Indie directors work incredibly hard to get their vision out to people, and horror directors in particular seem to have a great love for their genre. It’s one where you can have a shoestring budget yet still make a compelling and terrifying film, and the uniqueness of each person’s vision adds a lot to the genre’s landscape. In the modern age, these directors are able to use crowdfunding to help get their ideas up onto the screen, closing the gap between the film and the fans as they get to contribute and occasionally become a part of the process. Richard Rowntree is one such director, with two shorts and one feature successfully crowdfunded in the past, and his newest vision, titled Nefarious, now in the works. We spoke with Richard about this new film, the trials and tribulations of being an indie horror director, and the making of his first film, Dogged.
GOOMBA STOMP: Thanks for speaking with us Richard. Can you first just give us a quick rundown on who you are and your history in film?
RICHARD ROWNTREE: I’m Richard Rowntree, I’ve worked in the film industry in various capacities since 2002 when I left university (where I studied film). I’ve known since I was pretty young that I wanted to make movies, but I kind of got caught up working on other people’s movies to pay the bills, and forgot my own ambitions! So, about 5 years ago I decided it was time to do something about that. I scraped together a bunch of people in the same sort of situation as me, and we formed Ash Mountain Films so that we could do a short film. That lead to six short films, and then a feature! We’re all close friends, and have built up a great group of cast and crew over the years, and we just love making movies!
GS: You’re currently running a Kickstarter for your next film project, Nefarious. Can you tell us a bit about the setup to the film?
RR: Sure, so Nefarious is a home invasion horror/thriller that we’re all very excited about. It has some twists and turns, and hopefully it’ll give genre fans something that seems to be lacking at the moment: an ultra low-budget horror film with practical effects and a great story! At its core it’s about the class war, mental health issues, and sexual manipulation — things we feel are all really strong themes in the current world.
GS: What would your boiled-down elevator pitch for the movie be?
RR: So, a group of four kids from the wrong side of tracks break into the wrong house at the wrong time and end up fighting for their lives.
GS: That sounds exciting! The film is planned to be a home invasion horror; what’s your favorite film from the sub genre?
RR: I really admire The Strangers, and I enjoyed Don’t Breathe recently.
GS: Your first film, the folk horror Dogged, is steeped within folklore from the UK. Will Nefarious continue to explore this, or move away to fully explore the home invasion side of things?
RR: This film has more of an urban theme, and is firmly based in the home invasion sub genre with its setup, but the twists and turns should take the audience on quite a different journey from what they’re used to seeing!
GS: Do you find yourself working with some of the same collaborators as on Dogged?
RR: Yes, I love working with the same crew. We all have the same ethos and passion for filmmaking at this level, and it makes life a lot easier in a lot of ways as you develop an almost telepathic method of communication. We’re also working with some of the same cast this time — Toby Wynn-Davies, Nadia Lamin, and Greg Smith were all in Dogged, and they’re a joy to work with!
GS: Dogged was released and featured across many film festivals. How important do you find these film fests are to indie horror directors?
RR: I don’t think you can understate the importance of good film festivals to emerging filmmakers. They’ve given us a wonderful opportunity to showcase our work to a ravenous genre audience, and to present them with something they’re not used to seeing at our budget level. It helps us to connect directly with audiences and other filmmakers and get honest feedback on our work, and gives us a chance to see what else other people are making in a similar vein. They’re also so much fun to attend. We’ve had a blast this last six-to-eight months, and we’re so grateful we’ve been selected for such a great range of festivals.
GS: They certainly seem very beneficial to both filmmakers and fans alike! Back to the filmmaking processes — your first film took place across a town, mostly outdoors. Nefarious, as a home invasion film, would more likely largely take place in a very centralized location. Does this impact the focus on set design at all? Would a more narrowed-down area impact how you approach making the film?
