Having entertained horror loving muties across the land for many years now, we’re thrilled to see Brit-horror filmmaker Alex Chandon bigger and badder than ever before with the wildly entertaining schlockfest INBRED and to celebrate its release our very own trash cinema guru Stu Willis caught up with director Alex Chandon to discuss his career and latest knuckle dragging grue-filled gem…
Stu: Hi Alex, first off I’d like to congratulate you on your film – it’s excellent – and thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions.
Alex: Thanks for enjoying it! I am very pleased with the reaction it's getting at the festival screenings.
Stu: I need to start by asking why there’s been such a delay between CRADLE OF FEAR and INBRED – and what have you been doing in the meantime?
Alex: Ten years, yes. How time flies. CRADLE OF FEAR was a two year labour of love that I put my heart and soul and finances into and I hoped it would lay the foundations to make another film, but it didn't work out that way for a few reasons. We were very naïve back then and signed some shit distribution deals, so we never really made our money back despite the film selling 100's of 1000's of units and making the distributors a fine profit. That was disheartening and my production team lost passion for another low budget movie, and I lost the courage to do the same again, mostly because it wasn't paying the bills, yet other film-related jobs were.
So I made more music promos and then embarked into short films and taught myself After Effects, which is a nifty bit of software for doing 2d effects. I made BORDERLINE in 2005, which took me a year and was then picked up by onedotzero film festival and toured the world and was eventually chosen by the BFI for inclusion into the UK National Film Archive... probably my greatest achievement to date. This led to a load of visual effects jobs for films and TV, including the only green screen shot in ITV's THE BILL... a shot that worked so well no-one spotted it... which is what I want from my composite work. This paid the bills but also rekindled my passion to make features, with my new found skills and more mature head on my shoulders.
So in 2009 I started writing scripts again with only one thought and focus in mind... make a new feature. By a wonderful stroke of luck this was the exact time the German distributors of CRADLE OF FEAR contacted me and asked if I wanted to make a feature, as they had some money. Four scripts later I had INBRED, which we finished writing in early 2010 and went straight into preproduction. And here I am.
Stu: How has the UK genre scene changed in the interim? Obviously it’s mushroomed in terms of films getting made/released – but has this improved chances of funding and/or distribution any?
Alex: I'm probably not the right person to ask. Being a director I am so overly critical about what I think about stuff. I love anyone who makes films, but especially admire those who make films with a real passion... and that seems lacking in the UK film scene. SHAUN OF THE DEAD I thought was such a great film that highlighted what Brit Horror Flicks could do but since then I'm yet to see anything that comes close to being a stand out UK genre film, exceptions might be SEVERANCE, MUM and DAD, HAROLD's GOING STIFF and KILL LIST, but they all had massive flaws IMO.
I see so called horror films that seem like they have been made by people who have never watched a horror film in their life. The British Film Industry is still, I'm sad to say, a really shitty place for the independent film-maker, it's still as hard as ever to secure official funding for genre features. The money always seems to go to the usual funding bodies who have their friends and favourites... who usually live in London! I should say that in all the poo I think WARP FILMS have been doing a bloody great job pushing through properly edgy stuff. It's a crying shame there isn't better support for lower budget productions, especially regional ones, as I personally know of three amazingly talented UK film-makers (and lifelong horror fans) who can't find funding for their great scripts.
It's awesome that the massive advances in technology has now made it possible to shoot pro-looking HD films and edit them at home on big fat PC's (or Macs if you prefer) in a style impossible to imagine when I made CRADLE OF FEAR... but contrary to the myth perpetuated by stuff like COLIN it isn't cheap to make a film that will impress sales agents. And anyone who takes 2 years of their life to shoot film and then says the budget is £45 is selling themselves short. Wages alone would be more than 50k if COLIN accounted for people's time and effort, as it should... as who wants to work for free? As films become cheaper to make there are more of them so the market is way more saturated with video filmed horror and so you must make something than can be noticed in that crowd. So I see lots of benefits but also more problems for aspiring film-makers compared to how the world was 10 years ago.
Stu: Going into INBRED, what would you say were the main things you’d learned from your previous films (CRADLE, PERVIRELLA, DRILL BIT, and BAD KARMA)?
Alex: Preparation, preparation, preparation. The more the better. And embrace constructive criticism at the script stage and then all through production. And nail the script, make it so tight. Once the script is right and you've prepared all you can (storyboards, read-throughs, fx tests) then make sure you get as good a crew and cast as possible as people who know their job can perform for you every time and together you can solve every problem... because there will be problems. Big ones.. and you'll have to deal with that during filming without losing your rag or your crew. Oh... and catering! Your film is only as good as your catering is my new motto. A well fed crew is a happy crew.
