Your upcoming film Molly Crows - in a few words, what is it
Good question. It's primarily about revenge and how the sins of our
fathers can come back to haunt us. But I focused on other issues like
bullying and alcoholism too in the movie. The lead protagonist is bullied
and her mother is an alcoholic desperately trying to cope with being a
single parent. When I was young I was bullied and I have lived with an
alcoholic so I used my personal experiences to full effect in the movie.
This makes it hard hitting and gives it a sense of realism. Molly Crows
isn't just about ghosts - it's about real life and how people in
everyday life can become our demons.
sounds like quite an ambitious
movie - so how did the project come into being to begin with?
The advice given to first-time feature directors is to keep it simple
Ė one or two locations and a handful of actors. This is good advice. I
didnít take it! We ended up with 30+ locations and a cast of 80. Then
thereís that old chestnut ďNever work with children and animalsĒ
Ė I cast a seven year old girl as the lead and we had about 20
children and enormous live crows flying around. To say I was punching
above my weight is an understatement. But that was the film I wanted to
make. The story inspired me, and nothing else was as satisfying as
attempting this. But it was madness. I hit brick walls with it, got
burned out at times, fell into pits of despair at times, you name it.
But we did it, and we did it well I think.
However, attempting something this ambitious isnít as mad as it sounds
on paper. The script was carefully researched and written, and the fact
that the events and scenes HAD to unfold and appear in a particular way
made it impossible to just junk an idea if it was proving difficult. In
the absence of any funds whatsoever, we had to find creative solutions
to problems and one way or another, make the film happen.
One thing Iím really glad I did was to write the script and then send
it to horror fans all over the world for feedback. Horror fans donít
have a reputation for being intelligent or articulate, but in my
experience they are smart and cultured people. They can pick apart and
analyse a film and tell you what they like, and more importantly,
whatís wrong with it. People treat horror like a cheap thrill. The
hardcore horror fans told me that wasnít what they wanted.
The feedback was that they were sick of gore films, and wanted a
compelling story with a solid plot, good acting and, wait for it, GOOD
DICTION! They wanted the characters to speak clearly and not mumble
their lines. In short, they wanted all the attention and respect paid to
a Ďseriousí film, but with horror and the supernatural as the main
focus of the movie. I took all of this on board and adjusted the script
accordingly. It would have been a very different movie without this
fantastic feedback, and that is one of the things that kept me going
when things seemed impossible.
is based on a true story from the 17th century, right? So what
did you find so compelling about the story, how easy was it to transfer
the story to modern times, and did you take many liberties with your
Yes it is. It's a true story about a young woman bullied because of her
deformities in the 18th century. Molly Leigh was a loner and she was
different. In those days being different made you a target of suspicion
and bullying. We take up this theme of bullying in the present-day part
of the film.
There isnít a lot of source material on Molly Liegh, because she was a
poor peasant woman from a small town, at a time when not a lot was
written down. We know that she was branded a witch by the villagers, and
we can understand why. She befriended a crow, and the local parson
thought this was satanic and branded her a witch. After she died, things
that went wrong in the town were blamed on her spirit. The villagers got
sick and were vomiting, and they thought that Molly was taking revenge
on them for treating her so badly.
What happened next was very strange Ė the clergy had her body exhumed
and re-buried cross-wise in the middle of the night, North to South
instead of East to West. They caught her crow companion and buried it
alive inside her coffin.
In terms of passion for the story, I really felt for her and how badly
she was treated, so I wanted to give her a voice. I took no liberties
with the original story out of respect for the dead, and I knew that
people would google it and check. Horror fans pay attention to such
things. So the story is that her unquiet spirit comes back to both
protect and to punish, as she was unable to do these things in her
Besides the true story, what were your
sources of inspiration when writing Molly Crows?
Inspiration for films has to come from a lot of sources, otherwise
youíre just parroting whatís already been done. I get inspiration
from everywhere - music, history, art, photography & real life as
well as films.
When I came to make Molly Crows
I knew that I needed structure for the
ideas I was having. I chose several films to help me structure the
script. One film I found helpful structure-wise was the movie Dead Man's
Shoes by Shane Meadows. Itís a revenge film that is set in the
midlands, and it contains flashbacks to past events. Watching this film
and understanding how the flashback sequences connected a traumatic set
of events in the past, to a present day situation, helped me to connect
events hundreds of years ago with the present day. Another aspect of
structure I found helpful in this movie was simply showing the plot
unfolding vs using dialogue to present the plot. Good movies use both.
