Hello MJ, welcome to UK Horror Scene. Before we begin I would just like to thank you for taking time out of your very busy schedule to chat with us.
UKHS – You Studied for a degree in both filmmaking and screen-writing at the University Of Central Lancashire. When & how did you first discover your passion for filmmaking and what are the biggest challenges that you face when making movies?
MJ – I think it was always there, I had drawn and invented stories since I can remember, whether it was writing them down or drawing comic books, I always wanted to create. In my teens I was obsessed with writing, I would write short stories constantly, that eventually evolved into scripts in the hopes of making them into movies and when I left
school, I decided that no one was going to chase my dream for me, so I quit studying to be a web designer after about 2 years and focused on learning to make movies.
Initially the biggest challenge I had was trying to actually get hold of camera, 8mm was dead for the most part and video, although the tape was cheap, the cameras themselves were coming in at close to £1000 for the cheapest. I enrolled at the local college because I learned that they had those large S-VHS cameras that TV stations used to use and then just took every opportunity to just make terrible movies, it wasn’t until my early 20’s when cameras came down in price enough that I could afford one and even then the sacrifice was skipping lunch for 3 months.
However my next challenge came in the form of actually trying to learn the visual language of filmmaking, it’s a thing that I’m still learning about today, but I think that’s the biggest challenge of filming, is learning to accept that you never stop doing just that. Learning.
UKHS – Let’s talk about your first feature film as a director,’Slasher House’. I love the fact you did the film in a saturated green which looks outstanding with the main character’s pillar-box hair colour and her matching lipstick. I also love the nice camera work, it’s clear to see that you have a great deal of talent. How long did it take you to write and direct ‘Slasher House’ and did you enjoy working with the stunning actress Eleanor James (Red) and the rest of the cast?
MJ – Actually Slasher House was my second Feature. In 2009 I took a bunch of friends, most of which I graduated with and we made a zero budget feature over the course of 5 months called Creepsville. We had some sound issues due to a lazy sound recordist and the film got delayed and delayed, until this year when I took some time to arrange redoing the sound, the film should be out in the new year with a bit of luck.
I started writing Slasher House in 2005 with the idea of selling it on, but making Creepsville made me really want to tackle it myself. In 2010 I revisited the script and rewrote it with a low budget in mind and 6 months later we were in an abandoned prison on the Isle Of Man shooting it. During our casting call I was approached by Eleanor James, who I had been fan of for several years and she asked if she could read the script. I was very protective over it at the time, so she was the only person outside of the main cast who read it first before agreeing. Luckily she loved it and we then went on to talk about her coming on board.
The rest of the cast was made up of people I knew or people who were looking for some exposure. Corben (Wellington Grosvenor) played Pumpkin Face in Creepsville, so I knew I wanted to work with him again, he was originally just crew, but when the original actor dropped out 3 weeks before, I actually got to choose Welly to fill the role, which is what I wanted from moment one.
Andy Greenwood was also in Creepsville and I knew he’d make and excellent killer clown, Nathan (Adam Williams) was a friend of mine and looking for some acting work. Thorn was cast very last minute as the actor we wanted just refused to get back to us, we simply needed someone with size and our producer ‘knew’ a professional wrestler who stepped in very last minute. Everyone else was cast from people we knew or people that auditioned for the lead.
MJ – stereotype, I had originally planned to do the Thorn movie first, but there just never seemed to be the right time. We then planned to do it directly after Slasher House, but of course that got held up for various reasons. It wasn’t until Slasher House was finished that I finally looked at it and said ‘this is ready’. I had been working on the script for a good part of 4/5 years and I knew it was time to just go and do it.
The film itself follows events 4 years before Slasher House, We get a glimpse of what Thorn’s own personal world is like and the people who inhabit it and we begin to flesh out his HUGE back story. After Slasher House, which was pretty straight forward, I wanted to go for something a little more abstract in regards to story telling so the film ended up being two movies, one playing backwards and one playing forward, but that hit the beats and staples of the Slasher genre, but the overall the running theme is Legacy, hence the name.
Casting wise, we chose very quickly to work within our extended network, there is very little time for finding out that people are bad to work with on set and so we went for the most part, with only recommended people. We had a couple of minor blips but nothing that shut us down, which is always a danger when you’re working on tight script and limited budget. We got some great main cast in the form of Jade Wallis, Paris Rivers, Craig Canning and Jane Haslehurst. They really are very talented young people with bright futures ahead of them and hopefully they’ll be a joy for the audience too.
UKHS – How do ‘Slasher House’ and ‘Legacy of Thorn’ compare to each other and which one did you enjoy directing the most?
MJ – I think Thorn was overall more enjoyable, everyone on set seemed to want to be there to make a great movie, there were very few egos on set and that led to a much nicer experience all round. It was however much harder, as visually I had never been quite happy with some of Slasher House and so I was on a mission to get the very best out of Legacy. That meant that there was never enough time, because I wanted every frame to look as good as it could within our limits. However the sense of satisfaction at the end of most days was a decent bonus, although when I felt like I had fallen short those days were twice as bad in comparison.
Raising the bar for myself meant that I had to stay constant to that bar and some days that was pretty tough. Slasher House I had not had a lot of time to get used to the cameras and equipment and so I was running and gunning most of the time just trying to stay on track.
That caused it’s problems in post and so I was determined to fix those problems on set this time round. Over all out of 18 days I felt pretty good at the end of about 14 of em.
