Here is an interview Toni and I did for a really interesting site that you should really check out called weaponizer.co.uk. Even though the interview was conducted just a couple of months ago, the film and DVD world has changed immensely. In fact, we’re not even sure if there is a film industry any more! Not for the independents anyway. Anyway, chin up, chests out, the show must go on…. and all that!
BELIEVE IN THE UNSEEN – CREDO
‘Credo’ is a new supernatural / psychological horror film, produced and financed independently by UK film-makers: producer / writer Alex Wakeford and director Toni Harman. ‘Credo’ looks very promising indeed – a taut, disturbing journey into darkness, which recalls the heyday of horror movies (‘The Shining,’ ‘Rosemary’s Baby’) rather than the schlockier modern efforts cinemagoers have gotten used to.
The film stars superdirector Neil Marshall’s muse Myanna Buring – she was in his claustrophobic classic ‘The Descent,’ and the awesome, apocalyptic rollercoaster that was ‘Doomsday. She also made a memorable appearance in the ‘Doctor Who’ episode ‘The Impossible Planet.’ Myanna is a Weaponizer favourite, and a superbly talented star-in-the-making. ‘Credo’ also features former Boyzone singer Stephen Gately, in his first movie role.
With projects such as ‘Credo’ following on the heels of Charlie Brooker’s fantastic ‘Dead Set,’ and the aforementioned Neil Marshall projects, it’s a great time to be a British horror fan! Weaponizer was lucky to catch both Alex and Toni for an in-depth discussion of ‘Credo,’ and the state of UK indie film-making. Read on! If you dare…
Alex, what inspired you to write about the occult, and devil worship – does the fascination come from a love of horror movies, or from a deeper interest in dark magic?
Alex Wakeford: I was seduced by the dark side at a very young and impressionable age! Ever since I had a few encounters with the ‘unexplained’ as a kid, I’ve been bitten by the horror bug. I used to watch everything that was even loosely defined as horror. I was brought up on films where torch-wielding villagers would climb to the castle in order to plunge a stake through Dracula’s heart. I loved the fantasy of horror. But then I started watching a new type of horror film, ones that were set in the suburbs, in domestic locations. These brought horror right into your world. They were realistic and absolutely terrifying! Its one thing to be scared by films set on spaceships or Transylvanian castles, but it’s a completely different experience when you’re confronted by horrors that mirror your own viewing environment, i.e. your living room. You no longer want to hide behind the sofa because you have no idea what might be lurking there already!
I went to a school that was run by catholic monks and it proved to be the perfect stamping ground for someone with an addiction to horror! The imagery and stories of the Catholic Church are sometimes unbelievably frightening. When you go back to the Old Testament with its tales of mass death, pestilence and vengeance, your imagination runs wild! And you can imagine I got to hear a hell of a lot about the Devil and his legions of demons! On a more serious note, I have recently become very interested in different cultures’ belief systems and what some people are prepared to do in the name of their faith. I guess that’s where Credo started. It means ‘I Believe’ in Latin. What exactly do we all believe in these days? And are we still supposed to believe in the Devil and his demons? I’m also very interested in the psychological; in what makes us tick; what fears and insecurities we hold within ourselves, and who are we really? So, in short, Credo is about all those things, mashed up to hopefully create a sense of mystery and complexity about the human spirit. Anyway, that’s the pretentious answer!
By the way, Credo isn’t actually about devil worship; it’s quite the opposite. The trouble starts when some theology students begin to question the relevance of their Catholic faith in today’s chaotic world. More afraid to test the existence of God Himself, they reason that if they can summon a demon, then that will prove the existence of evil and therefore the opposite: good, or God. Toni, there are many legends surrounding movies about the occult – Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, to name just two, had problems on set that were rumoured to be connected to the supernatural.
Did you experience anything similar while filming Credo?
Toni Harman: One of the locations we filmed in was a derelict townhouse built in the 1790s. By the time we got to it, it was in a very poor state and had an eerie and oppressive atmosphere about it. During the course of the many location hunts for our films, we must have visited over fifty spooky basements, but this basement was by far the creepiest one I had ever been in. The layout itself is confusing. Huge, cavernous cellar rooms are interconnected by long, winding passageways. Some of the walls are covered in dirty white tiles, giving the feeling of an abandoned psychiatric hospital. And then there’s the smell; a rotting stench stemming from years of neglect.
