Eight Down, Five to Go: A Look Inside Horror Anthology 'Bloody Cuts' with Series Producer Ben Franklin
Back in July, UK horror anthology project Blood Cuts reminded us that bedtime stories sometimes contain much more terror than comfort with fifth entry in the series, gothic fairytale Suckablood. More frights, blood and gore have followed since, bringing us now to the eighth chilling instalment, Don't Move. We get our fright on and talk to Series Producer Ben Franklin about the challenges of upping the Blood Cuts ante with each release after the jump. Join us, if you dare...
NFS: How did Bloody Cuts and the idea of a horror anthology of 13 films come into being?
Ben: A few of us had an excellent experience working together as a team making a short for a 48hr Film Challenge. Shortly after its release I had a light bulb moment where I suddenly realised that the only thing stopping us from doing this more was ourselves. So I went away and formulated the idea for making a short horror film series, which I then put to Jonny Franklin and Anthony Melton, who immediately got on board with it. The idea of making just one short film was too easy, and there was the added challenge of trying to build a community or fan base around our collected work, which was a big attraction to us.
I can never understand when filmmakers create short films that they continuously push, entering every festival going, only to find themselves no further along. For me, the more content I can produce, the better filmmaker I'll become and committing yourself to a goal/deadline is always a very practical way to work too. Why make one, when you can make 13? That said, I do think we hadn't really planned for just how big it might grow…
NFS: Are there specific horror sub-genres not yet covered in episodes 1-8 already mapped out for the series?
Ben: There definitely are. There’s so much to work with and areas we’ve not even touched upon, that it’s more of a case of choosing what not to do at this point. Budget is always a consideration and the simpler the better, but if Episode 13 plays out the way we intend, it’ll be an absolute blow out that’ll draw a huge line under everything!
NFS: The episodes all stand alone, did you ever consider crafting them as parts of a larger world with subtle nods to each other?
Ben: Initially we definitely discussed packaging them up into a full anthology film of sorts and bookending the episodes with a ‘Cryptkeeper’ type of character. But we never really imagined them to be in the same world, which might have been a trick we missed early on! We have since drawn up a detailed map that actually locates the stories that have taken place in a made up town we call “Lynnsmouth” (where all of our films have taken place). So feasibly we could tie it together at the end, which we most probably will in some way or another. All that said, if you watch closely there are occasional nods to our other films, particularly in later episodes. You just need to watch closely to see them!
NFS: With a series budget sitting around £10-11K how have you managed to not only maintain but improve the production values and VFX across the series?
Ben: I think the fact that we have become better filmmakers has certainly enabled us to do more, so in the case of the production values, a lot of the time that has come down to having a more rigorous production process from start to finish. But in terms of the low cost associated with the series as whole, it’s been down to a number of reasons.
Firstly all cast and crew work for free, which is certainly for the mutual love of filmmaking and that has created a very collaborative experience for us all. With the sponsorship and general support we’ve had through the guys at Millennium FX, we’ve also had access to some of the best make up artists in the world. Equipment too has nearly always been borrowed from generous companies, as well as friends, and that’s been a significant saving for us.
It’s definitely been a case of persevering and essentially saying ‘help’ at every point we’ve really needed it. The indie filmmaking world is extraordinarily generous and along the way we’ve met people who couldn’t do any more to help us along. Some people think that we’re rich, but we’re not. They also think we’re doing something underhand because we’re producing high quality content with (sometimes) full film crews and a professional cast of actors. But, all we’ve done is use what’s around us to our advantage and joined forces with people who genuinely want to work with us.
NFS: How does the story pitching/development process work within Bloodycuts? Many of you direct, how do you go about assigning episodes?
Ben: Anybody in the crew has the opportunity, to write, direct or fulfil any crew role they want. We’ve always wanted to rotate the crew and allow people the chance to find a place on set. Of the eight films we’ve made, we’ve had eight different directors and I think that’s testament to us wanting to keep our content fresh and ‘pay back’ those who have been part of Bloody Cuts since the beginning.
Directing episodes has generally come about fairly organically, with people popping up and asking if they can have ‘their turn’ in the hot seat. We do however still have to green-light their script, work out a budget and make sure it’s feasible to do so we tend to go back and forth on scripts for a while, and it takes time to settle on ones we like because we’re very aware of both not repeating ourselves and also being more ambitious with each episode.
