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Interview with Graham Hughes writer, director and star of Death of a Vlogger
By James Whittington, Saturday 24th August 2019
The New Blood strand at FrightFest has uncovered some incredible creative talent that is waiting to be discovered. Graham Hughes is one of the people that has a film, Death of a Vlogger showing as part of this celebration. Here we chatted to him about this movie.
HC: How did the idea for the movie come about?
GH: I'd just had a bad breakup with a film that fell apart a couple of weeks before we were due to shoot it. A lot of the reason for that was because I was pushing the budget too far, trying to make a 10k feature look like a 100k feature. A few months later, still mourning the loss of the film, I watched a low-budget Canadian feature called The Dirties. It's a 10k film that, instead of trying to make itself look like more than the sum of its parts, owns its low-budget and turns it into an aesthetic. It inspired me to do something similar. The inspiration for the story came from two things: I had been making a lot of content for the internet for a few years and had also just finished Jon Ronson's book, So You've Been Publicly Shamed. Essentially the combination of those three things led to me making Death of a Vlogger.
HC: Did it take long to complete?
GH: The turnaround of the film was pretty fast, at least in my experience. I started properly writing it in January 2018 and the film was completely finished by March 2019.
HC: How did you go about casting the movie?
GH: I was extremely lucky with the cast I got, since I wrote certain parts specifically for certain people, before I'd asked if they'd be in the film! Fortunately, they all said yes. I'd known Paddy Kondracki for a few years. He's more of a writer, but I'd seen him act in a few shorts and love his screen presence. He's a brilliant improviser as well, which helped the film massively. Annabel Logan is an actor I've worked with a few times before and it's always a pleasure. She brings great ideas to the shoot and can change her performance on a dime, it's quite something to watch. She also helped coach my performance a lot at the start of the shoot, since I'm quite green as an actor. Joma West is actually my partner. She'd agreed to do a small part to help me out, and we filmed all of the scenes for that when I realised that she was holding out on me and is actually pretty f*****g good! So, I recast her in a bigger role. Nepotism at work, eh? Most of the other roles were filled out with friends and family, which was incredibly helpful on a film as modest as this one!
HC: Is it difficult directing yourself?
GH: I'd say yes, but it was sort of easier on this shoot. Given that it was usually just me on the shoot myself, I could re-take as many shots as I needed until it was done right. There were a fair few scenes that were re-shot, purely for performance. On top of that, shooting most of my scenes on my phone, I was able to instantly re-watch the takes with ease, so I could see where I was going wrong and what needed to change.
HC: The sťance sequence is excellent, how technically difficult was that to do?
GH: Well thank you! It was just technically difficult enough to be fun without being a pain in the arse. So just for context, the seance scene is a 5 and a half minute (actual) single-take scene filmed on a VR camera with multiple practical effects. Since the camera doesn't technically move that was one thing that wasn't a pain. This meant that although the blocking was quite intricate, it didn't involve the camera, which was a blessing. However, it still had to be planned for a "moving" camera, since the angle that you're seeing from the VR camera was going to be manipulated in post, it all had to be blocked with that in mind. I spent a day blocking out the scene and making sure that the effects person, who was in the middle of the scene, could trigger the practical effects without being seen by the camera at any given time. Then there was the challenge of just getting one take where everyone got their lines right, the effects all worked right, and my dog didn't wander onto the set halfway through!
HC: The piece is very "now", slightly satirical and has a lot to say about how instant hatred can spread on the internet, is it something you've seen or experienced?
GH: I think we've all seen things like this. People are so quick to judge. The fact that the term "cancelled" exists says it all. As for experiencing it, fortunately I've not been on the wrong end of a pitchfork mob. I have, however, put a lot of content online, blogs, videos, gifs etc. And people can just be incredibly cruel. The anonymity of the internet gives people a confidence that they wouldn't have in real life. I don't know why that leads them to be more mean and hateful, but it definitely helps. For my part, it's just aimed at me for the things I create, but there are people out there who are getting personally, maliciously attacked for far less. Strange times.
HC: You are a person of many talents; do you have a favourite role?
GH: I tend to enjoy the more solitary jobs, particularly writing and editing. It's nice to be able to get into the flow mode (when it happens!). However, I would love to do some more acting. I've technically been acting on and off for 10 years, but it's always for my own work. It would be great to do some acting for someone else, without having to worry about directing at the same time. But I know it's so competitive and it's not something I have time to pursue. A man can dream...
HC: Are you nervous about your movie showing at FrightFest?
GH: Yes! So many things to be nervous about. I've not personally QC-ed the DCP so while I do trust the post-house, it's impossible to get rid of the worry there. Will we sell enough tickets? And obviously, will the audience enjoy it? We couldn't ask for a better World Premiere. FrightFest audiences are notorious for their passion and love of horror. But that doesn't mean they'll instantly love it. And obviously being a World Premiere, I've never seen it in front of an audience of strangers before, I've no idea how people will react to it.
HC: Do you believe in ghosts and the paranormal?
GH: Short answer: no. Long answer: I've seen some things that I can't explain, and I am still afraid of the dark. In the small hours of the night, after making a trip to the toilet, I sometimes feel I have to run back to the bedroom before it gets me, so I have to wonder what it is that I'm afraid of, if not the paranormal...
HC: So, what are you working on at the moment?
GH: Death of a Vlogger is eating up a lot of my time right now. I'm kind of a one-man-band on the film, and I still have a 9-5 as well. I'm keen to start writing again, and I think after FrightFest there will be more time for that. I have three main ideas that I'd love to work on next, and they're all budgeted differently. So, I think the next few months should help me with that decision!
HC: Graham Hughes, thank you very much.
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