Brand New Exclusive Interview With Joao Alves Director Of Bats In The Belfry
By James Whittington, Sunday 21st August 2011
Joao AlvesThe Horror Channel is sponsoring the FrightFest International Short Film Showcase this year. It's an eclectic and incredibly exciting mix of worldwide cutting edge short films with themes such as werewolves, bats, bugs, nasty orphans, zombies, homicidal blind dates and bananas that have gone bananas.

One of the shorts showing is Bats In The Belfry from João Alves which is an inventive and fun animated piece about vampires in the Wild West who come up against a no nonsense anti-hero named Deadeye Jack. We spoke to João about Bats In The Belfry and the exciting plans he has for the future.

HC: Are you a big fan of horror movies?

JA: It's my favourite genre. One of my first movie memories is hiding behind the living room couch, watching the Alien chest burster scene on the TV. And the first time I saw Dead By Dawn I had nightmares for weeks. It's the best genre. It has fantasy, drama, comedy, action, suspense, sci-fi, you name it, horror movies have it.

HC: Where did the idea for Bats In The Belfry come from?

JA: When I finished my degree, I knew I had to do something different to have a chance. So I started thinking about my favourite movies, and the ones I missed the most. Westerns where almost absent from theatres in the 00s. The last I could remember was Unforgiven, but my favourites are the spaghetti ones, Sergio Leone’s classics. So I started thinking on how to combine that mood, of the dirty westerns, with horror. Vampires are my favourite monster, so casting villains was easy. Then I needed a memorable main character, somewhat of a loveable b*stard. Robert Rodriguez was also an inspiration, I love From Dusk ‘till Dawn, and that 80s vibe you get from all his films.

HC: How long did it take to write?

JA: I didn’t actually write it, I storyboarded directly. The way I work is one scene pops into my mind, be it because of something I saw or heard, be it a dream, it can happen at any time, than I start to try to figure out how that situation came to be, how those characters found themselves in those positions, but I don’t write anything. When I finally figure it out, who they are and how they got there, and what happened afterwards, only then do I start storyboarding. The dialogues are the last part, just footnotes on each image with what each character has to say in that particular shot. The thinking part on Bats took about two months, storyboarding and writing dialogues was less than a week.

HC: Did the script change whilst the animation was going on?

JA: Yes it did, due to time constraints and to the fact that some things just didn’t feel right. Originally Bats was to be a pilot episode to a TV series, but when I decided to make it a short, and I wanted to have it made in time for the MOTELx fest in particular, all the sudden I had a deadline to meet. The action scenes got trimmed a lot. Animating action shots is really time consuming, so the first and main re-storyboarding was due to 9 weeks deadline. The other changes where just some one-liners that weren’t as strong as I wanted them to be, so I tried a few variations until I was happy with them. The scene where Jack fights the Fat Vampire was extended after I showed the short at work. No one understood how the dynamite had gotten inside the vampire, so I had to storyboard, animate, and sound that scene over a weekend to have it ready in time.

HC: It contains many classical western movie clichés such as the Mexican stand-off and smart-talking anti-hero, did you model the character of Deadeye on anyone one?

JA: Nowadays heroes are too good and too clean. Everyone is good-hearted. Come on! I love the 80s anti-heroes, Man With No Name, Snake Plissken, John McClane, guys that don’t set out to save the day, they just do it because the events push them that way. Those guys are more realistic, and at the same time bigger than life, and way more fun.

HC: You did everything on this piece from the animation to the voices (bar the young lady) how long did it take to come together?

JA: The original storyboard was made back in 2006, but from when I decided to do it as a short, to completion, it was 9 weeks, plus a weekend for the extended fight scene. The storyboard was redone, colours picked, characters and sets designed, 3D modelled, 2D rigged, animated, editing sound and video, and scored, all after work and weekends, in 9 weeks. It was crazy hectic, but I’d do it all again.

HC: Are you happy with the end result or would you like to go back and change things?

JA: I’m happy... but I would like to change some things. I know I could animate some parts better, add some nuances to the sound, add a few more action shots of Deadeye Jack blasting vampires away, maybe have an extended score. Maybe in 10 years for the commemorative DVD release.

HC: Will there be more adventures of Deadeye Jack Cage?

JA: Everyone asks that, which is great! It’s exactly what I wanted with that ending. Yes, the answer is yes, Jack will be back. There are just a couple of projects before that, but Deadeye Jack will be running into more supernatural creatures in the old west.

HC: How nervous are you about the film being chosen to play at FrightFest?

JA: Very. I’ve been wanting to make movies since I was a kid, and been wanting to come to England for decades. This time both things just came together, I had to come. My first short premiering in England, at Britain’s biggest horror fest, in one of the largest theatre rooms on her Majesty’s land, due to a personal invitation by Alan Jones, the man that changed my life by being a juror at MOTELx, where Bats won it’s first award. Yes, you can say I’m nervous about the whole thing. It’s going to be brilliant!

HC: So what projects are you working on next?

JA: I started production on Mindscape last June. It will be a noir horror film, that involves telepathic abilities and... the rest is still under wraps. But before that I'll be partnering up with Filipe Melo to make an animated trailer for the second volume of his comic book The Incredible Adventures of Dog Mendonça and Pizzaboy. The comic just got picked up by DarkHorse for publishing in their series “DarkHorse Presents”. So I'll be working based on Juan Cavia's drawings and bringing the whole thing to life. It's going to be fun! On top of all that, the DVD of Bats is in the works, just getting all the extras in there, and should come out later this year.

HC: João Alves, thank you very much.

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