I recently caught up with Simon Pearce, director of Judas Ghost for a quick chat about his latest film.
Simon, how did you get involved with the project? What attracted you to the role?
I was introduced to the film’s writer, Simon R. Green, by a mutual friend who knew he was keen to make his own film and had recommended me as a possible director. Horror isn’t actually a genre I had previously followed particularly closely, and certainly at that stage not something I’d envisaged trying to make – but I was really intrigued by the idea and the challenge of it. To try and create that suspense and adrenaline in an audience that you get from a good horror was very exciting to me so I was keen to give it a go.
When I first met Simon it was actually regarding a different project, an original Science-Fiction screenplay he’d written, but ultimately we decided for a first film together it was going to be too costly, so we had a re-think about what might be possible on a lower budget and that’s when Simon came back with this script about four people in one room!
How do you think viewers will receive Judas Ghost amongst the other Horror films released recently? (The Conjuring, the Paranormal Activity series etc).
Judas is very much a return to ghost stories of old, albeit with a modern twist. The Ghost Finders book series on which it is based takes its inspiration from ghost hunting lore and mythology that has been around for centuries, and I know Simon is very much inspired by the old MR James ghost stories, as well as a lot of film and TV from the 50’s and 60’s. The books are about taking those ideas and bringing them into the 21st century, so the Carnacki Institute that our heroes work for, both in the novels and the film, is a very high-tech organisation and instead of the haunted locations they go to being places like old stately homes or abandoned hospitals – [Simon] Green places his ghosts in tube stations, modern office buildings, supermarkets, car parks and so on… So for horror fans there’s a lot of classic ghost story tropes, but also a few new ideas too which I hope will make it feel fresh and surprising. It’s a much more fantastical world than that of say Paranormal Activity or The Conjuring.
Green also is known for nicely mixing horror and humour in his books, which is something we made an effort to include in the film. Tonally we wanted to be sure it was true to his writing.
There seems to be renewed interest in the ghost hunting theme. Why do you think this area has had such longevity? Why do you think people are becoming interested again?
I think people have always been fascinated by the idea of ghosts because it relates to a possible life after death. Reports of sightings and ghost stories have been around for centuries, and it is an oft-discussed topic – “do you believe?” You only have to look at the hits on Youtube of alleged ghost videos and you can see how popular it is. I think like anything these things come in waves, so for a time it was vampires, then slashers, zombies of course, then you had a lot of the so-called torture porn movies which were all about blood and guts – so now the ghost story seems to be back in fashion. But even when it hasn’t been prominent in mainstream films it’s always been a popular subject and I don’t think that will change.
Which filmic choices were you conscious of making? For instance other movies like Paranormal Activity focus on ‘amateur’ or ‘documentary’ style footage. Take us through your choices.
Well interestingly we originally talked about taking that approach with this film, which is why we have the training video element where one of the characters has been tasked with filming events as they unfold. However the thing that makes found footage work is the idea that what you’re watching could be real – which of course started with the Blair Witch Project, but with this film you’re in such an obviously heightened reality I think to try and pass it off as something that could have happened just wouldn’t have worked. Also, we were already in one location, so to drop to one camera angle as well would have been too restrictive.
For me because the film was so rooted in traditional horror and that is where a lot of our references came from, so things like Robert Wise’s The Haunting, the movies of John Carpenter, it felt like that should be reflected by a more traditional approach with the look of Judas Ghost.
The camera work was solid and the film really made use of its location. How did you prepare to direct the project? How did you ensure you made full use of your backdrop?
Well first of all I have to give a lot of credit there to my amazing DP and camera operator Roger Pearce, who did a great job. Roger has worked on films like Casino Royale and World War Z, so had an incredible amount of experience he was able to bring to the table. We worked closely in pre-production to design the look of the film and structure it over the 75 minutes. Something that was always good about the script is the pacing of it and if you look there are very distinct sections as things get more and more out of control and the layout of the room changes. The idea was to reflect this in the camera-work. So to begin with we would pretty much remain at eye level, with a lot of wider shots, but then as things get stranger we start moving the camera more, shooting at odd angles, and finally we end up off the shoulder in the build up to the finale. That way, with any luck, it would never feel like you’re looking at the room in quite the same way.
