Ginger Nuts of Horror
Oliver Park is an award-winning British actor from Bath, England. Oliver started on stage at Bath's Theatre Royal and went on to achieve lead roles in numerous short and feature films including the multi-award winning 'Shank'. As a result of this performance, the production team behind the film, Bonne Idee Productions, wrote parts especially for Oliver in their two follow-up productions - "Release" and "Buffering", both of which went on to secure US and UK distribution on DVD, as well as critical acclaim from festivals around the world.
More recently Oliver has had lead roles in a number of films including Neil Oseman’s ‘Stop/Eject’ (shortlisted for BAFTA 2015), Simon Pearce's 'Watch Over Me' (Winner of 'Best Action Short' (New York 2014) and 'Platinum Remi' for best drama (Houston 2015)), Jack Searle’s ‘Fratton’, Darren Flaxstone’s ‘Dark Vision’ and Devon Avery's Action/Drama 'Synced'. Oliver is also the writer, director of the horror film 'Vicious' due for release 2016 and upcoming horror 'Still'. Alongside his acting career, Oliver was also awarded a degree in Architecture (BSc).
Hello Oliver, could you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
I’ve been writing scary stories since I was old enough to pick up a pen and always had a deep passion and fascination for horror. I am lucky in that I have very vivid dreams almost every night. Many of my ideas are lifted almost beat for beat from my nightmares – instead of turning over and trying to forget them, I write them down. By the time I studied Architecture at University, I'd written various short novels, ideas and feature scripts. Then, any down-time that I had whilst doing my studies, I would write. I would often bug my housemates to read my scripts.
Having been an actor for the last fifteen years, I always knew I wanted to move into making films but I was in no rush. There was a lull in my schedule in 2015 so I decided to make the short version of the feature script I had written for Vicious. I loved it so much that I knew it was going to be the first of many.
Other than the horror genre, what else has been a significant influence on your career?
Ray Harryhausen! I loved his films when growing up. I am just a huge lover of film and grew up watching things like The Goonies, Escape to Witch Mountain and the ‘Carry On’ collection. Oliver Twist (1968) scared me a lot when I was young… Maybe that was the first ‘scary’ film I ever saw.
The term horror, especially when applied to fiction always carries such heavy connotations. What’s your feeling on the term “horror” and what do you think we can do to break past these assumptions?
I spend a lot of my time trying to explain what ‘horror’ means to me when meeting new people. Horror is not about blood/gore/violence/monsters in my head. I use the question ‘are you afraid for the character or for yourself as an audience member?’ Horror is not an easy thing to get right and a real depth is needed to truly get under someone’s skin. Horror audiences are among the smartest film watchers out there and they know what to expect – so having to raise your game to try and outsmart them is not easy!
As far as breaking past assumptions of horror, I think genre just needs to be seen as what it is – genre simply means the style or category of the film, so why people jump to conclusions about what the subject matter will be is a shame. I don’t think we need to break past assumptions though as it will evolve on its own and I look forward to seeing where horror goes in the future.
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?
I don’t make a point of shaping my stories around current climates. There are enough real life horror stories today that people don’t need to be reminded of them in my films. I write what scares me most and what I would want to watch as an audience member. I am sure subconsciously, current trends and climates play a part in my mind but I don’t consciously focus on them.
If you could erase one horror cliché what would be your choice?
Haha – none whatsoever! I love clichés as the more of them that exist, the more I can use to subvert the audience expectations! Nothing is off the table if done right.
You have a fascination with real-life ghost stories and urban legends, where did this come from?
The unknown is what scares us the most and I love stories, so urban legends and ‘based on true events’ stories are always going to be the ones that intrigue me the most. We like to identify with the characters in the stories we’re told so what better way than to suggest that the story is or was real. Whether I believe in ghosts or not doesn’t matter. It may have come from my dreams somehow but that would be for a psychotherapist to work out. I’m usually too busy trying to keep up with them to wonder where they came from!
What's your favourite urban legend?
