Addictive, intriguing & complicated:
talks indie genre filmmaking
Horrified interviewed filmmaker Terry Cooper in 2021 while in the early stages of development for his next feature, Bloody Students. As he edges ever closer to shooting the film, Terry gives an honest assessment of low-budget filmmaking in 2023…
I ’m very happy to see that Horrified continues, as there was some doubt as to its future a while back. But like all good monsters, it keeps coming back.
In November 2021, I was interviewed by Ellis Reed about my first feature film, a sci-fi drama called Offworld, and my thoughts about horror, leading to my second film, Bloody Students, both of which I’ll be talking about in this article.
By way of a quick introduction, I’m a 53 year old artist and writer, born in London and based in South Wales. I’ve had a really varied career from mundane office/factory/call centres, to actor, rapper, set & props builder, novelist and even a Jack Sparrow impersonator for 11 years. Art and creativity have always been my main focus, whatever form that takes, and I’ve always wanted to direct a movie. Having that opportunity in 2017 with Offworld, may have been a little late to get into directing, and I had many good reasons not to continue.
Making films is tough. Very tough. Creatively, artistically, financially, emotionally… Everything conspires to give you a beating and only doing it will show you whether or not you’re cut out to make films. I wanted to walk away. I tried to, and still something brought me back to wanting a second bite of the cherry. I think it might just be that I want to find out just what I’m capable of it I can write and direct a film with a better idea, better support and without the committee approach that Offworld was. Even now, in the run up to principal photography of this new film, I can feel the waves of self-doubt and terror of failure, rising. Something tells me this feeling is present in every film maker, from nobodies like me to the Camerons and Spielbergs of this world. So – wade further in, I say.
I hold up my hands and say that horror is not my main passion. Given a choice, I’d choose sci-fi every time. But horror is like sci-fi in that it’s a genre outside the mainstream, for unconventional and eclectic tastes, with its own tropes, rules and appeal. I certainly don’t dislike horror, but as a fifty-something guy from the UK, you’ll understand when I say my idea of horror is somewhat old school. I grew up with Hammer, Amicus, Universal and VHS videotape horror. Admittedly, the Screams and Hostels don’t appeal to me very much. An American Werewolf in London (John Landis, 1981) is the guv’nor: my idea of the perfect horror film.
However, while the US seems to have a healthy and evolving core of horror movies and studios, the UK has fallen behind, in my opinion. We don’t have a standalone iconic studio like Hammer any more, to plant the flag for British Horror. Something that embodies spooky flicks from Blighty for all to see. And fear. I’m hoping that this will change. I have high hopes for Lawrie Brewster’s British Horror Studios venture, in that regard. His vision and tone seems to be a leading light for the genre.
As for my own project, I’m now a lot further down the line with Bloody Students since that 2021 interview, where I had no cast, only three-quarters of a first draft script, and little else. I now have a sixth draft which I think is the final one. I’m confident it has a good premise, decent pace and a good balance of gags and gore. I’ve got ninety percent of my cast: The titular ‘students’ are a sickeningly talented bunch, capable of switching from drama to comedy at the drop of a hat, my monsters are all statuesque and going to look wonderful. I’ve a small number of ‘grown-ups’ roles that are not yet cast, as I’m hoping to attract a couple of known actors into it, to bump up the fun factor and of course invite their fans to get involved. But they’ll have to take a chance on me.
There have been many let-downs of course. This is just the reality of attempting anything as wildly ambitious as a feature film; for every ‘yes’, there will always be many more ‘no’s. Being the guy who receives the bad news has a demoralising effect, and sometimes I feel we live in a complacent world, where people prefer the easy option: say no and turn their back on you, rather than see what you’ve got to offer. On top of that, some people lose interest and drop out, but you’ve got to keep wading into the treacle. Otherwise you’ve gotten over a year into the project and throwing in the towel would be just as demoralising as anything else.
I know I’m an underdog at the moment, both in terms of experience and output. There is a growing scene of filmmakers in South Wales at present. The guys at Broadside are well into features and shorts, Craig Fisher is a superb talent in horror. Then there’s Melyn Pictures, Mad Science Films, Farsight Films, Cinescope, Volcano Creative, and a load more that I’m not even aware of, all forging ahead with independent, original films in every genre. Many of these teams share cast and crew too, so it’s beginning to solidify into a real community. I’m on the outside of this at the moment, but my cast are a link to this scene. We all know how hard it is to get the support and resources that we need to make our films, and unless you’re already established or willing to jump through a lot of hoops, the film industry here is not going to be interested. So we – or at least I – just keep going, focussing on what I have access to, instead of the things I lack.
I’ve had to scale my movie down a lot in the past year. Everything is connected to your budget and any change can either cost you a lot or save you a lot. In the case of my film, I’ve removed a character, changed the locations, chopped out scenes, and reorganised the shoot a number of times. This has saved me a lot of money but still hasn’t cured the headaches that come with this line of work. At the end of the day, I’m still certain that my concept, idea and story is intact and will be well worth seeing, whether it’s a low/no budget production or something more. In May, we’re running a Bloody Students crowdfunding campaign, to boost the budget as much as possible. Many of the aforementioned filmmakers have done the same and we all chip in where we can. So I’m hoping the word goes out far and wide, and by the end of May, we’ll have a few dollars more to up the production values a bit. Or at least provide biscuits for the cast on those long shooting days.
Filmmaking here – and especially genre film – is addictive, intriguing and complicated. But it can also be very rewarding too. Every single well-known movie that you love had humble beginnings in towns like mine, as an insanely ambitious idea that someone, whether it was Roger Corman, Lucio Fulci or Edgar Wright, thought up and fought really, really hard, to bring to the screen. That’s what I always keep in mind. To finish, I’ll completely butcher a quote from Kevin Smith: It costs nothing to encourage an artist, and the potential benefits are staggering. It could one day result in your favourite film, or the song that saves your life. If you discourage an artist, you get absolutely nothing in return, ever.
The more the merrier I say.