"THE VAMPIRES OF BLOODY ISLAND"
INTERVIEW # 2
How would you go about making a full length fantasy adventure feature film if you had never made a film before and you had no experience or money?
Well, it's just been done. And this is no cheap looking urban drama with a couple of amateur actors filmed in their living rooms either!
"The Vampires of Bloody Island" has high production values with glamorous exterior locations, elaborate studio sets, smoke machines, explosions and special effects, cars and boats, plus a giant battle scene with a hundred well armed Medieval vampires in elaborate costumes and make-up. And it was made by two first-time film makers, totally outside of the studio system or the established film industry, and was entirely self financed.
Allin Kempthorne (director/co-writer/co-producer) and Pamela Kempthorne (co-writer/co-producer) answer questions about how they made the cult classic film "The Vampires of Bloody Island"
How did you set the budget and raise the money for the film?
We always knew that no one was going to finance the film for us, a couple of unknown first timers, and if we were to make a movie we'd have to find the money for it ourselves. So we sat down with our credit cards, all of which were, shall we say, in good use anyway! We looked at the limits on each of them and worked out how much we could raise. Then we took all the junk mail we get in the post every day for loans and credit cards and applied for as many as we could. It's not difficult to raise exceedingly large amounts of money very quickly! Not difficult at all - but very, very scary!!
We set ourselves a loose budget at about £20,000 to £30,000. We already owed about that much on credit cards anyway so it was hardly a decision we made lightly. But it seemed an amount we could probably squeeze out a movie on, if we used every trick in the book to keep the costs down. In the end it actually cost us far, far more than that, what with compound interest and everything escalating as we plunged into debt at an alarming rate. But ultimately we had the faith that it would all be worth it.
What gave you the faith that it would work?
We did our homework!
We researched what sort of films sell, where the market was, what genres could be successful on a low budget. We found two types of movies where that was the case; Horror and Porn!
And I wasn't going to let him make porn!!
No, porn was out! However, looking into the Horror niche we decided that vampire films are fun. We've always liked them, there's a huge market for them, and to a certain extent if a film has the word 'vampire' in the title you're going to tap into a core market, regardless of whether you have any star names, or any of the usual necessities.
Also, vampire films can be very, very forgiving of a low budget. We've all grown up with the Hammer vampire films, which continually used a very low budget alarmingly effectively. We read up on and watched a lot of those films and analysed in incredible detail how to squeeze the most production value out of each of our pound notes!
How long did you spend in development?
We spent about six months just bandying around ideas and forming the concept. Our whole house was covered in a mass of hand written notes and post-its, shaping out the basic story structures and the character arcs, plus snippets of killer dialogue or character moments that came to us while in the bath, or doing the washing up. We then spent a year pretty solidly writing and rewriting the script until we felt positive it glowed! We gave it a good involving story with characters you love, and kept very tight to the golden rule that something exciting should happen in the dialogue, on the screen or in the sound at least every 30 seconds.
We weren't going to be happy with something that was "OK" or merely "good enough". If we were to sink all of that money, time and effort into making a movie, we knew it had to be something pretty damned dazzling!
Yeah, something so involving that the sheer belief in what we were doing would pull us through when things got tough.
And at times they really, really DID get tough!
Describe the film.
It's a cult classic vampire comedy. It's the vampire film that out hammers Hammer. It's Rocky Horror meets Carry On Screaming. It's the Addams Family for grown ups! It's everything that you want from a modern British vampire comedy fantasy.
A magazine article refered to it as a 'cult classic vampire movie', and everyone's latched on to that title as if it could never have been anything else! Stylistically, we took the framework of the Hammer films and developed onto it an almost cartoon-like, surreal fantasy look, a sort of Tim Burton comic gothic touch.
How did you maintain high production values on a micro budget?
As we've already said, we always knew the budget for "The Vampires of Bloody Island" was going to be very small, but we also always wanted a 'big film' feel to it. So we wrote the script, to a degree, around locations, props, costumes and actors we already had some sort of connection with or thought we might be able to get for free!
That was a very important lesson I learnt on a Raindance film making course I went on. Use what you've got!
For instance, we wanted a big battle scene. Big films have big battle scenes, it's one of the hallmarks of a big budget fantasy film that you see time and time again. We knew we could do that on a low budget. We wrote it taking place in a wood because that's a generic enough location that we knew we could shop around for a bargain. We knew that if we went to the right groups of people, battle re-enactment groups, vampire groups and Goth clubs, we could populate our battle with willing volunteers, and we already had access to an enormous and varied historic costume collection. Add to that some incredible make up artists to turn everyone into vampires, werewolves and assorted demons, bung in the ever-present smoke machine, and there you go, a big, big scene on a tiny tiny budget!
