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An Interview with Stephen Gaffney, Director of Red Room

by Mike Haberfelner

March 2019

Films directed by Stephen Gaffney on (re)Search my Trash


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Your new movie Red Room - in a few words, what is it about?


Essentially it is the modern day take on the snuff film. Red Room is based on the urban legend of the same name, where people online bid to see people getting killed, sort of like eBay for murder.


With Red Room revolving around the deep web and snuff movies, did you do any extensive research into these subjects?


I did go on the deep web looking to see if they exist. I couldn't find any evidence but I did come across some pretty horrific images and video, real or not they were very disturbing. I did that for about two months before I got enough information from forums (full of complete psychopaths) and made the rest up myself. I also saw plenty of 'snuff' films when I was younger. The Faces of Death-series (that monkey getting killed still turns my stomach) and of course Snuff, which probably has the most racist tag line ever - 'The film that could only be made in South America... where life is CHEAP!' I don't think you'd get away with that today. That film was awful except for the end scene. But it clearly was not a snuff film.


(Other) sources of inspiration when writing Red Room?


Myself and co writer Erica Keegan did quite the opposite sourcing information during writing. We tried to do the opposite of what other horror films did. Of course it will be compared Hostel and Saw. But we really tried our best not to re-hash other gore/survival films. Within a tight budget. It wasn't easy.


What can you tell us about your co-writer Erica Keegan, and what was your collaboration like?


I wrote the first draft in about three days, just to get the bare bones story down on paper. I then asked Erica to help me write a final draft as the the characters with most screen time were female. Erica also introduced the character of 'Mam', who is arguably the most depraved character in the film. We wrote the script very quick. I think it was seven days altogether. We had to tone down the violence due to budget restraints. The one that killed me the most to cut was a murder involving an X-ray machine. I think that would have got a great reaction.

We got on great and agreed with each other on almost every aspect of the script, which I guess is rare.


For all the gorehounds among our readers, you of course have to talk about the bloody bits in Red Room for a bit, and how were they achieved? And was there ever a line you refused to cross regarding violence?


Nearly all the special effects were practicable. There were some scenes we had to use CGI for, which I won't say as it would spoil the ending. But that the was the plan from the very beginning, to have old school special effects. They were easily achieved by very brave actors willing to have special effects used on them by our brilliant SFX artist Debbie McKibbin. One actress almost broke her nose, another had a bit of freak out being blinded with prosthetics. Everybody was fine within a few minutes though. And one of the murder victims had sheep's guts used on her, she was vegan. So I'm very grateful to have such a cool cast and crew.


Regarding crossing the line, I wanted the film to be entertaining. I did not want it to be like A Serbian Film. I wouldn't show animals or children being harmed. Another line we decided not to cross was rape. This came up multiple times in research. I believe the use of rape in film has to be handled very carefully and I did not feel it would have suited the rest of the film if there were scenes of that nature included. We chose to to put the sexual element into the characters who are watching the murders.


What can you tell us about Red Room's approach to horror, and is that a genre you're at all fond of?


The approach to Red Room was to stick to the urban legend. That was it. At the time of writing it, there was no other film that covered that subject. We just knew it had to be gory survival horror. Like I mentioned above, we just tried our best not to copy other films. We also decided that it wasn't going to balls to the wall gore start to finish. We definitely thought the gore scenes would be more shocking if they were infrequent. The scene that gets me the most is the finger nails, that's only a few seconds long but its in your face and happens suddenly.


I am a huge horror fan. I could fill this whole interview with my favourite horror films. I love French horror; Martyrs, High Tension, Inside, Irreversible; I think they're all brilliant. A few others I love are The Burning (the raft scene is still amazing), Kill List, Evil Dead, Devil's Rejects and more recently The Devil's Candy. As I said I could go on, so yes, I am a huge genre fan.


At least for me, Red Room also had its traces of (dark) humour - would you at all agree, and if so, please elaborate!


100%. I think only real horror fans will get the humour in it. Most of the humour was scripted, some of the off the cuff remarks were improvised and we kept them in. In my mind Red Room is grindhouse film. If you're a horror fan you'll get exactly where we were coming from. If you're not a horror fan it will offend you. So it was a win win. We knew where to put the humour . The film as a whole, as you mentioned in your review, is a social commentary on human behaviour today. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't have a little laugh here and there on the way.


This is my third feature, and dark humour always finds it way into the script. I am huge fan of Bill Hicks, Robin Williams, Jimmy Carr, Frankie Boyle, Ricky Gervais and loads more so it must be just implanted in brain at this point.


What can you tell us about your overall directorial approach to your story at hand?


