Exclusive Interview: Paul Davis
By Andreas Charalambous - September 2013
Indoors, and I’ve seen them fail miserably and give up. People would ask me what I did differently and I would say that it wasn’t me. It was nothing that I did. It was having Reece. When you set up a campaign like that and you have a name that is marketable attached, that is half the work done for you. Then, you take into account the people that Reece knows. You’re going on Twitter and you’re getting people like Simon Pegg tweeting about it. I hold my hand up – It’s absolutely no coincidence that the day we hit our target was the day Simon Pegg tweeted about it. That’s always been my advice. If you’re going to set up a Kickstarter, get a name that is going to get retweeted – retweet upon retweet, so that it reaches as many people as possible. That’s really how Him Indoors got funded. Pollyanna was just old-fashioned casting. She’s a big League of Gentlemen fan, so as soon as she knew Reece was involved, she said yes.
For me doing a narrative piece, it was quite daunting. The fact that I was going to be directing not only Mr Jelly, but also The Woman – it was quite scary. They are absolutely lovely people, ultimate professionals and a joy to work with. I think the scariest thing was sending the script to Reece. I remember thinking, “I just sent Papa Lazarou a script!”
The majority of what is on the screen, was what I’d written. It was nice and respectful that with a first-time director, if they wanted to try something else, they would ask me first. Nine times out of ten, I would let them go with it. That’s the luxury of filming on digital now. You could do multiple takes and not be wasting any film stock. It was an absolutely wonderful experience.
WHH: You’ve since premiered your new film, The Body at FrightFest 2013 – which we have reviewed for our readers. What are the plans for it now?
PD: (At the time of writing) This Friday, I am flying out to Austin, Texas for the North American premiere at FantasticFest, which I’m very excited for. I’m told it’s one of those festivals like FrightFest which you just have to experience, so I’m really looking forward to that. From there it goes to Sitges in Spain, and at the same weekend it’s playing at ScreamFest in LA. It played in Lisbon at Motel X last week and it went down very well. I found a very glowing review, albeit in Portuguese – I had to get it translated – but they seemed to like it. With Him Indoors being essentially about two people in a room for 11 minutes, I wanted to make something that was very visual for The Body - something that would make good use of a big screen. It was the second time working with my director of photography, Eben Bolter – he’s brilliant at what he does. We work very well together. I also got to work with composer, Osymyso again who is also fantastic at what he does. One of the biggest things that people come back to me about, is the cinematography and the music, so I’m glad that those guys are getting recognised because they absolutely deserve it.
WHH: So what's next?
PD: I’m currently working on two features. I’m co-writing both with Stef Hutchinson (Halloween: 25 Years of Terror). We’ve just submitted a treatment for an anthology project that Paul Fisher (Producer of The Body) is producing. I will be doing the concluding part of a four-story horror anthology, and it’s definitely the nastiest thing I’ve written so far. We wanted to go back to the days of Amicus, when that was all British filmmakers were doing, is make anthologies! We want to get in there and play with the big boys. It’s going to be four British directors and I will be the newbie. If we have the line-up we want, it will be three other British directors who are very familiar with FrightFest.
The other project is a feature werewolf movie, which will take me back to the lycanthropes. This is probably a natural step for me to do a feature werewolf movie first. We’ll see what happens with those. They’re both at the very early writing stages at the moment, but we’re really happy with what we have so far and hopefully they will see the light of day.
WH: Ok. Something we really want to ask, is about a quote where you state, “If I achieve nothing in filmmaking in my lifetime, I can at least tell my kids I got drunk with George Romero”. You’ve got to tell us about that!
PD: George! Yes, absolutely true. That was in 2005, at a hotel in North London. A friend occasionally booked horror clients to conventions and he called me to ask if I wanted to meet Tom Savini . I was like, “YES!” There was a huge show that year in Birmingham – they had Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Ken Foree, Gaylen Ross from Dawn of the Dead, and Tom Savini, amongst others. It was around the time that Land of the Dead came out. And of course, George Romero. We returned with Tom Savini back to the hotel in London, freshened up, then we went to the bar. I stood at the bar debating the original Dead Trilogy and how Day of the Dead was an important film. Then I heard a voice behind me say, “Oh, that’s very kind of you. Let me buy you a drink.” I turned around and George Romero is stood there. So, we sat down with a bunch of other guys who were part of that troupe and a lot of whiskey was consumed. I remember saying that I wanted to visit the Monroeville Mall in Pittsburgh and George looked and me and said, “Why?!” And that’s the story of me getting drunk with George Romero!
WHH: Excellent! We will be up and live just before Halloween. What will you be doing for Halloween?
PD: I’m going to see Fabio Frizzi live in concert. He’s coming over to do a night of his best work, so yes, a very Halloween-themed evening indeed.
WHH: What is your favourite horror film?