As there’s no power in the building, whenever we walked around the place during pre-production, we would have to do it by torchlight. The odd thing was that almost every time we went down into the basement, the torches would fade. It was so dark down there that we had to use the light from our mobile phones to navigate our way out. The moment we started climbing the steps back up to the hallway, the torches would suddenly come back on. Pauline, the art director, would sometimes have to work on her own down there, preparing the set for the demon’s lair. She said she would often hear a distant howling coming from upstairs. We would check the place out, assuming it must have been the wind howling through the building, but we found no reasonable cause for it. During production, filming had to be stopped when we had to search the building for a mysterious figure that several members of the crew had seen watching us from the shadows. No one was ever found. ‘He’ was seen several times since, but to this day no one knows who he was.
AW: Toni didn’t mention that our other location, a 19th century abandoned fire station, also had an unwelcome resident. A grey shadowy figure was sometimes glimpsed darting across the far end of the basement and disappearing into a room that just about every crew member had bad feelings about. Stephen Gately said that he heard someone whispering in his ear in that room, someone who was looking for ‘Michael.’ He decided not to go back down there after that! I’ve talked to some members of the crew recently, and they told me of odd things that happened, things that they didn’t want to mention at the time. Like the sad, elderly man seen in one of the fire station bathrooms. The bathtub that mysteriously filled itself to the brim when no one was around. The dead flies that kept appearing in one of the character’s bedrooms (although we were never bothered by living flies). The objects that would vanish, then suddenly reappear after extensive searches for them. The list goes on and on. But the really scary stuff happened in a separate building just around the corner. This was a huge place that was ideal for a horror movie. Toni and I had been really excited about using it from the moment we saw it. However, there were so many incidents of unexplained occurrences, some of them quite violent, that we decided it would have been very unwise to shoot there. I talk about it in my blog and I’m going to put it up on the main website along with a full catalogue of the strange and often terrifying things that happened to us.
What kind of horror movie is Credo – are the characters sympathetic heroes whom the audience roots for, or is the fun in watching them get picked off one by one?
AW: Each character has two distinct sides to them. There is the public persona they show each other and the world, and then there is the private side that they keep hidden. I hope audiences will empathise and sympathise with the characters’ inner darkness and turmoil, and recognise that to varying extents we all have hidden depths. In my mind, if we continually conceal our fears and weaknesses, it will eventually lead to our downfall. It’s this that leads to certain characters’ destruction. We intentionally avoided all gore and splatter, because we think it’s far more powerful if you can scare people with things they don’t see, especially on a very low budget! It’s okay if you’re doing a comedy splatter film where dubious effects are part of the experience. But we wanted the film to have a deadly serious tone.
One of my favourite scary movies is ‘The Haunting’ which was made in 1963 in glorious widescreen black and white. They didn’t show anything; it was all done with sound. I think it might have been because of their budget restrictions, but whatever the reason, it worked a treat. The sound of the ‘entity’ thumping on the walls and doors still sends shivers down my spine! They remade the film in 1999 with a huge budget and huge special effects. It was a lemon. So, it’s not what you see, but what you don’t that is ultimately the most frightening. Why? Because the audience are using their own imaginations. You can’t create more spectacular special effects than that. Actually, now I think about it, Credo did have a severed head (I won’t say whose) that was expertly constructed by our brilliant chief make up artist Emily, but when we started shooting the scene in question, it just didn’t feel right for the story. So unfortunately we had to dump it. I might actually put some clips of it up on the credo website. It’s a very convincing head and it would be a shame to lose it entirely!
What was the logic behind the name change for the US market, and are you happy about the change?
AW: I’m ashamed to admit that every now and again I Google my name to see what it is I’m supposedly doing. A few weeks ago I was taken totally by surprise to find out I was the writer of a film called, wait for it, drum roll if you please… ‘The Devil’s Curse.’ At first I assumed it was a mix up on a site, but then I saw pages and pages of the same thing. All these sites had somehow made the same mistake, until… I saw the new poster. It was true! When you license out the rights to a distributor, one of those rights is the right to change the title. In fact I think they can change the entire film if they want. For all I know, they may have done that too! I’ll have to check out a U.S. copy when it’s released to see! I had suspected that distributors might want to change the title because they would be afraid that no one would connect with the word Credo. The thing I find funniest about the title change is that there’s no devil in the film and no curse. Okay, there’s a demon, but not the Devil. So… well…. I don’t know. Let’s see if it sells!
