The Arrow interviews Genevieve Joliffe
I was pleasantly surprised when viewing "Urban Ghost Story" to find a gritty, intelligent, layered and poignant horror flick. They don't happen often. THANK YOU! I recently had the opportunity to spar with writer, kool gal, producer and director of said film, Genevieve Joliffe, and here's what the lady had to say about herself and the movie.
ARROW: What’s your favorite horror movie?
Genevieve: My favorite horror movie is The Shining. Followed closely by The Exorcist, the original Robert Wise The Haunting, The Fog and I’m a huge George Romero fan of The Dead trilogy.
ARROW: Having both written and directed thus far, which is for you the most artistically fulfilling of the two processes?
Genevieve: Directing has been the most fulfilling for me because that’s when you see everything come to life off the page. With writing you can see the movie over and over in your head but once you’re actually making it, there are always elements that occur on set that will make you look at the movie perhaps differently to how you initially envisaged it – for instance your actor gives a performance that enhances what you’ve written just by adding a little tweak of their own. Being on set is where you can collaborate with your team by putting your heads together with your cinematographers, production designers, actors etc. and coming up with the best way of putting this vision to screen. It’s much more social too than sitting at home like a hermit just chatting away to your computer!
ARROW: Having enjoyed "Urban Ghost Story", I must ask...what was the creative spark that had you put thoughts on paper to write the screenplay?
Genevieve: I’ve always been a huge fan of horror since I saw a Dracula horror double bill on TV when I was six. Also I think horror is in my blood – my grandmother who lived with us was a medium and she used to tell me stories every morning at the breakfast table about the spirits that visited her that night. So I was very adamant that I wanted to direct a horror. Chris Jones (my co-writer and producer on the film) and I had both heard numerous stories of poltergeist cases, one rather famous one which occurred in Enfield, North London in the late seventies. There had been several movies made about the phenomena, notably Poltergeist, which was a fantastic movie – but none of these movies had really examined the phenomena realistically. I don’t know whether I’m in a minority here, but I don’t know that many people who’ve had a gateway to hell open up in their living room! The one thing in real poltergeist cases that really did shine out to us was the fact that the horror of the reality of being in this situation is actually far scarier than the horror of the supernatural.
ARROW: You co-wrote the screenplay with Chris Jones. How would you describe your collaboration with the man?
Genevieve: Chris and I have really grown up together in our learning of film and we’ve had many crazy and unbelievable experiences. I met Chris when we were in film school and we both felt like we were on a different wavelength to other students at the school. We were both very impatient and wanted more than anything to get out there and make fun entertaining movies and gain experience. Our film school at the time was very much into making social commentary films – both of us weren’t mature enough or interested enough at that time to make that type of film. We just wanted to have fun and blow things up! We therefore left the school and within six months had made our first feature, Chris directing and myself producing. The film really wasn’t that great but was our hands on experience of filmmaking that we weren’t learning from film school. It also happened to do very well in the Far East for our executive producers. We didn’t receive any support from the British film industry as we were making commercial films and in England that was the terrible ‘c’ word as it didn’t fit into ‘art darling’.
We battled on with our next low budget movie, White Angel, a serial killer thriller which again I produced and Chris directed (called Interview with a Serial Killer in the US). This film screened as the centerpiece film of the London Film Festival and we managed to get a theatrical release in the UK, which was amazing considering we had made this movie on practically nothing. This film was also our first film that we collaborated on with writing the screenplay and we both had a lot of fun doing a tremendous amount of research on serial killers! Then due to an unfortunate incident after the release of White Angel we began writing our book, The Guerilla Film Makers Handbook. If you want to know what happened here, as well as the rest of our crazy exploits, pick up a copy of our newest All-American version. Look out for the yellow cover with a big bomb on it! The book became a best selling book on independent filmmaking in the UK. We’re hoping the same will happen in the US!
ARROW: Do you find it difficult to write with another person? How do you go about overcoming the hurdle that are "creative differences"?
Genevieve: It can be difficult to write with another writer, but it really depends if you can gel or not with each other. Are you both coming from the same place? Are you both wanting the same goals with the characters? Are you both following the same story?! If you find that you have many creative differences then you’re probably not collaborating with the right person. If there’s stubbornness or egos involved, then you really are writing with the wrong person! I co-write hugely with my fiancé nowadays and that was something that I was super wary of initially because of the obvious mixing work with relationship scenario, but it’s been a dream! We’re very lucky. We completely gel with each other in our writing and I have to say he’s the best writing partner I’ve ever had!
ARROW: In my opinion, one of Urban Ghost Story's biggest strengths was its stellar cast. How long and difficult was the casting process for the picture?