The approach was to just show everything. Don't let the camera flinch. We had the script, everyone knew at rehearsals I wasn't holding back on anything. There's no point in making a gore film without showing the gore. I also wanted to concentrate on the acting which was fairly easy because we got a great cast. I also pushed the actors to speak very clearly. My previous two features I had complaints from American and Canadian audiences that they could not understand the Irish accent.


Do talk about your key cast, and why exactly these people?


I had worked with the majority of the cast before. Others with minor roles, I saw them in some films and got in touch with them. The only big casting we did was for the character of Lily. We held auditions for that character and Sohaila Lindheim blew everyone everyone away. She was perfect. We told her she was cast while she was on her way home.


Red Room is a bit of a funny film regarding key cast. They basically all are key except for the extras. I can say I'm happy with all their performances, especially with the tight schedule, and I wouldn't change them for anyone else. They all gave 100% and were really involved in their characters which I think makes the film stand out a bit from the normal run-of-the-mill gore film.


A few words about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?


The on set atmosphere was horrible! We had 7 days to shoot the main house scenes. This was cut down to 5 and a half days after we realized the camera malfunctioned. This meant, because we had no more money, we had reshoot the one and a half days worth of scenes and get the rest completed. Staying in the house any longer wasn't an option. We were tired, hungry and sleep-deprived in the middle of a heat wave. And to top it all off we had to shorten/omit some scenes while trying to figure out if the film would still make sense. It was not nice. We all managed not kill each other though and got through it. We had some good laughs.


The scenes outside the main house all went smoothly. They were shot months later due to weather changes. We shot for 14 days in total. 2 of those days we ended up cutting from the film because it did not work. We included it on the DVD.


Anything you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Red Room?


I've seen one bad review, absolutely slated it,  from somebody who can't spell so I disregarded that, haha.

The rest of the reviews I've read, I can't argue with anything they said, some people say the ending is rushed, others say it's a great twist. It's just opinion at the end of the day. Nobody mentioned the dark humour until yourself. But mostly positive overall.


The audience reaction was great during a film festival. We got a few walk-outs for the right reasons. People got a great jump scare, we recorded that; that's also going on the DVD.


Any future projects you'd like to share?


I have about 20 projects in my head and cannot choose what to do next. For now I'm just going to sit back and see what the general reaction to Red Room is and decide from there.


What got you into filmmaking to begin with, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?


I got the Pulp Fiction script in 1997. Which would have made me nine or ten. I watched the film dozens of times and then read the script. The format just stuck with me. I used to secretly write from about that age till I was 25. I was too embarrassed to show anyone anything. I then went to study film in college. I had a fantastic screenwriting tutor, Sarah Ann Murphy, who was honest and blunt. If I wrote something that was shit she would say it, no holding back. This made me take criticism a lot easier. Besides that, she gave great advice on how to think outside the box and she helped a lot with dialogue. And she showed Snowtown in her class. Easy to know why she was my  favourite tutor!


What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Red Room?


In the third year of college I decided to drop out. I took a risk and just made a feature for no budget, Bully. It paid off. It got mostly good reviews and won a couple of awards. I then made another feature, Class A, that was made for exactly 300 Euro. That won a couple of awards too. I used them films to get an investor/producer for Red Room, and it worked. Red Room might not have had the biggest budget but it was a lot more than 300 Euro. I also made numerous shorts.


How would you describe yourself as a director?


I still can't believe I'm a director. I always wanted to be from a young age so it's still crazy seeing my name on a cinema screen. Critics have said my films are raw and controversial, but I don't agree with that. I just show things how I see them, I don't see anything controversial about showing the truth and I will never hold back from that.


Filmmakers who inspire you?


Stanley Kubrick. Greatest director of all time.

David Fincher. Has to be related to Kubrick somehow.

Gaspar Noe. That man is insane, in a good way.

Nicolas Winding Refn. I think he's a more clinical Noe, but I love his films.

Shane Meadows. English director who makes great drama.

Another director I am keeping an eye on is Mike Cahill. He hasn't made a feature since I Origins and that is one my favourite indie films.


Your favourite movies?


A Clockwork Orange, Kill List, The Shining, Bully (Larry Clark), Goodfellas, Casino, I Origins, Zodiac, Enter The Void, Drive, Reservoir Dogs, Dead Man's Shoes, American History X, Funny Games (both), Natural Born Killers, To Live and Die in LA, The Haunting (original), Kidnapped (2010), American Psycho. I could go on!


... and of course, films you really deplore?


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Red Room is out March 19th on DVD/VOD and can be ordered here:


Thanks for the interview!


© by Mike Haberfelner

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Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
shopping mall Santas,
love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
to the weirdly romantic,
tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner


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directed by
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written by
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