From horror in the America’s to FrightFest’s foray into spatial horror with Luke Hyams’ moorish horror X Moor and Adam Spinks’ Amazonian adventure Extinction/The Expedition. From hunting a fabled beast on the moors to being the hunted in the jungle, these two British films took the FrightFest audience from open to dense terrain for two different kinds of hunts.
In a three part interview feature we
Concluding the feature Ben Loyd-Holmes reflected on creating a thrill ride for audiences that would offer an escape from reality, and inspire audience’s to re-think next year’s holiday plans.
Why a creative career? Was there that one inspirational moment?
The biggest draw to the film industry for me is storytelling – everyone either loves a good story or loves to tell one. With my dad working in the industry I grew up around films, and I saw all of these magical things, though when I was younger the film side didn’t really grab me, because it was just so normal. But the idea of telling these amazing stories was exciting. Then as I grew up and I learnt how much went into film; coupled with the passion I had for storytelling, then the idea of working in the film industry became something that I really wanted to do.
On the one hand film offers a means to learn about the world around us, but removed from intellectual leanings it is the experience of a good old fashioned yarn, which takes us away from our reality. Is this the reason storytelling continues to endure?
One thing I feel that people have forgotten is that in days of old actors used to be respected in the community. An actor or a playwright was exactly as you said – someone who helped people to learn about different places, people and new things. They helped to convey a message or a moral story, and sometimes because of the low end TV shows or maybe even reality TV, then I think people now sometimes see actors or want to be actors in this low rent way.
What was amazing about how actors used to be perceived, and what actors, directors and writers still do today is to tell you a story and take you away from your normal world, whether it is boring or exciting. It takes you on this experience, which hopefully you come out the other end of feeling as though you felt or experienced something that you enjoyed. It can take you to places you never thought possible, and I’ve watched movie that people kept telling me, “Oh you’ve got to watch this”, and I would think it’s not my sort of film. But then I would watch it, and I would fall in love with the film because it told me and taught me something new.
So I think you can always take bits of movies away from you and bring them into your daily life, which is how you can tell a great film. Just because you take a message from a film doesn’t mean it’s any less valid than if you took it from an ancient text, a teacher at school or a philosopher.
We’ve touched upon the idea of film taking audiences to a new place, and in Extinction, the destination is the Amazon. What was the genesis of the film?
It was part of a two pronged reasoning process. I am a real adventure nut, and some of my friends think I’m a little crazy when they ask, “What are you doing on your holiday?” and I say, “I’m going on a walking safari through the Matalmara” or “I’m going swimming with sharks.” They look at me like I’m a bit of an idiot. But there is a part of me that just loves adventure, and I love that whole ethos of “Take only memories; leave only footprints.” All of the things I do in terms of the interaction with these wild animals are done responsibly, and I have been very lucky to see some amazing things. I’ve found that a lot of people wouldn’t normally think about doing those sorts of things, and for the large majority do not even know you can or don’t even think about it.
One of the wonders of filmmaking and of a great documentary is that people can suddenly get access to these beautiful things and amazing experiences. When you don’t have any rules, and that’s what filmmaking is – telling a story without boundaries – then an amazing place to take people is somewhere where they wouldn’t have the chance to normally go. Going to the Amazon is both difficult and expensive, as it’s a very remote place. So I love the idea of a band of people who are all different, and I would hope the audience would identify with at least one of them, if not a couple to see themselves in the position of that individual in the Amazon; in these beautiful locations, surrounded by these strange animals and confronted by all these challenges. I would hope somewhere in that person there would be this spark and this idea that I would love to do that or I would love to know more about that. I would hope that there would be something exciting about the story that would really inspire them to do something – make someone want to plan a crazy exotic holiday.
So that was on the one side, and on the other side the chance to do both a monster movie as well as something different was exciting to me. I thought that would again be something the audience would both like and be excited by. But I felt if you are going to do a monster movie then you want to do it somewhere remote. Whilst seeing monsters smash around cities is awesome, for me there is something exciting about being out there on your own in a remote area. It’s a bit like Jurassic Park, where the technology died on them and turned that island into a very remote place. For me that’s a little more exciting, and I hope it’s something that the audience also likes.
So it is the idea that you take people out of their comfort zone rather than taking the creatures out of theirs, yet still ask the question of “What if?”
One of the interesting things is that there is so much of the Amazon, Indonesia, Malaysia and parts of Africa that are still unexplored. There was a scientist who realised that there was a region of Africa that hadn’t been explored yet, and on his first trip there he found something like a thousand new species. There are lots of places like this on our planet that still haven’t been explored or mapped, and for me there is the exciting childlike dream of well what else is out there? There could be a plant that could cure cancer; it could be a flying lizard [laughs]; it could be anything, and the impact of that creature or plant could be incredible. So I think that what if is exciting, and if you put the monster in a city then there is the whole, “Oh well we would just shoot it; we would just catch it.” I think the audience can say all of those things, but it’s exciting when the audience say, “Well what if there is still something living in the amazon; what if there is still something living in Africa that we haven’t discovered?” That “What if” is something that maybe stays with you for longer.
There is the belief from some quarters that the found footage sub-genre has had its day. Having written, starred in and produced Extinction, how do you perceive its future?
In all honesty the average found footage film has had its day, and that’s only because the average ‘any’ film has had its day. The problem with found footage is that a lot of people thought that it was an easy way to make a movie, and went on to make some terrible movies.
One of the best ghost films I have seen is Paranormal Activity, which was genuinely different and scary. It was one of those films where you knew something was coming, yet it was done very well. I also love REC and Quarantine, which were both done well. Troll Hunter was a brilliant film, and that was found footage. But there are a lot of found footage movies I wouldn’t even bother watching.
I don’t believe found footage is dead and should be left alone; rather I think anything made poorly should be dead and left alone. The reason we decided to do this film as a found footage movie wasn’t because it was easy – in fact in a lot of ways it was harder. The reason was it suited the sort of film we wanted to make – these creatures in an ultrarealistic world played out in a ridiculous setting with these dinosaurs. It just felt right to do a dinosaur film that was found footage, different and ultra-realistic. But of course if it was a zombie, vampire or a slasher movie in which everyone has done it to death through found footage, then we just wouldn’t have done it.
With any filmic form, if it can be done well then it is short-sighted to suggest that it has had its day. Rather the fault lies not with the form but with those exploiting it.
There have been some great movies, and there have been some terrible movies. But that’s almost like asking has cinema had its day or has Steadicam had its day just because there are a couple of bad movies that have come out that have used a Steadicam.
Found footage if done well can be very good. But it’s like everything now in that with digital filmmaking and the whole work flow between production, post-production and getting a project out becoming simplified to some degree, then the filmmaking process has become easier. There’s so much more content, and a lot of people are trying to make films on very small budgets with weak casting and writing. What happens is it floods the market, and of course if it floods the market with found footage then that genre gets a bad name, despite the fact it’s the filmmakers who need a bad name, and not the style of filmmaking.
In Extinction do you play around with genre to incorporate some shades of horror into your Amazonian adventure-action movie?
It’s definitely an adventure movie, but it can’t shy away from the horror side because you have people in dangerous situations being chased by dinosaurs [laughs]. With horror there are different levels. When I watched Jurassic Park when I was thirteen or fourteen years old, I was terrified at times. Watching those Raptors or the T-Rex chase people, I was jumping out of my skin. So that has to have had elements of horror.
But we definitely approached it in a way that it is not about glorifying horroresque moments. It’s an adventure story that has some great action in it and also some great horror, but is a thrill ride.