Your new movie Bella
in the Wych Elm - in a few words, what is it about?
It's a spooky account of a folkloric legend that is
local to me in the West Midlands. 74 years ago during WW2 a group of lads
looking for thrush eggs in the woods of Hagley and Hagley Hall discovered
the skeleton of a woman. The verdict was murder but to this day her
identity is unknown. There were many interesting theories as to who she
may be or who killed her so the film is an exploration of these theories.
fascinated you about the legend Bella
in the Wych Elm is based on to such an extent that you wanted to
make a documentary about it?
What fascinated me most
was the fact that this was a piece of grim local heritage and I naturally
have a morbid curiosity – so something mysterious that offered a window
into the unknown so close to home was very appealing. The nature of the
theories delved into the occult, the supernatural, and espionage so the
source materials offered up great opportunities for strong visuals and
spooky scenes for me to have fun with.
What can you tell us about
your research concerning the actual legend?
started out naturally by scouring the internet to see what I could find.
Various accounts of the same theories were reported and I found that most
of them differed slightly. I then put a call out in a local newspaper for
experts and people interested in the case to come forward to provide their
side of the story and had a big response. Some were people who were around
at the time and one lady was even a young girl playing in the wood at the
time of the discovery. Each response had something different to offer and
I was originally going to have the scenes play out with audio snippets of
their personal accounts played on top. I also visited libraries and
archive centres to retrieve original newspaper reports and such. It was
probably a year of investigating on and off before I even started
Your personal thoughts
about the whole story, no matter how footed in facts?
think it's a great tale of intrigue that enriches the heritage of the
Black Country (the area of the West Midlands it took place) and people
still show a great deal of interest in it and the story is always
discovered by new generations. I believe folklore such as this is
important to a region, and, like this it transcends that region and
becomes of interest to the world. I'm not interested in solving any of the
mystery, because it's in the mystery where the magic lies.
since it's a documentary at heart, you have chosen a rather unorthodox
look and feel for Bella
in the Wych Elm - care to elaborate?
idea was always to create something that was pseudo-documentary but mostly
a mood piece. The desire was never to film an investigation with talking
heads interviews with experts or anything like that. It was always to make
a horror fantasy but one that was grounded in folk heritage. Apart from
the discovery and initial investigation all the theories are mere
speculation. That gave me the freedom to have fun with source materials
that weren't grounded in fact. I wanted to tell a quaint story that would
put the frights up some people.
What can you tell us
about your visual inspirations for the movie?
cinematic influences would be Haxan (1922), Wisconsin Death Trip (1999)
and Legend of the Witches (1970) – all were 'documentaries' of sorts –
but at the same time not. Haxan's rich silent images of the occult are so
seductive, dream-like and the creation and existence of that film is so
enigmatic. I really can't get enough of that film. Wisconsin Death Trip
beautifully visualises the amazing book's source texts with grim
reconstructions but is a gentle and melancholy tour through death and
madness. Legend of the Witches is a hokey ''documentary'' showing modern
day occult practices amidst shots of the British landscape. Not a
particularly good film but a notable influence all the same. The films of
Guy Maddin are also a big influence. His frantic montage techniques with
aesthetics of silent cinema to create his own style really rubs off on me
and suits a very little budget.
about your key cast, and why exactly these people?
can honestly say each individual in the film gave 110% and brought a great
deal to the making of it. Without their enthusiasm it simply wouldn't be
possible. First of all a big shout out to the lads of varying young ages
who played the group of boys in the film. They were so naturally talented
and gave their all for their scene. They worked so well together I was
very lucky. My better half Sarah Page became the embodiment of Bella for
me (with very little choice, ha!) and plays the female spy and did it
beautifully. Lee Mark Jones I've worked with before. He makes a
brilliantly sinister Nazi spy. He's a former cult rock musician he's now
full swing into film and theatre acting. James Underwood and Jim Heal were
in segments to an earlier film of mine called The Forbidden Four. They
have great faces for film and bring a great deal to the proceedings. James
Taylor is a friend devoting himself to acting and is a joy to work with.
Other faces such as Peter Grail I found on a Midlands actor page on
Facebook. He was a pleasure to bring aboard. Artist, musician and general
all-round talented friend Ria Parfitt provided some beautiful voice work
for the film that really brings a much needed ethereal ingredient.
can you tell us about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
weren't shooting with sound and there wasn't a fluid narrative flow to
the scenes that had to be shot – they were to be tied together with the
narration so the scenes themselves were fragmented.
This made it incredibly easy to shoot with the almost non-existent
budget we had. We were able to shoot very fast and guerilla-like. Barry
Anscomb-Moon and his lovely wife Jackie who call themselves The Law at War
specialise in 1940s re-enactment weekends and they kindly let us film in
their own 1940's police station set that was actually made up in a trailer
that they can tow around to events and set up. Barry played the policeman
and it was on the hottest day of the year so kudos to him for his
participation. Luckily due to our shooting style we were finished within
an hour! The black and white is also a saving grace as it hides a lot of
the flaws to our sets and/or special effects etc. We tried to make our
shoots as fun as possible and there were a lot of laughs on practically
all of the shoots.
$64-question of course, where can Bella
in the Wych Elm be seen?
As I type right now
we are gearing up for the cast and crew premiere and I'm releasing a
self-distributed Carnie DVD of the film with 2 versions; the original and
a silent movie edition with alternate scores. That will hopefully be out
very soon. I've also submitted to several festivals and hope it finds
audiences further afield.
Anything you can tell
us about audience and critical reception of Bella
in the Wych Elm yet?
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
So far the reviews have
been extremely kind and appreciate what I set out to do with making the
film. It's a very positive feeling knowing it's paying off.
As far as I know, Bella
in the Wych Elm was your first documentary - so based on that
experience, are you up for doing any more?
definitely want to explore the pseudo-documentary style a little further
in different ways. Marry the styles of old info-films and old special
interest documentaries with fantasy, psychedelic and horror elements. As
for outright documentaries I'm not so interested.
Other future projects
you'd like to share?
I'm also in the process of
chipping away at trying to finish my acid-western which has come to a bit
of a halt. Started a bit of a beast that has grown in ambition and can no
longer do it on my own if we want the finished film to be the one we want
to make. Anyone who fancies investing in such a thing get in touch!!
Your/your movie's website,
Facebook, whatever else?
must also link you guys to the Worrisome Ankletrout whose incredible music
really brought the film to life. Such a great album available here: https://ankletrout.bandcamp.com/album/deep-streams-steep-dreams
Anything else you're dying to
mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
eye out for the film, I hope whoever reads this gets to see it. If anyone
would like to get in touch then they can email me at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Also look out for further strange little films
coming from Carnie
It's a pleasure!