Ginger Nuts of Horror
To coincide with the long-awaited release of award-winning horror, Dark Beacon, we chat to the film’s co-writer, producer and director Coz Greenop.
In Dark Beacon, Amy (April Pearson, TV’s Skins) loves her former colleague Beth with a passion, a relationship they had kept secret. When Beth's devastated husband dies tragically, the widow disappears into seclusion with her young daughter. Tracking down Beth to a remote lighthouse, Amy finds her there, broken, and attempts to re-connect. But before long, they experience strange and terrifying visions suggesting Beth’s husband is back and won’t stop until they meet the same fate.
Winning multiple awards including Best Film, Best Actress (for April Pearson) and Best Cinematography at the American Horror Film Festival, Dark Beacon is a must-see movie from acclaimed filmmaker Coz Greenop and co-stars Lynne Anne Rodgers, Toby Osmond and Jon Campling. Look for it in cinemas and on digital platforms!
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I was a child actor for a long time until the age of about 14. I always had a buzz on film sets but assumed it was directly from the acting. As I got into my early teens, I was doing drama at GCSE and the department had an old camera they used to film exams. I realized I wanted to start telling my own stories, probably because I was a pretty terrible actor [Laughs]. I took the school’s camera home and made short films with my mates. As I did that, I realized this is what I wanted to do.
Later, when everyone in my school was getting Saturday jobs, I didn’t want to get a job I hated for the sake of money. I decided to offer a wedding video package and approached the reverend in our local village. I said that if he helped sell them, I’d put 50% of the money back into the church. With this, I started buying my own kit, like a new laptop and eventually my own camera. Around this time I started A Level media, really enjoyed it and knew this is what I wanted to continue with.
What was your first big intro to film and television?
During my A Levels I got a job on Emmerdale, since it was our local show in Leeds. I emailed and they let me go there for work experience. That led to me being a runner and eventually a camera assistant. Having done it for two years, I realized it wasn’t for me and it just wasn’t creative and fulfilling enough, so I went back to making music videos and short films. Throughout my education I got three GCSEs and my A Levels weren’t great, so university wasn’t an option, until I discovered the Northern Film School in Leeds. I got an unconditional offer based on the films I’d made, they weren’t really looking at my grades, so I was lucky. I was there for three years and working for a post-production house in Manchester who did a lot of extreme sports. It was great because I’m a rock climber and skier myself. I started working with them and got a job when I graduated from uni. This led to freelance camera work for the Discovery Channel and other companies, travelling the world.
When did you write your first script?
In 2012 I had a really bad rock climbing accident and was stuck in bed for three months. I’d always wanted to write a script for a feature film so I knew, if I didn’t write it then, I’d never do it. I’d always been a huge horror fan. Some of my earliest memories are watching Freddy Krueger in the A Nightmare on Elm Street films and traumatizing myself [Laughs]. I got the biggest telling off from my mum. I always loved the low budget, B-movie horror, but it also gave me a confidence. While some are quite bad, they were still out there and got released. I spent a month watching films and created a checklist. They often had small casts, they had an isolated location and other conventions you could replicate cheaply. After three months I had a script and shared it around with people I knew or had worked with. I even took to my local film council but since I didn’t know anyone in the industry, they turned me down.
I believe that if you’re a plumber or electrician, you invest in your tools, so I had to invest in my tools as a filmmaker. During university I saved £20,000 to put a deposit on a house and I took a decision to possibly live with my parents for the rest of my life and use the money to finance my first feature. I got my own crew of about six people, we went to the Scottish Highlands, stayed in a lodge and shot my first film, Wandering Rose, later known as Little Devil and Demon Baby. I didn’t think it would get anywhere but thought it might make a good calling card.
Later, I showed the finished film to the lead actress and she suggested I take it to Cannes. From all my DVDs I owned, I looked at the distributors and companies on the back cover and setup meetings ahead of time, then went to Cannes and stayed on a friend’s sofa. I got a phone call about two weeks later that Entertainment One in the USA wanted to buy the film, it was crazy. Now, it’s been sold to 25 territories and dubbed into six languages. That’s how it all started for me.
What do you like to do when you're not writing or working on a film?
I constantly write and I’m always watching movies and encouraging people to go out and make films. I also love outdoor sports.
Other than horror films, what else has been a major influence on your work?
I’m a huge fan of Stephen King’s novels. His work and how he develops characters is so amazing. My major influences come from other filmmakers and, surprisingly, it’s not all horror. I love musicals too and one of my favourite films is Moulin Rouge [Laughs]. I love anything that fires you up to go out and do stuff.
