Maniacs, monsters, demons, creepy kids, apocalyptic visions, phobias, heavy metal meltdown and snails - yes, it's the FrightFest International Short Film Showcase, an eclectic mix of worldwide cutting edge short films, which is once again being presented by Horror Channel. It will kick-off at 1pm on Sunday 26th August at the Empire Cinema in London's Leicester Square.
Lot 254 from award winning director Toby Meakins is a paranormal piece that harks back to the classic short stories of M.R. James. Its simple set-up contains a wonderfully chilling atmosphere. We chatted to Toby about this short and what his future film-making plans are.
HC: Where did the idea for LOT254 come from?
TM: I really wanted to make something that could have been a very short M.R. James ghost story. I love the old BBC sixties adaptations of these stories especially Whistle and I'll Come To You, the scene when Michael Hordern sees the spectre rise from the bed is still one of the most terrifying sequences I’ve ever seen. LOT254 borrows a lot from this style of Jamesian story-telling - a pragmatic main character (in my case The Collector) who whilst going about his everyday business releases a forgotten or hidden terror from an antique with dire consequences.
HC: Did it take long to write?
TM: I worked out the film as a verbal pitch before I wrote it, so it only took about an hour to write the script as I'd been pitching it to people for about six months and each time it was pitched it got a little tighter. Kind of backwards I know but it worked for something as short as this (only 3 mins).
HC: It has a lovely simple set-up, did this make it an easy shoot
TM: It was by far the easiest short I've made, really a pleasure from beginning to end. I knew I had a single day to shoot and knew how many set-ups I could get through in a day, so when I storyboarded it up I knew exactly what I had to work with.
HC: Did you have much of a budget?
TM: We had a tiny budget, hundreds rather than thousands and we shot on an Arri Alexa so you can imagine that I had a whole heap of favours from some very lovely people.
HC: The set design is just perfect, tight and claustrophobic; did it take long to get it to your satisfaction?
TM: The set working as well as it does really comes down to the fantastic location we found - The Cinema Museum in London. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to make the film on my budget unless I found a location that could pretty much do everything for me especially in terms of sourcing the props. The museum had everything that we needed in one room. It really is such a cool place and aside from some specific props brought in for the storytelling it was a case of starting with a table and building the set up until it felt right to the eye, it took a couple hours of tinkering to get right.
Interestingly the actual room we shot in is huge a hall almost with really high ceilings (my DOP Steve Albins has always drilled into me that you can make a big space feel smaller but you can’t make a small space bigger - it's a good lesson), so the claustrophobic atmosphere is all about using the right lens, inventive lighting and inching props into the corners of the frame so you draw the eye towards what you want to focus on.
HC: Adrian Schiller is quite superb as The Camera Collector, giving much to his character, was he your first choice?
TM: He was my only choice. I'd worked with Adrian a year or so before on a commercial project and I’d mentioned to him then that I had an idea for a film I'd love him to do. Adrian's got great presence and is technically very good which was an absolute must as LOT254 is one man in a room with very little to work with. In my opinion that's hardest kind of acting to pull off and I think he does it brilliantly.
HC: Are you nervous about it being shown at FrightFest?
TM: So nervous - this is the real thing, a proper audience of horror devotees and it'll be the film's premiere, which is doubly scary. But I'm also really excited, I mean come on, the Empire Leicester Square, your film shown on a massive screen from a DCP in front of a huge audience, its such a rarity for shorts to be screened in this way these days so I'm made up it's happening.
HC: What advice would you give to someone wanting to create a horror short?
TM: This was my first horror short so maybe I'll hold off answering that until after the screening at Frightfest! For shorts in general though I'd say surround yourself with the best people you possibly can, I was really lucky to have a great bunch of people on LOT254 who completely got what I was trying to achieve, it makes such a difference.
HC: So what projects are you working on at the moment?
TM: I've got a feature, Breathe that I've been developing with Simon Allen who has just written on and associate produced the big new Frank Spotnitz show for Kudos and HBO. Breathe is a period horror centred around a ghost you can only see when you can't breathe. We're looking for the right producer to take it on and get it made so if you know anyone give them my number!
HC: Toby Meakins, thank you very much.
TM: Thank you for having me.