With horror/comedy ‘When the Screaming Starts’ scheduled to make its world premier at FrightFest 2021 on August 28th, Hugh had a chance to sit down with the film’s Director and co-writer Conor Boru, co-writer and lead Ed Hartland and co-star and producer Jared Rogers.
When the Screaming Starts debuts at FrightFest 2021 this weekend guys, I managed to see the film last night. How would you describe it to someone who is going in blind?
Conor – The film is a comedy-horror, a mockumentary about an aspiring serial killer and an inept struggling filmmaker who follows him on his quest for infamy.
The film debuts on Saturday 28th August at FrightFest, is this the first time you’ll have seen it with an audience?
Jared – Yeah, with a roomful of people rather than just partners and stuff yeah. It’s a little nerve wracking but exciting.
Conor – It’s the first time seeing it on the big screen for me. I’d seen it on a decent sized screen when we were finalising the grade, but it’s certainly going to be an experience seeing it at Leicester Square.
What can you tell me about the genesis of the film?
Ed – The sort origin and root of the film starts with The London Horror Society! I was reviewing the Ted Bundy tapes for the site and I just remember watching and thinking that this is hugely disturbing and yet I can’t stop watching it!
It made me ask a lot of questions; what does this say about me? What does this say about society that this is as fascinating a documentary series as it is. And then talking with Conor about various projects, this kind of pushed its way to the surface. Conor kind of pushed the sort of mockumentary aesthetic when we were starting out, but that is the heart of it.
You mentioned the mockumentary format; did you take inspiration from any of the shows and films that’ve used that format?
Conor – Yeah, its hard not to be influenced when there are so many amazing mockumentaries out there. I love them when they’re done well, and they all sort of fed into the aesthetic. I’ve said this a few times, but originally we were thinking about a very drab, dry sort of British style like The Office.
But as it moved along it became more and more cinematic and stylised, utilising music and colour palettes; we did try to stay true to the iconic mockumentary style with the little punches in and panning across, but hopefully we infused it with something a little bit more cinematic as well.
I think that is very much the case, it feels like a big production. Jared, how did you come to be involved in the project?
Jared -Ed, Conor and I all trained together many years ago now, and we created a lot of micro-shorts, short films and theatre shows over the years. We’ve been trying to do a feature for so long and in the end this script came along and Ed and Conor asked me to get involved.
I loved the script; it has changed a lot since the initial draft and so much great content has been added. I love comedy, and especially those that push the boundaries of sort of ‘is this ok to laugh at, people getting killed?’.
So yeah it was a great chance to work with these guys and the team.
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When you were putting it together, how difficult was it managing the tone? It’s really pitch black at times, and that it still remains so funny is remarkable.
Ed – It’s something that we have been looking at right the way through. I don’t think there was a single day of writing or on set or post-production where we weren’t discussing that balance. There were a lot of things that we liked on paper that were really, really funny that just didn’t quite work. Some things that pushed the film too much down that route of comedy or pushing into too dark a territory, without the comedy; its been a constant discussion and balancing act where somethings we really loved we just had to get rid of it because it just didn’t work.
Conor – It’s been a constant thing and worry, it treads a fine line between the comedy and darker side, and hopefully we managed to balance that. We were always reassessing what we had written, and I think some of the earlier drafts leaned more towards the comedy side, and as that developed, we began to infuse it with more and more darkness.
On paper some things weren’t quite as dark as they turned out to be, once we got to set and the actors found their characters it naturally evolved. We tried to shoot as much as possible in a linear fashion (which wasn’t always feasible) as we wanted the actors to really experience it and develop with their characters as things went on.
The film starts off more light-hearted and gets progressively darker the more it goes on and I wanted the cast to experience that journey.
Was there a lot of room on set for any improvising? The reason I ask is because the delivery feels very natural, which while often is the sign of good performances and a tight script, sometimes the freedom to improvise brings that out of a performer too.
Conor – There was probably a mixture. I think there was definitely improvisation, but for the most part a lot of what is in the final film is scripted. We would capture a few takes where we would follow the script and then a few where we would let it roll a bit and have some people throwing in the odd line and have someone else react to it.
Some scenes in particular, like the party scene, we just let them loose to have a lot of fun and to improvise. As people got into their characters later in filming there was a little bit more improvising as they’d really sort of ‘found’ their characters by that point.
