The international flavour of this year’s FILM4 FrightFest is underpinned by an historic moment, as the fifteenth installment of the festival features the first Venezuelan film to screen at the festival – Alejandro
But no sooner will FrightFesters be lost in a house with a difference, than FrightFest’s gaze turns north and follows the Blood Moon towards Jeremy Wooding’s genre mash up of comedy, horror and the western.
Both The House at the End of Time and Blood Moon possess a distinct sense of feeling, and serve as a testament to the importance of the creative voice even within the shadow of genre. But these are two films that paint a picture of horror in the Americas.
Following on from part one where Alejandro Hidalgo took us on a guided tour of a house he discovered at the end of time, Jeremy Wooding reflected on the myth of the Blood Moon, and being the first western to be shot in the UK since Carry on Cowboy.
Why a career in filmmaking? Was there that one inspirational moment?
I have wanted to be a filmmaker ever since, as an eleven year old, I discovered the joy of shooting and editing Super 8 film. I was fascinated by the way you could make the real world look magical – that and enjoying an escape from suburbia with trips to the cinema.
Can you remember the moment when you first discovered horror and/or genre cinema?
I remember staying up late as a young teenager watching Hammer Horror films and being scared witless, along with sneaking into the local cinema to watch Kung Fu films. Then, with my friend Graham Wright, I would shoot Super 8 films in the back garden and imitate Bruce Lee and the Hammer Horror movies – quite badly!
For Blood Moon you chose a Victoriana look in place of the traditional cowboy look, and the literary tradition of the Weird Western comic books and graphic novels versus the more familiar Western films were your inspiration. What was the motivation behind these choices, and how did they help you to create the “distinct genre mash-up” you set out to make?
I really like that period in history towards the end of the nineteenth century when the world was beginning to become more mechanised and more modern. The Wild West had been tamed and new cities had sprung up. Yet the myths of outlaws and tales of beasts in the wilderness still cast a spell on genteel readers. Photography was more prevalent and the photographic representations of that period are surprising as they show an America which was different to the cowboy films of John Wayne. I wanted that unusual authenticity in Blood Moon, and I wanted to bring a modern, stylish aesthetic to it as well. It resulted in what I would call ‘Gothic Noir.’
Outside of Pale Rider and High Plains Drifter do you perceive there to be a ghostly quality to the Western or even discreet glimpses of horror if you were to adjust the perspective on the archetypes and tropes of the western film?
I think the Wild West has always been full of ghosts, spirits, and horrors in legends and campfire tales. The unknown frontier for settlers must have been a scary place – isolation, the unknown, lurking danger, sudden violence and death. A classic western has always been about primitivism versus civilisation; dreams and nightmares. Given those elements you can pretty much re-imagine any horror or fantasy scenario in a western setting or as in Aliens, you can re-imagine the West, the old frontier, as the new frontier, space.
How conscious were you of the intention to use the space as a character, and having completed the film how vital do you view space as a creative influence on narrative?
The original script was set in the desert, but we didn’t have the budget to shoot abroad. I found a Wild West town built by a living history society in Kent. I visited the town with Alan Wightman, the scriptwriter, and he went away and rewrote the story for the new location.
I knew that the forest nearby, the mud and the more grungy colour palette of the English countryside in winter would give us a more gothic atmosphere. So, we worked with that and turned it to our advantage. The town itself also became very symbolic. We turned it into a deserted silver mining town – a decaying, bankrupt symbol of the whiteman’s rush to colonise and exploit the new frontier.
The Western is no stranger to comedy or horror and the supernatural. Was there the need to compromise the needs of the three genres or did they mesh together with relative ease? I’d imagine the challenge of Blood Moon would be the pacing, and allowing the comedy, suspense and horror opportunity to breathe in order to craft a well-paced and structured film.
Finding a balance of those three elements: horror, western and comedy was the biggest challenge. I didn’t want any one element to over-stamp the film. I knew the tone I was aiming for, but in the end it was a leap in the dark. I work instinctively, following what I would like to see on the screen as the audience. Of course you make a film three times – in the scripting, shooting and the editing stages. So you get three attempts at getting it right. At each stage you are wrestling with the material, but I believe any given film has its own organic life – an audio-visual pattern the film wants to settle into, and I try to find that pattern.
