Now Salt, the two-minute horror film. Was brevity part of your plan for Salt or did that just kind of develop that way?
Yes, I guess it’s quite hard to do something in two minutes that actually works. It was hard for us to fit everything in because we wanted– We got it down to about three, four minutes and it [was difficult to] really get it down to two, but we managed it in the end. We’re really happy with the results. No it’s not easy, it’s not easy at all.
No, it forces you to be extremely economic of your storytelling. Was that a fun challenge to kill your darlings and get it down there?
I didn’t think it was fun at all actually. Because there’s so much. It’s really dense. There’s so much happening in such a short space of time. We have two amazing people. We had Alice Lowe who’s amazing. Obviously you want her on screen as much as possible and then we had, playing her daughter, we had Beau Gadsdon who is in fact little Jyn Erso from Rogue One Star Wars.
Yes, why can’t they be in it for longer? It’s a shame we had to cut out little bits here and there. We think it probably worked out for the best.
Yes, it’s a real stripped out lean monster.
Yes, it is. You watched it at Fright Fest, what did you think?
I absolutely loved it. It’s a real shot to the adrenal gland. It’s instant. It’s there and you’re out. Based on the reaction, I don’t think anyone was expecting it, even though it was introduced to us as a very short film. No one expected it to just happen the way it did.
Yes, what I saw from the Fright Fest screening was the entire time everyone held their breath. As soon as the credits hit, we all breathe out at the same time and there were screams there throughout. I watched it a billion times of course but, I will say I held my breath as well. I was like “wow, this is pretty powerful”. It’s only really watching it with an audience who were on board to get that full effect of what a really short horror film is.
Was that your first time with an audience?
Yes, kind of. I went to LA to watch it a few weeks ago; the LA shorts festival, but it was different. They messed around with it a little bit. It’s always good to have it with a British audience because obviously here, we love Alice Lowe and in America they might not know exactly who she is straightaway. Here [she’s a] national treasure.
Especially in the horror circles.
Exactly, especially at Fright Fest. You’ve got to love of good will there. Alice Lowe, is kind of like a cheat code. I’m really, really pleased with the audience reaction.
Are you or anyone involved tempted to go back and have an extended cut of Salt?
Yes. The original cut, after we’d finished it, was three minutes. Rob Savage was the director, (I’m the writer along with Rob) and he had to like hack away until he got [to two minutes]. It was a little bit more buffering around the edges, a little more of her running through the house, a little bit more pauses here and there, but it turned out perfectly. There is a little bit at the end, maybe there’s a longer hold on a certain scene at the end, but that’s about it really.
We want to do a film version. That’s the thing and we filmed it [whilst in] our minds being “okay, we’re going to do a feature, we’re going to do a feature”. Even before anyone’s ever seen it, we’d had quite a lot of interest in a feature version of it just through word of mouth. But now it’s out there. It’s ramping up quite a lot.
It’s got a fabulous premise and creature feature as it were, the idea that it can’t cross these lines of Salt. You introduce that rule and then you play with it so many times within this very short length with the fan and the rain. There’s definitely a lot you could explore there over the course of a feature.
Yes, it’s funny because how me and Rob came up with it was quite a strange story. Actually, this will probably be the first time I’ve told it. We were at Sundance (humble brag) for Dawn of the Deaf. I don’t know if anyone’s been to Sundance before, but the shuttle, it’s freezing cold. It’s like minus 15 degrees outside at all times. Snow up to your eyeballs. You get these shuttle buses between venues and bars and stuff. Rob and I got on one and it was so cold and I felt so sick after a few days there. Eating food from weird burlesque bars. We got off at the wrong stop essentially and our chalet where we were staying, we just had no idea where it was.
We just sat across a walk across the snow into oblivion. I think it soon dawned that I was really sick and I wasn’t really reacting very well. I was almost, I don’t know, I was out of it. In order to kind of keep me going, he was like, “Hey, let’s come up with another film premise. We need to do a siege movie, but how can you make it original?” Straightaway I was like, a siege movie in a Salt circle. And he was like, “Yes, that’s awesome.” because it’s just one very small area that he was like, “Okay, but why salt circle?” Then we came up with this whole backstory.
