Your upcoming movie The Witches of the Sands - in a few
words, what is it about?
dubbed it the world's first 'Post-Modern Meta, South-Eastern Gothic, Folk
Horror, Bloody Psychological Slasher B-Movie'... EVER!!!
What were your sources of
inspiration when writing The Witches of the Sands?
deep love of the horror genre! I grew up watching Universal,
Amicus [the Amicus story -
click here] films regularly. I'd watch the double-bills on a Sunday morning
with my Mum that we taped the night before. I was hooked. Then as I got
older I was discovering films all the time (and still am). There was
nothing to me like seeing all that wonderfully lurid artwork in the video
libraries. We are talking about when I was pretty young around the
early/mid 80s, so although I don't remember it at the time, it would have
been the video nasties era. Then of course discovering Fangoria and
drooling over these films that I couldn't see anywhere... or eventually
being able to rent but find all the gory scenes from the magazine had been
cut! So my love of the genre was embedded early on.
you will see though, without sledgehammering it home, there is definitely
a mental health aspect to the two narratives running simultaneously
through the film, but that is something that can be picked up on and
discussed or not as the case may be.
can you tell us about The Witches of the Sands' approach to horror?
a fresh approach but with a nostalgic feel. I know that's a bit of an
oxymoron but it fits. We have these amazing horror icons, but each scene
was written specifically for them; offering something a little different I
hope. I was feeling let down by some films that had these great ensemble
casts but then did nothing with them! Could have been anyone in the roles.
I wanted to write something that was worthy of the names; so it is a
horror film made by horror lovers for horror lovers. Although The Witches of the Sands
I hope, appeal to a wide audience, there is an extra layer for fans who
will enjoy making connections. 'If
Monty Python made horror films' is a quote I used before which I think
fits perfectly. We
have different narratives, animated sequences, William Castle-like
gimmicks, audience participation, a lot of gory deaths, horror icons,
music (but it IS NOT a musical...) and many many more surprises...
talk about your directorial approach to your story at hand!
question! This is my first time directing so I have surrounded myself with
the best crew! Having a vision in my head, relaying that to the team and
then expecting them to realise it is pretty much how it works, HAHA. I
love the writing and directing - the technical side, from lighting, sound,
cameras, editing etc, I take a back seat on. I can explain what I'd
like to see happen, then hope the experts can bring that to fruition. I
see no point in me attempting something that others are trained to do and
are well skilled at. So far, it seems to be working well. We have a
wonderful team, some I've worked with before and others I haven't, but
everyone is absolutely fantastic and have got on board with my 'batshit
crazy' (according to the editors) vision.
what I know, some of the material in The Witches of the Sands has
been shot remotely - so how did that work out, and how do you as director
still manage to keep control of things?
had two trains of thought on this. With some actors I needed specific
shots and angles that we could match up with what was being shot here so I
would send quite detailed scene breakdowns. Others I wanted to be a lot
more leniant with and just see what was produced and work with it, and in
fact some great scenes arose through this approach as we were then
forced to create something new even though the actors had totally followed
the guidelines I had given them. For example, I gave Brinke Stevens [Brinke
Stevens interview - click here], Linnea Quigley and
Beverly Randolph specific notes as they are seen to be talking to each
although they could adlib and add bits if they wanted, there were specific
actions and dialogues we needed. In fact, there is one line from Linnea
that is hilarious and fans are going to love!! Also with some, like Linnea
and Michael St. Michaels, we had some long Zoom/Skype chats which really helped as it
is far easier to communicate nuances that are easily lost if just read in
the script. On the flip side, Giovanni Lombardo Radice I just let loose, and although his
scene is really short, it is bloody great.
must mention Debra Lamb [Debra Lamb
interview - click here] who somehow managed to get a whole unit together in
Philadelphia for a totally amazing scene which opens the film... I
often talk to Debra and It's great that a project such as this can be the
catalyst to good friendships.
Dawna Lee Heising [Dawna
Lee Heising interview - click here] also created a whole short film but everyone went above and beyond and I
couldn't be happier.
The Witches of the Sands boasts a rather
star-studded cast - so what can you tell us about your movie's ensemble,
and how did you get some of these people even?
as I said, I wrote scenes for specific actors. It started with Pauline
Brandon Crane, who are friends of mine, and it spiralled from there. On a purely
selfish fanboy level I asked people I totally admire. I had ideas for them
and once they agreed I finished writing them in to the script. I won't
start naming names but all these wonderful actors have worked on amazing
films with amazing directors that I absolutely adore so I am in my
were some who didn't reply or whose agents didn't reply but I couldn't be
happier with everyone involved.
play one of the leads in The Witches of the Sands - so
what can you tell us about your character, what did you draw upon to bring
him to life, and did you write him with yourself in mind from the get-go?