We’re also very open to outside submissions, as long as they’re under 10 minutes, not repeating a similar sub-genre or theme and naturally done on the understanding that making the film will be collaborative. If you’re looking for complete creative control you’re not going to get it from us! Oh, and you’re likely not going to get any money for it either.
NFS: The Don't Move making of is still in the works, could you walk us through the episode's development and production?
Ben: I was contacted by a writer by the name of David Scullion after someone had told him about us at London Frightfest last year. We get sent a lot of scripts and most are downright terrible, but this one caught my eye as I was really drawn by the concept of a horror film where people couldn’t move. When fellow Bloody Cuts producer Anthony Melton saw it, he knew it was the episode that he wanted to direct as his debut entry into the series and so we green-lit it and immediately went into pre-production. Aside from finding a location and the many SFX required to pull it off, we also had the Demon itself to create. Fortunately Kate Walshe (ace SFX Producer) from Millennium FX managed to persuade make up legend Cliff Wallace to come on board and he ended up doing some amazing work for us. Cliff has had a rather expansive career working on many well-known feature films such as the Hellraiser series, Hellboy II, Trance, 28 Weeks Later and World War Z to mention but a few. Hellraiser was sort of an inspiration for Bloody Cuts Producer/Director Anthony Melton, and you can hopefully spot that in the final shot.
Bloody Cuts DoP (and my brother!) Jonny Franklin did tons of research, image/grade tests and lighting plans, in order to create the right look to the film. We always aim to give our films a different aesthetic and he’s one of the biggest reasons we’re able to achieve that. We shot on two Red Epics, which was great in principal, but it’s a real slog when you’re working off standard iMacs, trying to deliver 65 Visual FX shots to a six strong team that’s located all over the world! Considering we had three weeks to do all of the VFX, and the fact that we had to deliver it all to our colorist in New York (I was the editor and am located in Cambridge, England), it was potentially a logistical nightmare. But everything we do at Bloody Cuts is about challenging ourselves, otherwise what’s the point?
We also had a couple of great sound designers (Phil Lee and Helen Miles), who acted as recordists on the day as well and went on to process the entire sound design. Helen produced some amazing textured sounds with a series of bespoke foley along with the awesome soundscape at the film's opening; I found out to what extent when she sent us a picture of herself up to her elbows in crushed water melon. Phil created the final sound design and also managed to wangle a free sound mix and master at Pinewood too from Andrew Caller (whose previous work included the Harry Potter films and The Woman in Black). Total time, from shoot wrap to completion was less than five weeks.
NFS: Were there any particular challenges in blending the performance and mix of practical and digital effects needed for the Demon?
Ben: Cliff Wallace did a great job with the Demon, as mentioned, and was aided by some lovely costume design by Charlotte Barrett. Ian Whyte’s performance, as the Demon, did wonders for bringing that monster to life though. It's one thing having a good-looking monster, but it’s the way the performer brings it to life that really makes it feel like a real breathing entity. Ian is a pro at that stuff, having played the Predator, and most recently the Engineer in Prometheus, so we had a real star on our hands.
The real icing on the cake though, was the work the Visual FX team did. Anthony and I spent a long time discussing how we felt the Demon should appear on-screen and even had some concept art drawn up by Art Director Chris Goodman. It was up to Anthony and I to supervise the guys in delivering the goods and working remotely did mean it took us a little while to ‘get it right’. It was Ben Tillett (Director of Suckablood) who actually came up with the final design involving the inky smoke and that was then packaged up as a style guide for the rest of the team to follow. He managed to achieve some quite amazing results with an assemblage of different stock elements, which he tracked and blended to the monster. It was a lot of fine detail work and the final look was beautiful.
NFS: You've been very diligent with the release of episode making of films, how important is sharing the production process behind Bloody Cuts to you?
Ben: I think as the films progress they actually become more important, because we’re finding a lot more of the people who are following us are aspiring filmmakers. What the films really show is our progression, from pure experience right through to the way the crew has expanded and even the higher end kit we’re using. I’d say about 5% of viewers go onto watch the BTS films, which is actually a pretty good hit rate I think. I’m a big believer in special features and having this additional content has also meant we can actually justify selling a Blu-ray as it’s much more of a complete package. They're there for the people who really want to see how we do what we do and overall are a great personal record/diary of our achievements. It’s easy to forget what it takes to make one of these short films, so I think we all enjoy visiting them occasionally to remind us where we’ve come from.