TH: I love ‘The Devil’s Curse,’ in fact I wish I had thought of it! For me, it says horror, it says this is not a slasher but a supernatural horror. Saying that, I also love ‘Credo’ as a title as it is more enigmatic and says it’s a film all about belief.
What were your influences as a writer on this project?
AW: I love mystery and suspense. More often than not, I’m disappointed when the monster finally makes an appearance. It turns the film from a frightening piece of tension and mystery into a comedy. Some films manage to pull it off to brilliant effect, like in Alien, but others tend to disappoint. Look at the first twenty minutes of ‘Jeepers Creepers.’ I love it. For one thing you have a brother and sister as your main characters, so you know no stupid sex scenes are going to bore you to tears. But once they have really got you hooked in, this weird man monster with wings suddenly jumps out at you. Ha! Boo! Now it just gets a bit silly. But I still love that film! I love the psychological. ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ was made in 1968 but it still feels very modern. ‘The Shining’ transformed a not so great book into a very scary, human story. I love ghost films where you’re never really sure if there is a ghost or if it’s something going on in a character’s head (‘The Haunting,’ ‘The Shining,’ ‘Videodrome,’ ‘The Others,’ ‘Sixth Sense,’ ‘The Blair Witch Project’). I’m also influenced by Japanese and Korean horrors that rely on atmosphere and a slow build up of dread for their effectiveness. Jump moments are fun now and again, but if your film relies upon them for scares, then it’s going to be instantly forgettable. For me, the mark of a good film is when it lives with you for a long time, and you’re still trying to figure out what the hell happened. But most of all, I like films with no easy or clear answers: life doesn’t offer easy answers so why should films?
You had former Boyzone singer Steven Gately acting in Credo as Simon. He hasn’t had very much acting experience before – what was he like to work with?
TH: Stephen Gately had always wanted to be in a horror film as he loves the genre. He was fantastic to work with: incredibly hard-working, really receptive to my direction, always good-natured and had a great sense of humour. Even though he has had huge success with Boyzone and has done over 10,000 media interviews, he never acted like a ‘star,’ but was just one of the gang. Stephen loves the supernatural and anything to do with ghosts, so we would spend hours swapping ghost stories, but I think we only just touched the surface. It would be great to spend an evening sitting around a fire scaring the hell out of each other!
This was Myanna Buring’s first time out in a film playing the central character – what did you make of her performance, and what did she bring to the film?
TH: MyAnna was amazing. Performance-wise, she was spot-on. She was intelligent, hard-working, fantastic to direct and completely gorgeous. Because she had just come off Neil Marshall’s ‘The Descent,’ she was in her ‘zone’. She knew the different levels of fear she needed to play and she was ready, willing and able to push herself to the extreme. She is the horror queen and I would love to work with her again.
AW: She’s technically very astute too. As I wanted the film to have as much naturalistic lighting as possible, we would sometimes rely on practical torchlight as the key light. It was critical that the actors would point their torches in exactly the right place so that light would bounce back from pieces of white card placed carefully just out of shot and illuminate them in precisely the right way. MyAnna had been doing a lot of this sort of thing on The Descent, so she took to it straight away. I think that helped the others enormously.
Tell me about the location – what drew you to that particular building visually? Was there any history of supernatural events at the location prior to filming?
TH: We were fortunate to have links with a property company in London that was about to renovate two derelict buildings into swanky luxury flats. One was a six-storey Georgian town-house built in the 1790’s and the other was a fire-station built in the 1800’s. Both buildings were right in the centre of town, they were secure, they had parking, they were atmospheric and incredibly cinematic, and even better, because the properties were about to be completely renovated, we could do anything we wanted to the buildings apart from make structural changes. The only downside was that we had a tight deadline to get the film shot before the renovations began, which meant that we had to move fast. As we knew exactly where we would be filming, Alex could write in scenes that took full advantage of the buildings’ architectural features, like the grand sweeping staircase, the labyrinthine basements, the winding bell-tower and the creepy attic.
