Habeas Corpus (2010)

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After Blood + Roses was finished, I was approached by Brendan Lonergan to produce a short film he was planning to make, called The Ghouls. He had been able to get the rights to the story from the R. Chetwynd-Hayes estate and was looking to me to help him make it. (R. Chetwynd Hayes wrote The Monster Club) After our first meeting, I was given a script that Brendan had written. I thought it was a great read and would make for a great film. The only problem was that it was 30 pages long.

Now if you don't know a page in a script is usually a minute of screen time, so 30 pages equals 30 minutes. Short films are usually around the 10 minute mark. After that it becomes harder to get into festivals, unless you have a well known cast or an amazing short film. So thirty minutes is going to be a hard sell. I thought why not make this story part of Anthology film. We could get some other filmmakers together and we could make some more short films and we could sell it as a feature.

I told Brendan about my idea and he was game. He really liked it. So for a while we talked about what the overall theme of anthology could be. Brendan thought it should be like The Monster Club. As his story was about zombies, the others could be about vampires and werewolves. I had just finished a vampire film and really didn't want to go back there. As we were discussing ideas, I recalled that Rob Wickings had written a story about zombie prostitutes. I wasn't sure, but if he had, and if he was willing to come onboard, then the theme for our anthology could be about exploitation of the dead.

I got in touch with Rob and he did indeed have a script called Live Dead Girls. It's about an East End Brothel where the girls aren't what they seem to be. I asked Rob if he would be willing to come onboard with our anthology film. He said yes.

Clive drawing a pentagram on Paul's chest

The next person I approached was Ben Woodiwiss. I asked him if he had any scripts that had about the exploitation of the dead. He didn't. But he had an idea for a story that he had been playing around with in his head and thought would work for this project. Ben went away and wrote S.C.U.M. (Society for Cutting Up Men). The story is about an art project who takes Valerie Solanas's manifesto to the next level by making art out of men's body parts. It was a terrific script and fitted with our theme.

I also asked Ben if he would write the wrap around story, which he did and it was called The Caretaker &The Corpse. The concept was that this old caretaker helps a reanimated corpse get out of his grave, and then regales him with our stories. Though I didn't have a story. I wanted a story to direct. I didn't just want to produce. So I came up with my own story for the Anthology, called The Tourist.

The Tourist is about a young man who learns that he can drain the energy from a person at the point of death. This energy is such a rush, that it becomes a drug to him. So he volunteers at Hospice, for a while it works out for him until he meets another energy drainer. The first draft was more wide ranging starting off with his first experience of this gift, to working at the hospice, to the end of his life where he is homeless and alone. But the subsequent drafts I made compressed it down to it taking place mostly at the hospice.

So at the beginning of 2010 we had a complete script, but what to call it? I came up with the title Habeas Corpus, a legal term that means produce the corpse. Everybody was happy with that title, so I was happy with that. But what we didn't have was all the directors. For some reason, and I can't remember why, Ben Woodiwiss didn't want to direct S.C.U.M. or The Caretaker & The Corpse. I had to find two more directors.

Checking out the woodland location

Ben suggested that we should get Paul Davis onboard to direct S.C.U.M. I thought that was a great idea. Paul Davis is the director of Beware The Moon: Remembering An American Werewolf In London documentary. I got to see it at FrightFest the year before and I met Paul at the Phoenix bar the day of my premiere for Blood + Roses. Ben got in touch with Paul and sent him the script. He loved it and wanted to be part of it. So we needed one more director, so I approached Clive Ashenden.

Clive Ashenden I had worked with before on a music video for Robbie Williams' The 80s song. Robbie Williams had joined forces with Shooting People to run a competition for filmmakers to go out and make a video for his song, and he would pick one to be the official video. Clive, with Rob and Stephen Cartwright had a production company called Sick Puppy Films and I shot their entry for the competition. I thought it was a great video. The idea that the 80s could be passed on from one person to another like a virus was a great idea. Ashvin-Kumar Joshi starred in it and he got to dress up like Adam Ant. Also Clive had directed Snatching Time, that had been shown at Frightfest as well. So he was the natural choice to direct the wrap around story. Clive agreed, and we had our team of directors. The next thing we had to do was get funding.

We started approaching all our contacts in the industry, trying to find funding for the film. This was the days before crowdfunding, so we needed a backer or a study to pay for the making of this film. We had big plans for this project. Brendan had spoken to a few of his contacts and there was some interest, so we tried getting the script to them. But alas nothing came of it.

