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Brand New Exclusive Interview with Jason Arnopp Writer Of Stormhouse
By James Whittington, Saturday 27th August 2011

Jason ArnoppStormhouse is an intelligent and clever paranormal piece from the creative pen of Jason Arnopp. This talented guy has created an atmospheric and downright cracking shocker that will have horror fans sleeping with the lights on for weeks. FrightFest attendees had a chance to see this movie last night so we had a quick chat with Jason about his varied career so far and how Stormhouse came about.

HC: Are you a big fan of the horror genre?

JA: Oh God yes. Always have been. Doctor Who injected the razor-edge joy of being scared into my veins when I was four years old. I grew up during the Tom Baker era of Doctor Who which has often been referred to as "gothic", because it was so often paying 'homage', shall we say, to various classic horror films. From there, I remember gazing hungrily at the racks of video rental shops, seeing the luridly illustrated, padded boxes of various horror titles which were set to become 'video nasties' during that insane Daily Mail furore. So many horror films seemed out of reach at my young age, but eventually I was able to see them and never looked back. I still have a vast collection of old VHS tapes. Absolutely love them. DVD and Blu-Ray too, of course: let’s not be silly. But yes, I love horror and the way it allows us to safely confront our worst fears, plus fears we didn’t even know we had.

HC: How did you come to write a Friday The 13th novel?

JA: In 2005, I heard that Black Flame had got the license to publish spin-off Friday The 13th, Nightmare On Elm Street and Final Destination books. So I approached the editor of the Friday books and asked if I could pitch some ideas. One of those took off and I went on to sprint a punishing 95,000-word marathon. Novels are incredibly hard work, but I’m proud of what I achieved with Friday The 13th: Hate-Kill-Repeat. It's true to the movies and Jason's character, while bringing some new stuff to the table and notching up a truly insane body count! I would very much like Warner US, who now own the rights, to publish it as an ebook. So if you'd also like that to happen, feel free to drop them a polite e-mail!

HC: Where did the idea for Stormhouse come from?

JA: That was director Dan Turner's. Dan had been researching some bizarre stories surrounding military installations in Rendlesham, Suffolk - an area which has been dubbed "Britain's Roswell" by the press. His findings gave him the idea which he then casually presented to me in a London pub in May 2010: "The military capture a ghost". Three months later - yes, just three months - we were encamped at one of those self-same military bases, filming Stormhouse. Dan and I worked the story up together, from his initial big concept, then I plunged in and wrote the script.

HC: Did it take long to write?

JA: Not by most standards - I seem to remember it taking about five weeks! That's pretty fast, but I’m comfortable with working at high speed when I need to. We were all driven along by the sheer momentum of excitement and belief in the project. Deadlines are writers' friends - and there’s nothing like the deadline of a military base only being free in a certain time-slot! Because we knew where we were shooting, when Dan and his director of photography Richard Swingle visited the locations, they could send over photographs and production design sketches. I stuck them on the wall above my desk, to get more of a feel for what I was writing. Those were a thrilling five weeks.

HC: Is there much difference between the first draft to the last one?

JA: Oh yes, there always is and there should be! Then again, we didn't have the luxury of time to try loads of different options. We had to be pretty single-minded about the story, trust our instincts and just get it done. The first draft definitely didn't have the final scene as it is now in the film - or at all, in fact! That final scene, which is probably the one I’m most proud of, came one day when Dan and I were sitting in the bar at Elstree. The idea hit us like a couple of anvils to the face.

HC: Personally speaking I feel it has an apocalyptic tone to it, much in the same way as Romero's Day Of The Dead and Carpenter's The Thing, was that the kind of style you were aiming for?

JA: I'd say so, yes. Stormhouse was always going to be pretty dark and bleak. We wanted it to be scary, oppressive and uncomfortable, and so the atmosphere naturally became rather grim and doomladen. Dan and I are both enormous fans of The Thing in particular, so some of that couldn't help but filter into the film's tone and feel, if not necessarily its story. We also spoke about The Exorcist, in terms of realism and authenticity.

HC: There's a lot of tension and not just the paranormal kind, was that important to you, to make it more than just a horror movie but add more drama than most contain?