Great movies like Dead Manís Shoes use both effortlessly. A mistake
some first time directors make is to assume that this is easy, or to not
think about them as two halves of the same thing. So watching this and
other movies gave me the inspiration & motivation to structure the
script properly. Weíve all felt inspired by a piece of art at one time
or another, but to sit there and break it down and learn from it, and
then do your own thing Ė I think thatís an honest way to hone your
Lots of weird things happened while making the movie, strange
coincidences and so on. It was particularly uncanny that one of the
actors from Dead Manís Shoes also ended up in Molly Crows: George
Newton - he contacted me and asked if he could be in it. It was perfect
timing as we were just filming the flashback scenes. George turned up
and I cast him as Lead Witchfinder. We had fantastic people and costumes
in that scene, that all turned up out of the blue as we were in
production. George provided the icing on the cake for that scene and for
the movie as a whole.
would you describe the look and feel of your movie?
The Sunday People film critic saw the trailer and wrote that it looked
like it cost thirty million dollars, so I was happy with that. Itís
visually very rich, with urban landscapes and rural vignettes and
everything in between. Itís a character-based drama, and the faces of
the actors are really the stars of the show, set against this broken,
urban background and lonely rural landscape. We didnít need to do the
obvious thing and show long, drawn-out shots of empty factories or
spooky hills. Itís all there behind the characters, and that helps
give the film a subtle high-production value look.
In terms of the feel of the film Ė itís tense. Every single scene is
going somewhere. The tension doesnít let up.
I was also trying to reflect the lonely, sometimes hostile atmosphere
that you sometimes get in small towns, particularly if youíre an
And finally, itís scary. Thereís a feeling of paranoia and looking
over your shoulder that you start to share with the townspeople as you
are watching the film. I wanted it to feel real and immediate, as if it
could be anyoneís town. So we keep things raw and real as much as
possible, whether itís a party scene or a scummy back alley or a
childís bedroom. Things that are familiar can also be the most creepy.
With Molly Crows
being a horror movie, how would you describe your
approach to the genre (as in atmosphere vs all-out gore, sudden shocks vs
subtle suspense)? And is horror a genre at all dear to you, and why (not)?
My primary aim with film making is to ENTERTAIN people. When I asked
horror fans what they wanted from the movie it was plainly obvious. Yes
they wanted to be scared, but for that to happen they needed a good
story, good plot etc. So my approach primarily is to get the story
right, create drama, take them on a journey THEN scare the hell out of
them. So in many ways my approach is the opposite to somebody that makes
an all-out gore-fest. Itís a different kind of journey.
There is a danger that too much atmosphere, or too much tension and
build-up without a payoff can be boring and people will switch off from
the story. We can all think of beautiful films that just go on and on
and on with the tension, and then when something scary does happen,
itís an anti-climax. I wanted a balance between atmosphere and a good
old-fashioned scare. Horror fans want to be played with Ė they donít
mind being led down blind alleys and made to think hard about the story
and figure things out by themselves. But they resent cheap plot tricks
and they resent being made to wait too long for the pay-off. Itís a
difficult balance, I listened to a lot of opinions on this!
As for the look yes I do prefer atmosphere or psychological fear over
gore. It is harder to pull off and takes longer but I like the process.
I even like the gore, but I donít want to dismember the entire cast in
the first ten minutes.
talk about your key cast and crew for a bit, and why exactly these people?
I originally wrote the part of Jess for a much older girl. Mercy
Gaigerís mother put her forward. She was seven at the time, and much
too young. Or so I thought. Sheís outstanding. Not just a great
actress, not just a genuine horror fan, but a very together and
determined little girl with supportive parents. I couldnít not cast
her, and her presence just adds so much to the film.
As I have mentioned George Newton added a new depth to the witchfinders, but he was also supported by actors who specialise in playing
medieval parts, and have all their own costumes that are 100% accurate.
By the time we came to film we had a full cast of actors playing
puritans, including a parson and team of evil witchfinders.
Another unexpected turn of events casting-wise was Samira Mohammed Ali.
The actress that I originally cast for this role had to drop out at the
last minute. When Samira put herself forwards, my first thoughts were
that she was too glamorous for the role. Sheís a beauty with an exotic
heritage, and I just didnít know whether she would fit easily into the
role of an alcoholic single mother in a grim town of pasty-faced
northerners! But she toned down the glamour and nailed it.
can you tell us about the actual shoot, and the on-set atmosphere?
it took us about a year to film and I insanely started it without a crew.
Luckily my actor/model friend that has worked on a number of projects with
me - Layla Randle-Conde [Layla
Randle-Conde interview - click here] suggested I meet with her cousin Phil Sykes early
on. We hit it off immediately and he ended up working on the entire movie.