Stu: INBRED’s premise owes to the likes of DELIVERANCE and STRAW DOGS. Are there other cinematic influences that the film shares thematically?
Alex: There are lots of subtle and not so subtle homages to many of my favourite films and TV shows in INBRED, but we didn't want to make any homage too obvious, so it's great that you spotted THE THING head-off homage for instance. Hooper's THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and Craven's THE HILLS HAVE EYES were firm favourites of mine as I discovered 'proper' horror films in my early teens and more recently BBC's THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMAN really blew me away and these of course are big influences in specific areas.
Cinematically we looked to homage classic 70's films like DON'T LOOK NOW, GET CARTER and THE SHINING. We wanted to steer clear of unnecessary 'chimpanzee' camera work (shaky cam) and MTV edits and crap CGI. We wanted lovely wide shots and let the actors act within a scene.
Character wise I based Jeff and Kate, the care workers, very loosely on Keith and Candice Marie from Mike Leigh's amazing NUTS IN MAY.
And as for an overall feel to the film we went for classic 80's horror like BAD TASTE, EVIL DEAD and RE-ANIMATOR, and so I'm over the moon when people make those comparisons in reviews. Those films are very un-pc and yet highly amusing and that's the exact thing we wanted to achieve.
On a more detailed level I 'borrowed' the clapping stones idea from AMOK TRAIN, a wonderfully crazy 80's gore film that I only saw in 2010. And I wanted our Inbred's to act a bit like the 'locals' in the excellent CALVAIRE (aka THE ORDEAL).
Other films we consciously referenced include SOUTHERN COMFORT, BRITTANIA HOSPITAL, ALIEN, AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, THE THIN RED LINE, JAWS, STREET TRASH and RAGING BULL. Musically I worked closely with the excellent Dave Andrews at TWO13.com who loves 70's and 80's film scores and so musically there are homages to Carpenter, Goblin and Morricone blended into Dave's unique and wonderful style.
Stu: You co-wrote the screenplay with Paul Shrimpton. How did this working relationship come about?
Alex: I first remember Paul because he bought BAD KARMA and DRILLBIT on VHS back in the 90's and he sent me his no-budget gore film THE PAPER BAG MAN and then I think we swapped films, but only really started chatting around CRADLE OF FEAR times. Paul has been writing and making crazy films for as long as me so we have loads in common. First time we met was in 2004 I think when I went up to Thirsk, Yorkshire, to help him on a film he was making called SLOW ROT, and we've remained very close mates ever since.
I was sending Paul my scripts in 2009 to get his opinion and he started making changes or suggestions that I loved and so it was a very organic process, we never actually spoke of writing together, but we were helping each other... he loved INBRED so much that he took the liberty of re-writing loads of it, and made it the film it is today and that warranted a bona fide co-writing credit.
Paul is awfully humble about his involvement but what he brought to INBRED was so invaluable for me and the film. He gave it the true northern grit and humour my draft was lacking.
Stu: How did you find the process of co-writing? Does it have its cons as well as pros?
Alex: I love co-writing. I usually start writing by myself... sometimes that works brilliantly and sometimes I want input. Cons? Not really... as long as you utterly respect your co-writer then the phrase 'two heads are better than one' is 100% correct.
Stu: If there is a subtext to the film, what would you say it is?
Alex: There wasn't a subtext at the script stage. A few have been mentioned by viewers that do make a lot of sense. I guess that's a subconscious message coming through. I think one could read a bit more into it... but I like to leave that to the viewers.
Stu: You’re renowned as an expert in the field of visual effects. What fresh challenges did the FX work on INBRED bring to you?
Alex: Am I? That's very nice to hear... thank you, although I don't think I'm worthy. Fresh challenges? Good question. In one way we didn't want to attempt anything we hadn't tried in some way before, albeit on a lesser scale, or different scenario... and so we deliberately wrote gags that we knew we had the capabilities of achieving in the tight time constrictions and within our low-ish budget. That in itself was a fresh challenge, to not be so ambitious and risk fucking up.
On all my last films the FX work has been so time consuming and meant hellish long days and long days weren't allowed on INBRED and so it was a challenge to write gags that were gory and original but that wouldn't take days to film.
I'm an expert in 2D composite effects and so my job is to combine footage seamlessly For INBRED FX to work I needed more 2D composite experts, Dominic Hailstone and Adrian Banton, top make-up special effects people, Duncan Jarman, Linzi Foxcroft and Graham Taylor, and a tiny, tiny bit of CGI help (there are a couple of shots of computer generated smoke and one gore effect has a bit of CG but apart from that it’s all real) from Pew 36.
