James Moran is a FrightFest regular who has supported the event for years. He is also one of the most exciting writing talents the UK has produced with his body of work covering not only film but popular television as well.
James has two movies showing at FrightFest The 13th, Cockneys Vs Zombies and Tower Block both very different in style and content. We decided to chat with James about both so here in the first of a two part interview he talks about his work for various media and his film Cockneys Vs Zombies which is premiering tonight.
HC: We first met way back in 2006 when your film Severance was playing, what have you been up to since then?
JM: Lots of other stuff - I developed some other film projects, spent a few years doing every TV show I could get my hands on, including Doctor Who, Torchwood, Primeval, and Spooks, and kept very busy. I stayed away from movies for a little while, as I had a couple of bad experiences. But Matthias and the gang tempted me back. Now I make sure to only work people I trust, that are creative and cool.
HC: So let's come up to date and you’ve got two movies showing at FrightFest, you must be very proud?
JM: Extremely! 6 years to the day since Severance premiered at the 2006 FrightFest, and it feels like I'm coming home again. I've been going to FrightFest every year since then, was going for several years before that, so it's amazing that I've actually got TWO movies playing there. I love the FrightFest audience, and can't wait to see what they make of the movies.
HC: How nervous do you get before one of your movies is shown?
JM: Very. Partly because I'm worried they won't like, partly in case something goes wrong with the projector, or nobody turns up, etc etc. Although I'm less nervous for FrightFest, because I know the audience so well, and am fairly sure they'll like the movies.
HC: We'll talk about Tower Block later, lets’s chat about Cockneys Vs Zombies; where did the idea come from?
JM: Matthias had a pitch a few years ago which was the title and a rough outline. I was too busy in TV at the time to write it, so they hired someone else. By the time I was available again, they'd decided not to go in the direction of the script they had, so hired me to start from scratch, going from the original pitch again. My take was much more in line with the title, more comedic, gory, crazy, more of an adventure. I wanted people to root for the characters and have fun with it - so I brought in the pensioners to give more of a violent family flavour to the whole thing.
HC: JM: Did it take long to write and was it difficult balancing the horror and comedy elements?
JM: The brainstorming took a couple of weeks, then the first draft came out in less than a month. After that it was about refining what was there, and tweaking, over a few more drafts. I'm used to mixing horror and comedy now, but we always knew that this would be a lot funnier than a totally balanced horror comedy, purely because of the heightened situation. My goal was to have solid characters reacting believably to crazy situations - no actual jokes, the humour comes from the characters and the scenario.
HC: It's got a fabulous cast, were any of the older members worried about the level of blood guts in the movie?
JM: No, they were well up for it! I think they were excited to be able to do some crazy action stuff, as a lot of the parts available for older actors are just grandparent types who don't get anything decent to do. I think the only thing they were worried about was the cold during one of the shooting weeks, it got freezing right when they all had to be outside...
HC: It must have been a fun shoot?
JM: Huge fun, yes. I was on set as much as possible, I could have been there every day but had loads of work on! Everyone enjoyed themselves, they got to look cool and blow zombies away with massive guns. What's not to like??
HC: Did you have much of a budget to play with?
JM: Obviously UK movies don't have the same budget as stuff like Transformers, but they told me to just go for it while writing, and we'd worry about budget later. Half of the stuff I put in I was convinced we'd never get to do, it'd be too expensive - but somehow they pulled it off. I'm really happy with how it ended up, I'm so proud of it.
HC: You directed a short at last years FrightFest, is this something you’d like to do more of?
JM: Yes, I also directed half of my web series Girl Number 9, have got a short film I'm directing next month, and I also did a couple of small things for FrightFest this year which you'll see at some point over the weekend - don't want to say what they are, it'll spoil the surprise.
HC: What advice would you give to someone wanting to write a horror movie?
JM: Don't worry about all the other horror movies that have been made over the years, or you'll never get past page 1. Stay true to the core of the story, have the characters react in a believable way - ask yourself what YOU would do in that situation. If it would end the movie, then throw obstacles in their path! Have the killer be cleverer than the heroes, foil them at every turn. And please, if you're going to have a female character, make sure she's not just a screaming girlfriend or wife who's just there to take her clothes off. Your audience is about 50% female these days, and it's not the 1950s anymore. Also: 90 minutes of someone being beaten up is not a story. Please have a beginning, middle and an end.
HC: Do you think you've changed as a writer over the last six years or so?
JM: Definitely, I've learned a lot, and I've got so much more to learn too. Looking back at stuff I wrote even a year ago, I wish I could rewrite it given what I know now. You learn and change constantly.
HC: So what other projects are you working on?
JM: Some more movies and possible TV projects, and I think the next thing in production will be Silent Night Of The Living Dead, a zombie horror comedy - but we're going for more Fulci-style zombies in a small town at Christmas, it's a bit like Gremlins meets Zombie Flesh Eaters.
HC: James Moran, for the moment, thank you very much.