The term horror, especially applied to film and writing, always carries heavy connotations. What’s your feeling on the term “horror” and what do you think we can do to break past these assumptions?
It’s all about getting past pre-conceptions. For me, as a horror filmmaker, my work isn’t gory, slasher stuff that relies on jump scares. “Horror” is so broad and you can have films like The Shining or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre under the same banner and they’re very different.
We had the title Wandering Rose for my first film, which was quite subtle, but to get it out to the market they called it Demon Baby but there are two problems with that in my view - there isn’t a demon and there isn’t a baby in the movie [Laughs]. People expecting something like that won’t get it in my film, and people who want a subtle psychological horror wouldn’t necessarily pick up a film called Demon Baby, so it’s very tricky.
A lot of good horror movements have arisen as a direct result of the socio/political climate, considering the current state of the world where do you see horror going in the next few years?
In terms of politics, I don’t think audiences care too much about an agenda in horror movies, they just want to be entertained. You can always go back and find some subtle political or social themes in horror but, for the most part, it’s about being taken on a rollercoaster ride.
On a trend of technology, I know that many sales agents and distributors have said, due to affordable technology that filmmakers now have, the market has become very saturated. Just look at all the found footage films. The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity were such game changers and now there’s an influx. I think it’ll reach a climactic point where the market won’t want any more unless there’s something very different within the genre.
What are the books and films that helped to define you as a writer and filmmaker?
I love Stephen King and the way he writes characters is so filmic, which is why I think so many of his books have been adapted for the screen. He’s a very visual writer. I wasn’t much of a reader as a kid. Until I was 14 I mainly read Roald Dahl and a few Stephen King books! I kind of have ADHD when it comes to books. I want my mind to work as fast as I’m thinking, and if I’m struggling to keep up, I lose interest. But I’m always totally immersed in Stephen King’s stories and he keeps me engaged.
The Shining has been such a huge influence and remains one of my favourite films. Again, it’s not a gory slasher film, there’s a great psychological aspect. I’m also passionate about Japanese and Korean horror. I love A Tale of Two Sisters, Audition and the original Ringu. The stories are brilliant but they’re also deeply psychological.
What new and upcoming filmmakers do you think we should take notice of?
Tom Paton is filmmaker much like me and has the same attitude of getting out there and making as many films as possible, doing it our own way. His new film Redwood which is coming soon is a great example of that. He knows how to tell a great story on a tight budget, he does it very well and he’s a hungry filmmaker.
Oliver Park is one of the best horror writer-directors right now. He’s done a few shorts and will soon be making his first feature. His first short, Vicious, is literally one of the scariest films I’ve seen in my life. He’s in talks with some big companies so I hope he gets his shot soon.
How would you describe your writing and filmmaking style?
I get inspired by locations and things I see. I think my films are very visual, so I like to use locations. In low budget filmmaking you can’t use big sets so I like to shoot on location, find something cool and shoot the hell out of it and show off where we are. I also like to use characters that I believe in and care about. There are a lot of horror films where you don’t care about the characters, so I try to write them like real, relatable people.
Are there any reviews of your work, positive or negative, that have stayed with you?
I only tend to read bad reviews because I think they’re brilliant, but I also think you need to take criticism. One comment that sticks out for me is when Wandering Rose was released as Demon Baby in America. A guy tweeted me and said, “to the director of Demon Baby, I really hope you die of cat aids, it’s the worst film I’ve ever seen”. That’s a very creative insult! Then he repeated the point asking why have a film called Demon Baby when it doesn’t have a demon or a baby [Laughs]? Now with social media, everything is instant and everyone can be a critic which I think is fantastic. I look at that and think he wasn’t having a go at me or the film in general, it was the title. This is part of the industry. When I was first told the title was being changed, I genuinely thought it was a joke. The film did well and it made money so I can’t complain, but you have to be aware that it’s a product and a business.
What aspects of writing to do you find the most difficult?
I love developing the original idea and planning my characters. What I hate is re-writing drafts when changes come. You’ve written something for your own reasons and I understand why you need to do it, sometimes there’s a good logic from notes, but it takes away some of the creativity.
How important are names to you in your books?
Every single character I’ve named is after members of my family. I’ve got a big Irish family so I’m going through everyone! [Laughs]
Writing is not a static process, how have you developed as a writer over the years?
I collaborate a lot more. I now write with Lee Apsey who was also my co-producer on Dark Beacon. It’s good to have someone to bounce ideas around with. After I did Wandering Rose, I completed a Masters in scriptwriting and that was the most amazing education and helped me improve a lot. If I go back to watch Wandering Rose, I cringe at some of the dialogue now, but it’s about evolving and growing. Getting input from actors is important too and they can bring a lot of ideas, both in character and dialogue, so I like to have read-throughs beforehand.