It was only when people started to hear about the movie and the story that
a crew formed organically around me. People heard about the movie and saw
stills, and thought it was a big budget film. They would arrive on set
find me and a sound guy. The crew I ended up with were jacks of all
trades, and made me whatever I needed from exploding blood bags to
dollies, rigs etc. I was very lucky to have them and I miss them very
much. My main crew member on set was Phil Sykes, who was there pretty much
from the start, and I owe him a lot for his assistance in making the
$64-question of course: When and where will the film be released?
in 6-8 months as it's just having its premier. But we are not that bothered
about the more commercial festivals Ė itís a cool indie British film
and underground festivals are fine with us. People like the idea of the
movie and they like the trailer, and they want to see it when it comes
out. Itís had around 30K genuine (as in, we didnít buy 30 thousand
fake hits like some unscrupulous promoters do) hits on YouTube without any
paid advertising already. Itís all been word of mouth and goodwill from
horror fans. So my plan is to send it to festivals that are more
underground and then find a distributor that understands how to market a
film of this nature.
future projects you'd like to share?
I have just been
location scouting abroad for my next feature, and am talking with the
locals about their legends and beliefs. Iím in the middle of a script
synopsis to present to funding agencies. I canít say exactly what the
movie is at this point, but I can tell you what it definitely isnít Ė
weíre avoiding all the overblown clichťs Ė so no zombies, vampires or
Ďfound footageí. The final script will be reviewed by both horror fans
and locals before we even start. The country that has inspired this story
is a dark and beautiful place, and its residents have treated me like a
son while I was there. So I would like to thank them by bringing some of
their culture to life on the big screen.
What got you into
filmmaking to begin with, and did you receive any formal training on the
I had no formal training at all. I grew up in Stoke-on-Trent, not a
place really known for its investment in the arts.
My mother got me intro photography when she took me travelling around
Europe. This was to try and keep me out of trouble, as I was hyperactive
all the time. Taking photos doesn't pay and I tried artistic stuff but
it never really gave me the buzz I needed. I tried many jobs and did ok
but it was sheer desparation and a friend observing my troubles asked
me: "If you could do whatever job you wanted would you do? I said
"A filmmaker" and that was it. I just needed someone to
believe in me. Calling yourself a filmmaker for the first time did seem
rather silly to be honest. But then I got shortlisted for "Best
Director" at a film festival for a short I made for £30. Thatís
when the dream became real.
What can you tell us about your filmwork prior
to Molly Crows?
I made a short called Taxi Driver
featuring a voice over from a poet and yellow cab driver from NYC. That
got shortlisted for Best Director. Aside from that I've done music videos,
shorts and web commercials for PR companies. But this is my first feature.
How would you describe yourself
as a director?
Passionate! What's the point of directing if
you're not in love with the art? I work very closely with actors to get
what I need from them. I have been fortunate especially with Molly Crows
to have a great cast. Samira Mohammed Ali in particular was wonderful. We
had to recast the original part of the mother and Samira was parachuted
in. Samira's smart and picks things up extremely fast. Perfect for indie
Filmmakers who inspire you?
early stuff, Luc Besson, Hitchock, Shane Meadows and Jon Glazer.
Jaws! I love the interplay of the
characters on the boat, the music, and the psychology of fear. Leon
Ė ďNo women no kids.Ē The Godfather, Shawshank Redemption -
Stephen King! Predator Ė ďIf it breathes we can kill it.Ē Man Bites
Dog - I like French cinema and have learnt a lot from the French. Sexy
Beast - legendary film.
... and of course, films you really
I don't really deplore other films I just switch
off. But one that annoyed me recently was The Serbian Film - I understand
it's important to expand and challenge our minds but sorry guys - they
crossed the line.
Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
Just Facebook for now -
Anything else you are dying to mention and I have
merely forgotten to ask?
Yes before filming I was asleep when I woke to see an old woman dressed
in black sitting on my chest staring at me. I'm not lying about this and
I donít believe in ghosts, and if anyone who tells me they do I
usually think they're talking rubbish. But there she was and I
couldnít move in my bed. She didnít move either - she just stared at
me. The next morning I called a friend who's into witchcraft who I was
working with on the script. I blatantly asked her what she'd done,
whether she'd cast a silly spell or something - I was convinced I'd seen
a ghost! I was scared and just talking about it now scares me. She had
no idea what I was talking about and she explained what I'd experienced
was sleep paralysis. Itís just of those things that I thought well do
I tell you or not? So there it is. I'm going with the sleep paralysis
version of events.
Finally a sincere thank you to all the horror fans that reviewed the
script, the fans that are following the movie and my awesome cast and
crew. By the time we'd finished we had an army of people who came
together to make something they truly believed in. We've stayed in
contact and we're all a bit depressed since filming has stopped. The
film itself is merely the outcome of an amazing journey we all went on
and will never forget.
Thanks for the interview!