So the challenge was to make everything work so that the finished result was seamless. That was made harder by shooting at 2k resolution, which is bigger and better than HD 1080 and the largest format I had ever shot on. Let alone done FX on. The HD factor meant that all the composite work had to be pixel perfect and the huge file sizes meant that even my beast of a PC would go slow on some scenes with many layers of different elements. So yeah... I think getting everything shot in time and then making the 2k footage perfect were the fresh challenges we overcame.
Stu: Is there anything you wanted to try, FX-wise, but couldn’t due to restrictions with budget/time/resources?
Alex: There was a pick-axe through the head gag I've wanted to do for years which we didn't get to shoot... I've already written it into another script!
Only two of the gags were majorly compromised on set due to time constrictions. The group of Inbreds getting hit by the van was scheduled for a 4 hour shoot, multiple angles. We had one hour to shoot it and that's why it’s one angle, and we rushed so much we got the lining up of elements wrong and so it took me 10 long days of VFX work to make that 4 second shot work.
And the opening massacre was going to be even gorier (hard to believe now when I watch it... it’s fine!).
Overall I am so totally happy with the amount of FX and how good they all worked out. On set it was funny because we were worrying the film wasn't gory enough; because so much was going to happen in post-production, on set it was hard to realise just how gory the final combined shots would look.
Stu: You’ve gathered a great cast for the film. Could you speak a little about the main players, and how they became involved?
Alex: I think the cast makes the film. For me, working with such an ensemble of great actors was by far the most rewarding thing I got from the film. I remember saying on set when asked why I had scheduled only one hour of an 8 hour day for gore FX, mostly blood thrown over a wall... I said "We've been throwing blood over walls for years, we'll do that in a minute... and we can use the saved time for the acting." I'm so pleased we could spend so much time with the actors and they enjoyed it so much too. I learned so much from them... day one was a steep learning curve but after that it was brilliant.
The catalyst for the whole casting was Jo Hartley as Kate, one of the care workers. She was suggested by our UK producer Margaret Milner Schmuek. I had seen Jo in DEADMAN'S SHOES and MADE IN ENGLAND and agreed that was a brilliant idea, so we sent her the script. Deep down I thought she'd say 'no', because she was a 'proper' actor. But she loved the script and agreed to meet for an audition, and we got on so well and spent 2 hours just chatting about what our intentions for INBRED were. Jo wasn't familiar with the horror genre and her major worry (apart from having other great actors in the film) was that the many gore scenes were going to look cheap and unrealistic, so I had to explain how we would use composite fx to make stuff look real. She did no audition to speak of, but I knew she was perfect for Kate. Jo agreed in principle to be in the film as long as all the other actors were brilliant... so we had our challenge.
Due to our budgetary constraints we couldn't afford a casting agent and so we had to find everyone ourselves. Margaret had another great idea which was to contact Ian Smith who runs the TV Workshop in Nottingham to see if he could suggest some young actors. The TV Workshop is where Samantha Morten was tutored and Ian has also supplied Shane Meadows with many actors. Ian was amazing and arranged a casting day for us and we found James Burrows who plays Tim (was in Eden Lake and now filming for SKINS) and Terry Haywood who plays Zeb.
It wasn't my intention to get so many actors from Shane Meadows's films, but I'm so glad we did, as he has very good taste in actors! By wonderful coincidence Seamus O'Neil who plays Jim the Inbred landlord amazingly well, was a friend of Paul Shrimpton as Seamus also lived in Thirsk for some years. When Paul re-wrote my last INBRED draft, he embellished and expanded the role of Jim, writing it with Seamus in mind. Only later did I find out Seamus was yet another Shane Meadow's regular!
I had worked previously with the wonderful James (Paddy to his mates) Doherty who played the pompous care worker, Jeff, and I wrote the part with him in mind. He didn't know this, and like Jo, I was unsure if he'd say 'yes' but he loved the part and agreed.
Jo Hartley recommended Nadine Rose Mulkerrin (Sam) and Derek Melling (Greg) and Pat Lally (Jack the Axe) and George Newton (Wilf) who were all perfect. A trip to Wales to the Cardiff Actors Workshop found the unique Damien Lloyd Davies (Rats) and a pleasant quirk of fate resulted in a late-in-the-day audition by newcomer Chris Waller which blew me away and he was instantly cast as Dwight. I knew Mark Rathbone (Ron), Mat Fraser (Jacob) and Emily Booth (June) and they'd all asked for a role when they heard about the film and they slotted in fine.
