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Exclusive Interview With Keith Wright Director Of Harold's Going Stiff
By James W, Tuesday 30th April 2013

Keith WrightDuring May the Horror Channel is proudly giving four fright flicks their UK TV premiere. The first is on this Saturday at 10.55pm, Keith Wright's superb shocker Harold's Going Stiff. We spoke to Keith about this acclaimed movie as well as his plans for the future.

HC: Did you know from a young age that you wanted to be a director?

KW: I was in my early teens when my parents hired a VHS machine and I started renting loads of films, mostly horror stuff that I was way too young to watch, like The Evil Dead, Basket Case and Deadly Spawn. I became a obsessed with monster movies, special effects and Fangoria and before long I started mucking around with an old Super8 camera.

HC: Where did the idea for the Harold's Gone Stiff come from?

KW: It was a combination of things. I knew that zombie films had a pretty strong fan base so I went down that path in order to have a better chance of distribution, which I knew would be tough to get. The story itself is really an allegorical tale of ageing and illness with zombies, romance and comedy thrown in for good measure. My grandmother suffered from dementia for a number of years before she eventually passed away and experiencing what she and the family went through really gave me something solid to explore whilst writing the script.

HC: Was it hard balancing the humour and comedy elements?

KW: The only way to approach it is to be as instinctive as possible. What works on the page can end up playing shockingly bad on the screen, so as you move through the various stages of editing you really have to allow the film to inform you what's working. Quite late in the edit I actually chopped out a load of gags just because they felt tonally wrong for the film, even though they were getting decent laughs in test screenings.

HC: You didn’t have a large budget, did this have an impact on the story or did you write it with this in mind?

KW: We pretty much funded the whole film on two Tesco credit cards, so you can probably guess just how low our budget was. It was a case of turning all our weaknesses into creative strengths and making the most of everything and everyone we had around us. I really enjoyed working like that because it became a really personal and fun way to make a film. We had a tiny crew of about six people, we shot it like a documentary in available light, we used locations rather than build sets and we managed to shoot the whole film in nine days because of that approach.

HC: It's an amazing film, packed with pathos with stunning performances from the lead actors. How did you go about casting the movie?

KW: We didn't have the luxury of a casting director so we held a series of open casting sessions in London and Barnsley. That's pretty much how we found our entire cast and crew. In Barnsley we put word out on a local radio station inviting people to come down and have a go at acting. That's where we ended up meeting the brilliant Sarah Spencer who went on to play Penny in the film. She'd done a bit of acting before, but some of our cast, like two of our vigilantes, had never acted before in their lives. So we had a mix of professional and non-professional actors which gave us a nice naturalistic feel. I'd already worked with Stan Rowe who plays Harold and I had him in mind whilst writing the script.

HC: Kim Newman has said that the movie is "Blackly funny and surprisingly touching, this zombie mock-doc is far more inventive than it has any right to be” that's quite a compliment.

KW: I've been a massive fan of Kim Newman for many years, so when I read his positive reviews it brought a big smile to my face. When you make a film you've got no idea how it's going to turn out or how it will be received, so when you start to get that kind of feedback from people you admire it's bloody great.

HC: You must be pleased the movie is getting its UK TV premiere on the Horror Channel?

KW: Absolutely, everyone who's worked on the film is really excited about the premiere; we want as many people as possible to see our film. I've managed to catch so many indie gems on the Horror Channel that I might never have seen, so it seems a fitting home for our little Brit pic.

HC: Do you think its time to let the zombie genre rest for a while as there's been a huge resurrection in its popularity?

KW: I don't think so, I’m sure there’s more to be had, it just means being a little bit more inventive with the story and finding a different take. There was a fair bit of scepticism when I was developing Harold, but that just made me want to do it even more. It's the same with found footage films; right now I'd love to do one just because it would be a massive challenge. No one has ever, to the best of my knowledge, done a found footage comedy for example, there might be plenty of reasons not to go there, but it’s at least worth exploring.

HC: Do you think the British film industry is in good health?

KW: There seems to be a lot of emerging talent out there, I think mainly because it's now easier to make your own films with little or no money. I don't really know if it's in good health to be honest, I feel very much outside of any film industry at the moment. If your passion is for filmmaking you just have to get on with it and hope someone takes notice of what you're doing. We've achieved most of what we did completely independent of any funding or development bodies. Now if someone like Warp or FilmFour were to come along and bung me 500k to make my next film then I think I'd have a different answer.

HC: So what are you working on at the moment?

KW: I'm sticking with the horror and dark comedy genre for now. I've got two projects that are at a very advanced script stage. The first one's called The Desperate Ones, which is a survival movie featuring an arts and crafts club. The second is Gruesome Twosome, a revenge film about two woman battling an underground cult who kill dogs. That one’s a really unusual dark comedy. Hopefully, with the current success of Harold's Going Stiff, we can pull in some funding interest. We'll need to because my Tesco credit card is maxed out.

HC: Keith Wright, thank you very much


Related show tags: HAROLD'S GOING STIFF
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