If you’ve been a follower of this website, you will have noticed several news items about an upcoming independent horror flick called Scrawl and even a review of a short film made prior to it called Motto which is connected to the feature film. With its original storyline, skewed vision and unique characters, Scrawl looks like it should stand out amidst all the remakes and rehashes that seem to dominate the genre at the moment and in my opinion could be The independent horror film to watch this year. Dr Lenera was lucky enough to talk to Peter Hearn, the Writer/Director/Producer of Scrawl, and Annabelle Le Gresley, Producer and Star of the film, about their project.
Dr Lenera – Firstly, can you both briefly describe your background and how you got into filmmaking?
Peter Hearn – I’ve been in and around the industry for the past seventeen or so years, mainly working in the independent sector as a writer/director/producer and commercially as an editor. I’ve always wanted to be a writer since I can remember, the other jobs I just fell into out of necessity of wanting to tell my stories. Scrawl is my third feature after two low budget comedies made between 2000 – 2004. I have been working as a lecturer of film production for the last couple of years and got itchy feet for the industry again, but this time with a twist, I always thought It’d be fun to do a Brian De Palma and work with students on a feature project (like he did with Home Movies), so that’s where it began.
Annabelle Le Gresley – I’m one of those students, currently studying a BTEC in creative media (film production), which is how I met Pete. I had run on projects before, but never worked on anything on such a big scale as this.
A – The film revolves around a seaside town, and a comic book.
P – It’s about a couple of loser kids that want their town to finally notice how cool they are. They write and draw a horror comic, and girls and people start to notice them. They think this is pretty cool until they realise more and more of what they have written is coming to life, and when they have a massacre from page 18, they have to start working out how they are going to stop it, before they become the monsters that they are writing about…
DL– How did the idea for making this film come about?
A – It was Pete’s idea to make a feature with his students, so I guess we can all blame him for this.
P – It really went full circle after a year of development. At first, I had the idea of writing a woods-set horror, much like my inspirations Friday the 13th and The Evil Dead, but as I developed it, it turned from the woods set slasher to a wild Phantasm-styled horror, then to a twisted psychological thriller to a dystopian sci-fi set in an abandoned town that actually exists near Salisbury, Hampshire. It stuck there for a while, before going to an anthology-style horror, where much of the Scrawl universe was born. It then went back to a lot of the themes from the original ideas I had (especially the Phantasm one). This also included the scouts, although they started out a lot more resourceful rather than just becoming cannon fodder, something I’m balancing out in the next wave of filming.
P – Not really, I researched loads, read about loads, but kept a distance from watching them. I watched some, but I was more interested in my recollections of watching stuff like The Evil Dead through the banisters on the stairs at age twelve, or the first time I saw the Nightmare on Elm Street films (especially 1 and 3) than sitting down and going ‘right, how do these work?’
A –In contrast, I watched a lot, there was a stage last year where I was watching nothing but horror films. I was watching so many my mum seriously started worrying about me.
DL – Did the script change much during writing?
P – Absolutely, ask Annie. I don’t think it has ever remained totally fixed throughout its creation. I guess I’ve done that for a number of reasons. One because I’m never happy, but more importantly, due to having worked this way before, you have to remain fluid up until the edit because locations, actors and the elements throw up their own set of problems during filming. I needed to have looseness to the script in order to tackle such obstacles.
A – It’s a completely different script to what it was, every story line that Pete wrote has been pulled together in some way in Scrawl, which I guess is why we focus on so many different relationships throughout the film.
P – I guess there is a truth to that, but also I love big ensemble pieces – I love those films that use huge casts, very much like a theatre ensemble, and you see the same faces turn up again and again in the director’s subsequent films. I started with Nathalie Pownall and Elizabeth Boag, both of whom I had worked with before and thought ‘right, how can I write roles for these two and revolve 30 odd kids around them?’
DL – I would imagine it was hard getting the balance right with certain elements. For example the humour – there seems to be a considerable amount of often dark humour in Scrawl, but you wouldn’t want it to totally take over the story so the film becomes an out-and-out comedy?