JA: We definitely didn't want Stormhouse to become a numbing avalanche of special effects and never-ending high-octane madness. For one thing, we wanted it to have quite a lingering, slow-burning feel, despite having a lot going on - at least initially, until everything goes mad in the second half. Every horror film needs drama, pace and good characters, otherwise you don't have nearly so much to invest in. And if you're not invested, as a viewer, then you’re just watching the pretty, or not-so-pretty, pictures without feeling much.

HC: There’s several stand-out moments, did you ever scare yourself whilst writing it?

JA: Thank you! Stand-out moments are good. I do remember that, during the writing, adopting the mind-set of a supernatural entity - and the enigmatic Major Lester, who has imprisoned it - was quite a scary place to be. The Stormhouse atmosphere kind of soaked into my skin and that takes a while to fade away.

HC: Where did you get the idea to use the song Frère Jacques?

JA: For some reason, singing can be scary. Especially children’s nursery rhymes and things like that - and now I'm thinking back to The Evil Dead's Linda sitting cross-legged on the ground with entirely white eyes, singing, "We're gonna get you... we’re gonna get you...". I can’t remember exactly why Dan and I settled on Frère Jacques - only the fact that we never, ever considered any other songs. It just seemed like exactly the right choice. Thank God for public domain music, eh?

HC: Were you involved with any of the casting or how the film looked?

JA: I sat in on one casting session and saw some filmed auditions, but that whole domain very much belonged to director Dan, producer Dean Fisher and, in terms of the look, director of photography Richard Swingle and production designer Jamie Bishop. Tremendous work all round. Brilliantly, LA resident Katherine Flynn who plays our lead character Hayley Sands, happened to be on holiday in the UK when the audition calls went out! Thankfully, Katie extended her stay to do Stormhouse which was great, because she rocked it. So did the remarkable Grant Masters who plays Major Lester, and indeed the rest of our fine cast. Can’t wait to see what the discerning horror fans who visit the amazing Film4 FrightFest think of Stormhouse!

HC: Did you have to cut any scenes due to budget or time restrictions?

JA: Only one death, I think, but gore-lovers will be relieved to know that it wasn't an especially bloody one. It would have been cool, but when you're on set you have to prioritise for time. The death wasn’t of a major character either, obviously, or that would have caused major continuity problems! I think the rule has to be this: if you can remove a scene without affecting continuity all that much, then perhaps it should never even have been there in the first place.

HC: What advice would you give to budding movie writers?

JA: Write all the time and finish everything that you start. Never show people your work before it, and you, are bulletproof. Chances are that the first, second, third, fourth and fifth feature scripts you write won't get made, so think of those primarily as your apprenticeship. Stormhouse was something like my seventh or eighth feature screenplay. And unless you end up feeling like you're in the wrong line of work, never give in.

HC: Censorship has hit the headlines recently with such movies as A Serbian Film and Human Centipede 2, where do you stand on the issue of censorship?

JA: I stand among that level-headed group of film-lovers with banners reading "Down With Censorship". When you boil film censorship down, it's the most ludicrous, arrogant farce imaginable. A bunch of human beings film a load of make-believe stuff, and then another set of human beings decide to prevent all other human beings from watching bits of it. The only justification for censorship or a ban can be when Actual Illegal Things In Real Life have been filmed, such as animal cruelty or, you know, real murder. Apart from that, we should just advise viewers as to the content of films, then let them make their own decisions as adults. I've met at least two examiners at the British Board Of Film Classification and they're very nice people: proper film fans who are far less conservative and draconian than the likes of James Ferman was in the 1980s. It's just a shame that they have to work with such antiquated, meaningless 'obscenity' laws and are sometimes forced to carry the can for knee-jerk hysteria among the Daily Mail set. On the plus side, it's always fun tracking down the uncut versions of films...

HC: So what projects are you working on next?

JA: I've been hired to work on a new horror-thriller feature and am developing various other spec-things for film and TV. I've written a short zombie story called Consumed for a work-in-progress graphic novel anthology called Dead Roots, which should be a lot of fun and contains stories by the likes of my friends James Moran (Severance, Doctor Who) and Andrew Ellard (Red Dwarf, The IT Crowd). Finally, I've drawn on my journalistic background to write an ebook which aims to tell aspiring journos everything I know about interviewing people. That's called How To Interview Doctor Who, Ozzy Osbourne And Everyone Else and you can find it here

HC: Jason Arnopp, thank you very much.

JA: No, no, I insist: thank YOU, the Horror Channel. Loving your work.

For more information on Jason go to his site and for Stormhouse click here.

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