What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
Alcohol! [Laughs] My Masters lecturer used to say, “write drunk, edit sober.” Get a bottle of red wine or whatever your tipple is and write away. Also send your work around to friends and welcome feedback. For me, a film is like building a house. The script is the architect’s plans you have to follow. Once the film is made, you can’t go back knocking down walls, adding doors and changing things. It’s the blueprint you follow, so make sure you get it right.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received with regards to your writing and filmmaking?
I love Robert Rodriguez’s book “Rebel Without a Crew” which gives a lot of advice and that was the point I realized I just had to go and do it. If I’m around other filmmakers or even guest lecturing, I always say that your brain is your biggest excuse… thinking you need a famous actor, a specific piece of kit, or a £50m budget. Just go out and tell your story with whatever resources you have.
Getting your work noticed is one of the hardest things for a writer to achieve, how have you tried to approach this subject?
Don’t be scared. With sales agents, distributors or even publishers, once you’ve made it, you’re the one with the product and you’ve got something they want. Don’t think “please take my work” but ask “what are you going to do for my work?” No one is a better salesperson than you, so you need to go out and have confidence because they need what you’ve got.
To many writers, the characters they write become like children. Based on that idea, who is your favourite child and who is your least favourite to write for and why?
I always seem to write about women with psychological problems, but they’re anti-heroes! I think my favourite character would be Rose from Wandering Rose because although she’s got a lot of psychological issues, she’s the first character I ever wrote. I couldn’t name a least favourite because you always have an affection for them, even the bad, sick characters!
What was your experience making Dark Beacon?
I loved it and always enjoy being on set with great actors, seeing it come alive. Dark Beacon is another psychological horror and we had a great time with it, but it was tough at times, filming at night on the rocks next the beacon on hard terrain. It’s a small price you pay for such a stunning location and we had an amazing team on hand. After many festivals, I’m excited for everyone to see it here in the UK.
Can you tell us a bit about your next film, House Red?
I had an incredible time but it was also terrifying and daunting. I found myself there with incredible actors from huge Hollywood blockbusters, a legendary DOP with many classic films under his belt and a whole crew. They were standing, looking at me, waiting to be told what to do. Part of me wanted to hide [Laughs], but you need to get that out of your head and realise you’re the best person for the job. I love being on set and, as a writer, I love seeing your own words come to life. We were standing in this amazing location in Italy and it’s crazy that this all happened as a result of something in my head, from writing in my bedroom.
We have a brilliant cast including Tamer Hassan (The Football Factory, Layer Cake, TV’s Snatch) who also produced the movie with me. He’s known as a tough guy but he’s the sweetest, loveliest person. We’ve got Natasha Henstridge (Species, Ghosts of Mars) who is a Hollywood icon, and Clara Paget (Fast & Furious 6, Black Sails) who is wonderful, so it’s a great cast. Douglas Milsome was our DOP and, earlier on in his career, he worked with Stanley Kubrick on films like A Clockwork Orange and The Shining. He was also the DOP on Full Metal Jacket and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves so he’s a real icon and it was incredible working with him. It’s certainly the most commercial horror film I’ve made and quite a lot more gory than my other work. It’s in post-production now and we’re planning for a release later this year.
Which of your films are you most proud of?
In everything I do, I see mistakes and I see things I like, but I’m fond of all of them for different reasons. It’s a body of work I’m proud of and want to continue growing.
If you could erase one horror cliché what would be your choice?
I think it would be the jump scare. I hate false scares. Don’t rip off your audience! It’s been overdone, overused and you need to be more creative than that.
What was the last great horror film you saw, and what was the last one that disappointed you?
The last great one was The Ritual. For me, it’s the best British horror film since The Descent. It was a real surprise. I didn’t think much of the trailer, but the film blew me away and I’d encourage everyone to see it.
The recent remake of It did very well but, in my opinion, it wasn’t a scratch on the original. There was so much hype and it didn’t feel like the Stephen King film we grew up with and loved. There was something missing and it just didn’t have the payoff that I wanted.
What's the one question you wish you would get asked but never do? And what would be the answer?
The question would you be: “Would like to come and direct this £50m horror movie?” and my answer would be “hell yeah!” [Laughs]
Dark Beacon is released in Cinemas 22nd March and Digital Download 27th March 2018
Pre-order on iTunes
Official Page: www.darkbeaconmovie.com