P –Out and out comedy? God no, that was the last thing I wanted. I find there is humour in darkness and my work can be very dark at times, if you didn’t have a little humour to offset this, a film, entertainment, would be hell to watch (no pun intended). I like to laugh with the characters, with a film, rather than at it. I like the humour that some horror directors bring to their work without making them total comedies (Sam Raimi springs to mind, his work especially with Drag Me To Hell is blackly comic). There are enough spoof horrors out there, most of which are terrible; I didn’t want to add to their tally.
A – Yes definitely, there were times on set where we would pause and think, is this too serious, or is this too lighthearted.
P – Annie and I would often look at each other and go ‘darker?’
DL: Prior to shooting Scrawl you made a short film called Motto. How does Motto fit into the Scrawl universe?
P – Initially Motto was written and directed as a stand-alone piece, a way to introduce the characters to an audience, and also to those who would ultimately be backing the longer form project, Scrawl. But after the experience of working on the short, I wanted to see these characters that existed only in Motto on a bigger platform. So my initial thought was to try and shoehorn what takes place in Motto into a rewrite of Scrawl, but I soon found this unworkable, and that is when the comic book idea (as a comic was already being written) came into play. Everything fell into place at that point. However, now we are three quarters of the way through filming Scrawl, once again Motto rears its killer head and will ultimately play a major part in the final version of Scrawl, albeit in a slightly different version to the one that currently exists. It should be a fun addition to the newly filmed piece.
DL: For those who are not aware of it, could you briefly tell us what Indiegogo is?
P – Indiegogo is a crowdfunding website much like Kickstarter, which deals with ways to help people raise money for various projects, ranging from charity events to film projects and beyond. In return for pledging monetary help, people get ‘perks’ which can range from DVDs to posters. It’s a way to help raise awareness of your project as well as raise much needed funds to help your project run that little bit smoother. We have run one successful campaign, gaining 101% of what we were looking for. We will be running a second one in the near future for the back end of the project.
DL – I reckon it must have been a pretty hair-raising experience, hoping and praying for the money to come in to make Scrawl happen?
A – Yes, it was a tense few weeks for everyone involved. There was about two weeks where we were stuck on $489, I had bitten off my nails by the time we started getting more donations. The last day of fundraising I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to mutter a few words to the big guy.
P –However, the project was never dependent on the crowdfunder. It was brilliant to get all the support for a project very few people knew about – I mean, none of us are known. However, the film would have happened either way, because that’s the kind of filmmaker I am. Some would say an idiot, I call it determined. The crowdfunding just made it easier to get the film put together. I promised a lot of people we would be shooting on a specific date, I wasn’t about to back down from that position.
A – In some ways, yes. But in others, no way. It was easy working with each other, and being able to read each others thoughts. If someone wasn’t happy with a shot you’d be able to tell and we’d all be thinking it. The time restraints made it hard though, but that’s like with any project, nothing good ever comes easy.
P – A winter shoot, shooting indoors and out, three weeks initial shooting, with minimal funding, it was not an easy shoot, but I had such an amazing team around me, that even though at times it looked like things were going from bad to worse (losing a lead actor due to family emergency, losing two vital members of the make up crew before and during filming) we rallied around and were able to overcome the odds. We lost brilliant people, but gained equally amazing people in their place. I’ve worked with a lot of different people over the years, but by far the crew and cast around me were way up there with the best of them. I could not have asked for a better team, a better ensemble. I really hope the film turns out the way we all hope and there are opportunities beyond this for them, as they really deserve all the kudos for pulling the project off.
A-The weather definitely made it hard though, we’d get home and it would take hours before you started feeling your toes again.
DL – Do you think there’s a certain freedom about shooting independently with a small budget, or was it just a complete pain?
A – You’re not working to schedule given to you by a production company, which helps and you can change things without having to talk to big boss guys. Plus with a small crew everyone knows how everyone works which can make life easier.
P – I guess there is a freedom in being able to tell your story without people breathing down your neck, but with a small budget it does mean you have constraints in other ways, and sometimes your vision has to alter due to your lack of funds. However you do get to work with people that are interested in telling the story you want to tell rather than looking at how much they are going to get paid. You hopefully get to work with people that you’ll work with again one day, and hopefully next time able to repay them for their generosity.
