If you’re looking for a quick dose of seasonal supernatural scares, look no further: Rob Savage’s excellent horror short Salt, starring the awesome Alice Lowe, is now available to watch online. The star of Sightseers and Prevenge plays a mother who races against a nightmarish demon to protect her child, and we’re not going to say anymore than that. Just watch it:
Salt is the latest work from Savage, who previously directed such eye-catching short films as Absence and Dawn Of The Deaf, and he took the time to answer a few questions for us.
How did the idea for Salt come about?
Writer Jed Shepherd and I are obsessive horror fans and always try and push ourselves to do things that we feel haven’t been seen before in the genre, or haven’t been done in a certain way. Our last film Dawn Of The Deaf was a zombie movie told entirely in sigh language and became a big festival hit, so we wanted to find a way to push ourselves beyond what we’d done in that film.
We were in Sundance with the film and me and Jed were pitching each other ideas. We both love siege movies and were trying to think of the most intense, contained siege movie we could make… and somewhere along the way, the idea of a siege movie inside a Salt Circle came up and we thought that was really cool. From there we just kept throwing ideas and images at each other until we had a rough story.
We’re a huge fan of Atomic Monster and the intense, glossy horror films of James Wan, and we saw Salt as a compressed version of one of his rollercoaster horror movies. With that in mind, we decided that whereas Dawn Of The Deaf was a slow-burn horror, we wanted Salt to be a single set piece that was so packed with ideas and scares that the audience forgets to hold their breath.
What were the challenges of getting everything the audience needed to know into such a short time frame?
I tend to like movies that ask the audience to keep up and don’t give them all the set up they’re expecting up front – instead I like to drop an audience into a scenario as late as possible and leave them with their imaginations fired up. Audiences, especially Horror audiences, are very smart and perceptive – they take in information in an incredibly fast amount of time, based off visual cues.
We tried to set up the rules of the world, as well as the plight of the characters, within the first few shots – the piles of salt packets, the medical equipment, the bible pages and crucifixes on the walls… from the very first shot, people understand the desperate situation of the characters. It was a real lesson in stripping back and being clear and decisive in what you chose to show an audience – I’ve definitely taken this discipline on to other projects afterwards.
How did Alice Lowe get involved?
We were so thrilled to have Alice on board and her involvement elevated the project and made everyone step up their game. Since our runtime was set at 2 minutes, we knew that we needed someone who the audience would immediately latch onto and empathise with – Alice has that quality in spades. After Sightseers, Garth Marenghi and Prevenge, Alice is Horror Royalty, which makes seeing her battle against a hell-sent Demon all the more entertaining, bringing an extra dimension to a thinly written character.
I’d been a huge fan of Alice’s for years and we immediately knew she’d be great for the film – we’d met briefly at the 2013 BIFAs, where Sightseers won big and my first feature Strings won the Discovery Award, but had no direct line to her. We were very lucky to be working with the brilliant Casting Directors Kharmel Cochrane and Heather Basten, who helped us secure a brilliant cast on a very low budget. Their enthusiasm for the project went a long way and the cast they helped us secure – not only Alice but the wonderful Beau Gadsdon – really elevated the material.
It’s a pretty action heavy short! How much time did you have to actually shoot?
We shot for 4 days, getting roughly 30 seconds of material each day. Even though we were shooting so little, the days were full as each shot had to be executed perfectly and fit exactly into our 2 minute runtime – if the shot was good but went on too long or too short, we’d have to keep re-taking until we’d perfected the timing. The film features around 70 individual shots, so even with the luxury of time we were stretched.
We were working on a very low budget, but everyone was aiming for a Hollywood standard final product, and so we wanted to ensure that the make up, VFX and stunts were all seamless. We had two amazing stunt performers, led by our brilliant stunt coordinator Nathaniel Marten – who ensured that our stunts were safe but had the brutal, wince-inducing quality we were after. These stunts, along with the full body make up on the demon, took a lot of time to realise, but ultimately ended up elevating the film.
What was the process of developing the look of the demon? How did you find working with those effects?
The creature came from the fucked up mind of Dan Martin, SFX designer for Ben Wheatley, Peter Strickland and Harmony Korine among others. I’d worked with him before and his skill and imagination are unrivalled in the UK. I gave him a brief, but my ideas were more to do with the feral, unstoppable quality of the creature’s movement and posture – the design of the face is all Dan. He’s probably the busiest SFX designer in the country, but if something sparks his imagination, he’ll throw himself into the project and always deliver something cool – even on an extremely low budget, such as ours.
Our intention was to shoot the majority of the creature as a practical effect, with a performer in costume, and then enhance elements of the creature in VFX. The creature VFX was handled by the brilliant post house Absolute, who pulled a week of late nights to complete the film on schedule. I can’t overstate their contribution to this film, the artists who worked on the film are just that – artists. They put so much care into the movie, taking pride in every detail and nuance.
Credit should also go to James Swanton, who gives an incredible, unsung performance as the creature. He worked on the movement of the creature and would send me iPhone videos of himself pretending to be a rabid creature in his front room, crawling and spasming over household furniture. He’s so scary in moments I totally forget that there is a performer underneath all the effects work.
How have you found the response so far?
The response has been amazing! We had a fantastic premiere at LA Shortsfest, and then ended up winning Best Horror at the Oscar Qualifying Hollyshorts Film Festival. We then screened at one of our all time favourite festivals – Fantastic Fest – where the film got a brilliant response. In the UK, we premiered at Frightest, where the film was met with screams and cheers, and recently played at the London Film Festival in a great program of genre shorts. When we were up on stage doing the Q and A, Jed poured a salt circle around us for protection!
Is Salt something you’d be interested in exploring further?
We’d love to expand Salt into a longer piece. There’s definitely a lot of cool directions the idea could take were we to expand it, but when we were writing and shooting, our only aim was to keep the action unrelenting and to never let the audience get a step ahead of the action.
Most of the Micro-Horror shorts that you find online are similarly structured – they tend to be based around a discovery. A character investigates a sound, or wanders off, only to discover something horrific. They are designed to feel like the cold open of a horror movie – mostly concerned with set up and only tending to introduce their creature at the very end. We wanted Salt to feel like a set piece from the middle of a horror film – more action and adrenaline than anticipation. We wanted Salt to be more Aliens than Alien.
What are you working on next?
I’ve recently wrapped production on three episodes of a TV show called Britannia, a dark and bloody Roman epic for Amazon and Sky. After that I’m directing another TV show, which I can’t announce just yet but which I’m so excited for. We’re also developing a Dawn Of The Deaf feature film (news of which will land soon), a gothic TV mini-series and a vampire movie called Haven, which has a brilliant, totally unique script by a writer called David Lemon that I’m hoping to shoot next year.