So all in all casting went brilliantly. Hard work travelling up and down the country for auditions but worth every minute.
Stu: The extras, playing the locals, all gave animated performances too. Any stand-out stories relating to these scenes?
Alex: Too many!! All the extras hail from Thirsk, Yorkshire, where we shot the film. We put an advert in the local free papers for an open casting session for extras at the local pub (where we filmed all the pub interiors)... we expected a few people and over 100 turned up... whole families, kids and all. We devised a simple and quick screen test to see if they were relaxed... ("Pull your best 'Inbred' face.") And chose the best 50 for the Inbred crowd. The only thing we told them is that they were going to get covered in fake shit. They all loved the idea!
The most incredible extras story still does my head in.
In the same advert we asked for someone with a horse we could use. We received an e mail entitled 'Strange Horse' which was from a family who had a stable near Thirsk and one of their horses, Othello, had a strange facial deformity they added "he'd be great in a horror film". Obviously Othello had to be in the film and so e mails are exchanged.
Then we find out that Othello's owners are two identical twin sisters, Grace and Alice Walker and so I'm thinking 'THE SHINING' and we tweak the script to have the twin girls leading the horse into the scene.
I went to see Othello and he was massive... I have a horse phobia and that's where the idea came from... but he was perfect, with one ghostly white eye. And the twins were amazing... really nice and really eye catching. Great.
So a month later we're filming the scene with Othello and the twins, on location, and it’s all going well. And we're all having lunch together, and the twins are saying how much they are enjoying it and how good it is to be on a film set as their grandfather was involved in films, and he'd been in a horror film. "Which one?" we asked. "Alien 3" they replied. "Wow. What was his name?" we wondered. "Brian Glover." they said and we were all bowled over stupid... one of our bald main Inbreds is named Glover, in homage to Brian Glover (AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON pub scene, which we homage heavily) so you can imagine our wonderment at such a cool coincidence. The young twins hadn't even seen AMERICAN WEREWOLF and I don't think they understood why we were all so gobsmacked... We saw it as a good sign!
Stu: And, of course, you’ve got Dominic Brunt (Paddy from Emmerdale) in there too! How did this come about?
Alex: Dominic is a hard core horror fan. He contacted me, I had little idea who he was, and he said he liked my work and heard about INBRED and told me he was in Emmerdale, so I looked at some clips of him on Youtube and thought he was brilliant, and perfect as Podge in the script. He came to meet me at our Manchester auditions and brought a copy of CRADLE OF FEAR for me to sign!
He is so nice.. a real, genuine and humble chap. He puts on a zombie walk and film festival in Leeds every year for charity and has just shot his own zombie film BEFORE DAWN... so he's a proper horror freak! He came up with Podge's whole look and costume and even got his crazy dentures made. Dominic has become a true friend during the production and I really want to work with him again... if they let him out of Emmerdale... it was hard as he could only get a few days free... Podge would have had a bigger role had we had more of Dominic.
Stu: The film was shot in and around Thirsk, North Yorkshire. What was the attitude of the locals there: was there any resistance or offence from them?
Alex: I love Thirsk and have never had a bad moment and have been there loads. Like I say the film stars almost half of Thirsk! When the film was announced through our local press adverts an enterprising journalist at a local rag thought he'd make a story by twisting the words of Thirsk's ex-mayor to suit his storyline. That was 'Ex-Mayor of Thirsk objects to outsiders portraying them as 'Inbreds'. The best quote in the article was ' If it's like his last films then he's not welcome here’ which came after him saying 'We don't want to be portrayed as unwelcoming...'
It was a great hack article that was picked up by all the horror and film online sites and went global and totally helped us promote INBRED. The matter was cleared up almost immediately once the ex-mayor was re-interviewed, and when he was made aware of our intentions he became a vocal supporter of the project and even joined our Facebook fan page!
Only one time, after filming during week two, we had a meeting at a pub we hadn't been to before and the big blokes at the table next to us overheard that we were 'that film crew' and got a bit lippy but we just sent Paul over to chat Yorkshire to them and chill them out and it was all fine. We want to have a screening of the film in Thirst in their tiny independent cinema, The Ritzy. And a party afterwards in Ye Olde Three Tuns, best pub in Thirsk.
Stu: You have quite a mild-mannered persona in person. How does that translate on the shoot of a film? Do you ever mutate into the traditional image of a film director, barking at crew members and reducing prissy actors to tears?
