By Keri O’Shea
We look at quite a few short films during the course of an average year here at Brutal as Hell, what with the Horror in Short section we run, together with our combined attendance at horror festivals – but sometimes, a filmmaker’s work stands out, and that’s certainly the case with director and writer Andy Stewart, based in Glasgow. I originally featured Andy’s first film, Dysmorphia, back last year – this is still available for you to watch, and if you’re a fan of hard-hitting, though still understated body shocks, then I recommend you do so. Since then, I’ve been able to catch up to the rest of Andy’s work to date – namely, Split, and Ink – and therein I’ve seen a director crafting a recognisable style of his own, where we see an idea firmly grounded in the everyday allowed to run wild into the realms of flinch-inducing, grisly detail.
Andy was kind enough to have a chat with me about his work so far…
BAH: The first question is kind of an obvious one I know, but – how did you cross over into filmmaking? I understand you moved from writing into directing…
Andy: Yeah, I used to be a sports reporter, covering third division Scottish football games. Not the most glamorous role. In the end, I got fed up of sitting on freezing cold football terraces and decided to retire to the warmth of my house and start blogging, which I used as a means to moan about my perception of mainstream horror films. This kind of grew until I had 10 regular writers and we were reviewing screeners, interviewing actors, directors, authors and I also began writing for magazines at this time. After a while, and having sat through more awful screeners than I could stand, I decided that I wanted to have a crack at film-making and, being a massive David Cronenberg fan, started churning out short body horror scripts one after the other. Dysmorphia seemed like a good place to start but, I didn’t know any technical people to help me actually bring it to life until I was introduced to my producer, Adriana Polito, who was absolutely instrumental on Dysmorphia. She’s one of the most organised and efficient people alive. I genuinely couldn’t have done it without her.
Dysmorphia, especially considering it’s your very first film, packs a hell of a punch; it’s a very bold, very graphic take on a genuine mental condition – though the gory scenes in the film derive a lot of their impact from the fact that you find yourself feeling sympathetic for the plight of the main character. Particularly at the end, you feel that it’s a very humanised kind of horror, and certainly no splatterfest. What’s the story behind Dysmorphia?
I mostly write about things I can kind of relate to. That’s where it came from, to an extent. Obviously, I haven’t taken things to quite the extremes the main character does but I have felt kind of alone and depressed at times in my life and have been unhappy with aspects of my appearance at different times, as most of us have been. The rest kind of came from my existing knowledge of the 2 conditions that became one in the film (Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Body Integrity Identity Disorder). I have always been a bit fascinated by BIID. I have never quite been able to understand the emotions and feelings that lead a person to disassociate so completely with a part of their body as to want rid of it and I don’t suppose that I ever will. It’s a really interesting condition.
What challenges did you face putting together those special effects? I’m guessing, like most first-time filmmakers, that you had limited funds…
Yeah. That’s a fair guess. The entire film was made on a budget of £160. Ten quid of that went on the FX. I knew that I couldn’t afford to show too much, lest it look fake, so I made the decision pretty early on to go with the “less is more” approach, which I think serves the film quite well. I designed a lot of the special FX make-up in advance with Ruthy Devenny, the prosthetic FX technician. That tenner went on a slab of pork belly that I rigged with a blood tube. It’s only in one shot. The rest was all Gordie’s real arm. There were actually very, very few challenges. That side of things went quite smoothly although the room did start to get a bit whiffy from the pork and hot lights…
Judging by your work so far – Dysmorphia, Split and Ink – you clearly have an interest in body horror, and by that I don’t mean the zany kind which you’d associate with, say, Henenlotter, but a far more unflinching, unsettling variety. Is this an area you’d like to explore more in future work, and if so, do you have any ideas where you’d like to take it next?
Oh definitely. I think if you are going down the more severe body horror route of Split or Ink, it should be unflinching and should unsettle people. I am a major hypochondriac, so body horror is one of the few things that troubles me and I can’t get enough of it. I get grossed out by anything to do with fingernails and teeth. I have a few other things that I want to do, film-wise, but I will absolutely be back to body horror. Body horror is where my heart lies, I guess.
