Lawrie Brewster talks Automata, Hex Studios, and old school Gothic horror

Lawrie Brewster tells us about his new Gothic horror Automata and how Hex Studios is helping a new generation of indie genre filmmakers

You can’t move for 80s tributes at the moment, and while we all love hot pink and synthesisers, you just can’t beat a good old fashioned Gothic. Genre fans will be familiar with director Lawrie Brewster and writer Sarah Daly’s work from films like The Unkindness of Ravens, Lord Of Tears and The Black Gloves, and Hex Studios’ new film Automata is paying tribute to the glorious Gothic horrors of the past.

The film is currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter, and we had the chance to talk to Brewster about what audiences can expect from Automata and the duo’s Hex Studios, which has been set up to help provide a home to a new generation of genre filmmakers and actually get their films made and seen…

What can you tell us about Automata?

Well… Automata is a subversive, brooding, sensual film with echoes of Lolita and The Shining. The film explores how the very notion of love can be perverted, and how that corruption can echo through the ages. It takes inspiration from the decadence and excess of Ken Russell’s Gothic and The Music Lovers, as well as the sensual expressionism of Italian cinema as seen in films like Argento’s Suspiria and Bava’s Black Sabbath.

Can you tell us a bit about how Hex Studios got started?

Hex Studios was created out of a dream to continue the legacy of Hammer, Amicus and American International Pictures, from the golden age of Horror / Science Fiction in the 1950s and beyond. We feel that there is a magic to traditional storytelling, from folktales to ancient lore and legends. Literature too is a great inspiration, from classic Gothic authors such as Henry James, M R James, Poe and of course HP Lovecraft. Since modern, mainstream horror is still so often fixated with jump-scares and trivial, adolescent narratives, we felt compelled to create a studio with a very different focus.

Thanks to our friends from across the world, which include producers and production companies, we’ve been able to create an international alliance of shared interests and ambitions, that will see us produce and distribute independent horror / fantasy films. In doing so, we hope we can create plenty of opportunities for aspiring artists to work with us, on our feature films and on the content we’re producing with our growing Hex Studios YouTube Channel.

How important is it to you to keep the same creative team together on each film?

Sarah Daly and I form the creative core of Hex Studios, and that is based on years of collaboration and a shared vision to create unique and interesting films. We genuinely believe in the collaborative nature of film, (anyone who doesn’t is a sociopath and narcissist!) This extends to our cast and crew, and to the producers that work with us from around the world. This is because, essentially these folks are like family, folks that you can trust, grow with, and have fun with as you test your abilities ever more from film to film.

Besides Sarah, my other constant collaborators include actor Jamie Scott-Gordon, who has featured in three of our feature films, as has actress and dancer, Alexandra Nicole Hulme. Of course, we’ll work with many different artists, and are always seeking new creative collaborators, but the benefits of working with the same folks, is that you can build on your creative relationships and the lessons learned from one another. So for example, maintaining a creative team allows you to grow the abilities of that team, rather than reset back to square one.

I’ve been a producer on big as well as small films, and while money can buy you the best professionals, it cannot always buy you the type of nurturing relationships that let you grow as an artist. This is the focus at the heart of our team, and is not unique to director, actor or writer, but extends to every person on set.

How have you found the process of finding filmmakers to collaborate with as you put Hex Studios together? Is the British genre community fairly tight-knit?

If you promise free food, then one can gather pretty much every film-maker in the country. All of them, scrambling on their hands and knees for a morsel of bread. So yes, you could say that the British genre community is fairly tight-knit, in the manner in which a collection of bodies is pressed tightly into the confines of a single pit.

That pit is usually a bar adjoining a film festival. This is where most genre filmmakers bond, decrying the state of the industry, of collapsed distribution deals (or distributors) or discussing which organ they plan to sell next to fund a film, or pay their rent.

Of course, the genre community is truly international, with social media allowing for most filmmakers to become friends with fellow directors and producers from the world over. There is a fraternity of sorts which sees folks helping one another – at least to an extent because, as we know, the film industry is a cut-throat industry too!

Kate Shenton’s excellent Egomaniac is available to watch on the Hex Studios YouTube channel.

We’re huge fans of Egomaniac so it’s great to see it on your YouTube channel! How did your partnership with Kate Shenton come about, and what can we look forward to on the Hex Studios channel?

Well, Kate is, I think, an incredibly talented filmmaker, and definitely one to watch. Sarah and I met Kate at London FrightFest, where the film really wowed us, and the entire audience, for its hilarious insights into the experience of indie filmmaking, especially from the female perspective. The hypocrisy of the business was deliciously delivered by Kate’s spot-on sense of satire and exposed, perhaps uncomfortably, to some working in the film marketplace!