Genre cinema inherently blurs the genre boundaries, and in Blood Moon you merge horror with the western. What are your thoughts on the way genre has evolved to date, and will continue to evolve over the coming decades?
As audiences become more cine-literate they demand more from their genre cinema. They now have instant access to a whole history and background to any given genre via the internet. So you don’t need to have done a film studies course. As audiences become more savvy they want different takes on the world through different genre filters, whether that be stylistically or story-wise. As filmmakers we have to keep experimenting with new technology, and visual FX are getting cheaper to create. But we have to continue to revisit classic human stories to tease out themes and resonances that speak to present day audiences.
You wanted to make a film without any studio or broadcaster interference. What were the benefits and challenges in taking this approach? How different would Blood Moon have been if you’d taken the alternative route?
I knew we wouldn’t have a huge budget to play with, nor would we be able to afford big names as studios require these days. But a low budget, indie approach gave us the freedom to cast the actors we thought were right for the roles, and enabled me to shape the story and follow through with a unique take on the man/beast tale.
I would have loved to have had more money to film big country vistas, create more visual effects, and to have the western town with more people, extras and wagons. But we simply didn’t have the cash, and so we set out to make the indie budget work for the film. Creative decisions were coloured by budgetary constraints. The film probably ended up being sparser and more claustrophobic because of it, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
The film was the first western to be shot in the UK since Carry on Cowboy all the way back in 1966. How much of a privilege was it to be the first to shoot a Western on UK shores?
It felt very audacious to be shooting a western in the UK, and very exciting. I was heartened and inspired by all the European westerns from the Italian directors, films like The Great Silence which was filmed in the snow in the Pyrenees. I actually felt very privileged to be shooting at the Kent western town. I feel a great debt of gratitude to them for opening their doors and supporting our crazy adventure.
What does it mean to be playing at FILM 4 FrightFest, and what does FrightFest mean to you personally?
I have loved going to FrightFest in the past as an audience member. It has the atmosphere of a rock festival, and it’s a great place to discover the weird and wonderful of the horror and fantasy genres. As a filmmaker it’s a little scary as I have no idea what the horror purists will make of Blood Moon.
How important is the festival circuit for filmmakers and distributors alike? If the festival circuit ceased to exist, what would be the impact on the landscape of modern cinema?
The festival circuit enables filmmakers to be amongst an audience that is hopefully sympathetic to what the filmmakers are trying to achieve. Distributors get an early test of how a film might work, and most of all festivals celebrate films and filmmaking. Festivals are essential to introduce new audiences to film, and to cultivate a sense of openness that allows different kinds of film to exist that aren’t necessarily commercial. Without the festival circuit film culture would stagnate.
Are you optimistic with the direction the industry is moving in or do you lean more toward concern? Do you think independent cinema has slowly been marginalised to the point we should be concerned?
It’s as tough as ever to get a film made, whether micro budget or bigger budget. The hardest part is convincing investors that they will see any return on their investment. But new technology and more experience in front and behind the camera means that there is such a will to make films in the UK that we seem to be able to come up with some surprises. The most worrying aspect of filmmaking today is distribution. I think we have reached a tipping point now where filmmakers have to embrace the DIY aspect of getting their films to the public, the same way we have embraced the means of producing those films.
So many films play at festivals never to secure distribution, and therefore never have an opportunity to find an audience. A film can take up to two years of your life, and in the face of such uncertainty why would you put yourselves through the arduous task of making a film?
It’s said that filmmaking is for adventurers and gamblers – a bit like the Wild West, and there are never any givens that a film will be successful. I think filmmaking is addictive, and once you have got the bug then you have no choice but to follow through for better or worse.
Looking ahead to the future what’s next for you, and has Blood Moon deepened your affection and understanding of film and storytelling?
I’ll definitely do another horror film of some description. There are several other different genre projects in development, and one of those may bubble to the surface first. With every film I feel like I am starting out afresh, and doing research on Blood Moon as a period film was fascinating. I have a taste for costume drama now as well as a taste for blood…