P – Every day it seemed for a while we’d have an amusing story, ranging from trying to shoot a sequence where someone decided to sit themselves down right in front of the lens, and then proceed to move three or four times just to be in the prime position for looking directly down the barrel, so to speak. Or working in a hotel where if we were dealing with a gameshow blaring out of one room, we were dealing with a very vocal phone call coming from another room that never seemed like it was going to stop. I guess working independently you don’t have the luxury of clearing the set, so you have to make do with things like this happening. You laugh, you move on…with a guy staring directly at the camera the moment you shout ‘action’.
DL – It must have seemed strange having cast members who had acted before alongside youngsters who were totally new to acting?
P – Not really. Yes we had a mix ranging from very experienced to some that had never acted before, that weren’t actors, but at the end of the day I was after truthful performances rather than acting – so there wasn’t a hierarchy going on, just a large ensemble cast trying to make a movie.
A – The experienced cast members were brilliant, they helped the more inexperienced cast with their preparations, helped them think about their characters and techniques, I think most of all they taught them a lot about discipline.
DL – How did you approach the special effects in a film? I guess this kind of thing must be difficult when you don’t have much money to play with?
P – We are still going with that one, with many of the ‘blood’ effects still to be shot. I always wanted it practical. I love Rob Bottin’s work from the 80’s, all that gloopy sfx. I am not a fan of CGI at all, so everything we did on Motto was practical, and everything on Scrawl will be too. You are right with the lack of funds, but we managed to show enough on Motto with zero budget. We just need a day or two of running round the woods, chopping mad axe frenzy style to finish off Scrawl.
A – The special effects were tricky, are tricky, we tried to do what we could with make up, so there was as little to do in post as possible. We like practical…in a lot of ways it makes our lives easier.
A – Definitely not mistaken, in my mind Scrawl‘s got a real 80’s feel to it, epic proportions of blood, which is always fun.
P – I am not a fan of gore for gore’s sake. Again going back to my love of 80’s horror, I like the over the topness of it all. You know you are watching a film, you know its not real life. It’s fun. We are aiming for a fun horror here, that doesn’t take itself too seriously, though isn’t out and out jokey. I want people laughing and reacting, not hiding behind their hands, well, not for long anyway.
DL – So you prefer ‘less is more’?
P – For the most part. Let the audience work out how that head is being crushed rather than showing it, but every now and then give them something to make them go ‘whoah, I didn’t see that coming’
A – I was definitely more of a ‘less is more girl’ before I started making this film, but now I think I get way too into the ‘lets poor blood all over her’ mind set.
P – Oh Annie! See that’s the downside to this, corruption of the youth…
A– and you have only yourself to blame….
P – That’s all Jay Boulton, who draws stuff under the name Astalakio. I’ve known Jay for a number of years now, and he is an up and coming artist who I wanted to work with because I felt he’d have a lot to give to the characters in Scrawl. He started working on the project around the time we were prepping for Motto and a lot of his concept art we recreated in live action form because it was just too good. He’s a super super nice guy.
DL – How are you approaching the music in Scrawl?
A – The music is going to be much like Motto‘s music, am I right?
P – I’ve always worked with Neil Johnson from the band ‘Angel Tech’ so it will be odd if I don’t work with him again, because he is super talented and always seems to know what I want before I know what I want. But with both of us getting more and more busy with tons of other projects on the go, whether our planets will align, I cannot tell as yet. If no Neil, I would have to find someone that is willing to take a bit of a risk and just play and be interesting. Something odd, cool and retro.
A – You would think, filming was the easy bit really, now we’ve for to start reshoots, editing, marketing, festivals.
P – We have more to shoot in January, and then about four months of post in order to be ready for a June completion. We will also have to pick up a bit of filming in May too.
A – The hard work starts now.
P – I’d really like to get an 80’s inspired poster put together. I love the Drew Struzan designs as well as Tom Hodge’s (Dude Designs) stuff, so it’d be ace to get someone like that putting something together for us.
DL -What are the plans for Scrawl next?
P – Once complete, we’d like to get as many people to see it as possible, so film festivals beckon. Beyond that, who knows? It’d be nice for tons of stuff to happen with it. We’ll see…
DL – If Scrawl takes off in the way that we hope, do you think we may see another journey into the world of Scrawl? It’s a world which to me seems to me like something which could be constantly expanded. Or will this be ‘it’ now? Maybe onto pastures new?