PD: I always separate this movie from ‘best horror movie’ and ‘best movie of all-time’, but I guess it’s kind of cheating if I do that. My favourite movie of all-time is The Exorcist, mainly because it’s the film that got me into cinema seriously. I saw the Mark Kermode documentary The Fear of God, - which was very influential stylistically on Beware the Moon – and that showed me the power of cinema. I’d originally seen The Exorcist when I was young, but at that point it was just the fun of seeing the special effects – the head spinning round, the vomit – but when I saw it again as an adult, it scared me. It scared the crap out of me, and it was because of the story. By that point, I understood the story. I understood what was going on and that it’s not about the girl, but the people that were having to witness this. That’s the thing with horror movies. They’re never about the monster. It’s always about the people that have to live through it and deal with it. The best horror movies – The Omen, The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby – all these great horror movies that you could mention. It’s never about the monster. That’s why Romero’s zombie movies are so great, because it’s not about the zombies, but about the people. It’s about being in that situation and how you deal with it. So, for me The Exorcist is a movie that I dissected a thousand times, but it’s like a Mercedes. If you look at a Mercedes and take it apart, part-by-part, as soon as you put it back together, it’s still a Mercedes. That’s not going to change. That, to me is The Exorcist. It’s a horror movie that was made by a director with a documentary background, so it looked and felt real, in a sense. I’m not a god-fearing person, but that was the movie that pragmatically showed me perhaps there is something beyond our existence – which is a very powerful thing for a film to do. I don’t really think of it as a horror movie, but more as a supernatural thriller
WHH: What are the best and worst things about working in horror?
PD: The best thing is the fans. No other genre has fans as passionate as horror fans. Even if we hate certain movies, you still accept it. As a whole, I think that horror fans appreciate and respect the communal experience that being in a room full of horror fans and watching a horror movie, can be. There really is nothing like it. Mark Kermode had his first experience at FrightFest this year, and he spoke about how well-behaved and respectful the horror fans were. After that, he was crying out for horror fan-only screenings of horror movies. He went to a preview screening of The Conjuring and the crowd were so badly behaved, that it tainted the entire experience for him. I’d be totally up for that. You get ‘mother and baby-only’ screenings and ‘pensioner’ screenings, so why not horror fans only? You should quiz people at the door –
“Who was Director of Photography on Damien: Omen 2?”… “I don’t know”…”Then you’re not f**king coming in!”.
The worst thing, I haven’t really experienced a worst yet. I’m still enjoying it, so if a ‘worst’ does happen, I’ll drop you an email.
WHH: Finally, if you weren’t working in horror, what would you be doing now?
PD: Oh crap! I’ve kind of made a living over the past few years as a DJ. If I wasn’t doing this, I’d probably be doing that for the rest of my life, which is kind of depressing to think about. I honestly always knew that I wanted to do something with film. I just didn’t know that it would take this turn. I would probably still be pursuing my writing if I wasn’t making films, but now that I’ve had that taste of creative cinema, I don’t think there’s anything else I’d want to do. I found my calling so to speak. I can’t wait to make that first feature film and share some nasties with horror fans from all over the world.
WHH: Him Indoors was a move towards narrative-driven filmmaking. It stars Reece Shearsmith (League of Gentlemen, Psychoville, The Cottage) and Pollyanna McIntosh (The Woman). How did you get your first film production in a position to cast these talents?
PD: It’s all cause and effect. If it wasn’t for Beware the Moon, I wouldn’t be doing any of this now. I met Reece via John Landis and we got chatting because of our common interest. Reece is a big horror fan, and I was working on another project that required me to show I could work with actors. It’s one thing to make a documentary, but if you want to move to feature films, you need more than that. Making a documentary isn’t going to get you a lot in terms of confidence and investment. I needed to make something and I approached Reece with the idea of Him Indoors and he said yes immediately. This was before there was even a script. I just said “agoraphobic serial killer” to him and, seeing the kind of things he did on League of Gentlemen and Psychoville, I knew I was touching on something that wouldn’t make him run for the hills.
I set up a Kickstarter campaign with James Pears (The Other Side) with a target of £5000 and we ended up with £7000. I know people are doing a lot more Kickstarter campaigns now, since we did the fundraiser for Him
Paul Davis’ feature-length documentary - Beware the Moon – served as his calling card to the horror film genre. Making his transition to narrative filmmaking, with the success of last year’s horror short, Him Indoors, he has established himself as one to look out for.
We catch up with Paul following the premiere of his latest horror offering - The Body - following its world premiere at Film4 FrightFest 2013. He talks about his passion for the genre, starting up in the industry, getting drunk with a horror legend, and why everyone should be interrogated before watching a horror film at the cinema!
WeHeartHorror.com: Paul, tell us how your love for the genre developed.
Paul Davis: Horror has always been a part of my life as much as eating, sleeping and breathing has been. The first thing I remember seeing – I was already into movies when I was two or three years old – were the first Betamax tapes we had, recorded off the TV from around 1983. Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Blazing Saddles, An American Werewolf in London and Superman 2.
