Dominic Brunt, better known as Paddy Kirk in Emmerdale, has directed the much talked about zombie movie Before Dawn which is showing on the Discovery Screen at FrightFest the 13th. This stunning debut contains everything you want from a horror movie and stars himself alongside his wife Joanne Mitchell and was written by Mark Illis from a story from Dominic and Joanne. We chatted to Dominic about his love of horror cinema and what other projects he has lined up.
HC: Are you a big fan of the horror genre?
DB: I'm a massive geeky nerd of a horror fan! My mate's dad owned Accrington Video in the 80s and we trawled through everything. This was before the video nasties purge so we had free reign. It never did us any harm what so ever and we laughed our arses off. It's the news and Jeremy Kyle that scares me.
HC: How did this whole project come together?
DB: Before Dawn was just an extended friendly row between my wife and myself. She hates certain things about zombie films such as, readily available guns even in British zombie films, the lack of characterisation, bad make up, bad actors in army/police costumes. She's a huge fan of world cinema, specifically French cinema and she though it would be interesting to build a zombie film, which was grounded in a very English setting with very English characters. We let the film breath but at the same time filled it with suspense and of course violence and gore.
HC: Did you have much of a budget to play with?
DB: We managed to grab fairly generous private funding. Using friends and ourselves in the casting saved a lot of money. I produced along side Marc Price and Helen Grace, which meant Marc brought all of his gang up north to make up 3/4 of the crew and Helen is a lawyer and sales agent. I think everyone had at least two jobs on Before Dawn. I produced, directed, acted and edited and learned so much along the way. We slept where we filmed and knocked on doors for the locations. In postproduction, which was a surprisingly long and extended part of the job, I was fortunate enough to be able to call on some Emmerdale friends. The sound was so important and took up most of the time because Chris Grieves is an absolute perfectionist. Foley was done by a clever chap called Michael Nowaki who was brilliant and also did the Foley sound design on Inbred.
HC: How would you describe Before Dawn as its a mix of genres isn't it?
DB: I think Before Dawn is a human drama at heart. The zombies are there as a tool for the characters to do what they have to do in order to serve the story. They could have been vampires but I hate modern movie vampires. We thought it would be interesting if the zombies were there to offer a chance of redemption and hope in some perverse way and to particularly offer someone a second chance in their predicament. We went for wild, feral, virus riddled zombies or what is commonly known as "running zombies".
I also liked the fact that one character might be forced to protect something which could kill in a moment.
HC: Was it a hard film to cast?
DB: The film was easy to cast, as there are only three main characters in this scenario. Nicky Evans was a godsend. He's a great actor and we were lucky to grab him. He's a total one off as a human being and he lives a really interesting life of work and world travel on his motorbike. He turned up jet lagged from one of his trips and had made all these really interesting choices for his part. At the point in the film where it could have taken a dip he managed to brighten it all up again and bring freshness to a section full of plot information. I just think he did it a really great job in a difficult situation. I had to be in it because we couldn]t afford a leading man and I knew what I was doing with the part; I'd been there from the beginning so it made sense really. I met my wife Jo at drama school and she's brilliant in Before Dawn and without giving anything away, her character has just the best journey for an actor to play. Obviously, we live together so we could rehearse it and talk about what Jo wanted from the characters. We were lucky that we were all professionals and we approached it in a very serious way even though we'd never made a movie before. Hopefully we succeeded but that's for other people to decide.
HC: Most of it seems to have been shot handheld, was this to create a more realistic feel?
DB: The hand held feel was there but only in certain scenes. The plan was to keep it steady then as the situation crumbled we would come off the tripods a little. We also did this with the grading and colouring where it's almost technicolour at the beginning then we bleed it out as the story progresses.
HC: It is a dark piece of cinema, what was the atmosphere like on set?
DB: The atmosphere was always quite jolly throughout the shoot despite the subject matter. I had scheduled the film with Nader Mabadi, the scheduler at Emmerdale who is a genius at working these things out mathematically. This meant as long as we stuck to the schedule we didn]t have to panic. Also, it has to be said that if you're not going to enjoy it then why do it in the first place?The gorier the scene, the more fun it was to set up. Some of the cellar scenes are brutal to watch and very serious but we were rolling about with laughter at the sheer excitement of throwing the blood around the walls and placing the body parts.
HC: The score plays a big part in the film, how did you choose Thomas Ragsdale for the job?
DB: Tomas Ragsdale is one half of the band Ghosting Season and he made such a strong musical score. It's got everything and it's very hard to believe it's one chap in a room creating all this beauty and atmosphere. I think he nailed it and added so much to Before Dawn.
HC: You have been part of Emmerdale for sometime now; do you worry about typecasting at all?
DB: I think the typecasting question only ever gets leveled at soap actors. I have done enough of a variety of jobs - cleaning, waitering, market selling, foundry work, bar work, fruit picking, welding etc to realise that I'm on to one of the best jobs on this earth. I'm lucky and I know it. I absolutely LOVE Emmerdale and as long as they'll have me I'll give them everything I have. Its long hours and can get pretty stressful but that's what I enjoy.
HC: Do you prefer acting to directing and is it hard directing yourself?
DB: I prefer acting but I found a new passion in directing and editing. I would never choose to direct and be in anything else, ever again though. It's too much to ask of yourself. I would direct again at the drop of a hat but it's not as immediate as acting. I loved planning shots and working out the camera positions. I watch too many films and I remember tricks, which they use, and favourite scenes etc so I had a deep well to draw/steal from. The day job allows me to be with TV directors every day and I know that the calmer you are in a situation where everyone is expecting from you, the better. If the director is stressed and unfocused then the crew and cast are all over the place. I was given this opportunity and I didn't want to mess it up so I planned it to within an inch of its life so I could then enjoy and indulge in the process.
HC: What advice would you give to someone wanting to make their first horror movie?
DB: Get as much independent advice as you can. Your mates will tell you every thing is great, as they should, that's why they are your mates. You need someone who will tell you what's not working and more importantly, why. Plan everything and try and be one step ahead. Alex Chandon (Inbred) was great at knowing what was next and every one felt safe and secure in the knowledge that Alex knew what he was doing. You can't polish a turd. Be gracious to those who are working for very little or in some cases, for free. You owe them and you are in their debt. Watch films in a technical way. Your favourite films are just that for a reason. No matter what the budget, if the story is strong enough, it will travel. If you look at John Carter against Colin one is infinitely more superior than the other and it has nothing to do with budget and everything to do with heart, intelligence and imagination.
HC: So what's next for you, would you like to direct another horror movie?
DB: Being in a situation that meant being able to work with my wife was thrilling and we want to keep the ball rolling so we are planning our next assault...
HC: Dominic Brunt, thank you very much.