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Interview with Michael Boucherie writer and director of Where the Skin Lies
By James Whittington, Monday 28th August 2017
More new talent seemed to be around at Horror Channel FrightFest this year and one of the stand out movies for me was Where The Skin Lies from Michael Boucherie. Here he chats about this emotional movie.
HC: Did you know from a young age you wanted to be in the film-making business?
MB: Going to the movies with my family is a favourite childhood memory. There was no cinema in our home town, so it always involved a bit of a car trip. Afterwards we'd recount and quote our favourite scenes, for some movies up to this day. My mother also filmed and edited our home movies on Super 8, and she involved me in that. So, on some level I grew up with it. It didn't dawn on me that this was a valid career choice till in my late teens. At some point I just started to list all the things I wanted to do with my life and the conclusion that I had to become a film director was inescapable.
HC: Are you a big fan of horror movies?
MB: I'm a big fan of movies in general, but horror I do find particularly exciting. It's such a vast genre which allows you to explore and experience extremes of emotions. A lot of inventive stuff is going on in this field. It deals mainly with fear, and the sometimes successful and sometimes futile attempts at conquering it. It's an important emotion to deal with, I believe, in a medium as cathartic as cinema.
HC: How long did Where the Skin Lies take to write and did it change much over the course of writing?
MB: The script came about in a rather unusual way. It really started with the title and the location where we wanted to film. I pitched those two elements to my older brother David, telling him I wanted to make an ensemble horror film. He quickly came back with a playful concept and I knew we had something valuable from the get-go. David, who is a brilliant software engineer, wrote the first draft in his spare time over the course of four months. From then on, I reworked several drafts, mainly tweaking characters and relationships. But in terms of plot, very little changed. An important aspect of the way I work as a director, though, is eliciting the creative involvement of the cast. We went through a three-week long rehearsal process with a definite 'devising' type feel to it, which is quite unique for genre film. The cast was instrumental in building the characters, the way they relate, and their dialogue. We kept adjusting dialogue and character choreography throughout the shoot itself.
HC: Did the budget restrict anything you wanted to realise on screen?
MB: While working on the first draft, my brother and I continuously discussed what would be feasible on the low budget we'd be working on. The script is partly a product of our budget-consciousness. So, in a sense, we were able to realise everything we wanted on screen, because we didn't write anything that we wouldn't be able to.
HC: Did you have a cast in mind whilst you were writing the movie?
MB: My original plan was to work mainly with people I knew, including recruiting cast from the Drama Centre London. However, when the delightful Joy Harrison partnered up with me as the producer, she brought with her an extensive expertise and network. This allowed us to hold wider ranging auditions. I'm very happy with the cast we were able to assemble and with what they brought to the film. They were emotionally brave and very generous. It's been really rewarding working with them.
HC: It's your debut feature, did this add pressure whilst you were directing?
MB: Honestly not. I thrive on this kind of stress and it doesn't necessarily feel like pressure to me. It's more like a focussing force. The debut aspect didn't play for me at all. The pressure, if you like, comes from your responsibility to your cast and crew - they invest part of their life in making this film, so I believe it should be time well spent for them - and the responsibility to your audience. You're essentially asking strangers to trust you with an hour or two of their valuable time, and to pay for watching your film. You have to deliver something that makes it worthwhile.
HC: It has some really cool effects, were they tough to realise?
MB: I wanted to work with practical effects as much as possible. Firstly, it gives the cast something tangible to work with; secondly, it provides a more real feel to the environment you present to your audience. Any use of CGI should augment the visuals, never distract from the sense of reality. I had the pleasure of working with Alexandra Knights as SFX designer and artist. We planned and tested all the effects beforehand, which included designing a horrid skin disease from the ground up. The little CGI we used, mainly to clean up some shots and to animate some effects, were done by VC Studios in Belgium. They were very generous with their time, running test after test for me, till we got it just right. I'm very grateful for their commitment to the project.
HC: Are you nervous at all when your movies show at festivals?
MB: Where the Skin Lies has its world premiere at FrightFest 2017, so it will be the first time I'll see the film in a festival context. That's very exciting, of course. I'm looking forwards to seeing how an independent audience will respond to the film as a whole and to all the little bits that you hope elicit certain reactions. We've screened the film privately for the cast and crew, once in the UK and once in Belgium, and I do get nervous the moment the film starts rolling. You're constantly trying to imagine what each scene, each revelation, feels like to someone seeing it for the first time. Filmmaking is all about timing the reveal of bits of information. You don't want to spell everything out to your audience and disrupt the magic, but you don't want to be so obscure that it becomes unreadable, either.
HC: So then, what are you up to now?
MB: I'm writing a survival science-fiction I hope to take into production next year. It will ride that fine line between thriller and survival horror. Building on certain themes from Where the Skin Lies, it's going to be breath-taking in more ways than one. I'm really excited working on it.
HC: Michael Boucherie, thank you very much.
MB: It's my pleasure.
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