I honestly don’t have a favourite as there are so many great ones and new ones written all the time. I’ve a few that I’ve written myself so hopefully there’ll be some on screen in the not too distant future… The ones from my childhood that spring to mind are ‘The Licked Hand’, ‘The Dripping Tap’ and ‘The Hook on the Car’ and I am a huge fan of Clive Barker’s ‘Candyman’ too.
Getting your worked noticed is one of the hardest things for an emerging director to achieve, how have you approached this?
Nowadays with all the countless films that are being made, short, feature, series, experimental, narrative, fact, fiction – you have to ask yourself ‘why am I making this one?’ and ‘how can I be the diamond that shines through the rest?’. I said to everyone on the set of Vicious that I didn’t want to make it unless it was going to be the best short horror in the world – not in the literal sense, but in the sense that I wanted to make sure that the film had whatever traits a film needed to have in order to have the chance of attaining that.
What have been the primary influences on you as an actor and as a director? As an actor and a director, how does having a foot in both camps help you as an actor and a director?
I am always striving to do all I can to help make the best film possible so as an actor I will give myself completely to the character and the team, and I would say the same when it comes to directing. I will ask myself what is needed of me on the day and shoot for that. It certainly helps to understand different points of view when working as a team so the more you know about what it’s like to be doing a different role, the better equipped one will be to handle their own role in that group.
And what's the one thing that annoys you that directors do, from the actor's viewpoint, and the one thing that directors do that annoys you as an actor?
I touched on it before but it would be cutting corners or working at half-sail. You’re only making this film once, so give it all you have or why bother. Whether I am acting or directing I will always support others and if anyone needs help I will be there for them. If you really don’t want to be there on set, don’t be.
The world of film and TV is in turmoil at the moment with all these allegations hitting the headlines, how do you keep yourself safe from these going ons?
I think it’s disgusting that any person would abuse another for any reason.
Do you have any advice for actors just starting out?
Some actors look to others (directors, producers, casting directors, agents, writers, etc) for work and in that scenario, it’s not up to you whether or not you work. The best piece of advice I can give is to create your own work with others and as you work, invite others to see it. The catch 22 of ‘you can’t get a good part without an agent but you can’t get an agent without a good part’ is a difficult one to get around but if you create your own work (which is a great benefit of the times in which we live), then you are already ahead. Work with others, challenge each other and always learn.
Your first short film has gained some awards from the horror film circuits, how do you go about getting your films shown at these festivals?
There are many sites that help submit to festivals now so I used those. They’re all online and easy to find and use.
VICIOUS is a rather compelling horror short, simple in concept yet very effective in execution, what do you think is the key to the success of the film?
Thank you. I had no idea Vicious would be so well received. I just wanted to make the best film I could and to test some of the ideas that I had for it. I can remember being in the sound design stage and getting very excited when the final moments worked so well. From that point I was just excited to see how others felt. I hoped that everyone liked it but I understand that we all have different tastes. I’m still so happy that people liked it and I hope people like my next projects too.
As someone who knows nothing about the filmmaking process, I was fascinated by the opening shot, how does a director working on such a limited shot get that smooth continuous shot when going over a bed?
I worked with some amazing people to get that shot. It was shot on a MOVI rig and the operator Karim Clarke had his work cut out as not only did he start inside a bedroom, he had to navigate out onto the landing, down three stairs then up two stairs, then through my bedroom (the lead bedroom was actually my room as I was living there at the time) and then on to my bed, then off the other side, to the window. He had to raise and lower the camera to keep it the same height in going up and down stairs and stepping on and off the bed. He was incredible and did it about seven times in order to get it perfect. It’s the shot of our lead walking up the stairs that was the REALLY difficult one to achieve – that one took us about twenty takes to get right! It’s down to the awesomeness of the team that I was able to get the shots that I saw when writing the film. I can’t wait to work with them again. I also worked with the same MOVI team on my second short film ‘Still’.
What is the most significant restraint on a director working on films with those sort of budgets, and where do you think it is most important to spend the money on?