RR: Absolutely! About 70% of Nefarious is set in 2 rooms, so we know that those rooms have to be perfect for the scenarios. So we decided, given how much time we’ll be in those rooms, that we’d build them. Our production designer, Mel Wignall, is brilliant in every aspect of her work, and the concepts she’s come up with already have blown me away. It’s a very exciting prospect to be able to completely control the shooting environment. I think it will help the film elevate itself too, with control of interior lighting and so on, and will enable me as a director to focus even more on aspects of performance. It’s going to be a very different film from Dogged!
GS: On the making of Dogged, were there any major complications you ran into during filming?
RR: We certainly had some issues, and those were mostly borne out of blind naiveté, being our first feature. We had equipment breakages & scheduling issues which we’ve learned from!
GS: Dogged featured some great imagery and chilling locations. Do you consider atmosphere to be the most important side of horror films?
RR: Atmosphere is hugely important yes, but also I think making a story that audiences can relate to is paramount. If people can connect with the horror of the story somewhere in the recesses of their mind, then you’re onto a winner.
GS: Nefarious is your second full-length film and second horror film. Are you a big fan of the genre? Do you consider it an effective place of entry for indie directors, or feel it’s more suited to those with a great love of the genre?
RR: I adore horror films done properly. I’m quite picky if I’m honest though, and a lot of stuff in the last 20 years for me has suffered from over-hype. I do get frustrated seeing wannabe filmmakers using it as a stepping stone to “non-genre” films, because I think that horror audiences deserve more. They’re really clued up, and have strong ideas about what they want and don’t (and so do I), and I respect that enough to want to be a part of it. My future is definitely within the genre, I could never make a period drama or a rom-com. They’re just not my thing!
GS: Onto something a bit more personal to you. Do you have any directorial influences?
RR: Fincher, Kubrick, Lynch, Carpenter, Craven — the list goes on, and they’re all massive influences for me. Lynch’s themes of weirdness bubbling under the surface of everyday life though are probably more of a direct influence on my way of writing though.
GS: As an indie director yourself, do you find yourself more admiring other indie directors or larger scale directors as your influences?
RR: The work that other indie filmmakers come up with blows me away. The standard of some of the films, both shorts and features, that I’ve been lucky enough to see at some of the festivals I’ve been to in the last year is amazing. I still enjoy seeing big budget movies that surprise me, but the stuff that some of these artists are coming up with on minimal budgets is fantastic
GS: What’s the biggest difficulty in being an indie horror director? Does it come in shooting, getting locations, keeping cast and crew invested?
RR: Finding the funds! In all seriousness, the filmmaking process, although hard work, is an absolute joy every step of the way. Even the problems. Working with a great team negates the stress of the issues that come up. But raising the funds, especially via crowdfunding, is incredibly hard work.
GS: Outside of horror, do you draw inspiration from other films?
RR: I think you can take something away from everything you watch. Be it a colour palette, an unusual choice of music for a scene, a performance, whatever — I love sci-fi too, and the characterisation of that genre is something I draw from. Ambiguity and hopelessness.
GS: What would you consider your favorite horror film, and favorite non-horror film?
RR: So many to choose from! I have to say The Shining is my favourite horror, and Jaws (although some consider it horror) for non-horror. I love the original Star Wars trilogy too.
GS: Would you like to share some final words on Nefarious?
RR: Nefarious is a film that all of us here at Ash Mountain desperately want to make. We think we’ve learned so much from making Dogged, and we want to be able to put that to effective use in another feature. But we really only can do that if we get the funding, so I’d like to appeal to people who really love the horror genre and who are looking for something a little more out of their regular comfort zone. The class divide and other themes it’s centred on are current affairs, so we hope that the horror community will band together to help us get it made!
Huge thank you to Richard Rowntree for speaking with us and revealing the mind and processes of an indie horror director. Indie filmmaking is a passionate subset of the film industry, with directors and crew having more control over their product, and a lot of passion to go with it. Indie films are a big part of keeping genres such as horror fresh and exciting.
You can check out the Nefarious campaign to see how it’s developing, or even to help support it, on Kickstarter here. Richard’s first film, Dogged, was a very promising debut — to read my thoughts on it, check out this review.