We worked hard to think what would add real production value to the film, and drew up a list. Big battle scenes, exciting locations like an old Cornish ghost town and an ancient stone circle, a large cast, impressive monster make-up, a variety of boats (as the plot was to be on an island), a helicopter shot to open the film. Then we went out and made them happen! Either for free, if possible, or for ridiculously cheap! We were relentless. We just refused to take no for an answer. Do you know what it's like phoning around for a dozen discounted coffins and asking if they can deliver free to the West Country?
Where did you shoot the film?
The location of the old ghost town on Bloody Island was written according to a location that we already knew. My family comes from the West Country and my Mum lives in an ancient house fronting onto a very atmospheric old quayside. Shot with the right lenses and the right angles it can be a totally creepy and eerie location. Because my Mum lives right there she was able to clear the area with the locals for us to totally take over the place and redress it to make it even creepier. All her neighbours were totally into it too. They provided accommodation for our cast and crew, so we were all literally living scattered around the set! A nice bonus point to all this was that it bought me a lot closer to my Mother too. Like most modern guys I didn't really see my Mum nearly as much as a dutiful son should, so my bringing this enormous project to her doorstep and her being so actively involved in the film has really made us a lot closer.
For other locations we pulled as many favours as we could. We borrowed an office from Allin's brother, where we set up a studio and also built a few other sets from scratch, all over weekends when the office wasn't in use. One of our cast knew someone who owned a woods with some ruins. We hired some other woodland and a ruined graveyard from a London council for a very well negotiated price. We really travelled the length and breadth of the country with our cast and crew in tow. It was quite exhausting. But this was a fantasy film and it would live or die by the right fantasy locations. You just couldn't do Hammer Horror style film staying here in the East London suburbs!
How did you get the cast and crew?
I joined the film makers web community, Shooting People, which was undeniably the best twenty quid we spent on the whole production. We advertised on Shooting People for most of the crew . Other crew were enthusiastic and talented people we'd met on the many film making courses we'd been on, Raindance and the Guerrilla's course and so on.
Greg Houlgate, our DOP was a friend of ours of long standing who was just making the move from still photography into video work. He was incredible as he had all the knowledge of light, lenses and composition from being a commercial photographer, with all the excited enthusiasm of someone who was doing something new.
Ollie, our 1st AD, who also played the part of Van Rental, was suggested to us by one of our actors. He runs a theatre company and was just completing a film course, so he also approached the project with a mixture of professional experience and first time enthusiasm. An actress we knew became our casting director and put the ads out for our cast, sifting through the sack-loads of responses we got and arranging the auditions. Then we mopped up the edges with cast and crew we found through Talent Circle, plus people who just e-mailed us out of the blue because word had got round about the film.
In all we had just over 100 people involved in making this film. It was a daunting experience to find ourselves responsible for a hundred unpaid volunteers, but they were, with only 2, maybe 3 notable exceptions, a dedicated and enthusiatic lot who we really enjoyed working with. We had an excellent atmosphere on set most of the time, and that was very uplifting, knowing that that amount of people shared our faith in what we were doing.
What platform did you shoot on?
We had several main credentials to work around when choosing which route to go in terms of filming and editing. The first was obviously the budget, the second was that this film would be very special effects heavy, the third that we would want to shoot with a fairly fast turnaround and also, being new at this, we wanted plenty of scope to experiment widely while shooting and in the edit.
So because of all those reasons we decided to shoot on digital video and went about searching the best cameras for the lowest prices, which at that time was the Canon XL1.
We worked throughout with a two camera set-up wherever possible to get the maximum coverage of every scene in the best possible time. Of course, this meant that the eventual editing took a very, very long time, what with over 60 hours of footage to choose from, but the film is all the better for it. We edited on Final Cut Pro, which we had to learn from scratch. It was just the right platform for us in terms of the digital effects, explosions, blue screen work and animations we knew we'd need.
How can we find out more about "The Vampires of Bloody Island"?
As part of our overall marketing and publicity campaign, we've assembled a very dynamic mailing list, currently at around 300 people and growing daily, who receive our "Morticia's Army" newsletter.
Members of the newsletter get regular updates on the film's festival screenings and the like, lots of background and 'making of' stories, more details of how we actually did it and how we're dealing with the marketing of the film, and also they'll be the first to know when the film will be released and be able to get it at a discounted price.
We've also been establishing links with some other film makers and with various shops so that we can offer special deals on other films, (some quite big name ones too) and of course all sorts of vampire and Goth goodies, as we have a very large interest already from the amazingly large Goth community, not only in Britain but in many other countries too!
To join Morticia's Army just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and ask us to put you on the list, or find out more here.