Vicious was about being trapped. She as a character was trapped in her grief and the tight, tall house she lived in so it was about showing that of and really immersing the audience in her world. We needed to find the right way of lighting and shooting it, which mean we needed to spend money on the right kit. For me, it’s all about quality so I pushed for the best quality in every area I could. I insist on paying people as those I work with are gifted professionals in their fields and I wanted their focus and their complete time as long as they were with me. I didn’t want them stressing about other jobs or having to work in between. I saved up a lot of money to afford to do it which ran out very quickly - and it never occurred to me that I would be making another so soon after! ‘Still’ was done for almost half the price.
How did you cast the film? Did you have any preconceptions about the type of actor you were looking for?
I had a very specific look in mind for Vicious but each project is different. I don’t always cast the same – it is project dependent. I put various casting calls out on some casting sites and on social media. I got hundreds of replies but few had the right look or level of experience which I expected having been a first time director. So I sifted through over eight thousand headshots on some casting sites to find people with the eyes I was after that also had good qualifications. I then narrowed the list I had found and those who matched what I was after from the casting calls I did. I was left with fifteen. I contacted them all and managed to get ten to audition. I wanted someone who could really portray being afraid and have the confidence to let go and be in the moment. There were various subtleties I wanted and Rachael played the part beautifully. I’ve since been in contact with several of the others as they were all great in their auditions and I will hopefully work with them all in the future.
Would you have changed the style of the film if you had gone with a male lead actor?
My original plan was to be the lead but as I develop the story and characters, it was clear that the lead I was writing was a young woman and not a young man. I let the characters dictate what the film and story end up being.
Your latest film is about to be unleashed, what can you tell us about STILL, without giving too much away?
You’re home along one night and there is a knock at your door… You answer and there is no one there… But someone has left a note… You lift it up and it reads: ‘you left the back door unlocked’. That is the beginning of ‘Still’. It’s shorter, darker and hopefully even scarier than ‘Vicious’.
What lessons from Vicious, did you implement on STILL?
I adore Vicious so my one task was to try and make something scarier! I like beautiful cinema so I pushed for even darker, even more mesmerizing cinematography with an even darker story. I knew that everyone that liked ‘Vicious’ would just want the same but different – another ‘Vicious’ so I decided to twist the knife - Still isn’t based on the supernatural. It’s based on fact. I know that ‘Still’ won’t be to everyone’s taste and that many won’t find it scary, but that’s fine – I’ll have to find out how to scare those who were unaffected with the next one I do instead.
The Home invasion/ your house is not the castle you once thought it was has always been an effective horror trope. Why do you think these films are so compelling?
It gives us a great way to relate in that we can imagine ourselves in our own homes going through the same things. Fear gives me the chance to take the things that you take for granted away from you and leave you cold and afraid. The closer you are to something and the safer it makes you feel, the more afraid you’ll be when it’s taken away.
The trailer features a distraught woman being terrorised by a constant knocking at the door? Who would you least like to have knock at the door?
Haha – in a film sense, probably Jason Voorhees, Leatherface or any of the villains from ‘The Strangers’. That’s the interesting thing about fear – the fact that the ones we should really fear are the one that would patiently knock on your door and wait… Creeps with ulterior motives! At least we can all sleep soundly knowing that Sadako from Ringu isn’t the type to knock… Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing though!
When is STILL out and how can we see it?
I am in the process of planning a release date for ‘Still’ with Eli Roth’s ‘Crypt TV’ channel so watch this space. It’s going to get a great release and it’ll be soon – within the next month or so! If you give my facebook page ‘Oliver Park Horror’ a ‘like’ you’ll get told exactly when and where you can see it very soon.
What's next for you?
More horror! I am in the process of working on various scripts and projects with several production companies and I am hopefully moving forward with a feature film next so I can use some of the terrifying set-pieces I am desperate to try. I’ve recently returned from Los Angeles in the U.S. so there are a few things in the works – again – watch this space.