Late last year, you were a guest at Sheffield’s Celluloid Screams horror festival, where me and editor-man Ben got to catch up with your two most recent short films, ‘Split’ and ‘Ink’. What was the experience of screening two of your films at the same event like, and were you pleased with your response?
Anyone who knows me, or who saw me before the screening of either Split or Ink at Celluloid Screams, will know that I am a nervous wreck before any screenings. I hate watching my films and hate watching them with audiences. Part of me feels a bit guilty for subjecting folk to these long, quiet, often revolting films! It was weird to have the two films playing on the same day, too. The only people with more screen-time were Astron-6. That’s madness.
I was really happy with the response to both films actually, and the feedback was lovely. It’s always lovely and touching when people come up to me and say they enjoyed my work or that it elicited some kind of reaction. On the whole, Split was received better, I think. Some folk weren’t quite as taken with Ink, but that’s OK. I know where it’s lacking and that’s something for me to work on.
I have to ask this, having sat – and squirmed – through Ink. What was your thinking behind the idea? The main character covets tattoos of his own, but comes up with a horrific way of getting them…
It actually came from frustration. I have a lot of tattoos, and it’s true what they say – they are kind of addictive. I was unemployed for a while and couldn’t afford any new tattoos and so I remember sitting thinking up ways to get new ones. Crazy things. I was like, “Well, I could do my own. Prison style,” and “I could flee a tattoo studio without paying but, no, that’s illegal,”then I hit on the idea of “I could steal them from folk but, no, also illegal, and nuts”. Then I started thinking that it could work as a film and, in fact, was written at the same time as Dysmorphia. It was originally a much more slapsticky, schlocky affair, but I rewrote it to pull it in line with the tone of Dysmorphia and Split. I actually now work in a tattoo studio in Glasgow so don’t actually have to pay for my tattoos. That was also part of my reasoning behind making Ink when I did. In fact, the scene outside the studio was shot at my work and the “Tattooist” is played by an actual tattooist. The guy were all really supportive.
So far, you’ve made three short films. Given the success of the ABCs of Death compilations, it seems like the horror-viewing public is rediscovering a taste for short movies…this is partly behind our thinking at the site with the Horror in Short section; it seems such a shame to overlook good short films, so we aim to make them available for our readers. What do you personally most enjoy about the medium? And are you interested in moving into feature-length filmmaking?
For me, short film-making has helped me start to find my style, if you like, and I have had to adapt quickly in order to do that. All three shorts have a very different tone and look, which kind of chart my development, if there’s been any. I enjoy telling a short story over ten, twenty minutes and being able to get the reactions I get, whether that’s covering of eyes or flinching or, in more extreme cases, vomiting and fainting. I know the arguments that say that short film-making is no longer an effective way to get your name out there and that it’s features or bust, but to that I say, it hasn’t been a bad experience for me at all. Maybe only in financial terms, to a small extent but – for me – there’s a hell of a lot more people that know me for my short films than ever did with my writing.
As for features, yeah, I have a few scripts ready to go. It’s definitely what I want to do…and soon.
As a horror fan yourself – what are some of your own favourite films and directors?
I love The Wicker Man. It’s a real comfort film to me. Plus, the score and songs make it almost like a weird musical, which kind of tickles me. My top horror films will always feature The Wicker Man, Re-Animator, Halloween, Hellraiser, Cronenberg’s The Fly and The Abominable Dr. Phibes. They’re my go-to’s. As for directors, that’s easy too. David Cronenberg, David Lynch and John Carpenter. Aside from horror, I’m a huge Muppets and Godzilla fan. I actually for a while held a secret ambition to work on The Muppets!
Finally, what are your plans for the coming year?
Ink and Split are still out at festivals so hopefully I will pop up at a couple of those. I’m also in pre-production on what is likely my last short film, though we aren’t actually shooting until June. It’s not body horror this time, rather a dip of the toe into sci-fi horror/fantasy territory. We have most of the same crew from Ink returning, with Grant Mason handling the FX again and BAFTA winner Alan C. McLaughlin back as cinematographer. We have also just locked in our actors, so it’ll be the first time I have worked with recognisable horror actors too, which is utterly exciting and humbling. Can’t say too much more on it right now, unfortunately.
After that, I’m all about the features…
Thanks to Andy Stewart