Charlie Steeds is a young promising director who really impressed us with the extemely, ultra-high voltage trailer of his 2nd feature film “Escape From Cannibal Farm”. The talented director has a lot to share, so no more from me…Mr. Charlie Steeds….All yours!
So, Charlie feel free to introduce yourself to Last Day Deaf readers. How did it all start with directing then?
It simply started with a mad love for movies, mostly horror, science fiction, fantasy, and I wanted to make my own. It was the films of Quentin Tarantino and seeing him in behind the scenes footage talking and directing, that caught my interest in film directing, though I’ve always adored storytelling. So I went about getting friends together and giving the movie making thing a go, and in early 2009 I finished my first little short, I was 15 or 16 at the time, but I didn’t stop making short films until early 2015, when I decided 20 short films was enough. I decided to try out doing another film but this time 70 minutes long, just over double the length of my typical short, and that was “Labyrinthia” (retitled “Deadman Apocalypse” in the US) which was great fun to make and is out on DVD in the US and Canada.
I am really excited having watched your latest movie’s “Escape From Cannibal Farm” official trailer. Will it be 2017’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”?
I designed the trailer to feel like a British version of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, a film that is a huge influence on me as a horror lover, and I suspect the marketing of my film will use the Chainsaw Massacre similarities to its advantage. From a producing perspective, saying this is a “British Chainsaw Massacre” is an easy and effective hook to get the horror crowd interested and so I didn’t want to shy away from that. Yet, to answer your question, this is not at all 2017’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, in fact the only similarity apart from the genre (and that it has a group stumbling into danger in a rural setting) is the Leatherface character and my Boy With The Melted face character. I don’t deny the obvious influence of Leatherface, who was on a huge poster [“Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3: Leatherface”] above my desk as I wrote this screenplay, on my Boy With The Melted Face character. That character came about because when I first watched Chainsaw Massacre I really wanted to see under Leatherface’s human skin mask, was he deformed? Was he human? I never found out! But my character wears a mask of human skin to hide a burnt, melted face, and we see the incident that leaves him with a melted face in the beginning of the film. I don’t want to give anything away, but even with those similarities, the character is not in the film all that much, there are far bigger villains, and after the events of the film you might question how villainous the character really is… All I’ll say is that the real villains of “Escape From Cannibal Farm” are not seen in the trailer, nor is at least 50% of the story, I kept the trailer simple, but there’s going to be plenty of surprises to come!
Which would you say are the main influences regarding “Escape From Cannibal Farm” and in general for your directing?
For “Escape From Cannibal Farm” I was influenced by a bunch of Backwoods horror movies, that’s a sub-genre where the city folks get lost in a rural area and have to fight off the nasty locals; “Wrong Turn”, “Tourist Trap”, “Wolf Creek”. The biggest influence here is possibly “The Hills Have Eyes” though, in that both Hills and Escape have a family heading out in a motorhome/caravan and being ambushed and stranded by the locals. That’s the first 30 minutes of “Escape From Cannibal Farm” but the similarity ends there. I had a lot of fun playing with what I think an audience is going to expect, for example, there’s always a creepy guy at a run-down petrol station ready to give misleading directions or offer a deadly short-cut! That’s how we meet my lead bad guy, Hunt Hansen, played by the wonderfully creepy actor Barrington De La Roche whom I’ve worked with many many times now. I found an old petrol pump at my shooting location and we set an early scene there where the family asks for directions, and there’s Barrington in a straw hat, trying to sell homemade cider with his questionable West Country accent! But that’s the character putting on an act, Hunt Hansen is in fact cunning and manipulative. People know what to expect from horror films now, these clichés are so overdone, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have a lot of fun and get some giggles with a scene like that, I did always think Barrington would make the best creepy guy on the road side kind of character one day!
Influences in directing in general is quite a different thing, I’m not sure my directing or style is influenced by particular films or directors, but I do have my favourites: John Carpenter, Quentin Tarantino, Mario Bava, Sergio Leone… those filmmakers are in my head at all times when I’m thinking up the shots, everything down to casting and costume, because they’re simply masters of the craft. My cinematographer and I like our films to have a slightly older look and feel, like the John Carpenter movies, that’s proving really popular with horror filmmakers these days, if it’s done too much every film will become a John Carpenter wannabe. Those Italian filmmakers I love also have such a way with the shots and the use of light and colour, Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, and of course the excessive blood splattering… A film I watched to inspire me specifically for the lighting and shots in “Escape From Cannibal Farm” was Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven”. There’s a big element of the Western genre running all the way through my horror film, the retired gunslinger with the troubled past, the character out for revenge, the brutal violence, event the shots of the big Wiltshire countryside. In fact, we didn’t really watch many horror films for inspiration.
Tell us a bit about your experience with cast & crew of “Escape From Cannibal Farm” Has it been a thrill so far? When is the release date set for?
Once again I was so incredibly lucky with my cast. The cast is what makes the film. I’m a huge fan of “American Horror Story”, and they use the same actors in each season as different characters, which really shows off how versatile and insanely talented those actors are, it reminds us all that great actors are chameleons. So I take huge satisfaction in using the same cast members again and again, of course there are always new additions to each film, and I’m constantly surprised at what they can do! It’s like a family gathering when we’re all back on set, we meet up year after year for the next project and it’s like Christmas for me, to have all these wonderful creative individuals in one space. I wrote the lead role of Jessica Harver for Bristol-based actor Kate Marie Davies, and she nailed it, covered head to toe in blood and muck for half the film, she looked so badass as she transformed from this helpless victim into the fighting for survival warrior! I wrote Barrington De La Roche a really difficult role in this film, my previous film “Labyrinthia” was very cartoonish and his villain in that was mostly shouting and screaming, in this the character goes through almost every emotion, he’s scary, he’s funny, he’s full of sadness and emotion. It’s the best I’ve ever seen him and we were both exhausted at the end of the shoot from creating this character together. New additions to the team were David Lenik, Rowena Bentley, Toby Wynn-Davies, Joe Street and Kate Llewelyn. And then of course there was Peter Cosgrove, who I found on the internet via his bonkers but captivating YouTube videos, he was everything I could have wanted from the character I wrote, both insane and terrifying throughout the film.