A – I think there is the potential to revisit the Scrawliverse but I’m not sure if I’d want to, I like the dynamic we have with Scrawl at the moment, I wouldn’t want to tamper with it…but then again I’m not the best at risk taking. I would like to leave Scrawl when it’s done, I wouldn’t want to ruin something good. But I would definitely carry on working with Pete on new projects.
P – I’m not ruling out a return to the world of Scrawl, after all I have a previous draft that is essentially a completely different film that is set in the same world, but I’d like to do other stuff, and I’m currently working on another project, which could be described as City of Lost Children meets The Princess Bride currently entitled Giantkillers as well as a John Carpenter inspired action comedy flick [think Big Trouble in Little China) that I’d love to get out there. I also have a high concept thriller, another horror and a comedy drama in the melting pot. I really love telling stories, but directing takes a good time out of your life, especially in the low budget arena, I’m really getting back into the writing side of things, and I’d like to see what others could do with my stories.
A – Gosh yes, got to love a bit of a scare every now and then.
P – I’ve never been a massive horror fan, but obviously over the last year and a half I have come to appreciate the genre so much more, and have become a fan in the process. I think horror is in a terrible place right now, with anaemic remakes of classic titles and nothing or relatively nothing new being made, which is down to these terrible films still being watched.
A – The good thing about horror, is that it always has a fan base. The sub genres may change in popularity, but horror is always around.
P – Just wish it was done better…
A– Oh stop grumbling…
A – Rec – One of the only films where the handheld ‘found footage’ technique really works for me.
The Crazies (original) – got to love zombies.
The Cabin In The Woods – I love the idea of the higher power in it, the fact the characters are choosing their own fate.
Let The Right One In – it’s an amazing story.
A Nightmare On Elm Street (original) – epic proportions of blood and you can tell it’s a film, the remake was far too real for my liking.
Rec 2 – one of the best sequels I’ve ever seen, exactly the same events… from a different point of view and then some.
The Shining – well….it’s The Shining.
Pan’s Labyrinth – it’s just so beautiful.
Zombieland – Jesse Eisenberg v zombies.
District 9 – a strong, real, serious political message…and some really amazing writing, horror? Who cares…
A-There’s always one…
P – Shhhh, Le Gresley – here we go.
Jaws – probably my favourite film of all time, though I do love Jaws 2 too, possibly the best ‘kids in peril’ film (better than the Friday The 13th films for me).
The Cabin in the Woods – I know you didn’t like this Dr Lenera, but I loved the writing, the madness of the lift sequence – not at all scary though, but should it be? Reminded me of a classic 80’s flick called Waxwork which starred Zach Galligan, from the brilliant Gremlins.
Mimic 3 – J. T. Petty takes the original Guillermo Del Toro flick (which is soooo underrated) and throws in Hitchcock’s Rear Window for good measure. It doesn’t take itself seriously, and has an amazing fridge sequence which makes Spielberg’s Indiana Jones 4 sequence in the fridge look as poo as the rest of the film.
Phantasm 1 & 2 – Don Coscarelli has been there for me since The Beastmaster and right at the start of the Scrawl journey, I rewatched Phantasm as an idea for low budget madness. In a lot of ways I prefer the bigger budget of 2, but this might be because there’s more Reggie and a chainsaw fight.
Nightmare on Elm St 3: Dream Warriors – best in the series in my opinion, does everything right, and very little wrong. gain, kids in charge – ensemble kids this time…and not all of them die (until the next Nightmare…).
Village of the Damned – the original, first time I saw this was on BBC2 at 2pm on a weekday. Kids killing adults during the school week when you are ill, never forgotten.
Drag Me to Hell – could have gone for The Evil Dead but I find this later Raimi more interesting; despite being flawed, there’s so much to like in this film – not just the goat.
Bad Taste – Brilliant Peter Jackson flick that I saw way back when it came out. No budget fun that has really amazing practical effects.
Attack the Block – Loved the 80’s John Carpenter feel of Joe Cornish’s feature debut. Loved the soundtrack possibly more…
Horror Cult Films would like to thank you both for taking time out to do this interview and wish you the best of luck with Scrawl.
P – Cheers buddy. Thanks for being such great supporters at HCF.