Interview: Kelly Smith, Director of DON'T LET HIM IN

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Early last year when Starburst was still in its re-birth, we spoke to first time director Kelly Smith about Don't Let Him In. With the film about to hit the DVD shelves in the UK at the end of October, we took this chance to catch up with the former negative cutter about his début feature and future plans.

Starburst: What were your influences when you came to make the film?

Kelly Smith: Don't Let Him In is really a hybrid of a bunch of sub-genres, from video nasty-era slashers and survival horrors to psycho thrillers like And Soon the Darkness, even twist-ending TV shows like Brian Clemens' Thriller and Hammer House of Horror. It's really a tribute to a lot of the dodgy stuff I grew up being addicted to.

Where were the filming locations? Did you have any problems while shooting?

We shot in various locations around the Home Counties, including Buckinghamshire, West Sussex and Hertfordshire. The shoot took place in December and January, and it was brutally cold. Our cast were real troopers - especially the lead actress, Sophie Linfield, who had to run around the woods in her undies in subzero temperatures. I think the cast and crew were close to mutinying at times, but we just about managed to scrape through it. It was an exhausting, gruelling experience. Next time, I'll be shooting in the summer!

How did you go about raising the budget? Have you any tips for any budding film makers out there?

Well, the seed money for the production came from my redundancy package! I was working as a negative cutter on films such as In Bruges and The Queen, making short films on the side, and when the company went under I decided to just go for it and make a feature. I scraped together some money from my family and within a few months we were shooting. I just about managed to complete the shoot, then assembled a fairly polished cut with my editor Mark Towns, and used that to raise investment to complete the film with my co-producer Mike Mindel. My advice to anyone thinking of making a movie is to do likewise - raise whatever finance you can, shoot a film and use a rough cut to interest investors for post production. An actual film that's already been shot is a lot more attractive to backers than a script or a promo reel.

The film has its bloody moments, but was there ever a temptation to make the film even more gruesome and go all out for shock value?

The original conception was to make the film more subtle and suggestive, along the lines of Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which depicted very little blood or gore. Then in the edit, I realized I'd maybe held back too much, so we had to shoot some inserts of prosthetic gore FX with a veteran make-up artist named Aaron Sherman, whose genre credits stretch back to Terry Gilliam's Brazil. We also worked with a Budapest-based team of VFX artists headed by Andor Zahonyi to subtly augment blood sprays, etc. In retrospect, I probably should have gone all-out on the gore front. Give the fans what they want!

The film has been released in several territories already, how has the response been?

We've been fortunate enough to have the film released in fifteen territories so far, including France, Germany, Australia, Canada and the US. From what we've heard, sales have been healthy. There's even talk of a sequel...

How do you see the state of the UK film industry? Genre films seem to provide a large proportion of independent films made, but are still looked down on by the powers that be, do you think that will ever change?

There is - or was - a healthy straight-to-DVD market for horror films, which is great for first-time filmmakers, but sadly that's rapidly changing due to the culture of illegally downloading films. Piracy has had a huge negative impact on the DVD market, and that situation will only get worse. Without star names or Hollywood-scale production value, it's very difficult for indie films to acquire theatrical distribution, so how will they manage to turn a profit? Long-term, the industry will have to find an alternative to accruing revenue from DVD and Blu-ray sales. I don't think VOD is a viable means of doing that yet.

So where do you go now? Any projects to look forward to?

I've been developing a number of projects with my co-writer Chris Andrews and producer Mike Mindel, all in the horror, thriller and sci-fi genres. We don't know which one will go next, but I can promise you we'll be going all-out to create something that will blow fans away.

Finally, for a bit of fun: What would be your dream film cast? If money were no object and any actor available (living or dead)?
Well, I've been obsessed with the classic Hammer and Universal Gothic horrors since I was a kid. It would've been a dream to work with Cushing, Lee or Karloff in their heyday.

Thank you so much to Kelly for taking the time to talk to us, Don't Let Him In is released on DVD on October 29th.

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