AW: There were actually two different locations about half a mile apart. We ‘stitched’ them together in the edit to make the place look even bigger and more intimidating. One location had an amazing staircase and basement, the other had the institutional look that we needed to give the impression of an educational establishment. Together they were perfect! The buildings were just north of Marble Arch which is the site of Tyburn. That’s where they used to hold public hangings. They were often big stadium events, with grandstands erected to seat tens of thousands of spectators. One of the pubs where Toni and I would sit and plan ‘Credo’ used to be the last stopping place for the condemned on their journey from the prison to the gallows. They would be taken to the cellar, chained to the wall and given their last jar of ale. The chain is still there apparently! It all adds a very gruesome and spooky atmosphere to the whole area. Just knowing that the cart with the condemned prisoners would roll past the windows of the location, the streets thronging with crowds shouting and screaming at the pour souls who were about to be strung up as part of a grand spectacle! It’s no wonder there are so many ghost stories centred on that area!
How difficult was it to get Credo made, and how did the project begin to take shape after the writing of the script was finished?
AW Credo didn’t come about in a traditional way… in that it didn’t start with a script; it started with the locations. Once those were in place we created all the other elements in around it. I had the unique opportunity to write most of the screenplay actually in the main location. If I ever felt a bit flat and uninspired I’d venture down to the basement or up to the attic (both exceptionally creepy places – especially as the basement was rumoured to have its own resident entity!) and I would scare myself senseless. I’d quickly scribble down the scene and get the hell out of there as fast as I could! While I was writing the script, Toni was casting. It all happened very quickly, over a matter of a few weeks. The script wasn’t completely finished until the day before principal photography! In fact I had to rewrite a few scenes live on set as they weren’t quite working out as we’d intended. That was quite difficult at 3am when I’m trying to light a scene at the same time!
TH: Credo was born out of frustration. We had spent a couple of years trying to get another, bigger-budgeted horror film off the ground. Everyone loved the script but the response we kept getting was that as we never had made a feature film before, we posed too much of a risk to financiers. Our solution was to make a lower budgeted film on a smaller scale to prove not only that we could make a film but, more importantly, we could sell a film. We summoned the drive, energy and enthusiasm needed to motivate a small army, and we realised we’d have to act very quickly if we were going to succeed in our self-made challenge. So we came up with a story idea that was inspired by our locations and we set a date for the shoot.
AW: The most important thing was that date, because if you want cast and crew to climb aboard and give their all, then you have to stick to that date like glue. Independent filmmakers are often forced by unforeseen circumstances to change their shooting schedule and the cast and crew are the ones that suffer. So we vowed we’d never change that date, no matter what. To this day I still don’t know how we did it!
TH So we did the deal with the property people, a deal with the financiers and deal with the equipment and post-production companies all before we had a finished script!
AW The key to getting this film made was that everything had to come together at the same time or else we’d be sunk!
What are your plans for distribution now the movie is finished, both in the UK and abroad?
AW: Lionsgate are releasing the film on DVD on November 18th. We shall be releasing Credo in the UK in the spring of 2009. We have some very exciting plans for the release that will be based on events rather than just simple screenings. It’s all very hush-hush right now; all I’ll say is that it will be very unconventional and a lot of fun! And very scary, of course! (UPDATE: UK RELEASE INFO COMING VERY SOON! WATCH THIS SPACE!!)
Are you moving on to new projects now, and if so, can you tell us a bit about them?
AW: We are both writing separate projects, both of which we hope to make this year. Both are psychological horrors, but my one has added supernatural elements.
TH: Hopefully we’ll be shooting very soon as I’m desperate to start directing again!
Can you both also give me a little background on your own careers – what brought you to Credo? I believe you worked on a film together previously, ‘Daddy’s Boy’ in 2004. Was this your first work together? How did you meet initially?
AW: We met at film school in London and we hit it off straight away. From what I recall, we had an animated discussion about one of our favourite films, ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ and we planned to make a crazy musical together for our graduation film. That never happened and somehow we both descended into the darkness of horror instead! Although, I would argue that ‘The Wizard of Oz’ is very dark and deals with deep psychological issues! As soon as we left film school we started Alto Films together (Al and To, gettit?!) and have made several short films as well as some documentary stuff too. We did a series of shorts all about the horrors of commuting (simply titled: ‘Tube Hell,’ ‘Taxi Hell’ and ‘Bus Hell’) which were bought by Universal Pictures and have been broadcast all over the world. And then we made ‘Daddy’s Boy,’ our first foray into the world of High Definition that screened at lots of international film festivals culminating in being awarded best European Short Film at the Fantasy Film Festival.