One of our references for this was Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men which takes a similar approach, where the camera angles and proximity to the actors subtly changes over the course of the movie.
I also have to give credit to our incredible production designers who built such a great set for us to work in in the first place.
Do you believe in ghosts? Have you ever experienced a paranormal moment?
I’m probably more of a skeptic than not at this point, but I have an open mind about it – I think part of me definitely wants to believe in it. I actually filmed a ghost hunt with a friend of mine, just the two of us, at the infamous Ram Inn in Wootton-under-Edge in the South West of England, a building that once featured on the TV show Most Haunted. We stayed there for the night and documented everything on camera but ultimately didn’t see or hear anything – it was strange, the house didn’t even creak! So on that occasion there really wasn’t anything you could have remotely suspected of being supernatural… which was disappointing, but who knows?
Were you a fan of the genre prior to this project?
Not at all, that’s not to say I didn’t like it – I just didn’t follow it, in large part because a lot of the horror movies I’d seen when I was younger scared me too much! So I tended to shy away from it, I seem to be better now though at handling the scares! I’ve definitely gotten much more into it as well since I’ve started paying close attention to the films – and I’m keen to make another.
It’s funny, my genre of choice would probably be action or action thrillers, films that are quite gritty and realistic in their approach, such as Michael Mann’s Collateral or Paul Greengrass’s The Bourne Supremacy – so the polar opposite to this movie in both style and tone!
Could you tell us about any challenges you faced with production?
Definitely shooting in one room was a challenge – purely for me as a director to deliver a film that hopefully would sustain its running time despite taking place in the same four walls. That being said it had it’s pluses, for instance we built the entire village hall as a set, which meant we didn’t have to worry about the usual things that slow down a shoot such as bad weather or lack of daylight – we had total control.
The other major challenge was the amount of VFX work. That was all fairly new to me and anytime there was a big VFX sequence it really slowed us down – you would drop from shooting maybe 3 shots an hour to 1, simply because you have to shoot everything multiple times, set up tracking markers, take measurements and so on… We had an incredible FX team working with us on this though, based at Peerless Camera in London, who have worked on films like Skyfall and the Green Lantern, so they were incredibly helpful throughout the process. I would basically show them a picture or video from something and say “right, how do we get that?!”
Could you tell us about any highlights of production?
For me the whole experience was just incredible honestly, this is only my second feature so to have an entire crew at my disposal, all working towards seeing this film completed, was frankly a dream come true. It was also made up of a lot of people who I’d worked with before on other productions so we were all already used to working together – it was like a big family. Also, working with the cast who were all amazing – coming from a more technical background I’d not worked so closely with a group of actors like this before, and actors who have so much experience, so that was a real pleasure and I learnt a lot. They all did a brilliant job, sorry to be clichéd, and the fact I think the film does sustain its running time is in large part down to the performances they give and the work they put in, as they’re all pretty much on screen the entire time.
Finally, can you tell us about any upcoming projects for us to expect next?
I have a few things coming up – I’ve just completed a short action film entitled Watch Over Me which was made partly as a testing ground for myself in that genre, but also a showcase for myself and the actors involved. I’m currently in the process of sending it out to festivals and the trailer for that can be viewed here:
I’m also in the process of completing a 10 part Science-Fiction web series called Horizon, about an alien ship that arrives over my hometown of Bristol – more details on that can be found here:
That was made as a co-production between myself and another Bristol film-maker, Paul Dudbridge. And finally I’m developing a couple of feature scripts I hope to shoot either late this year or early in 2016 – one an action thriller called Denied and the other another horror called Blood Valley, only this one is much darker…… Watch this space!
For more information we can be found on Facebook – judasghostmovie – or Twitter via @judasghostmovie and our official site with trailer is www.judasghostmovie.com.