You don’t really see the backstory in the short, but the premise around it is; for some reason this demon wants to get to this daughter and every night, Alice Lowe has to put a salt circle around her bed in order to protect her daughter from evil. […] Then he was like, “Okay, but then what? We need to ramp it up.” Then it was like, “[…] She has to leave the salt circle for some reason, but she keeps making salt circles as she goes. She’s doing this every night.
The demon’s clever and the demon finds unique ways in order to break the salt circle.” And then he was like, “Okay. But what else could break the salt circle?” “Maybe we could have it that the pipes burst or something?” But then we thought of an elaborate fan type thing. In the feature, because we’d planned out what would happen in the future feature, there’s all kinds of stuff that happens with salt circles and the use of salt.
Yes, well actually to go back a little bit, the whole premise is based on Annie Hardy who was a friend of mine, who is in this band called Giant Drag. She lives in LA and she believes in supernatural stuff. Her bedroom was covered in crucifixes. She’s a really good friend of mine. It’s kind of based on her as well. Her belief in supernatural and things like that. But yes, it’s pretty elaborate what happens.
Yes, absolutely. You mentioned it briefly there, after the writing stage, to what extent were you involved in the actual production of the film?
Well, you know when they say writers shouldn’t be on the set?
I am the worst. I am there, I am in the front of that monitor. I’m just being generally in the way. This time I thought, I was involved in more than I should have been. Even before we start production, I was there with the stunt coordinators because there’s a few stunts involved. I was there helping out the stuntmen and actually on set, I was pulling ropes and stuff so certain things can swing. I was holding up plastic sheets so that the monster could run into it, I was carrying around sofas.
95% of the time, I was just in the garden of that house with Alice Lowe going episode by episode on Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. I was– Right, Episode One, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. “Tell me what this means.” She was so good too, she was just breaking down all of her roles for me. That was like a dream, man. I’m a big Alice Lowe fan.
Yes, it’s a rare opportunity to catch up with her since she disappeared.
Yes. That’s true. That is true. It was really, really cool and Beau Gadsdon was really cool as well and her mum. Obviously, we had to tell her that– We didn’t tell her that it was a monster. We told her it was big dog, but she kind of figured it out.
When she saw the monster guy walking around, I suppose. To what extent, I must ask, was the monster practical?
Oh wow. You can tell.
Yes, it was designed by Dan Martin who does all the Ben Wheatley films. He basically built a monster for us. It was really, really cool. We had a bigger budget than we’re used to. We managed to pull out a lot of the stops and get a lot of people involved who normally probably wouldn’t for a little short.
I see that you’re about to, or you have completed, a third project with writer-director Rob Savage. How’s that working relationship between you guys?
It was good. Salt was actually the third one. […] A lot of people don’t know about our first one called Absence, which stars Paul McGann. Eighth Doctor Who, Paul McGann. That was the first one that we came up with. How we know each other is I saw him post a one-minute comedy short online and I was like, “This is cool. This guy’s got ideas.” I had lots of ideas for films and I was like, “Right, I’ll get in touch with this guy.” Turns out we’re into the same things. [He’s a] big horror fan and me too.
I was like, “Let’s meet up for a drink.” In that very first meeting, I pitched him Dawn of the Deaf. I was like, “I’ve got this idea. It’s called Dawn of the Deaf.” He was like, “Oh cool, that’s amazing, but we should do something a bit smaller to start with.” We decided to do Absence and that was done, I would say most of it, I stuck in a grand. I think the producer stuck in a ground. Everyone did it for free. Paul McGann did it for free and we just made it. That was it.
Then we didn’t really know what we were doing in terms of submitting it to festivals and stuff, but it got into the London Film Festival. It got into Fright Fest. It got into all of them, essentially, and then we were like, “Oh, okay, this is how you do it.” Then we decided to do it again with Dawn of the Deaf. Dawn of the Deaf was the film that got us noticed and got us a lot of interest in our future projects and is the one that’s going to be a feature for us, I guess.