In the meantime I was working as a cinematographer on commercials, promos, TV factual programmes and other people’s short films. Toni was earning her keep as a director of factual programmes. When distributors stopped buying shorts (mostly because of the proliferation of content on the Internet with sites such as YouTube) we decided the time was right to have a go at full length features. It was a huge step up and it near enough killed us, but we gave it a go with ‘Credo.’
Finally, what do you think about the state of independent film-making in Britain today? Is it easier to finance and make a film in Britain than it was say, ten years ago? Why do you think this is / is not the case?
TH: Independent British films are in the same place they’ve always been, right at the bottom of the pile fighting a losing battle to get into cinemas against big budget Hollywood movies. But instead of moaning about it, the solution is to make films that people want to see, and to be innovative in your approach to financing and distribution. I think agencies likes the UK Film Council make it easier than 10 years ago to apply for film finance. However, in my view, that produces a false economy of film-makers all too ready to rely on handouts. Making a film is difficult, getting a film distributed is even harder and the only way to do it is to just get on and do it!
AW: (UPDATE: I GAVE THIS ANSWER BEFORE THE SUDDEN COLLAPSE OF THE UK DVD DISTRIBUTION INDUSTRY AND THE EVEN LOWER LOWS OF THE RECESSION!) This has be the most exciting time to be an independent filmmaker ever! And not just for Brit filmmakers. No matter where you are in the world, recent developments in the World Wide Web have suddenly opened up opportunities for everyone, whether they’re a seasoned filmmaker or a movie virgin. In Britain, it used to be that filmmakers had to go cap in hand to the UK Film Council and beg for development and production funds. This was never going to be an ideal system as it doesn’t encourage filmmakers to be business minded and original. There’s nothing like the Film Council in America, where indie filmmakers have to bust a gut raising money for their films, but over here there’s a danger that we might start believing it’s our god-given right to receive handouts from the public purse. And I’m worried that forces filmmakers into trying to make films they think the UK Film Council would be more likely to fund, which amounts to a sort of self-imposed censorship. But, the great news is that we no longer have to toe the line and, at last, we can be masters of our destinies!
The Internet has become the indie filmmaker’s best friend, because their films can find their audiences there no matter how small or how niche they are. It’s just about impossible to get a theatrical release these days as the big studio films have completely flooded the market, which means there’s no room for us indies. Even though I love the cinema-going experience and there’s nothing better than seeing your film up there on the big screen, I do recognise that cinema owners would be taking too big a risk with indie films. Thanks to the Internet we are now able to bypass the tired and old fashioned distribution chain. Gone are the days when scores of corporate middle men grabbed their cut of the profits earned from your blood, sweat and tears. Gone are the days when we have no choice but to allow ourselves to be ripped off and mugged. Now it is possible for us to show and sell our films direct to our audiences. Thanks to the Internet there are so many methods to watch a movie now. You can upload your film so that audiences can stream or download it, or you can simply sell DVD copies from your own site. What this means is that all revenues come back to the filmmaker, which means the filmmaker can make another film. It’s all about making that next film. I’ve recently met a lot of inspirational filmmakers who have been doing just this. It’s still very early days, but these are the pioneers who are forging the future of moviemaking and, more importantly, the way that people watch movies. ‘Credo’ is in the slightly odd position of using both methods. We have a big studio (Lionsgate) releasing it in the States, but we’re taking complete control of its release here in the UK.
(UPDATE: ACTUALLY, WE’RE ABOUT TO MAKE AN EXCITING ANNOUNCEMENT ABOUT THE UK RELEASE. STAY TUNED!)
Thanks for answering our questions. We here at Weaponizer are really excited to see ‘Credo.’ Any other messages for our readers?
TH: I hope that people enjoying watching CREDO / THE DEVIL’S CURSE and if they like it, to tell other people about it! The more people that watch our films, the more chance we get to make another one.