Hope and gory
NI filmmaker George Clarke took a bunch of mates, a video camera and a tiny budget — and made a minor horror classic. He tells Andrew Johnston of how he brought his latest vision to the big screen
What does £100 buy these days? A couple of concert tickets? A few months’ gym membership? Or, if you’re the ruthlessly frugal horror and action filmmaker George Clarke, it can pay for 74 minutes of blood-drenched gore and bone-splintering kung fu.
With his latest movie, the east Belfast man — the braaaaains behind 2008’s Twelfth of July-set zombie romp Battle of the Bone — again proves it’s not what you’ve got that counts, it’s how you use it.
“I can’t remember exactly what the £100 went towards,” laughs the 32-year-old. “Things like DV tapes, make-up, a bit of food and props. As the producer of the film, all I could afford to put into the production was £100, but my team are pretty amazing — each one of them put their hands in their own pockets when needed.”
Bolstered by the success of Battle of the Bone (which bagged an audience award at the Freak Show Horror Film Festival in Orlando, Florida) George set himself the challenge of producing a follow-up in less than a month.
“Anyone who wants an hour and a quarter of hard action, comedy and gore should go and support our little hit,” he says.
Taking his cues from old-school Hollywood hucksters like Roger Corman and William Castle, George managed to cajole the Movie House chain into screening The Knackery for four nights at its Dublin Road cinema in Belfast. The film will show next week, before being unleashed as an extras-packed DVD on April 5.
“I initially went to the Movie House group in November,” says George. “I didn’t want The Knackery to just get a DVD release. I went to the Movie House first because I wanted a local name involved in this project.”
Battle of the Bone may have wowed genre geeks, but some mainstream critics didn’t appreciate the film’s queasy concoction of zombies and Orangemen. Most who have seen The Knackery agree it is a major lurch forward in terms of script, acting and special effects. The plot sees six contestants — played by George, Graeme Livingstone, Gary Whelan, Iain Boden, Craig Thompson
and Vincent Tsang — take part in a near-future reality television game show, presented by a misanthropic hustler named Eugene Applesquire (a supremely cheesy Alan M Crawford). The players are battling for the chance to win £1m, with the added wrinkle of a gang of genetically modified zombies roaming the arena. The film features hard-hitting martial arts scenes, outrageous gore effects and severed-tongue-in-bloody-cheek comedy.
George says the greatest challenge of making the movie for £100 was sacrificing some action or special effects scenes: “That’s when you learn to be creative and come up with something new.”
The main shooting location was a disused tannery in Co Down. “The owners were absolutely amazing in letting us run free and create such a film. They supported us even when it didn’t suit them, and I’d like to thank them.”
The gung-ho filmmaker took on nine major roles on The Knackery — writing, producing, acting, directing, editing, cinematography, fight choreography, stunt coordination and marketing.
“I actually enjoy the pressure. Because I want to do something a little different, I am often frowned upon and told that certain things can’t happen. There seems to be a severe lack of thinking outside the box in Northern Ireland, which puts up walls and stops a lot of creative minds from going any further.”
Angered by what he perceived as a lack of support for new filmmakers in the Province, George established his own independent company, Yellow Fever Productions, in 2006. “No matter what talent we have or what we do for the Northern Ireland film community we still don’t get the recognition or financial support we should,” he says. “I have learnt to stop losing sleep over the funding bodies’ decision to waste money on studio turkeys.”
George suggests that local artists should pursue their goals more aggressively. “If you believe in your work and yourself, you can get noticed,” he says.
“In just two years, we have made over 50 productions — features, shorts and documentaries. Most of us don’t even have a film background or education, we’re just following our dreams.”
In the case of The Knackery, that meant going up against two of the year’s biggest releases — Avatar and Toy Story 2 in 3-D. The Movie House screenings were postponed twice due to the ongoing success of James Cameron’s sci-fi epic and the revamped Pixar classic, but George believes it will be third time lucky.
As far as the Movie House group is concerned, The Knackery represents an opportunity to support home-grown filmmakers. Teri Kelly, public relations consultant for the award-winning independent cinema chain, says: “We hope that people in Belfast are interested in the film and turn out to see it. We’re showing The Knackery on our digital projector, which was installed in Dublin Road in November. Prior to that, independent filmmakers would have had to provide their films in 35mm, which is generally too costly for them.”
Yellow Fever Productions last year launched Belfast’s first fully independent horror film festival, and has just announced a DVD distribution arm, with seven US movies signed up for release. “This gives us the opportunity to distribute one film a month from April across the UK and Ireland,” says George.
With four new feature films lined up — including the Londonderry-based The Walls Have Eyes and The Slash My Father Wore, a werewolf flick set at Stormont — 2010 is set to be a busy year for Yellow Fever Productions. Factor in the DVD label and the second annual Yellow Fever Independent Film Festival in August, and the future is looking rosy.
“Regardless of what audience The Knackery gets, it will definitely be the most successful local production in cost-to-profit achievements,” says George. “It’s also in LA at the minute getting looked at for worldwide distribution, which is amazing.”
Perhaps more importantly, George has the support of family and friends. “They are big fans,” he says. “My six-year-old son is already planning his first movie – Zombie Pooh Eaters!”
Showing at Movie House, Dublin Road, from February 1-4 ( www.moviehouse. co.uk )