Yes, Rob and I, we get on like a house on fire. We both have another language of horror. He’s one of the few people in the world that I don’t need to dumb down my horror references with. I can mention like a Fulci film. I can mention an anthology film from like the early ’60s and he’ll know what I’m talking about. He’ll know a horror from Thailand that no one else will know but me. Because to find someone to collaborate with that’s so on-brand with me is really rare. We work really well together. It’s like we met up a few days ago just to discuss the Salt movie and we can finish up each other’s sentences very easily. We can predict where we’re going with things. It’s just so easy to get things done with Robert. He’s an incredibly talented director as well. He’s just finished– I’m not sure I’m allowed to announce it, but he’s just come off a TV show for Sky.
Yes, quite a big TV show. The next thing– Again, I’m not sure I’m meant to be announcing anything, but obviously, we’re looking still a Dawn of the Deaf movie and it’s going ahead. That will be a project in the future for us. We’re really, really looking forward to see what we could do with Dawn of the Deaf.
Coming on to Dawn of the Deaf. It was a wonderfully twisted and very interesting short horror film from 2016. How did it come about? How did it come to you?
It was way back in like 2010 and 2011, I think where I had the idea of a– I wanted to do a zombie movie. I wanted to write a zombie movie. I’ve been writing things, little short stories since I was a child in school. I’ve been a journalist every now and again. I love zombie films, but they’re absolutely done to death. There’s no interesting way to do a zombie film.
Then I thought, what if it was a silent zombie movie with subtitles? And then I thought, okay; Deaf people. Dawn of the Deaf is not only a very catchy pun on Dawn of the Dead, but it actually really works in the circumstances. People, first of all, think it’s a parody, but when they watch it, they realize it is actually the perfect name. I pitched it to Rob. I was like, “This is my idea. This is what would happen.” Even ideas such as the words going behind people’s hands when they speak–
That was brilliant.
Yes, that was all from the very, very start, because I said, “If you’re having a conversation with someone in the street, you’re not going to catch every word. You’re distracted by things and we have to try and represent that.” […] We basically needed to find funding for it. Wanted to do it as a feature first, but no one wanted to give us any money for a feature about a zombie film with Deaf people in it because no one’s ever seen that before.
We thought we had to make a proof of concept. We scraped together some money. This wasn’t funded. This wasn’t funded by anyone. This wasn’t funded by the BFI. This wasn’t funded by any film fund. We just scraped money together. This particular acting school gave us a few quid if we used some of their actors. We managed to do it.
Again it was favours and wishes and hopes. It just became something incredibly epic and beautiful and better than we could ever imagine. […] It looks a lot more expensive than is. Altogether we made it for about five grand or something, but I think people think we made it for like 100 grand just due to the scale of it.
It looks fabulous.
Yes, thanks. It’s the one thing that people love. If they’re going to watch one thing that we’ve done, it’s probably going to be Dawn of the Deaf. It’s taken us all around the world as well. We’ve been everywhere with that little film. It’s been a really great experience.
I suppose one of the good things about now having also made Salt is that it’s this bite-sized proof of your abilities as a writer and for Rob as a visual storyteller.
Exactly. It’s because you see a lot of horror films out there, I mean, maybe it’s a little bit snobbish, but I feel like you can’t really make an original horror movie unless you know everything that’s come before. To get myself and Rob who are just encyclopedias of horror and all we talk about with each other is horror. If you look at our texts, it’s just about horror films. Just constantly. We know what’s come before and we know what not to copy and where people have gone wrong in the past.
We go back and we look at these films from the ’70s and ’80s that never quite made it, but had interesting premises and we think, “Okay. What if that happened now?” We can try and twist it. We have become known as the kind of British duo that can kind of pull off these little things. I guess the next step is to see if we can do it at that feature length level. That’s what we’ll try to do while still making little shorts because we love making shorts too.
Absolutely. Are you planning on sticking to the horror genre?
Yes. Every collaboration myself and Rob will do is going to be horror because that’s what we love. Just before speaking to you just now, I was just watching a horror film. It’s all I do in my spare time. I’d rather watch a horror film than go about and meet friends. I don’t see us ever stopping. I am directing. I’m shooting a film myself. I’m directing it myself next month. This month, sorry, it’s later in this month. It does have horror elements, but I would say it’s more an adventure movie.
