Ashley Thorpe is a writer and illustrator whose passion for the British Gothic movement has led him to establish Carrion Films; a group of filmmakers determined to reinvigorate this neglected area of cinema. Their fourth film, Borley Rectory tells the story of the “most haunted house in Britain”, blending rotoscope and digital animation to create what is essentially an animated documentary.
STARBURST: How would you describe the style of Borley Rectory, because it is very unlike anything most people will have seen before?
Ashley Thorpe: A lot of people have said that, but it’s not through anything clever on my part. I came to film through animation, which I discovered at university, and originally started doing lots of things on 16mm. I was experimenting, sticking moths to the film and so on like everyone does… don’t they? Maybe they don’t. When I eventually tried to make my own films properly I did things in my own way, especially with rotoscope animation, which I love similar to Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings. With Borley all the backgrounds are completely fake so if I had to describe it a certain way that would be how.
Watching your trailer generates a very nostalgic feeling, similar to the old Hammer films and the British Gothic style. Was that a time period that has influenced you?
Hugely. That was why I got Jonathon Rigby (author of English Gothic: A Century of Horror Cinema) to be a part of this. English Gothic was the reason I wanted to make this film, as at the time it seemed like any British horror film was chasing the American model stylistically and I wanted to celebrate what I thought we were losing, although that was before Woman in Black, which retains some of that essence. It was just that I wanted to see: a film about a screaming skull or a ghostly highwayman, similar to what we used to make. That era was what I grew up with and so when I had the chance it was all about what I wanted to see and not what I thought I could sell.
Do you think that the art of the ghost story is becoming lost then?
I think it still exists and I think there is still a hunger for it. Possibly it’s the market which is more nervous, but things are beginning to change. There were certain characters I used to see all the time when I was kid and that I thought everyone had heard of, such as Spring Heeled Jack, but that wasn’t the case. I just want to get people excited about what I was excited about and still am.
Why Borley Rectory in particular?
It was the title it had as the most haunted house in England. It wasn’t just one haunting, this place had loads of ghosts running around! I was amazed that no-one had made a film about this, but they hadn’t!
You’ve assembled quite a cast.
It was a bit of luck and a bit of being a cheeky bastard! The first person involved was Julian Sands as he’d seen some of my previous films, and he was familiar with the story, so I managed to convince him to do the voiceover. It was a quite a while later during a fundraiser that Reece Shearsmith saw the poster, although I’m not entirely sure how, but he commented on it on social media. I contacted him and just asked if he wanted to be in it and he said yes. I had no idea at the time that he was so crazy about English Gothic too, and when he was a child he actually made a floorplan of Borley Rectory. It seems he was just destined to be in it and then it kind of snowballed really. Jonathan Rigby said yes straight away too so it gave me the confidence to go for who I really wanted and get everyone else involved.
How have you found the funding process?
A nightmare! It’s very hard work to get the money together. We got enough to do the Julian Sands voiceover, which was back in late 2011, and that led to promises of money from various sources but every deal seemed to fall through somehow. It languished in limbo for a couple of years until I just go so frustrated that I felt I had to do something, and that was when we started with Indiegogo. We got enough money to pay for just over a day’s shooting, which is what eventually became the extended trailer. I thought that if we had that we might be able to get people excited, and with Reece on board from the start this time we had phenomenal success! The second time I got a load of people involved who were savvy with social media and we ended up more than tripling our initial target.
Do you have a date you’re working towards regarding the release of the finished film?
We’re working towards Valentine’s Day next year. We’re doing some more shoots in June and August and I’ve got plenty of animation to get on with, but it does put some pressure on to hit that release date but we’re hopeful.
How do you envision releasing the film?
Initially it will be festivals but a DVD release would be ideal. We’ve had some interest from production and distribution companies, some as a short, some as a feature but we’ll see. A few have asked about turning it into a feature from a short but all that is a long way off.
Be sure to follow Ashley on Twitter to keep up to date with Borley Rectory.
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