The First (and Potentially Last) Festival of the Year
A few weekends ago saw me return to my grandfather’s home town, Glasgow, for my first major festival since returning to indie filmmaking. Sadly, now that the world is in the grip of Covid-19 it is possible that it may also be the last festival of this year for me.
I was extremely nervous that after a almost one and a half year gap from the scene no one would care that I wanted to make films again. I was also nervous that I wouldn’t gel with the crowd like I had those years ago. Like every indie filmmaker at multiple times in their careers, I was afraid I would suck.
The cool part is I ended up going to the exact place I needed to be to give me the little boost to work harder and try harder to get more involved in the amazing place we call indie film-making. I work a 9 to 6 job with a 2 hour round trip commute that is tough but fair, taxing but stimulating. I also am raising a six year old daughter. The actual time I probably have to dedicate to film-making is a lot smaller than some filmmakers. So three days in Glasgow with an all day classical music recital to attend with my family on the Sunday and back to work on Monday… yeah it was a big sacrifice.
Getting into Glasgow on early afternoon on the Friday, I stayed within the Merchant City with it’s high end stores mixed amongst old buildings, museums and galleries. Glasgow has an awesome vibe to it with young and old mixing on almost every street. I stayed near the Modern Art Gallery which is in a wonderful old building on Queen Street. The presence of a younger demographic was immediately apparent though from the traffic cones placed on the head of the
Duke of Wellington statute that sits in front of the gallery.
Frightfest Glasgow is in the Glasgow Film Theatre north and west from the Merchant City and it a more artsy and studenty area of Glasgow. Near Rose Street there is a much more hipster vibe to everything, as once the high street stores leading out of Merchant City vanish there is a large selection of clubs and restaurants that looks like something you would find in Brooklyn or Shoreditch.
Frightfest Glasgow is the more traditional of the three main Frightfest showings throughout the year. Frightfest on August Bank Holiday in London has grown exponentially over the years. Moving from cinema to cinema and expanding its number of Discovery Screens (like Discovery Stages in music festivals), it has become a five day opus to all things horror with a special resonance with the independent film-making community. All Frightfest events operate on a near “open door” policy where fans and filmmakers can regularly interact. To achieve this, the festival brings in many new and up and coming directors, producers, writers, etc. who are all willing to talk about their favourite subject and share in experiences with other horror aficionados.
Frightfest Glasgow is no exception, however it is shorter and smaller than its London counterpart. While some might think this would detract from the overall experience, for many it makes the entire thing more intimate. Truthfully, it’s the best kept secret of the Frightfest yearly line-up. Many of the veteran attendees, who have come to Frightfest for 10 or even 20 years, swear by Frightfest Glasgow. It recreates the early days of Frightfest as there is only one screen and everyone watches the same films at the same time.
Because of the much smaller crowd, all the filmmakers, organisers and others tend to all go to the same bars as well. Although the Phoenix Artists Club has remained the mainstay of Frightfest goers in London, it is usually a choice throughout the five day festival what bars you will go to after the screenings and indeed which groups of filmmakers and fans you will spend time. At Frightfest Glasgow people all tend to go to the same place to drink and discuss. This year it was Spoons and Novotel, with some organised distraction at the Slouch Bar. There is also generally some room at the Glasgow Film Theatre bar if you want to talk to the filmmakers and regulars as they will often be sharing a glass with reporters or organisers during the screenings of their films and shorts.
The First Day’s Films
I no longer watch every film at the festival. Frightfest has very much been the genesis, impetus and catalyst to my life as a filmmaker. Suffice to say that as I move closer and closer to producing that first feature film, my time at the festivals is spent more with socialising with other filmmakers and friends and less watching the actual films. No longer am I there solely for the films. Most of my time now is trying to get in discussions with various filmmakers over the weekend to see what they are working on and try to get some collaborations into the production schedule.
On the first day I landed off the plane right as the first film began so I came in for the second set of films for the day.
A short film by London Horror Society veteran Scott Lyus. I have a lot of time for his films because I know the work and passion he and his crew puts into whatever he does, having met him at many of the London Horror Society events he co-hosts. Scott is working on feature this summer which I hope will finally put him on the map for most people.
Black Mass is a layered short about loss and grief which has all of the depth of Scott’ s other short films. I would encourage multiple views to get the most of the film’s messaging.