It’s the first film I haven’t done with Rob. It’s written and directed by me, but it has a lot of the same elements and a lot of the same crew and some of the same people actually. I don’t want to spoil it but if you liked Dawn of the Deaf, you will really like this as well.
Fabulous, looking forward to it.
I was flipping through my copy of the BFI London Film Festival catalogue. I was delighted to see that Salt is part of their Cult Strand short film collection. You mentioned having been there before with Absence and was Dawn of the Deaf there as well?
Yes. Absence was there and Dawn of the Deaf was there as well. This is three films in a row at London Film Festival. So, so happy. London film festival is, to me, the best film festival in the world. It’s our home festival and we feel like we’re the bad kids at the back of the school bus because we’re a horror film in such a prestigious film festival. It’s crazy but it’s the best experience.
You feel validated by your peers and by your city really. I do feel like a complete imposter, I have complete imposter syndrome when I go to these things. We were there with Dawn of the Deaf and I was like, “We shouldn’t be here.” Everyone’s really cool and beautiful here and then there’s us with our little horror film. It’s an amazing experience, I’m just absolutely honoured to be part of the London Film Festival again with Salt. Hopefully Alice Lowe will be there as well introducing films. Hopefully Beau Gadsdon as well. She is also going to be Little Lisbeth Salander in the new Girl with the Dragon Tattoo film.
Wow, that’s fabulous.
We’ve got a little star on our hands. We probably can’t afford her to make the Salt movie now.
Oh God, I just remembered some of the things that happen to Little Lisbeth Salander in the books. Now I feel less good about that.
I haven’t read the books.
It will be harder to disguise some of those things as just being a big dog.
Oh God, okay.
She’ll be fine. You’re in fabulous company in that film collection, including a few other guys from the Fright Fest.
There was Catcalls, [directed by] Kate Dolan. I love Catcalls, it was really, really good. I think it’s going to be announced today at some point, but we’re also in Fantastic Fest. That is the biggest genre film festival in America. That’s going to be announced in the next half hour, I think. We’re in that with Kate as well so it just seems Catcalls and Salt are going to be together in a whole bunch of genre festivals coming up. We’re in a ton more film festivals as well but they haven’t been announced yet, I’m not allowed to say anything.
Plenty of opportunities for people to see and experience Salt.
Exactly. Actually if you live in London, [this is] very London-centric. A particular cinema in London which is my favourite cinema is going to be showing Salt before their horror movies all through October as well. It’s the Prince Charles Cinema.
Yup, it was bound to be.
Of course. If you’re going to see a horror film during October at Prince Charles Cinema, you’ve got to see Salt beforehand. They’re great at the Prince Charles Cinema. They’ve always supported me in my projects. Not only in my film projects but podcasts as well, they’ve always let me do live shows there and they’re really up for letting us do stuff. I can’t wait, I can’t wait to have it at London Film Festival, I’m so excited by it. I wake up every day and I’m like, “Oh my God.”
Just more reason for me to try and get people into the horror films at the Prince Charles.
For sure, yes. Definitely. It’s so quick as well, it’s not like someone who doesn’t like horror will have to see it through for very long. It’s only two minutes.
Absolutely. May I ask you about you being co-producer on Birdemic 2?
Sure, what do you want to know?
How was being a co-producer on Birdemic 2?
That was my first taste of Hollywood really. Birdemic 2, was that 2012?
Yes, I believe it was.
Obviously I was a big fan of the first Birdemic, I was obsessed with it. Then like I normally do with anything, my friends will vouch for this, if I like something, I will force myself into that world. I’m like, “I like Birdemic. How do I get in this world?” I just started emailing around and I found the lead character’s email address, Alan, who plays Rod in it. He said, “You’ve got to speak to James Nguyen, the director.”
I was like, “Cool.” Then he put me in touch with the executive producer. I was like, “My name’s Jed. You don’t know me, I haven’t really done films before but this is my idea.” They were working on the sequel, I was like, “I can help with this, this, this this, this is what you should do.” I just imprint myself upon it. I got sent the script and I was like, “Wow, this script is pretty bad.” If we wanted it to be as good as the first one, we had to leave James to do whatever he wanted. Honestly, it was hard to read. I was like, “This is crazy but I like it. It’s crazy.”