It was around the end of May that Paul came up with the idea of making a trailer for the film. He had been approached by the organisers of FrightFest, asking if he had anything to show at this year's festival. He had gone down so well at the last FrightFest, that they wanted him to come back.

Using the Panavision app for the runthrough of the trailer

All the directors got together and we started brainstorming ideas for the trailer. We didn't want to take the best bits from our script and make those for a mock trailer, because what are the best bits? What bits will mesh together to make a good trailer? When you make a trailer, you have the whole film to draw from, so when there is no film, it's difficult to tell. We ruled that out. Clive came up with the idea of making a very short original story that would encompass the idea of the film. He also suggested the story. Paul said he could get Emily Booth onboard. Brendan could do the makeup. Rob would do the colour grading. I would produce it, and do the editing. But who would direct it?

Of course naturally we all wanted to direct it. We all stated our reasons why it should be one of us, but in the end Clive got had the best reason for doing it. He was going to be the writer, he would know the material better than us, so he should direct. We all agreed. It made the most sense. When it came to making the feature we would all be directing, and this was going to help us get that feature made, so none of us were bitter. Anyway, we didn't have much time.

We got everything to together very quickly and we were ready to shoot in July. Clive had written a very good script about a woman whose boyfriend cames back from the dead. Paul did indeed get Emily Booth on board, and was going to play the boyfriend and the corpse. I went out and hired the camera and sound equipment, and got the crew together. I got William McLaughlin to record sound, Virginia Popova to do makeup, Matt Page to take stills, Robert Cowlin and Emily Cox to be our runners and a DOP (who will remain nameless for reasons you are going to read).

I had worked with this DOP years before on a music video directed by Andrew Clark. I then worked with him again on Rob and Clive's short Code Grey. (I was shooting the behind the scenes video) He work looks good and we got on with him so well on Code Grey that we asked him to do the trailer. Both Clive and me met with him, and he was happy to do it, the only thing was that he didn't want it to look like a horror film. He didn't want to do the cliches. But we did want it to look like a horror film. We should of looked for somebody else, but we didn't have much time, so we went with this DOP.

No matter what, Emily keeps on smiling!

A week before the shoot, we did a run through of the script. Paul had very graciously allowed us the use of his parent's house. The DOP came down to have a look at the place. A friend of Paul's stood in for Emily and we shot the whole trailer with my Sony Z1. We were warned by the DOP that it was too many shots. We were going to shoot on a RED ONE and Because of the size and weight of the camera, we wouldn't be able to get as many setups in a day as we had planned. We believed we could do it. So little did we know.

The week running up to the shoot was frantic. I had to find a Production Desginer, Steadicam Operator, Focus Puller and a DIT (Digital Image Technician). I was abe to find a them, but it was down to wire, only finding them the day before the shoot.

We shot on a Saturday, everybody making there way to the house either the night before or that morning. Our first location was in a wooden area, 30 minutes drive from the house. The plan was to shoot there in the morning and return to the house for the afternoon. In the end, it took us most of the day to get those outdoor shots. What with setting up the steadicam shots and the red camera, it took ages to shoot. I had planned to be the 1st AD, but as I was the only with a car, I ended up driving people to and fro from the location. I wasn't there when Fleming had a go at Clive.

I don't know what happened, but the DOP wasn't the man he was on the Code Grey shoot. He turned up that day annoyed and he continued to get more annoyed as the day went on. He complained about the equipment I had rented. It seems it was too old. He complained about the crew. He just complained and complained. Then he had a go at Clive. I wish I had been there. I would of told him to fuck off, as I could of shot the trailer, but I didn't find out about it until later. It annoys me that I wasn't there for Clive. Part of my job as Producer is to have the Director's back and not be driving around. Emily Booth on the other hand, was an absolute joy to work with. Never complained once. Actually the whole crew was great, but it just takes one person to bring the thing down.

Brendan applying the undead makeup to Paul

So later that afternoon we wrapped on the wooded area and we drove back to the house. We were faced with a problem that we were not going to make our day. I asked the cast and crew if they were willing to come back the next day, but they all said no. So Clive rewrote the script, condensing everything that happenes in the house into one scene. In hindsight this was the better way of doing it, but at the time it felt like a defeat that we had to drop so much material.

