Westerns and horror are two genres that have shared the screen many times across the years with surprisingly effective results. From ‘vampire westerns’ such as Dusk Til Dawn (dir.Robert Rodriguez), Near Dark (dir. Kathryn Bigelow) and Vampires (dir. John Carpenter) to modern western creature features such as Tremors (dir. Ron Underwood) and the Burrowers (dir. J.T Petty) the list is endless. Hell, even games developer Rockstar re – released their open world Western title Red Dead Redemption with a horror twist in ‘Undead Nightmare‘.
In this context of cross – genre hybridization, filmmaker Jeremy Wooding takes the horror of lycanthropy to the ‘wild west’ assembling a stellar cast and crew for the creature feature Blood Moon. Pitched as ‘Stagecoach meets The Thing’, Blood Moon is an absolute treat for genre fans following the adventures of Calhoun (Sean Hainey) as he stumbles into a world of bandits, booze and towering skin walkers. Having worked on some of Britain’s most popular TV shows (Peep Show, Derren Brown) Wooding’s flair for comedy and maximizing tight budgets is evident in the feature, from his use of the exquisite Kent based re-enactment town Laredo, to the casting of creature actor Ian Whyte as a hulking 9 foot practical effects werewolf.
With Blood Moon currently causing a stir on the festival circuit, Flickfeast sat down with the director / producer to chat transformation scenes, cross – genre appeal and duping the film buyers at Cannes Film Festival.
Flickfeast: How did you come up with the idea for Blood Moon and it’s interesting hybrid of genres?
Jeremy Wooding: My background is in genre filmmaking and my first film was a movie called Bollywood Queen (2002) which was a British Asian musical / romance. My second movie was a football comedy and this one the ‘werewolf – western – comedy’ came about when a script writer called Alan Wightman gave me the script and pitched it to me as ‘Stagecoach meets The Thing’. Alan makes his living writing gags and jokes for comedians who present Saturday night variety shows. I read the concept and my only concern with it was that it was going to be expensive to make because it was all set in the desert. It was too much to go shoot in Arizona or New Mexico which is what the scriptwriter had in mind. I researched the Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western sets near Al Meria in Spain and they looked pretty good and we could shoot there pretty cheaply but just getting the cast and crew there and putting them up was too much for our budget. So I remember hearing about a Western town in the UK which was built by enthusiasts and went online and found this town which was in Kent twenty minutes outside of London on the train. This was an easy cheap way of being able to get people out of London and back again without having to put them all up and avoiding huge transport costs.
FF: Do many other filmmakers shoot films in the re-enactment town of ‘Laredo’ and did you have to gain the societies trust to shoot there?
JW: The re-enactment society in Laredo in Kent meet every 2 weeks and live and eat the way you would in the middle of the 19th century on the Wild West frontier. There is only two thirteen amp power sockets in the whole town and they cook and light in the way you would in the 19th century. Consequently we had to bring our own generator but before we even got going shooting the film we had to convince them that it was a good idea to shoot there and that they would benefit from it. We spent 6 weeks going down to the town and talking to them about what we wanted to do and I think the key to it was that we enabled them to come and watch the filming when they wanted. We consulted them on a lot of the Western aspects such as guns and what people ate and how they lived in these houses so they ended up being the prime source of experience for us.
FF: Perhaps the best story attached to Blood Moon is how you duped buyers at Cannes Film Festival into thinking the film was an American cast and shot feature despite its predominantly British roots. Did you go into the process of Blood Moon expecting to create such a faithful enactment of Western genre and setting?
JW: I suppose as a filmmaker I do genre but cross genre stuff is what interests me and excites me. Doing things that can come out a little bit different to your straight comedy, western or horror. That was a challenge to get this right. I suppose it’s not my first time with horror / comedy as I did a short film called Soul Patrol (2002) which was a vampire which mixed comedy and horror. I got a real interest for doing horror that would be scary and horrific and have a sense of humour to it aswell.
FF: Do you think cross – genre features are easier to sell than straight genre features?
JW: Cross genres are a tough sell and the perceived wisdom is that you look for your audience and then you kind of give them what they want. With the horror crowd you are selling a zombie movie to zombie fans, a werewolf movie to werewolf fans etc. In a way everything has been done before within those very niche areas of horror so you have to look into doing something that will help you stand apart from the crowd and in our case it was the Western genre but also if you watch this again and again you will laugh more and more because some of the lines I find very funny and hopefully the audience will. It brings a new edge to the movie and that is where cross – genre comes in I think.
FF: From the casting of Predators / Prometheus creature actor Ian Whyte, to casting other actors with established cult fan-bases, did you intend to create different entry points and trivia to surprise and engage viewers of the film?