That is so often the problem with cult movies that then get sequels, like Samurai Cop and Deadly Prey. The sequel just becomes very aware of itself. It really seems like the director, James Nguyen was just unaware of the issues that people had with the original.
This is the thing, people think that he was aware of them, but he genuinely wasn’t aware. He came over for London, to some other European premier and he truly believes he’s a reincarnation of a number of different directors. Alfred Hitchcock is the main one.
He believes he’s the greatest director, no joke about it.
And that the only problem with Birdemic was that it just didn’t have a very big budget. That’s literally the only thing he concedes.
Oh God. Honestly, someone’s going to write a book one day about Birdemic 1 and Birdemic 2. He had aspirations above his station, he was so angry at us for not getting him $150 million budget for Birdemic 2. He was like, “I can’t believe you didn’t do it. We had offers from Universal for $150 million.” I think the budget for Birdemic 2 was 10 times the amount that Birdemic was shot for.
I’m not sure if you watched it, but it’s got zombies in it, it’s got time travel, it’s got acid rain. It’s got blood rain at one point. It’s got cavemen. It’s just got lots of action, it’s got a 10-minute dance scene. It’s absolutely mental and it’s complete trash. It is now out of the IMDB bottom 100 for the first time in a long time.
Pretty proud of that.
Time for a reappraisal.
Yes. It was an absolutely surreal experience. I get noticed for that a lot. I get, at Q&As and stuff for various films and things, people bringing up Birdemic 2. I actually really like it and I really like talking about it. Everyone who worked with me was actually really fun. My dream is, I was saying it to Rob, if we got the chance to remake Birdemic, I said, “Would you direct it?” He was like, “Yes, totally.” You never know, you never know. I’ve got a contract to write Birdemic 3 as well.
I have written it, but it’s never going to get made.
Would James be involved if you were to do so? I know he was fundraising for Birdemic 3 a few years ago.
Yes, he really was, but he didn’t actually hold the rights to Birdemic 3 while he was doing that. It was weird. He was just doing it off his own back but he didn’t own the rights. The person who did own the rights let it lapse so it did go back with James. He’s told me he doesn’t want to direct it.
I think if someone offered him a decent budget, he probably would. It’s a crazy comedy but it is fun and I’m glad I was involved in it.
It must be really fun to be involved in that cult world like that.
Yes. It’s funny because we were offered, and again I’m might be speaking out of school here, but we were offered a sequel to The Room as well. […] A sequel to The Room, a sequel to Troll.
Wow. Oh God though, what would you call it even? There was so many trolls that aren’t actually-
I know. It would just have to be a Troll rebirth or something. I found myself in this weird world of trash movies. It was really good to then suddenly go into the world of where everyone respects your movies, and being a film festival darling and a Sundance favourite.
I can’t help but think of that scene in Trumbo where, unable to get any work whatsoever, he ends up working for Roger Corman’s company. It’s like, “Let’s just write trash, but we’ll write it great.”
That’s my dream, working for Corman. That’s my dream. I was recently in LA and I was hanging out with– See this is the great thing about making films, my favorite film in the absolute world is the 1984 classic sci-fi horror, a film called ‘Night of the Comet’, which is– Do you know it?
I know it yes.
It’s on Netflix. It’s my favorite film and it’s the biggest inspiration. You will see the inspiration in Dawn of the Deaf as well. And, because Salt was screened in LA, I just reached out to one of the actresses, one of the main actresses from Night of the Comet and was like, “By any chance, do you want to come hang out at my film premier”, and she was like, “Yes”. I got to hang out and have dinner and have drinks with the main actress from my favorite movie of all time. I don’t know when else that would ever happen by making a little film and screening it in places.
Absolutely. That’s right, Night of the Comet just got a really plush arrow video release, that’s why I came across-
It did, it did. It genuinely is one of the most inventive, cool, fun movies ever. The dialogue is perfect. Directed by Tom Eberhardt. It’s brilliant. So, so good.
Fantastic. I’ll have to hunt that out.
Yes. Please do.
You can catch Salt at the London Film Festival, Fantastic Fest and at the Prince Charles Cinema throughout October. Night of the Comet is also available in a really plush Arrow Video release.