We also had some surprise visitors. Ian Rattray and Paul McEvoy, from FrightFest, turned up to shoot some behind the scenes footage interviews for the festival. It lifted mine and Clive's spirits to see them there, and we even got interviewed. Though before they left, Ian did come up to me and say "Your DOP is a cunt!" How right he was!

As Paul was being made up in his undead makeup, we shot everything we could with Emily. Then when Paul was ready we shot everything else. For the final shots of the day, I had to step in as sound recordist, as William was moving back up to Edinburgh that night. I didn't do a very good job, which resulted in us having to ADR Emily's lines after the shoot. I should of asked for another take, but I just wanted it to be finished, so we quickly got the final shots, and then the DOP was gone. (I haven't seen him since)

A couple of stayed on at the house overnight and into the next day, as we had to get one shot we missed. It was a closeup of Paul's chest. So I actually got to operate the RED Camera. Brendan created a pentagram makeup that he placed on Paul. We then laid him down in the back garden and throw dirt on him. That bit was fun.

Could you be scarier?

After that weekend, we had just a month to edit the trailer and get it to FrightFest for our screening. I started editing straight away, meeting with Clive to look at the edit and discuss any changes that he wanted. Paul and me met with Emily at hotel to re-record her dialogue. Clive wasn't available, so she asked me what the scene we recording the lines was about. I had just finished reading I'll Be In My Trailer, a book about directing by John Badham and in it he says that actors should figure out what the scene is for themselves, so I replied to Emily, "What do you think the scene is about?". She looked at me blankly and Paul just laughed. He thought it was the funniest answer he had ever heard. I then told her what the scene was about. I should of done that in the first place.

For the artwork in the trailer, I approached storyboard artist Jaeson Finn. I had met Jaeson at FrightFest 2 years before. He knew Shauna Osbourne, who had worked on Blood + Roses, and searched me out at the festival, finding me on the last day. Jaeson has done the storyboards for Neil Marshall since Doomsday. I loved Jaeson style, so I asked him to do artwork, to show off the stories that are going to be feature film. I did try to get them animated, but unfortunately I couldn't find anybody to do it in time.

With the sterling work by Marcelo Fossá and Jon H. Orten (Sound and Music), a grade by Rob, and voiceover by Paul, we had the trailer ready for the festival. I was able to get a good deal on getting the film transfered to HDCAM. They did the transfer for me and I was able to drop the trailer at the Empire Cinema, a week before FrightFest was going to start. We had a great spot. We were showing before a film on the opening night.

The night of the screening turned up. We were being shown before the second film of the night. We were going to go up to the front of the screen to introduce the film. We had a lot of friends and family turn up. We met them all in the foyer, before the screening, and that foyer was packed. There was a lot of people at that screening. I was so nervous going standing in front of that screen, but I didn't have to worry as Paul and Clive did all the talking.

Poster we had designed for the film

It was such a thrill to see the trailer up on the big screen. It went down well with the audience, as I had a lot of people come up to me during the festival telling me how much they enjoyed it.

Once the trailer was finished, we didn't stay for the film. We headed over to the Phoenix bar, where we hung out with cast of the opening film, Hatchet 2. I remember having a great conversation with Tony Todd and Danielle Harris that night.

Through Paul, we also had the trailer premeire online on the Bloody Disgusting website that same day. So not only did the audience at FrightFest get to see it, but people online could do as well.

Buoyed by the success of our trailer, we went out there looking for the money to get this film made. We tried for over a year, but alas we had no luck. We even tried to get producer Jane Handorf onboard, but with little success.

The last thing I did on the project was to shoot a makeup test. I asked Virginia Popova to do a makeup test for the character of the mother, who I wanted Pamela Flanagan to play. We did a cast of Pamela's face and then we shot a scene from my script. The makeup wasn't there, but Virginia had figured out a better way to do it. But I was started to feel that we weren't getting anywhere with it. I wanted to move on, so I was the first one to leave the project. Paul left next. The other three did stayed with it, even coming up with a new script, but in the end it just petered out.

Such a shame. It would of been a great film. A different spin on the zombie genre, but we just didn't have any luck when it came funding to the film. But we did make this trailer. We got it screened in the biggest screen in London (outside of the IMAX) and it has been seen by over a million people on YouTube. So I am very pleased with how well this trailer did.