Alex: Nope. If I did I'd risk losing my crew and their belief in me. Crew and actors on set... no. Especially when you're not paying everybody what they should be being paid. The key is to try and assemble a crew and cast who can do their job well... then you stand less chance of getting fucked off.
I think I had one freak out on INBRED and that was the very last day of the shoot... the pick-axe through head... it was too sunny to film under a tree (!!)... and no one seemed keen to find a suitable location so I walked off saying 'fuck it, move on'... which isn't exactly a freak out, but I felt guilty as I hate letting the crew down.
Stu: INBRED looks fantastic – by far your most accomplished film. It was shot on the RED camera: could you speak a little about your decision to employ this method, its benefits and your thoughts on the end result?
Alex: Thanks. We knew we wanted to shoot at theatrical cinematic quality from square one. It was our amazing cinematographer and cameraman Ollie Downey who persuaded us to use the RED as he'd used it in commercials and I was made aware of the many films shot on RED that I thought looked awesome, like DISTRICT 9.
I had storyboarded the film thinking about a camera like the Sony Ex3, a fairly light HD camera. Then the RED camera turned up... in a truck! The RED camera is made up of many different parts and the finished thing, with lenses, batteries, monitor and tripod mount attached is a total monster. It was way bigger and heavier than I imagined and so I had to tweak my storyboards and simplify lots of camera move ideas. But I'm so pleased we had these limitations as it really made us think about the shot set-ups we actually needed a lot more, rather than just filming everything from every angle, a bonus with video over film, and I much prefer the cleaner, smoother look we achieved.
The only time it was a bit shit was with our steadi-cam and crane shots... we did get some shots but not as dynamic as I had originally imagined, due mainly to the size and weight of the RED.
The quality of the RED footage is phenomenal and I would gladly sacrifice a whole load of stuff to shoot with this quality from now on. I hear there is a better camera now, and I'm sure technology will mean a smaller, lighter unit in the near future. The RED shot at 4k, which is stupidly big IMAX size... but we edited it all at 2k, which is big enough for me at the moment.
Stu: The film has played at quite festivals across the UK and Europe now. How’s it been going down?
Alex: Brilliantly well and I'm really happy. Ironically I think our worst screening was our biggest, our premier at Frightfest in London, due mainly to the shitty sound for most of the film. We used that as a test screening and remixed all the sound afterwards and tweaked the grade and since then the screenings have played much better... all the comedic nuances are picked up on and the audience gets so much more involved. There's a scene in the film... the slurry-explosion... where lots of audiences have spontaneously applauded... which is followed by the Inbred audience on screen applauding. That makes me so happy. I watch all the screenings and it makes me so pleased that we make so many people laugh and shout and cheers and clap. I made INBRED for the audience... for 'me'... and it’s lovely that people dig it.
Stu: And what are your distribution plans, ultimately?
Alex: As worldwide as possible. If everyone in the world could click one mouse click and give us a dollar to download the film we'd go with that. Unfortunately distribution ain't that simple. We're currently chatting to sales agents and then we'll get distribution in the various territories... and I so hope that means as many territories as possible as soon as possible as I know INBRED would appeal to horror fans everywhere. We made it to be seen LARGE... so we want a theatrical release where ever possible. It looks beautiful on a cinema screen.
Stu: What’s next?
Alex: I need some sleep! And then I want to start on another feature. I have some scripts I've written a first draft of that I think could be awesome with more work plus some new ideas based on more recent inspirations. I want to make a bloody terrifying movie... a total scare-fest... 'if you don't shit your pants your money back' kind of thing. If there's any potential investors or shit hot producers out there who wanna team up and change the world then please get in touch!
Stu: Finally, a traditional question, can you recommend any other films that have caught your eye on the recent festival scene?
Alex: I've seen more films at the cinema in last few festival weeks than I've seen in years. The cinema is THE place to watch movies. I'd forgotten that. Now I won't forget. (An HD projector and BluRay and surround sound works too!!) My fave festival films: THE WOMAN (saw it twice I like it so much), BELLFLOWER, NORWEGIAN NINJA, THE INNKEEPERS, HAROLD'S GOING STIFF, KILL LIST (even though I think I might hate it too) and I really enjoyed DALE AND TUCKER Vs EVIL. Ones to avoid: THE THING, LIVID, HARI-KIRI 3D
Stu: Thanks again Alex, best of luck with the film. It’s a cult classic in waiting.
Alex: That would be mental! Thanks mate!
For more info on Inbred check out the official site here and Facebook fans can ‘like’ the film for updates here.
Special thanks to Alex Chandon