We felt that Egomaniac could reap the benefits of VOD distribution with a simultaneous release on our Hex Studios YouTube Channel, which we’re developing as a creative platform for up and coming talents in the genre.

Right now, we’re at close to 150K subscribers, and we intend to keep building that audience so that we can offer a bigger and bigger platform to indie genre content creators – for shorts, features, web-series, creepypasta videos, news and review shows… the sky’s the limit really! It’s about getting the work out there however way we can. With the bigger players pushing harder and harder to squeeze the little guy out of the picture, it’s up to us indies to create our own platforms, our own channels to get our work in front of an audience. So, that’s what we’re trying to do with the YouTube channel.

There’s an obvious love for genre classics of old in The Black Gloves and it looks like Automata will have that too. What do you love about those Gothic classics?

What is there not to love?! Film Noir was a huge inspiration for The Black Gloves, for example, films such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca, or The Innocents and The Haunting. Or gosh, ‘The Spiral Staircase’ – I hope your readers watch them all!

With our latest film Automata, we’ve drawn from a wild mix of influences, the most obvious visually-speaking being Italian Gothic cinema, with the sexual luridness of Mario Bava or Dario Argento. Roger Corman and his collaborations with Vincent Price inform Automata too, as do the classic films of Hammer.

What I like about these films is that they are the progenitors of powerful styles that have so richly contributed to cinema, and as an artist it’s a joy to experiment and explore those styles in the modern context. As a director, I’ll have an aesthetic of my own (of course influenced by art I’ve consumed) that, nevertheless, can combine aspects of the old and modern, to tell stories which are relevant in the present social, political and cultural context, like a wolf in the visual guise of the films of yesteryear (the sheep’s clothing!)

Sarah Daly is an equal creative partner to my directing efforts, and we both develop our new projects together. For her, the inspiration of classic cinema is as much a result of the deterioration in the care given to storytelling and character development, as it is the style that these older films had. The emotion, the melodrama, the time taken to build suspense and dread – these are all traits of classic cinema that appeal to us, and inform our work together.

Each of your films has a very distinct style and look (The Unkindness Of Ravens and The Black Gloves are obviously very different movies!). Are you consciously looking to try something new with each one, or is it more a case of the style suiting the story?

Yes, it absolutely is a conscious decision, because when Sarah and I are deciding on a new project, we both, like the intrepid explorers we are, wish to take our story to new horizons. Of course, audiences that enjoy our films will discern general tones and styles to our work – but we do aim to bring something new to the table with each film.

Also, a film takes so long and such a monumental level of effort and commitment to complete, that once you’ve done it, the very idea of producing another project that feels like the same again, is well… abhorrent to us!

There’s obviously a spirit of community and collaboration with Hex Studios, and it feels like that extends to Kickstarter too. How important is it to you to communicate with fans and highlight not only your own work but that of others too?

All of that is essential, and it is a complete reversal to how the industry normally operates. The reason we produce films, distribute films, and get much of our finance from Kickstarter to make them, is because the industry in general… is quite appalling.

Of course, ironically, Hex Studios is a part of that industry, but from inside it we’re working hard to change it… one little step at a time. Through working within a community, and in collaboration with others (instead of being preoccupied with artifice or delusional careerism) we can create a sustainable, creatively independent studio that places its fans, audiences and creative partners first. To us, they are all the same; family.

What are some great rewards that backers of Automata can look forward to?

We’ve worked our asses off (can I say that?) designing unique, beautiful products that folks would feel proud to display in their collections. We’re all massive nerds and collectors ourselves at Hex Studios, and that inspires us to go to crazy lengths with our Kickstarter rewards. So, Automata is being sold as a 3-Disc Collector’s Edition, with a Blu-ray, dual-layer DVD and CD Soundtrack, including over 4 hours of extras, and presented in an 8-panel package with lots of stunning artwork. We also have Owlman Plushes, so you can take the dreaded Owlman to bed at night, if you so desire! Plus we’ve got an awesome hardback book, filled with original artwork, and stories featuring our classic monsters… as well as many new ones to be introduced in future films!

Do you have a next project already lined up?

Yes, and it’s so utterly creepy and disturbing that it genuinely sends a shiver up my spine even thinking of it.

Finally, is there a recent underrated/underseen horror film you’d like to tell people to discover?

Egomaniac! Which they can watch on our Hex Studios YouTube Channel, for the low, low price of absolutely free!

Visit the Automata Kickstarter page here, and Hex Studios’ YouTube channel here. Keep up with the latest genre news with the new issue of SciFiNow.