Genevieve: Thank you! Our main concern was casting the right girl to play our 12-year old lead Lizzie Fisher. She had to carry the movie so there was a lot of responsibility on the head of a young actress. We were based at Ealing Film Studios in London at the time and I went up to Glasgow to look for our Lizzie. Heather Ann Foster was actually the seventh girl I saw out of 100 and I knew as soon as she entered the door that she was perfect for the part. Heather has an intensity behind her eyes that made her very wise for her years. Jason Connery who plays the newspaper tabloid hack is an actor who is extremely popular in England due to his role of Robin Hood in Robin of Sherwood. As soon as Jason came in for his audition, again, it was obvious that he was perfect as our ruffian who turns good. The same goes for Stephanie Buttle who plays Lizzie’s mom. Stephanie had a beauty and toughness to her that made her perfect as the young single mom battling with doing the right thing for her children in horrendous circumstances. Choosing the other actors was either through auditions or gut instincts like with Billy Boyd, who many will know as Pippin in Lord of The Rings. I knew just from meeting Billy that he had the intensity and flexibility to play our loan shark who’s role is pivotal for showing the oppression of the environment that this family live in. He’s not the sweet innocent Hobbit here!
ARROW: Being that the flick was shot on a budget, looking back, what was the more arduous of obstacles during the shoot?
Genevieve: Staying awake! Seriously, that is one of the most difficult things to do on a low budget shoot. We made sure that everyone worked only 12 hours days but as a director you don’t get any sleep! Once you’ve wrapped for the day, you’re in the editing room checking the dailies from the day before and seeing what your editor has cut together. Then you’re working out the shoot for the next day and then hopefully catch a few Z’s before you’re up at 6 AM!
ARROW: That amazing car crash must have been quite the task in staging and shooting. How did you pull that off?
Genevieve: We had a great friend Terry Forrestal who was our stunt co-ordinator. Terry had worked with us on our first film and had become a good mate to us. Although he had worked on numerous Hollywood movies, he wanted to help new filmmakers as much as he could and would offer his services whenever he could. Initially we were going to have a very basic sequence with the car crash but Terry read the script and then suggested numerous ways of spiking up the shot…”you could have the car hit a ramp, twist over in the air several times, slamming down on to the road, a passenger exploding from the windscreen and the car sliding down the street, eventually settling to a stop and then – Kaboom!…but not just one explosion, two! Three!…” Terry was amazing! I have to say though he had my heart pumping several times waiting for his cheeky grin to appear either from the crashed car or water when he did a 100ft high fall for us in our first movie! Unfortunately Terry was killed when he was on holiday doing base jumps in Norway and he never got to see the finished film.
ARROW: Running at 82 minutes, I felt the film was a tad too short for all of the “meat” it was addressing. Was there an initial, longer cut?
Genevieve: You’re right. There was a much longer cut, which was then cut, re-cut and then cut again. There are a lot of issues in the movie that we could mention but not all of them could we focus on. We did have a further scene that focused more on the oppression of the tower block but this had to be removed for a test screening audience became confused about Billy Boyd’s character – despite having nothing to do with the scene in question! It’s very odd, but that’s why having test screenings are a good idea so you can check that your plumbing works! Something that makes complete sense on the page, for whatever reason might not work when seen visually. We also cut more supernatural elements that were occurring to Lizzie as they didn’t work with the flow of the story. Again, something that seemed to make complete sense in the screenplay detracted from the overall story. We show some of the deleted scenes on the DVD.
ARROW: What’s on the horizon in terms of future directorial efforts?
Genevieve: I’m working on several horror projects at the moment and a sci-fi. It’s been interesting for me moving from the UK to the US. It’s very much a business here, which I actually love because there’s no pretentious value added to a movie. You don’t have to be part of a clique to get a film made and it truly is the American Dream – anyone can break into the industry! It’s tough but if you persevere, you never know….So we’ll see! I’m hoping the next movie you see from me will be a horror that will make you scream, laugh and cry!
ARROW: Once the shoot for "Urban Ghost Story" wrapped, how did the cast and crew celebrate?
Genevieve: With a massive party! That same night that we wrapped, we had great fun all mucking in and pulling apart the set in the studio and then watching a blooper reel that had been put together by our fabulous editor. Then I had a curry!
I'd like to thank the lovely Genevieve for her time. Any girl with a mug-shot and directing to her credit is a "class act" in my book! Keep up the good fight, Gen! I'm looking forward to seeing your future cinematic dishes. Now go rent "Urban Ghost Story" my fellow genre fans...or I'll kill you all...just kidding, guys...or am I? DANG!