UKHS – I can’t wait to see the documentary ‘Making Monsters’ which is directed by the brilliant, Damian Morter. The film analyzes the sudden boom in Micro budget filmmaking and the development of affordable technology, along with many interviews including yourself. I know indie horror films sometimes get bad publicity and the general public don’t realize the amount of work that goes into them, do you think this film will change people’s opinions and help trigger a new generation of filmmakers?
MJ – I hope so. There is a general consensus in the ‘proper’ filming community that micro budget is a hobby, or not a real form of filmmaking, there are definitely some established filmmakers and writers who look down on it and the people who make it. These people however are in for a shock, with tech becoming more and more affordable by the day it won’t be long before the industry changes to reflect that. There are dinosaurs that are still holding onto the studio system as it stood a decade ago and as a result haven’t made a film in a decade, because they refuse to adapt.
I think horror will always be looked down on in that aspect, but you have to remember that anybody who looks down on anything is fearful of what it could become. I think that’s true with independent horror, people are getting to tell stories and that should be all that matters. We become filmmakers to have a voice, no matter what level we’re working at, its shows a weak mind to look down on that because of budgetary constraints. I always followed the saying “if you’re waiting for money, you’re not a real filmmaker'”.
I hope to see technology pave the way for anyone who wants to make movies, go out and do just that. I want to meet other people like myself who just want to go and do it and before long, we’ll have our very own Horror Hollywood right here in the UK.
UKHS – I am thrilled to see you are one of the many talented directors working on ‘Blaze of Gory’. When do you start work on your segment ‘If You Were Here’ and can your tell UKHS anything about your segment and who will be starring it it?
MJ – I was thrilled to get involved, there are some really talented people and I feel very blessed to part of the team. I think its a very interesting project to take on in regards to the films all being written by one young woman, Blaize Szanto, yet to see each idea come to fruition via 10 different voices is very cool and quite unique.
Our segment shoots in January, although we haven’t cast yet as it’s very tough to find the right person for story with the kind of subject matter that the segment entails. The segment essentially involves a young woman being molested by some a demon entity that resembles her dead father. It very twisted and leads to something very horrific, so we’re being very careful to give it the right context in order for it to step away from just gore, although there will be plenty of that too.
MJ – I don’t think I would refuse anything, a lot of my ideas have started out as something else, it’s then that I just pull it in toward the horror genre. I think there is a way of making anything work if you get the right angle and give it enough time. I’m just very happy that I love the genre so much, it kind of feels like home. I’m happy here, I understand it and I know its beats and its waves and I’m very happy to work here for the rest of my life. I can however see myself working in any genre as long as it’s combined with horror.
Don’t get me wrong there are genres that I don’t like, I’m not keen on Crime films or War movies, but that’s just my opinion and like Clint Eastwood said
“Opinions are like assholes, everybody’s got one” ;). I think for me I like all different kinds of things as long as they are good, I feel that way about TV , Music and Films, but when it comes down to it I like nothing better than to listen to Power Metal, whilst making Horror films and retire with an episode of Supernatural at the end of the day. My point being that I like a lot of stuff, but I prefer, like anybody, a certain thing. For me making movies isn’t about chasing what’s hot and in season, it’s about expression.
UKHS – If you could have dinner with three guests (living or dead), who would you choose and why?
MJ – Tough one. Changes constantly, But I’ve learned somewhat recently that you shouldn’t meet or even engage with people you admire, as most of the time it’s not a pleasant experience. That not true all the time. I met Pat Higgins earlier this year, who I’ve been a fan of for quite some time and he was nothing short of amazing and very helpful and I met a heavy metal hero of mine Blaze Bayley last year and he was such a cool humble guy, it really changed my perspective on a whole load of things.
For absolute fantasies sake though I would go with Sam Raimi (I got some Spiderman 3 shit I need to talk about, but also I get to go over Evil Dead stuff), After that you need someone funny so I’d probably go with Ryan Reynolds, I don’t know why but I just really like him as an actor. He’s made some missteps in regards to superhero movies, but I can’t help but find him hilarious and then I don’t want this to be a sausage fest so I’d have to ask Linnea Quigley, I’ve been a high fan of her for about 20 years at least, she like the ultimate scream queen. Wow looking back at that, that is weird mix.
MJ – The band formed in 2010, although we recently split due to some external issues of one of members and it was quite hurtful to see him go, so we took the choice to take a break for a while. In the meantime, we rebooted HockeyMask Heroes, a band that we formed in 2008 to write songs about horror movies. The band just realised our first new single in 4 years called ‘Nightmaker’ which is available from our site at hockeymaskheroes.tk . We’re currently in the studio writing a new album that will also include the theme for the Thorn movie that we originally wrote back in 2010 but never released.
UKHS – Finally, where do you see yourself in five years from now?
MJ – Dead. (lol) Seriously though, I’m just happy that I’m a position where I can just keep making movies, I hope that it continues, there is a plan in regards to the movies, and they all connect and it’s all heading somewhere, but for now I can’t really say where, but the plans are pretty epic. The most important thing is that we are moving toward self sustainability, so that we can keep on making movies for years to come. We’re working on the basis of creating what I call a ‘Micro’ Studio. In which we fully create films from beginning to end of the entire process.
UKHS – Thank you for your time MJ. Good luck with all your projects
and keep up the great work.