Jared, your character as the documentarian has probably the most interesting journey. Did you find it difficult getting into the sort of headspace where you would manage the development of the character over the piece?
Jared – I probably would have done more if I hadn’t worked with Conor and Ed before. I’d kind of worked through that character by being there for some of the early drafts, and from a producing standpoint too, it made it a lot easier. We could do late night WhatsApp’s and have conversations like that where you’d have a bit more freedom than you perhaps would with other directors.
There were definitely parts that were difficult, but I do love comedy and Norman is such a great role; he’s slightly David Brent-like in that he wants to be Louis Theroux but isn’t quite there. I mean, he calls himself an award-winning documentary filmmaker but it’s questionable what these awards actually are (laughs).
I play him as a serious character who is laughed at, I enjoy those sort of characters in comedy.
I have to ask; what about the wardrobe? It was certainly a ‘look’ you were sporting. I can see you’ve buzzed your hair off; I have to say that I’m disappointed.
Jared – (laughs) This was only recent! When I watched the film a few days ago I just thought ‘How ridiculous is that hair?’ (laughs). It looks great in the film, but walking around with that haircut, or rather lack of haircut, for a year in a half was special.
Conor – Especially when you’d moved to Florida in that heat with that hair….. (laughs)
Jared – In between shooting in January to the reshoots just after the first lockdown, I think I had a little trim. Then Conor and I were on facetime and he was like ‘HAVE YOU CUT YOUR HAIR?’ and I was like ‘No….’
Conor – You have to always be ready to go Jared (laughs).
Ed, with regards to your character; had you always intended to play the role as you were writing him?
Ed – I wrote it with me in mind to play it, but it is a bit of a bizarre situation writing a role that you are going to play. I didn’t really try and think about that too much, because if I had I don’t know if I would have been quite so happy putting him in the situations that he ends up in.
It was nice to just turn up on set and just know the character because we had been working on him for ages.
It’s a fascinating performance. Underneath Aiden’s manic narcissism there is a really sweet and sympathetic side to him, which must’ve been tricky to juggle?
Ed – Yeah, I think this is something we spent a long time on, getting the right balance for Aiden. I think we, as a society, slightly glamorise serial killers and get quite heavily into them. We wanted to strike the right balance to keep Aiden relatable. We’ve talked before about this film being about ambition, something we can all understand, but Aiden’s ambition is just a little bit different to most peoples.
So yeah, he had to be sympathetic to an extent as well as, like you said, narcissistic and a little bit strange (laughs).
The film looks like a proper big budget production. How did you find some of those sets?
Conor – A lot of searching! The initial set was the nursing home, Ed’s family have a nursing home with his Gran’s house attached to it. And we used that for Aiden’s house in the film and had a sort of ‘serial killer in a granny house’ thing going on.
From there we just started looking around and really just got everyone we knew to give us their locations. Some of the more stylised ones, like the warehouse, I’d done a theatre show with Ed many years ago and they gave us a good deal. And for the big house, it’s just this guy John in Essex who has spent twenty-five years building this dream house! Every room is so unique.
That’s where we did the scenes with Amy and Masoud, in fact most of the cutaway stuff was done there and that’s where we did the big showdown at the end. It’s just a stunning location.
And we found that on airbnb! So you never know, you’ve just got to look.
You mentioned some of the other characters there; how did you cast for the film?
Conor – Well, Ed and Jared were cast from day one so we knew we had our leads sorted. That takes the pressure off, knowing that these guys were in these rolls I felt confident that there would be no issues at all getting what we needed because of our longstanding working relationship.
We’re very blessed as we had a huge network of actor friends around us and we’ve accumulated more and more contacts in the industry as time has gone on. Most people in the film are just friends that we cast, and we wrote with them in mind, though we did have to cast a few roles.
We had to audition the twins as none of us had any identical twins who were actors around us (laughs), and Kaitlin Reynell who played Claire auditioned too. We are very blessed to have so many talented people around us really.
You mentioned the filming process earlier, did you guys shoot during the pandemic?
Jared – Yeah, the shoot was January 2020, where the pandemic was still largely in Asia and we could see the reports on the news, and we had a cast of crew of about thirty plus. And that’s crazy to think about now, all those people with no masks, temperature checks or hand sanitiser, buffets for lunch!
