Having a killer as a neighbor is not exactly an optimal living situation. In his latest short film Russell, director Liam Simpson plays into the fear that most people have when they don’t know the person living next to them. For the director, this was a new undertaking as he’d never worked on a horror film before. In an exclusive interview with Portable, Liam revealed the writing process behind the film and his experience working with blood and gore.
Portable: The last time we spoke to you it was about a fashion film. Russell is a horror film, why the huge transition?
Liam Simpson: When we made the fashion film, the story and tone of it were influenced by the clothing and the inspirations behind the collection. With Russell, we began writing the script based around a story that Ruaraidh Murray, the co-writer/producer/actor, had heard from a friend involving sheep rustling in Scotland. As the characters and story began to develop, we seemed to be heading into horror territory and we went with it. So I think that with both films, the style and the mood was born from the subject matter as opposed to setting out to make a a film in a particular style.
P: Where did you film? How do the locations fit into the horror theme?
Liam Simpson: We filmed in and around the Clerkenwell area of London and in Kent. A lot of the film takes place in the flats of the two main characters and we found a great location in a tower block in Clerkenwell where two neighbouring flats shared a landing. Lots of people live in tower blocks like these with no idea what their neighbors are doing behind closed doors and we wanted to play on this paranoia and suspicion. The other locations were local shops and businesses of friends who were kind enough to let us use them as a location. Much like how Jack The Ripper terrorised the East End of London in the 1880s, we wanted our killer to ‘work’ in a particular area of the city.
P: You co-wrote the script. What was the writing process like?
Liam Simpson: I co-wrote the script with Ruaraidh Murray. We would get together in the evenings and sit around and come up with ideas. Eventually we would come up with something that worked in terms of the story and Ruaraidh would go away and write a draft. We did this over the space of a couple of months while we both worked on other things. A lot of the dialogue in film is improvised or based around notes outlined in the script. The actors were brilliant and came up with some great stuff during the filming.
P: You have mentioned that you were inspired by Ealing comedies. Which ones were you the most influenced by and what was it about them that inspired you?
Liam Simpson: Particularly The Ladykillers and Kind Hearts & Coronets. We tried to capture that combination of malevolence and farce that some of the Ealing comedies did so well while introducing modern ideas and subject matter. We wanted the character of Johnny Boy feel like an anachronism from that era who finds himself in the modern day and hoped that the disharmony would work with the bizarre and slightly macabre world in which the story takes place.
P: You also mentioned that it was inspired by local legends. What local legends inspired you?
Liam Simpson: Ruaraidh is from Edinburgh, Scotland, and heard a story of a man who indulged in sheep rustling. This involves stealing sheep from farms and selling the meat on the black market. We elaborated on the story and introduced elements from other notorious murderers from London like Jack The Ripper and George Chapman who both terrorised particular parts of London. Our killer was called Clerkenwell Jack.
P: When doing a horror flick certain goriness comes with it. How was it working with this horror aspect and all the blood that comes with making a movie about a killer?
Liam Simpson: We decided we would try and go pretty far in terms of blood and gore. None of the crew had made anything of this nature before but are all big fans of the genre so we thought we’d try and push it as much as we could within our budget. Practically, it was really fun coming up with low-cost ideas and techniques to create some of the bloodier scenes in the film and the cast and crew all chipped in with some very depraved suggestions! But we were conscious that we didn’t want any of the blood or gore to feel gratuitous and the most important thing for us was creating a tension and atmosphere throughout so that the gory scenes felt justified.
P: What kind of movies can we expect from you in the future? Any more horror films?
Liam Simpson: In the future, I’m developing another couple of shorts and also working on a script with Ruaraidh for a feature that we hope to shoot late this year/early next year. I think with the next short, we’ll be venturing into Sci-Fi and that’s very exciting. I think it’s important to keep making films and learning and experiencing more every time and I’d love to try something new, either in terms of style or technique, with each film.