are two narratives running through the film; that of a director, called
Tony, making a B-movie called The Witches of the Sands... We also see the
film he is making unfold, about a crap paranormal investigator called
Fischer Markway. To make the film work in the way I wanted, I play both
parts. We see Tony's life career off the rails and his perception of
reality shift the further he gets with his film. Conversely, Fischer, who
at first the audience write off as a failure, begins a journey of
discovery - he's a bit of a Peter Venkman in that regard.
the director is a total arse and therefore is so much fun to play. I love
playing him as his descent into madness is pretty horrid, but there is a
lot of mileage in that as an actor. Fischer begins his story as a bumbling
wreck but quite likeable who, as the film progresses, discovers things
about his ancestry and therefore himself which affords him the self-worth
he has been lacking. Again, really great to play. Essentially I have
written not one, but two parts I wanted to play but in one film! HAHAHA! I'm
probably a mixture of the two....HAHA!
what I know, you're currently running a fundraiser for The Witches of the Sands
- so what can you tell us about your campaign?
thanks, it's going very well. We are just under 80% of our goal with just
over two weeks to go of a four week campaign, so I'm over the moon. I was
honestly petrified to launch it and kept putting it off and putting it off,
which is silly as even if it hadn't done well, it wouldn't really have mattered in the grand scheme of
things... but I built it up a lot in my
head and was already planning scenes and things we could do to make The Witches of the Sands
as good as it possibly could be if we raised the money.
I'm so thankful to
everyone who has gotten behind the campaign both financially and by shouting
about it and sharing it everywhere. We
have great rewards including opportunities to be in the film, props, Blu-rays and many more.
I have noticed more and more about the horror community in the UK is just
how bloody lovely everyone is.
With The Witches of the Sands
being partially shot, do talk about the shoot so far?
feel very blessed. Everything is going so well. We have had one day which
I won't talk about but other
that, perfect. Like I said before, we have such a talented cast and crew
that every shoot day is wonderful. Last Sunday (9th May) we shot a druid
vampire sacrifice scene locally. We had a real Cornish Witch join us to
play the High Priestess and she brought some authentic props with her. One
of our druids travelled from Glasgow. The results are stunning and in no
small part due to the camera wizardry of Andrew Boothby.
Westrup has created some stunning digital effects and we have the craziest
soundtrack ever! Everything from punk rock to a song about a bunny to
house to acid to pop and back again...
have a BIG scene looming at the Whitstable Playhouse Theatre which is
going to include Pauline Peart, Allan Bryce, Dani Thompson [Dani
Thompson interview - click here] and many other
horror filmakers. That is going to be a lot of fun. Then later in July
another big scene featuring Linzi Drew-Honey, Misty Mooners Stuart and Jen
Morriss and indie horror regular Martin W. Payne [Martin
W. Payne interview - click here].
two of the perks in the IndieGoGo campaign offer the chance to be in these
all going on!
the schedule for finishing The Witches of the Sands, and
any idea when and where it might be released yet?
with lockdown a lot of filming had to get pushed back of course. I'm
seeing it fully shot by the end of 2021 and released sometime in 2022. We
do have some big news in the pipeline regarding distribution etc but I
can't say anything until contracts have been signed of course.
future projects beyond The Witches of the Sands you'd like
terms of producing a film? No! HAHA! It's bloody stressful. Working with
literally no budget through the first half of this has been insane! I'm
still amazed we got this far. I'd love to write and direct again though
but with a production company backing me... and paying me HAHA. I'm
throwing everything I possibly can at The Witches of the Sands (which is a great sentence if
taken out of context!).
I'm currently filming Mosaic, which is TIS Films' follow up to the hugely
successful I Scream On the Beach. Strangely, I again play someone not
quite in control of his faculties, HAHA! I also have two Mycho productions
in the pipeline, Slasherhouse 3 and Strawmen, although with everyone
negotiating Covid and other responsibilities I have no dates for those as
yet. I am playing Dr. Logan in Death Do Us Apart this year which also
features Jason Flemyng.
have recently played the American President in After School Lunch 2:
Sloppy Seconds, and will be seen as a very angry and perturbed priest in
Toxic Alien Zombie Babes from Outer Space.
What got you into acting in the first place,
and did you receive any formal education on the subject?
friend of mine told me he knew a director who was looking for people to
play zombies... so of course I went along and Gangsters, Guns and Zombies
was my first experience on set. I joined some extras agencies after that
and tried my hand there... some great jobs, lots of horrid jobs. My pal
Tris Thompson (who's well known in the horror community) sent me a link to a
casting call for Darren Ward's
Beyond Fury [Darren Ward
interview - click here]. I auditioned for the very
nasty Travis and got the part. That started the journey. At
some point I decided to try theatre, so auditioned for A Christmas Carol
and got the part of Scrooge, which was amazing for me as I love the book.