JW: I think you layer your own interests into the movie and elements other people will find interesting. You give people who are coming at the movie different angles they can run with, like or take issue with but you have to give them bases to touch that they understand. For example, the werewolf classics from American Werewolf In London (1981) to Ginger Snaps (2000) to comedy with a dry sense of humour such as American Werewolf in London again. Interestingly enough when you hear John Landis talk about his movie he tried pitching it as a horror / comedy and nobody wanted to know then he tried pitching it as a comedy / horror and nobody wanted to know. In the end he gave up trying to pitch it and said it is going to be a movie that has comedy and horror in it and it’s up to you the audience to decide whether you like any one element or both. That was a real inspiration as I thought I would give up trying to please everybody and create something unique that people would be able to come to from different directions.
FF: Speaking of American Werewolf in London were you ever tempted to create an elaborate transformation scene budget permitting?
JW: The creature designers were keen to do a quite big transformation scene with ‘Black Deer’ the Navaho Indian and to be honest neither the budget nor the schedule allowed us to do that. As I got more into dealing with the creation of the creature and the prosthetic it began to weigh down the schedule and the budget and I just thought I have to make this fairly simply and keep the characterization and the story going. I decided to keep the skin walker attacks but also stop worrying about trying to imitate Rick Baker. I think a lot of wannabe horror filmmakers get so bogged down with effects that the effects can just end up being the movie but in the grand scheme they are just a blip. The Americans are very good at special effects in horror and I thought why we are playing for a horror movie on their territory when they can do this type of work cheaper and better than us. We have to make an effort to do something different
FF: As a filmmaker do you have a preference for practical effects over CGI?
JW: I definitely chose practical effects on this rather than CGI because CGI can look a little bit painted on and with this it is a throwback to B – Movies, with the old style creature features of a guy in a suit. Obviously there is a little bit of enhancement afterwards with computer effects but mostly it was very physical and on set. I think the actors liked that aswell as they don’t have to work with green screen and a bloke with ping pong balls on his head. They get to actually feel the creature. It was interesting with the actor Ian Whyte too. When he wasn’t in ‘attack mode’ he would sit down at the side of set and be resting as it was really heavy wearing that outfit. When he was sitting down the gaffa or head of the lighting department dubbed him ‘The Honey Monster’ as he had these huge shoulders and without the werewolf head on he looked like a furry American football player.
FF: To be honest since I have been a child I have always found the Honey Monster terrifying.
JW: (laughs) Well that’s understandable it does what it says on the box, it’s a ‘monster’
FF: From Cannes to Bram Stoker International Film Festival, how have you found the reception of Blood Moon thus far?
JW: This is the third festival we have been too. We had a premiere at Frightfest in London and then the Horrorthon in Dublin at the Irish Film Institute. The response has been overwhelmingly good and I’m pleased audiences have understood what we were trying to achieve, have taken the film on its own value and not tried to impose on the film what they expected. We haven’t quite tested it out yet on the die-hard Western fans and that is going to be interesting. At our Laredo Wild West town in Kent we are planning to do a screening in the saloon where we shot and they are all going to come along in their outfits and it will be exclusive to them. Hopefully there we will pass muster with the Western aficionados.
FF: In regards to your next projects, do you have a Blood Moon sequel planned. Do you plan to continue working within the horror genre?
JW: The two things that have come out of the movie is that people want to see a sequel and what Calhoun is going to do next from the original cast. Blood Moon 2 is a definite possibility and there is interest in creating a TV series on the adventures of those core characters. That is something that we are pitching to international TV companies at the moment. So I think Calhoun and the werewolf western still hopefully has legs. In terms of my other projects I have a horror which is a supernatural slasher which I have been working on for just over a year now and that is nearly ready to go. Hopefully I will be shooting that in Feburary next year. Again it’s not a huge budget but it is something I can keep a certain amount of creative control on. I only managed to do that by being a producer / director on my movies and the next one will be up to me again.
FF: You have proved yourself repeatedly as a very resourceful filmmaker with limited budgets. If you were given a big budget what would your ultimate passion project be?
JW: I would love to have a big budget and make a big Hollywood movie. The thing is when you get more money you get more time and more ability to do bigger set pieces regardless of genre. You get more pre- production time too so someone like Chris Nolan gets so much time to storyboard, talk to designers and get the movie down on paper and pre-visualised before he even shoots it. In this country we don’t really do that and we don’t have enough development and seed money to enable us , particularly working in the fantasy / horror genres, to be able to do enough groundwork. More money provides this groundwork. The other thing that I would like is more money for something like a period piece where you can use physical props and sets and also enhance it with computer graphics afterwards to create cities and towns from certain periods. That’s where I really like CGI stuff where it like set extensions combined with real settings.
FF: Finally what do you hope audiences who haven’t seen Blood Moon yet will take from it?
JW: I hope Blood Moon is an entertaining ride for the audience and is something that will satisfy them both as a character based drama but also satisfy the need to be scared and involve themselves in the jeopardy and tension of the story. Mainly I hope they come out thinking ‘that wasn’t too long’ (laughs).
Check out the trailer for Blood Moon here