The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, anything by Romero; they’re always related back to Vietnam. Was that always intentional? We’ll never truly know, but I’m sure journalists and critics gave those films more political weight than was ever intended by the filmmaker.
Patrol Men has been compared to 1984 a lot, not in quality, but in concept. Whilst writing I was reading a lot of John Steinbeck and I read Animal Farm; there is definitely an Orwellian feeling to Peyton Island.
Stu: Oh, I have to mention CLONUS too. Or, to a lesser extent, THE ISLAND. Were either of these films influential?
David: I just had to Google Clonus, it looks AMAZING! Have you even seen The Island Ben?
Ben: The Michael Bay film? No.
David: Me neither, it looked rubbish.
Stu: The opening murder scene is shot in a highly stylised manner. Echoes of Argento and Bava in there, perhaps?
David: It’s funny, that opening scene was shot seven months after the production wrapped. Our sales agents told us we needed "boobs and blood" to sell the film. HAHA.
Ben: We sold out as soon as we got the chance. HA
David: But yes, there’s always an Argento influence when we shoot. The garage scene with the crazy old granddad as well- with all the red and blue lighting, totally ripped from Inferno.
Ben: Throughout the whole shoot we were watching Suspiria and that gave us influence to use as much red as possible and we wanted that dream-like feel in certain scenes. We haven’t seen enough Bava films.
Stu: In fact, while PATROL MEN brings to mind lots of quality references – in a healthy way – what’s remarkable is that the end result is one ripe with originality and an enjoyably leftfield approach. I think its well worth asking for a comprehensive list of your collective influences – if you’ll oblige me?
David: I think a strength and a fault of the film is how far we reached for inspiration- we should have probably reigned ourselves in a bit. For me, Eerie Indiana was a massive one. I loved that fucking show when I was growing up and it still holds up now. Inspirations came from really weird places- Gilmore Girls! I’m almost embarrassed admitting that, but we totally ripped the character of Jess from that show.
Ben: I hate when you bring this up…
David: HAHA. And Peyton Island, named after the character from Peyton from One Tree Hill. We all fancied her, so figured we should name a fictitious island after her. I hope Ben has some better references to try and reclaim some cool points...
Ben: You can’t really see it in the film but The Evil Dead influenced us a lot in terms of just getting out there and making a film. I would watch it constantly growing up.
How has PATROL MEN fared since its UK DVD release? Have responses been good – and has it been introduced to other territories yet? I think it would translate well.
David: We’re totally out of the loop. Judging by what I’ve seen in shops and online, distribution has been pretty reasonable in this Country, especially for the film’s size. I’m pretty sure we’ve made somebody a small sum of money!
Ben: Yeah I think it’s been selling well, although we can’t get a definitive number on how many we’ve sold and critically it’s done pretty bad. We have had a few positive ones though, a small review from Empire magazine. That took us by surprise.
David: My dad thought it was shit….
Stu: You’ve recently announced details of your next production, WOODFALLS. It’s billed as being "AMERICAN GRAFFITI meets THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT". Okay, I don’t want you to compromise yourselves, but that’s an exciting pitch: can you elaborate?
David: Basically, the film is about the tensions between a family of travellers [or gypsies if you will] and the local town’s folk. Both subcultures have a total misunderstanding of one another and this leads to violence.
Ben: It’s an ensemble piece like our last film; multiple characters dealing with there own issues and we want to delve deep into the tensions of not fitting into a society and the struggles it causes. We’ve matured a lot since Patrol Men and I think Woodfalls will show a huge step up in terms of our filmmaking and storytelling.
Stu: What’s the plan with WOODFALLS? In terms of exposure, distribution, and how it will progress your careers?
David: FESTIVALS! I think Woodfalls is festival friendly and that’s always been the dream really. Something like Frightfest, Fantastic fest or SXSW would be so good, not only for the film, but our careers as well. I hate saying ‘career’.
For now, we’re hitting up Twitter, Facebook, just trying to round up a healthy audience. If anybody reading this fancies ‘liking’ our Facebook page, we would love you forever.
Stu: PATROL MEN was original, atmospheric; weirdly disturbing (I loved it, and thought it was amazingly stylish). WOODFALLS sounds like it’s going to be much more confrontational though. Do you agree?
David: Definitely, we’re pulling no punches with this one. The script is very much fuelled by our climate; both personally and culturally. It deals with discrimination and our reactive natures; the idea that if we don’t understand something, we immediately hate it.
Ben: A lot of our criticism with Patrol Men was that all the violence was off camera. With Woodfalls we don’t want to hide anything, it’ll be a lot more aggressive when the story calls for it.
Stu: Can you tell us a little about the FX process set in place for WOODFALLS? It sounds like it’s going to utilise a lot more visual effects than PATROL MEN did.
David: Yeah, this one might actually use visual effects. (laughter).
Ben: We want to combine prosthetics with subtle CGI, making it as realistic as possible. It seems to be the best way to do it.
David: Gaspar Noe style!
Stu: Do you anticipate much adversity in regards to funding/support, due to your (relatively) young ages? It shouldn’t matter – especially with such an accomplished debut under your belts – but I’m well aware that getting backing is difficult in the best of circumstances these days.
Ben: We aren’t that young anymore it’s sad to say. Most of the directors we look up to started at our age now. Time’s crept up on us; we have no excuses anymore. With funding we are going through the Kickstarter route with our producer Julia Volonts. We haven’t used this tool before so it’s an exciting time… we just have to keep positive. Stu: Where do you see yourselves fitting in with the current UK horror scene?
David: I’m not too sure…
Ben: It might sound a bit clichéd but I don’t think we do fit in to the horror scene in the UK. I’m not sure we even have a horror scene to be proud of at the moment. I think there is a scene starting to surface though with directors like Ben Wheatley and Simon Rumley. I’d like to think we’d fit in with them once Woodfalls is made.
Stu: Any recent films you’ve seen that you’d like to recommend to readers?
David: Well, we did Frightfest last month, so we’re actually pretty up to date. I loved Kill List, The Innkeeper’s, A Horrible Way to Die and My Sucky Teen Romance…which was the third feature by Emily Hagins who is 18 years old. Man, she makes me feel old!
Ben: I was really impressed with Detention, which involves high school kids and a time travelling bear. It’s bat-shit crazy.
Stu: Thanks for your time. PATROL MEN is an amazing film, truly unique in style and execution, and I sincerely hope we get to see WOODFALLS before long. It sounds awesome.
To find out more about WOODFALLS and help support the films production check out the official Kickstarter page here.
Special thanks to Ben and David.