NFS: How have your approaches towards marketing and building an online audience evolved?
Ben: I think it’s vitally important to have a good social media presence and we’ve learnt a lot about audience building over the past two years. We could do a lot more, but we’d really need to be able to invest in a bit more advertising and run more structured campaigns. It also partly takes a back-seat due to the amount of time we actually put into producing the films and other associated content and as we don’t have a ‘team’ of social media enthusiasts, it’s very much something that we do when we find the time. We’ve featured on a few audio podcasts, but the response from those is usually tiny. On the flip side, with appearances on popular web series Film Riot we have added many thousands of fans, so it’s all about finding the best route to your potential fan-base and making consistently good content that people want to follow and interact with.
When it comes to promoting films, we of course try to build as much hype as possible and with the eventual release we’ll personally contact as many relevant sites as possible. It’s really important, when releasing a film that we can hit as many quality sites as possible so there’s a bigger reach and larger momentum behind it. With Don’t Move we did exactly that and it’s led to us receiving around 60k views in just over four weeks. But I think we’ve got a long way to go still because even with an average view count of around 40k per episode, we still feel we aren’t even on the tip of the iceberg.
Ben: I think when it came to running the Kickstarter we knew at that point we had enough supporters to likely reach our target so it was a much easier sell, especially considering the body of work behind us now. However at the start, when we ran the first IndieGoGo we naively thought that we’d be able to raise an ambitious target of $20,000. Naturally we didn’t reach that amount, but it was still a worthwhile venture as it did give us enough budget ($2,650) for two films, attracted a new audience and even led to other opportunities like a chance message from Marc Schoenbach (of Sadist Art), who went on to create our popular retro poster artwork for all episodes since.
Crowdfunding has been great for us, I don’t know how we’d have made Bloody Cuts in the way we have without it. In many ways I think we’d like to run a Kickstarter for a feature but we still haven’t quite gauged the level of support we might get in doing so. It’s definitely something we’ll monitor over time because there’s something very attractive about the DIY nature of making a Bloody Cuts feature funded by the fans.
NFS: What's next for the Bloody Cuts team once you hit episode 13? Any plans for offline screenings or new projects?
Ben: We’re well underway on the Blu-ray, which we’ll be launching soon (likely June). It’s feature packed and we’re genuinely excited to see it go on sale. We’d also really like to run more screenings especially, as the ones we've experienced (like at Bootleg Edinburgh ’13) were absolutely brilliant. Watching our films with a big crowd who were a mix of newcomers and fans was thrilling and made even better when we noticed them pretty much delivering the entire rhyme for Suckablood line for line. It was the equivalent of being in a band and having the audience sing your lyrics back to you!
Truthfully, we haven’t thought too much past Episode 13, although ideally by then I’d hope we’d have well and truly stepped up into features. We’ve had several scripts on the go for a while which are on the shelf just waiting to go when we're ready. We’d really like to explore those and are currently looking for studios to work with. There’s a big cauldron of juicy information brimming in the background at the moment, that we aren’t at liberty to talk about. If all goes well, official announcements will be made, but we don’t really want to jinx anything right now. Let’s just say the ‘Hollywood Dream’ is alive and well!
For now, we do still have the immediate problem of budgeting the final five episodes, so if we could find a series sponsor who would help cover our small budgets for the final episodes, that would be fantastic. It’s really important to us we see it all through – we’re completionists for a start – as there’s something quite intriguing about what we still could explore. The Bloody Cuts brand will live on regardless and it is still representative of our collective. Who knows, there could be a Season 2 of Bloody Cuts where we hand the baton on to a whole new bunch of filmmakers?! Any takers?
NFS: What's the biggest lesson working on Bloody Cuts has taught you as a filmmaker?
That you will only get out of it, what you put into it. We’ve been working on this for a couple of years now, whilst doing our day jobs and it’s been tough at times. Juggling work, having a family and all the other things that take up your life on a daily basis, means this whole experience has been a bit ‘seat of the pants’. That said, it has kept us on our toes and in actual fact made us all better filmmakers and creatives. I truly believe that if you work really hard and consistently deliver, in whatever it is you do, eventually you’ll be recognized for it. Doors are opening now, slowly but surely and this has all come through this passion we have had for what we do. So my tip is: work at it and persevere, it’s totally in your hands!