#dontbescared is a new zombie short from Cockneys vs Zombies director Matthias Hoene and giffgaff, in which a zombie horde heads towards a small village with surprising consequences. We talked to the director about why he feels bad for zombies, why walking is better than running, and what advice he has for young horror directors.
So how did #dontbescared come about?
I was approached by the advertising agency that works with giffgaff, and I’d had a film that came out last year called Cockneys vs Zombies, and they’d seen the film and they wanted to do something different with giffgaff. Because giffgaff don’t want to do advertising, because it’s all about being a network that is run by the users, and when it became so successful they sort of felt they had to do something a bit more of a short film or something different to make people aware of giffgaff. But they approached me with the basic strategy, basically, and from then on it was a super flexible easy process. And we filmed it over three days, it’s three minutes long.
It was an amazing experience in that every time I wrote something, giffgaff said “No, no you have to make it darker and scarier and a bit more out there! We wanted it to be as difficult as possible to put on television” so we thought “OK, that’s great.” So we tried to put a lot of out there stuff in there. It was a great experience to be able to make a three minute short film with the resources that giffgaff had given us, and putting it on television, and it sort of feels like now I’ve done zombies twice, I’ve defintiely ticked that box in my life, but I’m excited to see it.
It was a great opportunity for me to take all the crew that worked with me on Cockneys and get them all back together again, a couple of years after filming. And we were all having déjà vus and flashbacks, and at the same time upping our game and improving our skillset. The same cameraman and all his crew was there, and our prosthetics artist Paul Hyett luckily managed to come back, even though he’s now directing on his own, as a favour to work on it. And then we had some zombie walk videos from the film still, that my movement choreographer on Cockneys prepared. And to be honest, it was mad, we invaded a small village, the village of Brocken, with zombies over three days and they didn’t know what was going on but they all kind of chipped in and wanted to be zombies themselves and that was great.
Is it the same kind of tone as Cockneys vs Zombies? Comedy and gore?
It tries to be a little bit scarier up front, because Cockneys wasn’t particularly scary, obviously. So without giving anything away there’s definitely going to be some fun to be had, let’s put it that way!
Do you think there’s something inherently quite funny about zombies?
I do think there’s something inherently humurous about zombies, absolutely. I always feel sorry for them, to be honest, because they shuffle along, they’re hungry, they don’t know what they’re doing, what they’re supposed to do in this world, people pick on them all the time and it just feels like it’s a human plight that I can certainly identify with. And I think it’s quite funny, they’re kind of loveable monsters in a way. You understand what they want. They can’t help themselves. So I think it’s just a really good vehicle for a comedy.
And when I wrote the film everybody was doing fast zombies, and I kind of felt that with Cockneys, and wanting to let them have the opportunity to crack some one-liners and make jokes and be themselves, it was sort of obvious that we had to go slow to give them a bit of time. And of course in that film there was the idea that the zombies were slow but the pensioners were slower. And that was one of the big sort of dramatic conceits I suppose.
I think slow-moving zombies are the way forward, I feel that fast moving zombies are more virally infected people, and it’s more of a feral type chase movie thing that you’re doing with them. I mean, bless World War Z, that’s going to be great, but I’m a slow-moving zombies guy. Traditional!
I think I don’t want to do another zombie film! There are many of them out there and maybe give it another 25, 30 years for them to go completely out of fashion, and then do a surprising comeback but at the moment definitely not, not another one.
In fact I’ve been working on a sci-fi script for the last year [with Splinter writer Ian Shorr]. We’ve been hanging out a lot over the last year in LA and we developed the script together called Capsule about a guy who starts receiveing chrome capsules with holographic messages from his future self. And it’s kind of like a Hitchcockian man on the run thriller with a sci fi twist. And I’m very excited, we took it out in February to LA and then talked to a lot of really interesting people and ended up setting up with a producer called Hutch Parker, who is producing The Wolverine at the moment. And he took us to Fox, who very kindly optioned the script and I’m meeting them next week to hopefully kick off another stage of development with a view towards greenlight. But I’m very excited about that, it’s an idea I came up with during post-production of Cockneys actually.
You also directed the Hammer/MySpace series Beyond the Rave. Do you think that online is a good platform for young filmmakers to start?
Difficult question, I think online gives you a platform that helps you get your work out further than ever before possible, and it’s a very great PR platform and I think also if you do good work it will be seen, which is great. At the same time, of course, there’s the eternal dilemma that making movies costs a lot of money, how to recoup that. So I think it’s certainly a great kind of platform for people to get their work out there and build awareness of their work, and at the same time it’s always about the work. If you do good work, then people will see it. At the end of the day, however many Facebook likes you have, it’s all about the work.
How do you feel about the state of British horror at the moment?
Well it seems like there’s always some sort of Renaissance going on, so it seems like there’s interesting work happening. People are going back to more traditional horror films and they seem to be doing quite well at the box office, which always then helps other people get films made. So I think it’s an interesting phase, yeah. It’s difficult when you set out to make a horror film to find something that’s hopefully a little bit unusual, and I think if you do something in the zombie genre then obviously it’s a well-trodden genre and you have to find something that people haven’t seen before. Which we tried to do with Cockneys and hopefully had a little niche for that. And it’s the same with any other horror film, I suppose, trying to get away from the standard scheme. While horror films are the most conservative in terms of structure, you still have to find those twists and things that people haven’t seen anywhere else to make your entry valid.
Finally, do you have any advice for young horror filmmakers?
To be honest, the advice is the following, and everybody does the same, it’s sort of…everyone goes to FrightFest and watches all the films and kind of goes “Oh, I can do that, I can make a film,” and then spends the next year making a short film and then has the platform to show it at festivals where they used to be fans at. So I think that’s the best way, to be a fan and then make the films that you love.
Of course, nowawdays you can make something very cheaply on digital, so it’s all about making movies. And I guess the other tip is not trying to get those big budgets, waiting for things to fall into place, but use that old Robert Rodriguez tip, where you look at what you have, who you can work with, what locations you can access, what props you can get hold of, and make a good movie with that for no money. And then keep doing that until somebody gives you some money, and then do that so well that you get a little bit more and then work your way up that way. Always making the best of what you have, bascially. And I think that’s the key to all directors, that whatever you’re given in terms of actors or situations or scenes, or whatever, it’s your job to make something exciting out of it. That’s the kind of skill you have to train.