Exclusive: Borley Rectory - An Update with Ashley Thorpe
By Andreas Charalambous - 31st January 2015
A few months ago, we had come across a very interesting crowdfunding campaign for Borley Rectory - an exciting production based on the infamous haunted location - featuring a truly impressive cast.
At the time, Borley Rectory was in the middle of its crowdfunding campaign, and we spoke exclusively with Reece Shearsmith, Jonathan Rigby and Julian Sands, along with writer/director Ashley Thorpe about their involvement.
Since then, the crowdfunding campaign had ended in astonishing success - surpassing its original funding target, three times over.
We caught up with Ashley Thorpe again, to reflect on the success of the campaign and to discuss the progress and challenge of Borley Rectory's production.
We Heart Horror: First of all, congratulations on oblitertating the funding target since we last spoke. It truly is an indication of how your vision of Borley Rectory had captured the imaginations of genre fans. What do you think were some of the contributing factors to such a successful crowdfunding campaign?
Ashley Thorpe: Without doubt the main contributing factor was having a strong team behind me this time. On the first fundraiser, I was doing nearly all of it myself; the videos, the social media, emails, everything. All the while, juggling work and childcare and the campaign suffered as a result. It was just too much for one person to manage.
This time I had Tom Atkinson (the producer) and Alice Bonasio who knows the internet and social media back-to-front. They took on the bulk of the social media, the admin and the marketing and left me to focus on animating and creating all the video and artistic content. Tom, Alice and Marie are the heroes behind this campaign without doubt. I should also say that the other difference between this campaign and the previous one, was having Reece Shearsmith and Jonathan Rigby on board from the beginning, who were incredibly generous with their time, so with the aid of the British Library we were able to shoot those great videos at the Terror and Wonder exhibition. I’ve been very lucky with the support I’ve had this time. I would have been stuffed without it!
WHH: Some very special perks were on offer to tempt potential funders. These were impressive in themselves. Could you discuss more how these came about?
AT: We spent around three or four months planning this campaign, yet some of the most exciting perks came as quite organic things towards the end. Our campaign really was carried along on a huge wave of generosity and selflessness. The vinyl OST was Steven Severin’s idea from last time round. It was Alice’s idea I think to have a doll made of the Phantom Nun which was made by Debz Demented Dollz purely as an act of support. Incredible generosity. The first edition Price books too were a donation by Double Farley, the production company in New Zealand who had previously made the 3D model of the rectory for us to use as reference. Nicholas Vince donated some signed Hellraiser figurines from his personal collection. We had Borley T-Shirts courtesy of Steve Shaw at Great British Horror and Jonathan Rigby donated a signed first edition of his seminal English Gothic.
One of the most surprising perks came completely out of the blue from Richard Wells. This wonderful illustration suddenly appeared on my twitter feed of Reece with the Phantom Nun and Richard said that it was a bit of fan art that he’d made just for fun. I absolutely loved it and asked if we could print it and offer it as another perk and he kindly agreed. Seraphim too was another surprise. Nicholas Vince had Mark Miller (VP of Seraphim Films) as a guest on his Google hangout one week and they discussed Borley, so I reached out to Mark and asked how he knew of the project and if Seraphim (Clive Barker's production company) would like to get involved in some way. Mark told me that he knew of Carrion because Clive had a number of my animations in his DVD collection - a fact I was floored by, and that they would be happy to donate a limited edition signed print to the cause!
We tried to roll out each of the perks tactically as the campaign went on but the final perk - the Ouija board - was something that just came to me one day.
My Dad is a furniture restorer and painter and he used to make these lovely wooden hand painted signs for his vehicles and shops, etc. One morning it just came to me in a flash - we should make a Borley Rectory Ouija board!
I roped my Dad in and he’s been having a whale of a time crafting this mahogany horror . I’ve been documenting it’s creation so I’ll be rolling out the short film once it’s completed.
