SXSW 2011: Sean Hogan and Simon Rumley Talk LITTLE DEATHS

Peter Martin, Managing Editor
Three fiercely independent filmmakers met at Fantastic Fest in 2006 and that meeting eventually led to their making a movie together. Their psycho-horror anthology flick Little Deaths kicked off the SxFantastic sidebar in rousing fashion at SXSW last night, with Tim League (Alamo Drafthouse / Fantastic Fest / SxFantastic) lighting a fire inside the theater while wearing a head-to-toe dog costume. Then he shared in a beef stroganoff-chugging contest, a concoction so disgusting that one of the audience members who'd volunteered to participate quickly withdrew. (Kudos to the winner!)

A few hours before that madness went down, I sat down with Simon Rumley and Sean Hogan to talk about the project  (Andrew Parkinson was not available to make the trip). Our "official" chat was short, because I used up most of my allotted time talking with them about points that would be spoilers if included here!

Here are highlights, then, of our spoiler-free conversation (mostly a word for word transcription).

Twitch: How did you decide to make the movie? What was the genesis of it?

Hogan: I met Simon on the last night of Fantastic Fest, and Andrew through a writer friend of mine who organized giant drinking parties in London every month or so, and Simon attended those as well. We formed a kind of horror community in London, which is great because independent filmmaking is difficult in the UK, and having this network of people who could support each other and help each other worked out really well. So the idea of doing the anthology sprang out of that.

I'd spent a year writing another feature after Lie Still [in 2006] and then it all fell apart. I was trying to think of something that could be done quickly and relatively inexpensively. There hadn't been a decent horror anthology around for a while, and here are all these people in front of me. It was literally one afternoon in a pub; I'd gone through everyone I knew and thought Simon and Andrew and I would be a good fit. Despite having three different styles, I thought there was just something tonally that would work. I suggested a horror anthology to them; after that, everything came together rather quickly.

What is the climate for horror right now in the UK, as far as where the audience is at, versus what distributors or exhibitors are looking for or willing to play?

Rumley: Since The Blair Witch Project all those years ago, I think a lot more people are open to horror as a genre. Before that came out, I remember talking to people after a couple of horror ideas I had, and then said "We don't do horror." Now everyone does, but some go for the more obvious teenage stuff while others go for the more challenging fare.

Within the world of horror, the great thing is that it's so wide in its definition; you can go from Lars Von Trier and Antichrist to Hatchet. There are people who are interested in all those different things. FrightFest has done a lot to help cultivate this kind of atmosphere. Over 11 years or so, it's grown bit by bit every year, and slowly but sure, by making their festival an event, they're helping to broaden the film landscape in the country.

The Horror Channel has also been making inroads, with one of the programmers from FrightFest picking films with more contemporary ideas. FrightFest provides an opportunity for films to be showcased that would otherwise never be shown in the London Film Festival.

Overall, it's very healthy. It's great to have directors like Chris Smith and Neil Marshall, whose films are globally known.

Hogan: I think the creative community is there. To cast a slightly more doom-y view, however, in the UK distributors now commonly talk about how DVD sales are now driven by supermarkets. And supermarkets are not a natural home for horror movies, certainly not extreme horror movies like this.

Half of me really loves the idea of housewives picking up horror movies along with their weekly shopping trips, but you have to get supermarket buyers to pick this up, and then it's a case of how you sell this kind of material in supermarkets. I find that worrying as a genre fan. How do you get this kind of film out there?

It's a shame that films have to be tied down to categories, since Little Deaths isn't even a conventional horror movie; it's just a film (or, rather, three films in one).

Rumley: That's the challenge with sales agents; they don't know how to sell the film. It's frustrating, because there is an audience out there for this kind of movie. Other options like VOD and streaming are helping; the films are still being made, but it does seem like there's been a kind of taming lately. I think it's going to take a while before things open up again.

I know you each wrote and directed your own episode, but how much collaboration was involved between you and the crew? Was the crew shared for all three episodes? How did you arrive at the sequencing of the episodes?

Rumley: Milton Kam, who shot [my last film] Red White & Blue, was someone I wanted to get on board. He's a great guy, and he's a great on-set presence. He works very quickly. If we'd all gone with different DPs, that might have been a danger on a low-budget film. Once we all agreed on using the same [director of photography], the selection of the crew went on from there.

Hogan: The initial stages were fairly collaborative, in the sense that we all read each other's scripts, gave each other notes, and so forth. Once we started production, we kind of went our separate ways. The idea was that we'd each have our own little sandbox to play in; no one was really going to tell us what to do.

The sequencing came full circle. When we had the three different stories and started sending the script out, I put them in the order that I thought worked well at that stage, and then it changed during the edit. We finally came right back to how it was at first. Just pure coincidence, but that's the way it turned out.

Little Deaths screens again tonight at 11:30 pm at Alamo Ritz 2 (the smaller house) and on Wednesday, March 16 at 11:59 at Alamo Lamar.  
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