We all get our start somewhere. For the ever charming and thoughtful horror director Barnaby Clay? He was inspired by watching midnight movies as a kid and jumped into the industry cutting his teeth with music videos for TV On The Radio, Gnarls Barkley, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

His latest film and first feature, The Seeding, is a grueling chamber piece that is crafted and designed with the intent to capture its audience and have it feel with it. It's a tough watch in the best way, and truly a masterclass in building unease and tension in horror that is often shied away from in more commercial fare.

Below, Barnaby was kind enough to share with us an invaluable window into how he got started making films, and, his sound advice for getting started and finding work in today's day and age. He also dishes on the importance of sound design and references a very cool piece on one of his influences, Texas Chainsaw Massacre. (Link below, but you gotta read!)

Enjoy! Barnaby is a great, insightful director and I loved our conversation.

Editor's note: The following quotes have been edited for length and clarity.

How to Cut Your Teeth Directing Music Videos 

Build a Terrifying Soundscape With This Tip From Barnaby Clay

Barnaby Clay on Set

Karen O

"I actually did go to film school, funnily enough, but that was really not my 'film school.'

I'd say my actual film school really to me was when I was in my late teens. There was a cinema in London called the Scala Cinema, and it was a repertory cinema, and they showed everything, just the best kind of everything. All the best cult movies, all the best weird movies. This is VHS days as well. So it was really hard to see any of these films. So I would go almost every day. On the weekends I would go all night. That was true film school for me.

Then, after leaving the Real Film School, I wanted to make feature films. Obviously that's everybody's dream when they start out, you want to make feature films. And I don't think anybody goes into it just thinking I want to make commercials or music videos or whatever.

But at the time, it was the golden age of music videos for me. I mean, the budgets at one point they were astronomical, but then they [came down]. They were still very big. But creatively, I think it was when it was peaking when I started. It was when you had Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Jonathan Glazer, Chris Cunningham, just Mark Romanek—all these seminal music video artists making just awesome work. Making films a commercial art form to a different level, basically.

It was super inspiring, and I was just like, oh, yeah, I needed to earn some money. I just left school. And I was like, that looks like a good place to start. And I had no idea. I didn't know anybody in the industry. I knew a bunch of musicians though, because I was in bands and stuff when I was in my teens. So I kind of asked around and just said, does anybody need a video?

And then I went and made one just off my own back with a little video camera and took my time doing it. I wanted it to be special. And it was a really weird music video, but it was cool. It had a vibe to it. And I took it around some production companies and one guy saw it and was just like, this is awesome, man. And I'd done it for probably a thousand dollars or something like that, and probably 500 bucks or something like that.

Yeah, it was like 500 bucks, I imagine.

That kind of got me in the door, and then it took a while to get going. It's hard when you start anything because people are always just like, well, what have you done? I'm like, well, I've got this great idea. And they're like, yeah, but what have you done?

And I had short films and I had won awards for as well, so I kind of had some of that. But it's like whenever you are jumping from industry to industry, people are really, even though it's the same industry, if you jump from commercials to music videos to feature films to documentaries, nobody trusts your ability unless you've done that specific thing. And it's very frustrating. You could have done even doing the seeding, I felt like I was just like, people were like, yeah, but what kind of experience have you got?"

The Key to Good Horror? Investing in Sound Design 

Sound design

The Seeding


"I wanted you to feel like the heat and the dirt and the uneasiness of being in that situation and not give you a moment to breathe outside of that until one shot in the end where we kind of come up and see the desert. That was very, very planned as this kind of moment of catching your breath after all the insanity that's gone before it.

You use the medium as a whole in on every level. Obviously that starts with the script and the performances, but then it goes into how you shoot it and the level of claustrophobia that you try and create when you're approaching it. The sound [and the] music itself is a big key component of it, and a lot of people speak to me about the soundtrack of the film, but I would also say the actual sound design is huge. I mean, the difference between the film pre sound mix and post sound mix is massive, is interesting.

Actually, I was talking to my wife, Karen about that, and she was in a recording studio recently, and they had some screens on, and they had 2001: A Space Oddessy and The Thing playing on these screens, but it's a recording studio, so they had them on mute, and it was fun.

She just said it was—she loves The Thing, it's one of her favorite movies, but she was watching it, and she said it was just, there was so little power in it because there was no sound. The sound is, it's such a huge component to filmmaking, and one people just don't understand. I mean, I'm saying the general public anyway. We really made an effort to design the sound to heighten the tension and the unease and the dread within the film.

I mean, look, one of my three horror movies, maybe even number one horror movie is still and probably will forever be Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

And that film, the sound design is the hero of that film. It's extraordinary. It's just unbelievable. And it's like you're watching it and you're just like, what the fuck am I hearing here, man? It just adds so much to so many layers to the insanity and craziness of that film and is so effective. It's just extraordinary.

I spoke to my sound team (the phenomenal Sam Ashwell and his team at 750mph) and gave them a list of movies ... Texas Chainsaw being one of 'em. In fact, I even sent them—there was an article I found, which was just about the sound design in Texas Chainsaw, and I sent them that because I just found it so interesting, just the approach, and I just wanted to, I was like, go out, record some sounds that we've never heard before, and just get into it. Just take it to a different place and create characters.

For the sound design, for example, I wanted the Shack to have its own series of sounds, and then the Canyon to have its own sound. So [each location is a] character beyond the obvious cast."

Barnaby's Advice For How To Start Making Features 

Build a Terrifying Soundscape With This Tip From Barnaby Clay

Barnaby Clay, directing


"Actually, somebody—a friend of my family friend, I should say, called me up the other day, and he's a young kid who's just trying to make films and just starting out. He's made a couple of shorts and he's put some money into these shorts, and now he's thinking of doing another short, and then also at the same time, he needs to earn some money. So he's doing some commercials. He [asked me], "what do you think?"

And I thought about it, and I was just like, well, I honestly think that you could do that. Carry on that route. Get a reel of commercials together, make some money, take that money, go make short films. But if you take that route, you could be taking that route in 10, 15 years.

You could be still in the same road, basically. So I just feel like if you are sitting there and you are writing a short film script and you're going to go and do that, if you've never done it before, fine. But if you've done a few and you've got them made and you feel okay with them, then just turn that short film script into a feature script and try and do that instead.

I think that it'll cost more money, but if you are making a short film, it probably needs a certain amount of money anyway, and maybe you can just find a story which is super contained. That was how I approached The Seeding, was just like, because I wanted to have some level of creative control on this film. So my basic premise where I started with this film was like, okay, what's the story? That's one location and two main actors? That's the bottom line. That's where I started from.

Obviously I had a bunch of stunts and kids and it got very complicated. So it's never as easy as you imagine. But I do think that, I think it's any way of taking that short film script and making it a feature film and just doing it for nothing. Then just do that and not like, yeah, skip the film school, skip the music videos, skip the commercials, because they're all great, and you get great experience from all those avenues, but you can end up in those lanes for decades.

People get stuck in the other thing. Because the thing is, when you make a film, or you make any piece of art, you a certain level of it provides you a certain level of satisfaction. You've completed something. And that's part of what you do as an artist. You're trying to serve that part of your brain.

Basically, I've got this idea and I'm going to put it together and then put it out there. And once you've done that, there's something satisfying about it. So doing commercials or music videos or whatever can satisfy that, but ultimately, if you want to make a film, you have to go and make a film. That's the bottom line. So yeah, that's my 2 cents here."

The Seeding poster


The Seeding is now available on VOD