Those were the five tapes I would watch over and over and over again. I think I saw An American Werewolf in London first, and then saw Michael Jackson’s Thriller and the making-of. That was when I realised that monsters weren’t real, and that movies were fictional. People did this for a job. From that point onwards, I could kind of watch anything. My dad would take me to the video shop and I’d quite willingly go over to the horror section and pick something out. I got to experience the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, the Friday the 13th movies and the Halloween sequels. My great-uncle was a bit of a cinephile, and he was really into the Universal Monsters, the Hammer movies and the Corman movies with Vincent Price. He kind of gave me a bit of a horror history at a very young age. It’s always been with me and I’ve always been a student of not just horror cinema, but cinema in general. It’s always been a part of my life, so I think it’s kind of fitting that I got into filmmaking.
WHH: You also wrote for various print and online publications.
PD: That’s right. I started that around the age of 16. When I finished high school, I was adamant that I was going to be an actor, and I auditioned for a South London drama school. I did the worst possible audition that someone could go in and do. Everybody else was doing classic characters from books and plays, and I turn up and do a monologue from Pulp Fiction. I should’ve known then and there that I wasn’t going to get in. This left me thinking “What do I do now?” I enrolled on a Media course at my local college and learned how movies worked and were made, and developed an interest behind the camera. Even at this point making movies was something I never fathomed that I could do. So I thought I could make money writing about movies and writing about the films I love. That’s where I started in that respect. Then I went to university and I studied cinema history, and it was kind of just a way to make means and still do what I wanted to do.
WHH: And you eventually moved into filmmaking with Beware the Moon, which originated from an article that you wrote for the 25th anniversary of An American Werewolf in London.
PD: That’s right. It was late 2005 and I became a staff writer for Horror Hound magazine. I was the UK guy, so whenever there were conventions over here, I would do the interviews with whoever the guests were. The most surreal interview I did, was with Warwick Davis – we did that interview in his car on the way back from doing pantomime in Wimbledon. That was really strange!
Because I was the British guy on the team, when it came to the 25th anniversary of An American Werewolf in London, I was immediately the go-to guy to write the article. The idea of the documentary came out of my pure frustration of not being able to find any decent reference material. That’s kind of where Beware the Moon came from, and it was absolutely terrifying at the beginning as I had no prior filmmaking experience. It was just literally a case of three friends with a camera getting in touch with everybody associated with the film, seeing who was up for it and just basically getting on with it. Oh, and lying a lot! I think I told everybody that we interviewed, “Oh yes, it’s going to be on TV… It’ll be on the DVD”, which by this point I hadn’t even spoken to John Landis. The first contact I had with him, was an email that was passed on by Mick Garris (Sleepwalkers, TV’s The Shining, creator of Masters of Horror). I’ll never forget it. It was 2nd January when John Landis’ name popped up in my inbox.
WHH: Happy New Year!
PD: Exactly! I don’t think he thought that we were really serious, but that we kind of knew what we were doing – which of course, we didn’t! We kind of won him over with that very British, “It’ll be alright on the day, Guv’nor” kind of attitude. Every time we interviewed someone, I’d purposefully get a photo with that person, solely to send it to John and say, “Hey, look who we interviewed today. Do you want to be involved yet?” Speaking to Universal’s Home Video department – who at the time, were not interested in releasing another DVD of An American Werewolf in London, I said, “I know what you guys are like. As soon as The Wolfman is released, you’re going to put that bastard out again in a new box. You might as well put something new on it.”
WHH: And we come to FrightFest 2009 and screening it to 1500 people.
PD: Yes. As soon as it was finished, I immediately told the guys at Universal UK that I wanted it try and get it screened at FrightFest. If at all anywhere, I wanted it there. It was nearly pulled at one point because there was a screening of the film elsewhere, literally three weeks before FrightFest. What made it worse, was that John Landis turned up for that, along with Jenny Agutter. It was very nearly pulled, but I’m glad it went ahead.
Standing on that stage in front of 1500 people. It’s scary but when you look up, all you can see are the lights beaming down on you and you can’t see a thing. You just have to pretend that there are three people watching you and just go with it. It was a dream though. As soon as that Universal logo came up at the beginning, you heard the entire audience applaud. I’ve not experienced anything like this before, and at that time, I didn’t know I would ever experience it again. The audience really enjoyed it and laughed in all the right places. It was a dream come true.
WHH: You’re not really interested in making any more documentaries based on other films?
PD: I always joked that if I were going to do another documentary of that size, I would only ever do it for two films – Pulp Fiction and Teen Wolf – and I don’t think anybody’s going to knock on my door to do Teen Wolf any time soon. I don’t think there will ever be a Pulp Fiction film either. As I said, this was done more out of frustration of the fact that there was nothing there as a reference guide. It was very well received and I could’ve made a career out of making documentaries, but if it wasn’t for something that I really loved, then I really wouldn’t have the interest in doing it. It would really have to be a passion project, which Beware the Moon was. I’ve probably seen An American Werewolf in London 250 times now.
WHH: To the extent that you’ve turned into ‘Kesslerboy’.
PD: I named my film company Kesslerboy Productions, which kind of came out of that. An American Werewolf in London is going to be everywhere I go now.