In the Quarry
The first feature was a Uruguayan film that started off the film viewing with my favourite type of film in my favourite language, a simple concept exploited by the use of character and setting. In this film four people go to the local quarry to sit around, drink some beers, eat some meat, do some swimming and generally chill out on a very hot Uruguayan day. The tension comes from a love triangle between three of the characters mixing within the city boy v redneck friction between some of the characters.
The camerawork was great and the mix between wide and close-up shots to play with the tension was well done. Nothing in the story is going to sound like new material to a seasoned thriller viewer, so it is up to the setting to add the new dangers and perils that can happen when it all falls apart. A great start to my fest and particularly awesome that it was South American horror, which the Frightfest crew would tell you I have a special soft spot for (mainly because I always end up hanging out with the Spanish speaking directors when they come to the main Frightfest in London).
The second entry was an Irish/Swedish/Belgian collaboration about a fisherman and a horrible sea creature (or so we think). Despite the collab, the film comes across as a thoroughly solid piece of Irish sci-fi horror. The twist to keep things interesting in this movie is that the main protagonist is a deep sea scientist who manages to keep on top of the weird set of circumstances.
Another sub-genre that I love (heck my family is descended from seafaring pirates after all) I really enjoyed this film and was pleased that it offered new twists and tension to classics like Leviathan and the Abyss. While still indie and not without it’s faults (some of the decisions seem ridiculous even for fisherman), it was another solid entry in the line-up and kept the action going.
A Ghost Waits
Wow! Very difficult to encapsulate the film of the fest for me for a number of reasons. First (SPOILERS!!!), it’s a horror romcom where a repair dude falls in love with the ghost of the house he is repairing. That alone would be enough to have me all in.
Mix this with the fact that it is black and white and indie as all hell! Love the style of this film as it is reminiscent of “mumblecore” horror (which I generally dislike to be fair) but has a bit more comedy and movement than your typical Ti West stand around and talk about horror.
Finally, it was written and directed by Adam Stovall. Who is Adam Stovall you may say? I didn’t know either until I caught an odd reference to my hometown, Cincinnati, in the film and started paying attention to the scenery. I noticed that the film looked an awful lot like home (in the same week I saw “Dark Waters” I may add which looks exactly like home for me).
Following the film, a very gushy and thankful director (Adam) proceeded to talk about making the film. He mentioned that he had gone back to his home town of Cincinnati to make the film. In typical fashion (I am never cognisant of how loud I am) I let out a cheer which led to a confused Adam asking if anyone in the audience was actually from Cincinnati. After the interview I ran down to congratulate him, hand him a (misprinted) business card and generally gush myself.
I cannot explain how awesome it was to see someone putting a film I would have love to have made from my hometown! Here’s to hoping we can collaborate on something in the future, because he is hyper talented and I always love doing Cincinnati proud where I can.
Day One Festivities
I sat with two of my longer time friends from Frightfest (Mark and Mike) and thoroughly enjoyed getting caught up with them. I have been away from the festivals for more than a year due to family commitments (and major illnesses) and my day job which ramped up to "11" about two years ago.
By the end of the final film, we had actually already meandered to the local Wetherspoons (Spoons) to have quite a few drinks (at this producer’s request). Initially it was just the core Frightfest people I had grown to know over the years (you guys are like family to me) with a couple of new additions. That is very much how the Frightfest family grows and shrinks over the years.
Three of us left to what A Ghost Waits after it had been recommended by all four of the Frighfest Organisers (something that never happens). My two compadres were exhausted from a heavy night of partying the night before and I agreed we would give it ten minutes.
After 30 minutes they were ready for some more brews and I was hooked on the film so I caught up with them at the bar after the film.
Once there they had assembled a bunch of the other filmmakers, London Horror Society, Hex Media and a few others. It gave me a chance to introduce myself and my production company to Lawrie Brewster, a producer and filmmaker I admire a great deal as he is trying to build a successful large(ish) UK horror production company. I was incredibly nervous to meet the great Scot I had heard so much about in the past, but he was great to meet.
In ten minutes of conversing with him I realised just how much more I need to learn about putting film deals together (and just how eager I was to do so).
We moved from Spoons to Slouch Bar and the energy was growing. When other filmmakers (who have many a feature and short already out on the market and who have now heard your glutton of ideas for your next short, feature, show, etc.) ask if you are coming to the next party, it is an amazing feeling. It’s not so much that I now feel like the “cool kid” as that I finally feel like I belong. I am a person with boatloads of enthusiasm, but most places I have worked have never been able to channel that enthusiasm properly in my view.
For what it’s worth, film-making is one of those environments where I am always satisfied with the long hours and the hard work, because it’s my product that everyone sees at the end of the day and I can live with people loving or hating it (as long as they react to it!)