WHH: By exceeding your funding target, you must be in the enviable position of being able to make improvements/adjustments on your original vision for Borley. Could you tell us how this would be the case?
AT: I remember when Rue Morgue Radio did a short shout out to the first campaign and when Feedback stated that our ideal budget was around £20K, Last Chance Lance spat out "Is he out of his fucking mind?" He was probably right! Twenty thousand pounds sounds like a huge amount for a short film but then when you consider how long it is (a projected 30+ minutes), that it’s animated, that it’s a period piece with over a dozen cast members and how long it will take a tiny production team to both shoot and animate it, 20K suddenly doesn’t sound like much at all! You know, you could make two traditional features in the time it’ll take to make this film. So in actual fact we started out with an ideal budget to make the film and then scaled it down and down to around £10K which was the same budget as the Arts Council supported The Hairy Hands - a far more modest indie friendly project.
The great thing subsequently about the scale on which we smashed the target is that it’s enabled us to go back to the original plan, scale it back up again and not to have to make the hugely compromised version. That massive support will enable us to make Borley Rectory the way I originally envisioned.
WHH: So, what is the latest update on the production? How are things progressing?
AT: After the initial shoots back in May 2014, I’ve basically been animating like the clappers! I’ve got two large sequences complete with a few other sections in the works aswell. Although I still have a large amount of animating left on the sequences we shot last year, we’re gently reaching out to our busy cast again to start planning in the next shoot which I suspect will take place around April or May.
I’m really excited to be working with them again. Reece Shearsmith, Jonathan Rigby and Claire Louise Amias were such fun to work with. I was terrified initially but their patience and good humour made the day a fantastic experience. Of course this time we’ll be bringing in a few new cast members such as Sally Mortemore and Nicholas Vince so I imagine with such an ensemble the studio will be ringing with laughter!
WHH: I'm sure there are many who are intrigued by the entire production process you are undertaking. What is an 'average' day working on Borley?
AT: Yes, it must all seem like quite a mysterious process. Once the footage has been shot Tom processes it to my technical requirements and then sends on each scene shot by shot. It’s a constant drip feeding of frames whilst I work on the completely CGI / painted backgrounds - there are a few photo / acrylic backgrounds in there. Once I have a few shots animated, I tend to animate each scene together to get a feel for the pacing and whether the scene needs a further cut away or detail and then work that in - although so far it has stuck pretty closely to the storyboard which was very detailed to begin with.
An ‘average’ day is a difficult one. I’m a self employed working dad, so any two weeks are rarely the same. Apart from the three regular days full time at a design agency, the other time could be filled with animation workshops, teaching or Fangoria business. I have a year-old daughter so on the whole, I tend to animate at night once my long suffering wife is back off the night shift and silence of a sort descends upon the house. Borley Rectory is a film animated almost exclusively in the dead of night.
WHH: Like myself, there must be many people who can't wait to see the final film. Have you identified a timescale for when it will be completed?
AT: That’s a really difficult question to answer, actually. I know when I’d like it to be complete. But with an animation team of, well... me, it’s a huge undertaking. Especially as I’m unable financially to dedicate myself to it full time. This is very much a passion project made outside working hours and during baby naps. I’d love to say late 2015 but I certainly wouldn’t put money on that date. Early 2016 might be more realistic. It’ll be worth the wait.
Unlike previous projects that were compromised by rushed development and tight deadlines, I want every shot in Borley to be just so, it has to be right, it deserves to be right. I storyboarded the film with a very clear, crystalline picture in my head of how it all should look and feel. Every single shot in Borley Rectory is a labour of love. It’s a story that’s been up there since I was 9 years old and this is my chance to render it in obsessional detail... and you know what they say about details!
Ashley's father - Robert Thorpe - painting the Borley Ouija board that was claimed by a funding campaign backer.
Ashley Thorpe directing Claire Louise Amias on the set of Borley Rectory