Then August / September Conor and our editor Alan (Rae) put a rough edit together and it looked almost like a film! But we wanted to do more reshoots and the film is all the better for it.
Conor – Yeah, the reshoots were mostly adding scenes and back-story to the family. We really couldn’t get enough of the family, they brought so much energy and fun to the project.
Without getting into spoilers or specifics; the central set-piece of the film is such a stark tonal shift that I genuinely didn’t know if the film would be able to swing back the other way and continue on as a comedy. How did you manage that that part of the script?
Conor – Ed, Jared and I talked about that a lot. We wanted it to be a real turning point, with the whole idea being that it is all fun and games up until that point. It’s not real, it’s a sort of glamourised vision of what Aiden thinks being a serial killer is. But the reality of it is that it is horrific, and we really didn’t want to shy away from that.
And we build in the darkness slowly, it sort of comes in increments, so hopefully by the end you are ready for the dark events that are coming and it sort of just doesn’t hit you out of nowhere. It was a tricky balancing act, I’m not gonna lie, and we really did question if we would be able to get the laughs back after that moment, but the screenings with the cast and crew I think we got the balance right and were able to manage it.
I always like to ask everyone I speak to about their favourite horror films; what works for you guys, what horror or horror-comedy films do it for you?
Jared – Ed, do you want to start. I mean, how long have you got? (laughs)
Ed – (laughs) No, no, I’ll limit myself. I mean, I’ve immediately got a top five or a top ten (laughs). In terms of horror comedy, well it’s gonna be two, What We do in the Shadows and Deathgasm. I think we have elements of both in our film.
To my shame Ed, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of Deathgasm!
Ed – It’s a New Zealand comedy horror about a metal band that write a song that summons some demons.
Just very quickly Ed, that reminds me. Could you please explain to me something about Cannibal Deathmarch and that remarkable music video that appears in When the Screaming Starts? What was that? Or is that your secret side-project?
Ed – (laughs) The name Cannibal Deathmarch actually came about because when I was getting married our musician dropped out. So, I was asking people for ideas on a playlist and Conor said that I shouldn’t have any of my stuff, like Cannibal Deathmarch (laughs). So a year later we crammed it into the film.
My brother, Nick, and an actor we’ve worked with before, Steph, worked with me and we put together this track.
Conor – There’s a full album coming out (laughs)
Ed -The track in the film, ‘Burn the Witch’ is actually going to be available online from the 2nd of September.
(laughs) Excellent! I’ll get that downloaded and have it blaring for my kids getting in from school! Conor, what about you?
Conor – I’ll narrow it down to horror-comedies; I would say What We do in the Shadows as well, and of course you’ve got to say Shaun of the Dead, I love that film. Edgar Wright is terrific; that’s another example of a British comedy that is just crammed with so much style.
Jared – The horror-comedies I would have said have all been taken. So in terms of just pure horror, I always like the ones that are pretty close to reality, like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Halloween. Halloween is probably my favourite, and I definitely saw it a lot younger than I should’ve done.
I had a paper round at the time, and id be getting up and out at like half five or six and it would still be dark. I’d be terrified that Michael Myers would be hiding around every bush or be lurking just around the corner. That’s the one that’s always stuck with me, because even though he does survive a lot of things he probably shouldn’t everything else around him feels very grounded and real.
Halloween comes up a lot whenever I speak to people about their favourites. It does have that horrible lasting impact that film, especially if you see it in the best possible circumstances which is ideally when you’re far too young (laughs).
Jared – (laughs) Absolutely!
Gents, I’m sure the film will be a huge hit at FrightFest. Do you have anything else that you would like to talk about or is all your focus on When the Screaming Starts?
Conor – I’ve got a few things in the pipeline, a few projects with these fine gents but nothing I’m ready to talk about yet.
Jared – Same really, a few things floating around but nothing ready to declare yet.
Ed – There’s a revenge/comedy/thriller I’ve been developing with Octavia Gilmore, so hopefully in the not too distant future that will be making its way onto a set somewhere….
Excellent news. Guys, I loved the film and I can’t wait to see what you all get up to next. I think the film is going to be a big hit a FrightFest.
Conor – Thanks a lot Hugh.
I’ll you go guys, I’m just off to download some Cannibal Deathmarch and watch a bit of Deathgasm, so that’s my night sorted. Cheers for that Ed!
Ed – (Laughs) Your welcome.
By: Hugh McStay