This is where things might sound odd. As you can tell, I love working with the actors, and in order to be with them as much as I can I only have one other crew member on set, and that’s my uber-talented cinematographer Michael Lloyd. He does the camerawork and the lighting, every bit of it alone, whilst I direct and do the sound recording. We’re a two man band, and for us, at this low budget level. it really really works! This started as something we had to do because of the budget restrictions, but now we’re heading into our 3rd feature film confident we’ll do our best work as just the two of us. So the set is really dominated by the actors, and that’s how I like it to be, because performances are the most important element of production.
Currently there isn’t an official release date for the film. I suspect it’ll come out in the US and Canada first, and then we’ll get it in the UK. Either way, I’m hoping its around mid 2017 that we’ll see this, it takes a bit of time. Unless you can get into my premiere screenings in London and Bristol next January for a sneak preview!
Your debut film as director has been “Deadman Apocalypse”. What has been the reception so far? Are you satisfied with the result?
Last year I had a 70 page script and a tiny budget of £1500, and in a little cowshed me and Michael built these tiny wooden sets to make my first feature length film “Labyrinthia”. I am so proud of what we did, creating this ramshackle underground post-apocalyptic world (that was so small you couldn’t even stand up in) where there were laser-gun battles and car chases (sort of…). I hosted a couple of screenings which was great fun, audiences seemed to enjoy the film, we got an awesome article in Digital Filmmaker Magazine and then I was contacted by Sales Agents in LA who wanted to represent the film. It’s now been sold to various territories around the world and is already out in the US and Canada under this new title “Deadman Apocalypse”. I can’t say that title or the DVD cover really represent my film accurately, it is a micro budget movie, not a blockbuster, and I created it to be the type of thing I’d have loved to watch on a scuzzy VHS tape when I was a kid. It’s cartoony and juvenile and that’s what I loved about it, we had an absolute blast, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the amount of distributors who’ve taken it on. It puts us in a great position for “Escape From Cannibal Farm”, which I wouldn’t have attempted to make without seeing what we can do with so little on “Labyrinthia”. But we had fun, we knew we could do it, so we went ahead and did it again but bigger, and “Escape From Cannibal Farm” is the result of that and a massive step up.
Which 3 genre directors are your favorite ones and why?
Ooh there’s so many. David Lynch is such an inspiration, as a director he has such a strong style, his films are haunting and mesmerizing, “Lost Highway” is my favourite, “Mulholland Drive” is a close second. His films made me look at all films a different way, there’s a language to his films that reminds us how cinema can tell a story, we’re not relaxing on the sofa watching reality on a screen, he uses symbolism and twists our expectations, you really need to pay attention to every shot and every sound, the use of light on a character is telling us so much.
John Carpenter just made so many great movies, “The Thing”, “Christine”, “The Fog” and “Big Trouble In Little China” are my favourites. “Halloween” is a classic, but “Black Christmas” is the first slasher film. His style, the title font, the music, the shots, everything feels like good old nostalgic horror, it reminds me of why I fell in love with films as a kid! I could watch anything of his at any time and be back in my childhood watching VHS tapes in my bedroom where you couldn’t see the wall under all the movie posters. He wasn’t fully appreciated at the time he made his masterpieces, but he is an absolute master of the genre.
Mario Bava is an Italian director, less spoken of perhaps, but without his films we wouldn’t have “Alien”, “Friday The 13th”… both Dario Argento and Tim Burton owe a huge debt to his visual style, which was operatic colours and grand sets. Everything is very gothic, but somehow lit in red and pink and green and blue, just wild, and his camerawork is also very inspiring, he started out as a cinematographer himself. His films were also violent and brutal, way ahead of their time, “Blood And Black Lace” is his best, closely followed by “Black Sabbath”. I’m not so interested in that plain, grey, scary modern horror we get these days, that just aims to jump out at you, with Bava there’s a magic to the horror, its full of colour and lavish set decoration and costume, that’s always appealed to me far more.
Apart from “Escape From Cannibal Farm” which other projects are you involved with?
I have a 3rd film going into production in January next year, it’s called “The House Of Violent Desire” and it’s a gothic horror set many decades ago. It’s a film about desire and lust and the ugly side of romance. People will expect “Escape From Cannibal Farm” to be filled with blood and guts and nastiness, and may be surprised to find a more carefully paced character-driven story, whereas “The House Of Violent Desire” sets itself up as a classic ghost story and becomes something far more shocking… I’m currently casting the film, with Rowena Bentley, Peter Cosgrove, Joe Street and Barrington De La Roche returning from the “Escape From Cannibal Farm” cast. Expect to see a trailer online in April 2017.
You may close this interview the way you like, as long as it doesn’t get blood-soaked!
“Escape From Cannibal Farm” is now having its original score composed by the wonderful Sam Benjafield who I’m sure will do a great job! Soon as that’s done, the film will be complete and ready to show the world. I have a Sales Agent taking it to film markets around the world, and I sit with my fingers crossed waiting to hear that a good distributor took an interest, then it comes out on DVD for the world to see and enjoy!
Photo credits: Rosa Fay Photography (1st one), Dark Temple Motion Pictures Ltd (2nd, 3rd)