At any rate, we went to the pre-arranged Slouch Bar party. It was very much as one would expect. Filmmakers hanging out in the back of the bar, the locals at the bar not really serving any of us, excellent music, but so loud you cannot really communicate inside properly, so all the fun is had outside while people smoke and talk.
I got to hang out with the lovely team at Hex Media and made a few new Frightfest friends on the evening so it was good all and all. I did drink entirely too much though (getting to my room circa 4am).
The Second Day’s Films
Zombie for Sale
Another great South Korean film (they are on a roll this year) which follows a zombie arriving in a no name South Korean town and being adopted by a local family (and then exploited by the same family). If you haven’t seen this type of Korean horror comedy you are missing out as they do it well. My only complaint is that the film goes on for ages. I had a similar gripe about the epilogue in “Parasite” so I wonder if there is a shortage of good editors in Korea at the moment.
This was a divisive film for most (but some mentioned to me that it was their favourite of the festival). It is the only film on the list that I know is scheduled for mass release. The film follows a trouble young woman in her attempt to connect with God following a series of unfortunate circumstances. Reality, insanity and the world in between mix to make a long burn film reminiscent of “Hereditary” or “Rosemary’s Baby”. Worth a watch if you have the patience, but do not expect to be jumping out of your seat until towards the end.
Fatale Collection: Bleed
These were a stylish portmanteau of horror (which I missed the introduction for as I was already packing for home back at my room). The colouring and camera shots for most of the films were remarkable and the stories generally held together well as they showcased some talented female directors. My personal favourite was the first one mainly because the colour contrast on the shots was delightful.
So the premise of this film (as explained to me before the film) is that a very bored office worker with no real job in his life (kid or marriage) starts shoving things up his butt for enjoyment. I vowed that I would watch the first ten minutes and see how it went.
Somehow (inexplicably even to me) I stayed the entire film and, I think, I enjoyed it. Our protagonist really is the most chilled and boring person you have ever met and his life seems as plastic as anything. But the plot ramps up as we see a tv remote disappear up his ass, then a dog and finally a baby. Don’t ask – it has to be watched to (kind of) understand. This film achieved the best cheer at its end for all the films. It was surreal that for some odd reason this film worked with the horror crowd and generally made us all laugh throughout.
When I spoke with a local film-making buddy whether either of us would have taken this idea into our production companies if pitched we both said “Hell no!” (in fact I would probably have thought I was being punked). Just shows you how sometimes we get it wrong as producers.
This was the prime time piece. Joe Begos’ film about a Veterans of Foreign Wars bar and its Alamo like shootout in a dystopian 80’s where a drug has ruined modern society. He started the intro to film by giving out fifty shots to whoever was willing to toast to the movie (mine was a triple). Joe is a complete 80’s aficionado and having seen “The Mind’s Eye” years ago at Frightfest Glasgow (which has another one of my favourite film people Graham Skipper as the protagonist) I knew I would like the 80’s kisch and synth that Joe would put into this film.
If I am honest, I was hurting by this film having only slept about three hours, just having had another triple of whiskey and knowing I had to get up at 5am the next morning to catch my 7am flight back to London. The film was awesome, but I was already drained. It’s one that I may have my own little 80’s themed production party just to break out some more booze, bad hair, leather, smokes and good company to properly enjoy this film when it’s out on VOD.
Day Two Festivities
Following the end of “VFW” I called it day on Frightfest films and went to the Novotel (the other bar we all hang out in during Glasgow Frightfest as a bunch of people stay there). I caught up with a long term friend, Mitch, and his Glaswegian buddy Panda. It was a quick night of talking about what my production company was up to, asking for help from everybody, and gushing about how much I loved coming back on the scene. I’d write more, but I was so tired I do not remember too much other than it was also a great chance to catch up with my buddy Paddy who has been killing it in Ireland with his production company Celtic Badger.
The Journey Home
I had meant to leave Novotel between 10pm – 11pm to at least get some sleep before the flight. I got back to the room at about 1am (after picking up some much needed Taco Bell – the first in Britain apparently) and getting to bed at around 2am.
So the end of the journey of an indie filmmaker was waking up at 5am (falling back asleep in the shower for 45min) but making my plane at 7am to be sat listening to some the best young classically trained musicians in Sevenoaks with my beaming daughter, wife, best friend and his mom until 5pm the next day. I’ll sleep when I’m dead ;p
Jason “Mouth” Cherot – 17 March 2020