Little Deaths - Bitch
The festival circuit is a funny beast. You travel around the world at other peoples' expenses, eating and drinking copiously, talking similarly about subjects of immense fascination - generally you and your film. Although I've travelled from Argentina to Korea to Croatia to Chile, this kind of traveling is slightly artificial since every night parties, meals or events are laid out lavishly and usually, apart from my hotel bedroom, I leave these countries with a great feel for the inside of their cinemas, restaurants and nightclubs. Nothing wrong with that of course and I always try to spend at least one day if not more engaging in unashamed tourism. Although more tiring than people sometimes give them credit for, festivals are always excellent fun and really one of the highlights of the film-making cycle - esp for independent film-makers. Although occasionally I wonder what the point is, I've made a ton of friends around the world and actually, if it wasn't for the festival circuit, I probably wouldn't've made my last few films in their current incarnation.
Apart from Red White & Blue, FantasticFest also spawned Little Deaths for it was here that I met co-executive producer Jay Slater and Sean Hogan whose idea it was initially to do a horror anthology. Although we didn't really hang out during the fest in 2006 (I think I spent most time with the Butthole Surfer's ex-tour manager), Jay and I happened to catch the same flight back to London with the writer of Severance James Moran; four years later we'd shot a film together! As it turned out, the credited producers' financial contacts didn't work out so I returned to two execs I'd worked with recently: Doug Abbott (RWB) and Pierre David from Imagination Worldwide (sales company for The Living And The Dead) and they both agreed to finance the film.
The idea for Bitch was vaguely based on a short story I'd written (or rather half-written) when I was at university. I was lying in bed with my girlfriend at the time when she suddenly screamed. She was naked at the time and I didn't know what was going on (I don't usually have that effect on girls) but it turned out that a spider had fallen on her and, of course, she had a phobia about spiders. I never finished the short story but the idea of a naked woman (or man for that matter), tied up, unable to move, alone, with the animal or animals that they feared the most stayed with me as being absolutely horrific.
When I started thinking about what short film I could write for Little Deaths, the above idea immediately sprang to mind. I could have done something with spiders but this would have been a more gothic film and probably set in a stately mansion - something I'd already done with The Living And The Dead. Writing the same story but replacing the spiders with dogs seemed like a logical step for the film especially if it was to have an urban London setting which I was keen to implement.
The original script had been based almost entirely within about a mile radius of where I live in South London but for reasons still slightly unclear, the production office based itself in Elstree Studios - about an hour combined train and walk from central London so the idea of shooting the film around the Elephant and Castle and driving the equipment back to Elstree everyday made little sense so we ended up shooting everything in North London which has a different urban feel to the South - the estates especially. Luckily we managed to find the De Beauvoir Estate in Shoreditch which is as close to the high-rise blocks of South London as anyone's going to get outside of South London so although they weren't as magnanimous as I'd have liked, they were still visually strong.
There were many tough things about this film but the hardest was the casting. With The Living and The Dead we managed to cast our lead actress a couple of days before principal photography; Red White & Blue was exactly the same, both of which were worrying in their own right but at least we had all the other actors in place. With Bitch, precisely three days before commencement of principal photography, we had no actors whatsoever! I figured not everyone was going to like the script but I made a list of all the UK actors who I'd liked in recent UK horror films including Eden Lake, Dread, Donkey Punch, none of which are exactly tame movies. Of the 15 people we'd arranged for the first audition and who said they were coming only 5 turned up! Casting directors Urvashi and Rohan Chand and myself were a little surprised but in the end figured things wouldn't get any worse. As it happened they did! It became pretty standard fare that only about 30% of the actors called actually turned up once they'd read the script and in the end we had about 7 or 8 casting sessions. I'd start each audition by saying "You've read the script and you're not put off by the content or the nudity" and everyone would dutifully say "yep, we've read the script and no, we're not put off by the nudity." "Great!" I'd say. In the end we offered the roles to 7 different actors, all of whom after standing in front of myself and the Chands affirmed how much they wanted to have the lead roles. There was even one girl who as we left asked us if we'd let her know what she was doing wrong if she didn't get the part. She had one credit on imdb and had told us that she was keen to do roles that really pushed and challenged here; nonetheless, she still decided the role was too much! Another loved the script and wanted to do the film apart from the strap-on sex scene, which, ironically, is the key point to Claire's state of mind. Apparently everyone felt the story was 'crossing the line' in terms of its psychology; so much for our young actors being cutting edge and fearless!
Urvahi and Rohan were great and not a little surprised at how much time and effort this was taking and stoically they carried on calling more and more people in, getting more and more rejections. As it happened however, on the third day before principal photography began, we auditioned Kate Braithwaite and Tom Sawyer; the former came with little experience and the latter with some fringe plays behind him.
Kate's quite beautiful in a London kind of way and Tom has an unusual but compelling face and together the Chands and I both felt they'd make the perfect couple (for Bitch)! Kate had a few reservations but in the end came on board as did Tom and, thankfully, after all the hassle we'd had, they were both consummate professionals, a pleasure to work with and, most importantly, did a great job on screen.
The six day shoot was over before it had really began and as ever, I brought in Milton Kam from New York to work as the cinematographer, and as always, it was a pleasure. The crew all did a good job although we never quite reached the heady heights of our Austin pacing. Indeed, about 3 days after I finished shooting, I headed out to SXSW for the US premiere of Red White & Blue. After that I'd planned to spend three weeks in LA, taking meetings etc, but in the end spent 6 weeks, being the victim of the Icelandic volcano, but, frankly, being stranded in LA is a pretty good thing in my opinion, especially as Marc Senter had generously donated me his bedroom so I had free accommodation.
When I returned, I brought Rob Hall (who'd done a great job on RWB) back on board to edit the film and we spent a pretty intensive (and enjoyable) 2-3 weeks in the edit suite. Once again, I collaborated with Richard Chester on the music which as ever adds a great deal to the film. I've always like the idea of using long musical cues in films (as Trent Reznor's done in Social Network) but had never found the right film to do this in - we tried with Red White & Blue but it didn't quite work out. With Bitch, I wrote the script so that the last 9minutes or so are pure montage; there is actually one scene with dialogue but in the sound mix I thought it would be more interesting to cover this with the music. We used Spiritualized's Spread Your Wings as a temp score which worked really well but in the end, Richard composed a Velvet Underground/Phil Spectoresque wall of sound piece that continues to grow and grow until the last few seconds of the film and adds an intense and breathless dynamic in the way that all music should but rarely does.