And the Muppets. And Bill Murray. And Alistair Sim. And the list goes
on... Anyway, I then took lessons from the director which has helped
would you describe yourself as an actor, and some of your techniques to
bring your characters to life?
That's easy... I play really horrible people :) Much fun! I tend to get into
character early. Yesterday I spent the day filming Mosaic and enjoyed a
lot of it in character. It helps me when it's time to shoot. I like to
warm up physically as well, I probably look and sound very odd - haha.
always come up with a backstory. I could write a book about Travis from
Beyond Fury. It wasn't his fault... it was the system goddam it! He never
stood a chance... hahaa!
art by Simon Pritchard
What can you tell us
about your filmwork prior to The Witches of the Sands?
majority has been low budget indie horror. Which is great. I enjoyed
playing Mitch in Michael Chapman's Our Manor and had a really fun scene in
Bad Moon Rising (written by and starring Dani Thompson [Dani
Thompson interview - click here]) with Maria Lee
Metheringham [Maria Lee
Metheringham interview - click here] that we filmed at the Horror on Sea festival in Southend.
filmed myself running around Rochester Cathedral dressed as a priest for
David Black's Toxic Alien Zombie Babes from Outer Space [David
Black interview - click here] and when asked by
an official if I had permission to film, I simply pointed up to the
ceiling and beyond, saying 'that's all the permission I need!' She
wandered off not really sure what to say and I finished the shoot. I
believe that it will be released this year. I get shot in the balls by a
giant Toxic Alien Zombie Babe.
killed Phil Rogers a few times now, one of them being in The Allotment, a
short by the TIS Films guys that is screening at the Romford Horror Con
far as I know, The Witches of the Sands is your first
movie as writer and director - so what prompted that step behind the
camera, and based on the experience with the movie so far, can you ever be
tempted to write/direct/produce another movie?
think I pretty much answered that earlier. Yes, but only if someone gives
me the budget to dom it without worrying about money !!! I have a great
idea that I have started writing, but whether anything happens with it we
shall see. Direct and write, big yes. Produce, big no. So so so so much to
think about all the time, it's impossible to switch off...
writers, filmmakers, whoever else who inspire you?
a big Peter Cushing fan! And it's a total coincidence that I now live in
Whitstable. I met my now wife and she lived here so here I am. I met Mr.
Cushing when I was 14, many years before I lived here. My parents took us
to Whitstable on a day trip and we saw some posters for an interview he
was giving. My Dad bought us tickets and unknownst to me arranged a
pre-interview chat. I love that memory!! Another coincidence is that,
having found the ticket a while ago, I realised the interview was held in
the school that my son now attends.
14 year-old Tony with Peter Cushing (right)
very hard for me to select one or two directors - the big horror guys of
course. Argento stands out for me. Fulci [Lucio
Fulci bio - click here]. I look forward to anything Jim (The Greasy
Strangler) Hosking puts out for sure.
it wasn't for the thriving UK horror indie scene I wouldn't have had the
confidence to have a go at directing that's for sure. In fact, The Witches of the Sands
started life as a short for an anthology for Sam Mason-Bell [Sam
Mason-Bell interview - click here] that
unfortunately never came about.
I like Poe, Hardy and Dickens in particular. I don't read as much as I
should these days though. I'm putting the finishing touches to a book of
poetry, short stories and illustrations too when I can fit it in.
degree is in Fine Art - Frank Auerbach, Alberto Giacometti, Vincent Van
Gogh I adore. You
know what though, I'll take inspiration wherever I can find it! I'm not
list a few that pop to mind but I'll kick myself for missing some I'm sure:
of Souls, Creepshow, Les Yeux Sans
Visage, Tombs of the Blind
Dead, It's a
Wonderful Life, Labyrinth,
Return of the Living
The Beyond, The Wicker
Man, Princess Bride, Hereditary,
Bloodsucking Freaks, Season of the Witch (Romero),
the original Twilight
Zone TV series, the original Prisoner TV series, Excalibur,
the Grave, Star Wars: A New Hope, The
Greasy Strangler, Night of the
Living Dead, Texas Chainsaw
The Shining, Rocky
Horror Picture Show, Night/Curse of the Demon, Regular Show and
Adventure Time animated series, oh
and just one more thing...Columbo!
... and of course, films you really
really. There are franchises I'm not interested in but I think I'd find it
hard to deplore a film. Actually,
saying that, Grease. Total irrrational hatred.
Your/your movie's website, social media,
IndieGoGo, whatever else?
Anything else you're dying to
mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
a massive thank you to all the cast and crew for doing what you are doing!
you everyone who has supported us in any way or is thinking of supporting
us in any way.
you Michael for this interview. I am very humbled and honoured.