Ellis Reed interviews the indie filmmaker, Kemal Yildirim about his horror film, The Haunting of the Lady-Jane…

Fans of classic ghost stories – and if you’re reading Horrified, that probably means you – will want to look at the Kickstarter for The Haunting of the Lady-Jane, which is the brainchild of award-winning indie filmmaker Kemal Yildirim.

Through his company Kemikal Films, Yildirim has ample experience on both sides of the camera. He co-produced and starred in the harrowing Malady (UK, Jack James, 2015) and later wrote, directed and starred in his own feature Wastelands (UK, Kemal Yildirim, 2020). Both won multiple awards on the festival circuit.

The Haunting of the Lady-Jane is set to be a slightly different, more accessible kind of horror film. On a journey of self-discovery, Lily (co-producer Natasha Linton) and Zara (Bryony Harvey) encounter a mysterious loner called Willard (Sean Botha). His narrowboat, the Lady-Jane, is slowly traversing the waterways of England. According to the pitch, ‘the threesome’s journey upriver becomes increasingly more bizarre and dangerous as Willard’s fascination with canal ghosts surfaces, and the spirit known as RÀN torments them on their journey…’

Influences for the film include the stories of M. R. James, The Blood on Satan’s Claw (Piers Haggard, 1971), and the TV movie of The Woman in Black (Granada, Herbert Wise, 1989). The antagonist will be brought to life by make-up artist Max Van De Banks and Canadian actress Helene Udy, who is known for her roles in My Bloody Valentine (George Mihalka, 1981) and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman (CBS, Beth Sullivan, 1993-8). 

Nearly half of the budget has been raised through private investment, but Yildirim is using Kickstarter to crowdfund the rest. Backers can snap up some great perks, including exclusive goodies, associate producer credits, and even a chance to appear on screen. There aren’t many horror films set on British waterways – I can only think of Barge People (Charlie Steeds, 2018), The Reeds (Nick Cohen, 2010) and The Dark Mile (Gary Love, 2017) – but it’s a great backdrop for a ghost story, so we’re crossing our fingers for a successful campaign.

We took the opportunity to ask Kemal Yildirim some questions about his project.

Ellis: You’re a man of many talents, insofar as you write, direct, act, and sometimes do all three (e.g., Wastelands). Which of these roles do you prefer? Do you have a different mindset for each?

Kemal: Why thank you. I started out as an actor so my love stemmed from the craft of creating characters. Usually broken characters as I find them the most fascinating and more akin to our true nature. Directing came naturally to me as I always loved the idea of creating worlds for these broken characters to navigate through. Writing is the most fun as you can lose yourself in this fictional world of your own creation.

I find there needs to be a different mindset for each. Acting is about finding the balance of character and being able to create a character that firstly fits what the writer/director wants, but also being able to bring your own creative spark to the character. The directing mindset differs for each creative. My own approach is hyperrealism mixed with some surrealism. So actors I tend to work with are people who really want to explore their craft and push their own boundaries of exploration. I think being malleable and open to the moment is really important in creativity.

E: Your influences for the film include The Woman in Black, Blood on Satan’s Claw, and the stories of M. R. James. Are there any more obscure or unusual influences that fed into your creative process?

K: Yeah, so much has influenced me as we live in a world of abundance. I am hugely inspired by art and its nature of subtext and its interpretive nature. For my latest project, The Haunting of the Lady-Jane, the works of Frida Kahlo in her quest for female empowerment have been a huge inspiration as that theme runs through my work. Also, for this particular project, Algernon Newton’s Charred Landscape images were images I had in mind while writing the script. I am a big fan of John Cassavetes’ way of working as an indie film maker. He has been a huge inspiration to me and always is on every project.

E: The antagonist is a water spirit called Rán. Beyond the name, is there a link to Norse mythology? What sort of research did you do when you were writing the film?

K: Yes, there is a link as Nordic culture runs through various aspects of British culture. I read The Viking Spirit (Daniel McCoy, 2016) as inspiration, so the deity RÀN is closely linked to the Nordic myth. I also read The Golden Bough (James Frazer, 1890) and many others as a source text to create the British folklore elements. The film is essentially about the clashing of cultures, old and new, in the guise of a ghost story. I’m a huge fan of British horror films and TV from the Sixties and Seventies, so this fed into my script.

E: On the Kickstarter, Rán is described as ‘a fresh new horror icon’. We can already see some great concept art by Ian Massey, pictured below. Are you likely to return to this character in future? Is there any chance of a franchise?

Concept art by Ian Massey

K: I certainly hope to revisit the character of RÀN as I feel it could fit into various guises in my films due to the duality of the character. As for a franchise, that all depends on how I do with my project. I would certainly not be against the idea as I really do love it.

E: Some of the films you’ve been involved with are quite dark and challenging. Malady has ‘scenes and instances that will make some of the most ardent psychological-thriller fans cringe in their seats’[1]. Will The Haunting of the Lady-Jane be a more typical genre film, or should we prepare for something really quite disturbing?

K: Malady was a great project to work on although the vision wasn’t mine, that was the vision of its filmmaker. I co-produced and starred as the male lead, so my influence was with the character I played as I have a certain approach to acting which helped shape the character.

The Haunting of the Lady-Jane is dark, as I believe all horror should be, but it’s certainly more mainstream as I want to appeal to a larger audience.

E: In your interview for Indie Activity, you describe pre-production as the ‘key stage’ for your process[2]. How is pre-production different when you’re crowdfunding the film? What have you learned – both good and bad – about the Kickstarter model?

K: Yes, I believe if you don’t prepare fully in pre-production the film will suffer thereafter. The crowdfunding experience has been by and large a great one, I have met some amazing people who genuinely love the concept and idea and who have been so supportive. The horror community is great and absolutely love and support the films they love. It is challenging as our pre-production all hangs on the Kickstarter campaign, but so far myself and my team have stepped up to the challenge.

E: Fans of your past work will recognise Natasha Linton (‘Lily’) from the award-winning Wastelands. How did the team for this feature come together?

K: When casting for Wastelands I knew I needed someone who wasn’t just looking for an acting role. Natasha Linton was that creative. We both decided we wanted to work on something new, this just seemed like the right project. The casting process is always fun but challenging as we knew we needed people who were passionate about the script. We have a great cast and crew of professionals and I am lucky to have them on board. I am very much looking forward to working with Helene Udy who is an icon, having starred in the original My Bloody Valentine, The Dead Zone, Star Trek DS9 and Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman. Helene is really passionate about the script and is very much looking forward to making a film in the UK.

E: Lastly: what else do you have in the pipeline for horror fans?

K: This pandemic has given me time to really create a body of work I’m excited about. I have quite a few scripts in development. A serial killer film called Saints, an anthology horror film which is nearly complete, a Giallo-inspired script which I’m just finishing and numerous short films – two of which will be shot very soon – so loads more in the pipeline!

Picture of Ellis Reed

Ellis Reed

To pass the time during lockdown, I decided to write some English ghost stories, which you can read for free on my blog.

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