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By James Whittington, Tuesday 15th February 2011
Writer/Director Sean Hogan is one of the new exciting talents around at the moment. His writing skills have been called upon on several notable features and his latest work, Little Deaths will be getting its premiere at the Glasgow FrightFest later this month. In this candid interview Sean talks openly about his inspirations, this new project plus you can catch him on Horror on February 24th introducing three movies in another edition of our Director’s Night series.
HC: Did you know from a young age that you wanted to work in the movie industry?
SH: Well, I was always into films, but the idea of actually making them probably didn't occur to me for quite a while. When I was growing up, there wasn't much of a UK industry to speak of, and this was way before high quality digital equipment became so accessible/affordable. So I certainly didn't set out to become a director originally. I was always into art, and had ambitions of getting into special effects at one point - I remember writing to Bob Keen's workshop for advice on how to break in. But then I went to art college and hated it, and my priorities started to change. The only thing I enjoyed doing there was getting my hands on some video equipment and making a short with a friend, which might have planted the seed. And then, having been told by my parents to either figure out my educational prospects or else get a job, I took the path of least resistance and ended up on a media/drama course! Which involved a lot of practical coursework, and so by the end of 2 years there I was hooked. I was going to make films, one way or another. Definitely a recipe for a lot of future pain!
HC: Did you have a favourite director or writer when growing up?
SH: I certainly always loved horror as a kid, and so was fortunate to grow up on a lot of the seminal 70s genre movies - I remember seeing Dawn Of The Dead at about 8 or 9 years old and having my tiny mind absolutely blown. Which probably explains a lot! A bit later on my family moved to Hong Kong for a couple of years, and at the time there was absolutely no classification or censorship system in place there. So that was my real horror education - I could see any film I wanted to, and did precisely that. And by that point I was starting to figure out who the guys to watch were - Romero, Carpenter etc. I think that was definitely the time that I first started to figure out exactly what the director did. Pretty soon Cronenberg became a big favourite, and still is. Eventually I started broadening my horizons a bit and watching stuff other than horror, but it's definitely the stuff you watch at that sort of age that really leaves a mark on you. So maybe horror is a corrupting influence after all!
HC: What was it like directing your first feature, Lie Still?
SH: A leap into the unknown! I'd always been stubborn enough to know that I didn't want to try and 'work my way up' in the industry; I'd rather just scrape some money together and go and make something. Which is essentially what we did, but it took a few years to make happen. And whilst I'd made a lot of shorts in the meantime, they'd all been done relatively cheaply, so even the step up to making a micro-budget feature was massive. I suddenly had to run a full crew and direct proper professional actors and that kind of thing! So it was definitely a learning process, and a bit of a scramble at times. But also a hell of a lot of fun. I no doubt made a lot of mistakes and would do certain things very differently now. But I still like a lot about the film and it absolutely got my foot in the door, led to me meeting a lot of great people and helped pave the way for other things.
HC: Tell us about your involvement in Little Deaths, how did the project come together?
SH: A mixture of things, really. I'd been working for a year on a film I'd been offered post-Lie Still, and then the whole thing collapsed, which didn't put me in the best of moods. So I wanted to try and get something else going fairly quickly. And having done the festival circuit with my first film, I'd met a lot of fellow genre filmmakers whilst doing the rounds, amongst them Simon and Andrew. We all began to regularly meet up for drinks, and one day I just had a 'eureka' moment and came up with the idea of doing an anthology. So I pitched it to them, and that was that, really. I figured that there hadn't been a good one for a while, and we could do it relatively quickly and cheaply. Of course, things never turn out that way!
HC: Where did your story come from?
SH: Who knows how my brain works! Like I said, I was in an exceptionally bad mood when I wrote it, and it probably shows - it's certainly the most twisted thing I've written for myself to direct. I know that having made a very subtle, atmospheric film as my first feature, I wanted to go in the other direction and make something more confrontational. And I'd had the notion of writing something about power and sex games for a while, so that suddenly fell into place for me. I don't know - for me, the story is very much about the haves and the have nots, and I think I was very much writing from the position of a have not at the time, which probably accounts for its nasty streak...
HC: Had you worked with the other directors Andrew Parkinson and Simon Rumley before?
SH: Not at the outset, I ended up writing Summer's Blood for Simon to direct. I've since written another script for him - Teens, sort of a genre version of a Larry Clark movie. Again, very twisted, and I'm very fond of it - I think he'd do a great job with it. But who knows whether it will ever happen. Andrew is very much his own man and likes to fly solo - probably in an attempt to avoid too much industry bullsh*t. And there are definitely times when I can't say I blame him!
HC: What’s your opinion on horror cinema at the moment? Is it in good health?
SH: Well, I remember back in the 90s, when there barely was a genre, so anything is preferable to that. But I think it's a mixed bag at the moment. Horror thrives on freedom of expression, on the ability to be expressive, confrontational, weird, surreal, or just downright badly-behaved. And I think modern corporate Hollywood is just allergic to that kind of filmmaking. So whereas Carpenter's The Thing was produced by a major studio back in the 80s, for example, you'd never see that sort of film being made by Hollywood now (just a lazy cash-in prequel!) You do get interesting stuff coming out of the independent sector, but not with the frequency that you did in the 70s. So for me, a lot of the best stuff in the last 10-15 years has been coming from other countries: firstly Japan and the Far East, which really got me back into horror in a big way, and then more recently Europe. I think Let The Right One In and Martyrs coming out in the same year really summed up where the interesting work was going on; both of them are stunning films.
HC: Would you like to tackle a remake of a classic? If so which one?
SH: Having just put the boot into corporate Hollywood I should probably be careful how I answer! It's not an entirely black and white issue; there have obviously been great remakes, the aforementioned The Thing and Cronenberg's The Fly, for example. So it can be done. I think the question is: what is it you're remaking? Is it a classic that can't be bettered? Or is it an interesting idea that hasn't yet been properly done? In the second case, there's definitely an argument to be made. So whilst I don't generally sit around thinking of what I'd like to remake, the one idea that does appeal to me is doing a version of the Japanese Tomie films. I think there's a lot of great core material in there, but that none of the films really work as a whole. Meaning that I think you could really do something with them. Otherwise, not so much. I mean, whenever I hear rumours of a remake of Let's Scare Jessica To Death, I think I'd happily take it on just so I didn't have to watch someone else screw it up, but that's as far as it goes!
HC: So what’s the next project you’re working on?
SH: I'm currently editing another feature called The Devil's Business, a Faustian noir/horror. That should be ready later this year. And prepping a couple more scripts that we hope to get underway soon - one is a very black horror comedy, the other is a Polanski-style psychological horror. I like to try and keep busy...
HC: Sean Hogan, thank you very much.
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