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Interview with Airell Hayles writer and co-director of They're Outside
By James Whittington, Saturday 1st August 2020
FrightFest is once again on the horizon but this time, due to global events the event has become a virtual experience with all films being accessed online. Horror is once again sponsoring the First Blood strand of the event. Here we chat to Airell Hayles whose movie They're Outside mixes found footage and pagan horror genres to great effect.
HC: Where did the idea for They're Outside come from?
AH: This idea for They're Outside came from a couple of things. I remember as a kid hearing that my uncle suffered mild agoraphobia, and when I learned what it was, I was fascinated by this idea of some people being kind of scared to leave their homes. Of course, the recent Covid-19 events have added a new spin to that whole thing. I'd wanted to write a 'supernatural' film for ages but hadn't because I think they're really hard to get right, and I rejected a lot of ideas halfway into writing them. The most effective ghost stories rule the horror kingdom in my opinion. The ones that really got to me are Ghost Watch, the 1992 pseudo-documentary, and The Sixth Sense. I also love those old BBC Christmas ghost stories like the original Whistle and I'll Come to You. The idea of 'Pipes' in Ghost Watch for sure inspired the woodland spirit 'Green Eyes' in They're Outside. The idea of this film fully came together when I asked myself 'What if a person's agoraphobia was linked to supernatural events, rather than being a purely psychological condition?' Also, right at the beginning was just that title, They're Outside, which led me think about what could be out there, and why...
HC: Did it take long to write and did the story change much as you wrote it?
AH: The screenplay took a while to write because it did not feel right in its mood and energy for quite some time. There was something flat about it, and it just was not working in the right way. Then when it was re-written as found footage it found its heartbeat, and in my opinion the same story was suddenly filled with far more immediacy and energy. I know not all found footage movies are written as full scripts, but some are such as Cloverfield and As Above, So Below. I looked at how they were put together. I think it is good to weave a full structure, and something of a hero's journey into whatever style of narrative you undertake.
HC: They're Outside uses the found footage genre to tell its story, do you have a favourite of this genre?
AH: I really like fairly recent film Hell House LLC, a brilliant found footage film that has a genuine creepiness to it. Others little gems are Willow Creek and The Borderlands. There are loads of life left in found footage, just so long as the format is used for the right reasons. It really can feel like you are right there with the characters in these films.
HC: Did you write the script with a cast in mind as you have pulled together some very well-known faces including Emily Booth and Nicholas Vince?
AH: I wrote the role of Penny with Emily Booth in mind. Emily and I are both from Hastings where the film is set, so I knew she'd understand the vibe of the pagan community there and bring heart and a sense of fun to the role. We'd worked with Nicholas Vince on our upcoming film Heckle, which I wrote, about a stand-up comedian being stalked by a seemingly insane heckler. He was a joy to work with, and when it came to finding a Professor of Folklore, we knew he was the man for the job. Emily and Nicholas are loved by the UK horror community because they are just lovely humans, and you want to work with people like that, cause team players make the working film day so much easier. I often write with actors in mind I want to work with, hoping I can get them to do the film, and hear their voices loud and clear at the laptop. You are not meant to do it that way, but I think it can work out well.
HC: How nervous were you on the first day of shooting?
AH: First day of shooting was of course a bit nerve racking, but everyone was on the same page and our actors were great, so all eyes were really on their terrific performances. Casting is key as we are often reminded, and everything was set up to serve the actors when it came to filming. Once in the flow of things, it all ran amazingly smoothly thanks in large part to our always positive producer, Dovile Kirvelaityte. Everyone was tuned into everyone else. I was so excited to be filming this that I hardly slept during the shoot period. My brain was just wide awake, but in an inspired rather than nervous way.
HC: You co-directed the movie with Sam Casserly, how did you both decide on which shot worked best etc?
AH: It was great working with Sam Casserly, who also doubled as DOP. We watch loads of horror, love the genre and have a shorthand shared language about what we're looking for in shots. We're led by story and mood, and with this film it was very much about capturing that unique pagan spirit that I'd felt when attending this 'Green Man' festival as a kid. Sam and I both love the original Wicker Man film, which kind of casts a spell on you with its music and visuals. As does Picnic at Hanging Rock, which was also a reference for mood. We wanted to focus on day lit feelings of dread, and on the festival day, capture all that energy and all those colours.
HC: Did you have much of a budget to play with?
AH: We did not have a huge budget to play with, so mixed some guerrilla film making out and about, with a single location, that amazingly had loads of woodland behind it that we were also able to use. It helped our leading lady was stuck in her house for most of the film, but with a smaller budget the challenge was to create a feeling of the nature surrounding the house as a character in of itself. For the inside of the chalet, we made sure we had an amazing production designer to bring it to life as we would spend so long in there. We also used all the rooms, doorways etc to get the most out of the location. Lots of people worked on this film for not very much, and we are very thankful to them.
HC: Was it all shot on location and if so, which scene was the hardest to film?
AH: The film was shot on location in Hastings, East Sussex (a great place for filming) and Surrey for the agoraphobic characters home, as it was easier to bring the London based actors there to stay. Hardest scenes to film were on the 'Hastings Jack in the Green' festival day, where it got pretty chaotic, with huge crowds, people dancing in the streets, and lots of drumming! But that was exactly what we wanted to capture, and Sam did an amazing job navigating the camera through some extremely challenging set ups. It is wonderful to have a document of this very unique Sussex tradition, and have it become part of a folk horror film. I had wanted to do something with the event for ages, having always loved everything about the 'Jack in the Green' festival, and all those associated with it.
HC: The film focuses on local legends; do you believe in such things?
AH: I don't believe so much in local legends and ghosts, but fully believe in their power to inspire the imagination. I love all those stories, and how they become part of our collective consciousness. These fireside stories have always been the best in their ability to make us think about our mortality, and at the same time scare the hell out of us. So sadly, I don't believe in ghosts but I'd be delighted if ghosts did exist. Great thing is that in the movies, they always will.
HC: They're Outside has been placed in the prestigious First Blood strand which is being sponsored by Horror Channel, how does that feel?
AH: It feels amazing to be part of the First Blood strand as sponsored by the Horror Channel. FrightFest is now commonly referred to by most genre fans as being 'horror Christmas' and it's a nightmare come true to be involved in this year's event.
HC: What advice would you give to someone wanting to make their own movie?
AH: The advice I'd give for someone wanting to make their own movie is this... Imagine if you don't make this film, and you're lying there on your death bed regretting it. That's real horror right there. That's really scary. As a character says in the film Risky Business 'Every now and then say, "What the f***." 'What the f***" gives you freedom. Freedom brings opportunity.'
HC: What are you working on at the moment?
AH: Our next project is in pre-production and it is called Frost Bite. Very different in tone to 'They're Outside', this one is about Santa Claus turning into a werewolf on Christmas Eve, and wreaking havoc in a small town. Nicholas Vince is our Santa Claus, and Emily Booth will be joining the cast again too. We are also excited to work with Mark Arnold in what I believe will be his first werewolf comedy since acting alongside Michael J Fox in Teen Wolf (1985) which has always been my favourite eighties film. Finally, Joe Bob Briggs will be doing some voice work on the film, so it should be a lot of fun...
HC: Airell Hayles, thank you very much.
The world premiere of They're Outside is taking place at FrightFest 2020 on Saturday August 29th at 7pm on the Horror Channel Screen as part of the New Blood strand.
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