I’ve been interviewing people involved with festival films over the last couple of years, but I think this is the first time I’ve (at least knowingly) talked to someone whose name is attached to two films in one event. That’s the case with Andy Edwards: he wrote and directed one of the Midnight Peepshow segments, and also has a writing credit on Ghosts of Monday. Not only that, but he has just released another film, of which he had sole authorship.
“It’s been a busy few weeks,” he mused.
I wanted to start by stepping back from this current offering, so I asked Andy how he had started in filmmaking. “It’s something I always wanted to do since I was a kid,” he said. “Probably from watching Star Wars. I’ve got a five-year-old myself now,” he said, distractedly picking up a Lego light saber. “I think that was my earliest film memory: not only did I think ‘Wow, that’s amazing!’ but also, I wanted to learn how it was made; not just taking it on face value.
“What kind of got me into horror was in my mid-teens, seeing films like Evil Dead and Peter Jackson’s films, Bad Taste and Brain Dead: you could kind of see how those were made. When you’re a kid, growing up in the suburbs of Birmingham, films like Star Wars liked miles ahead of anything you could dream of making; but then when you watch Evil Dead or Bad Taste, you can see the joins; you can see where the filmmakers cobbled things together. They were homemade projects, films they made with their friends, and that doesn’t require billions, but a bit of imagination. Horror is the genre where you can do that, really experiment. If you’re making a space movie, and your spaceships are made of cardboard, audiences expect more; but don’t think it counts against you, with horror. FrightFest audiences, for example, will cheer at practical effects, no matter how bad they are; they appreciate the homemade efforts and the passion that goes into them.
“Since then, Raimi and Jackson have gone on to bigger things, but they started off so small it’s almost in anyone’s reach. I remember seeing a documentary about the making of Brain Dead; apparently, Peter Jackson made it on the weekends over the course of four years. Of course, they shot on film in those days, and he had to save up enough for three minutes more film and so on. That kind of dedication is inspiring.”
On to the present. With Midnight Peepshow in mind, I asked Andy what he likes about portmanteau films. “I’ve done a few actually, and I do enjoy them,” said Andy. “For a director, what you get out of them on a very practical level is you ‘only’ have to make a short, and then you’ve got a feature release at the end of it. It’s something that could bring in money, you can show at festivals and so on. You also have the chance to work with other directors, because directing is usually a lonely job; there’s generally only one of you on the set. It’s quite rare that you ever get the chance to see anyone else doing it (unless you get another role in a different film), so an anthology gives you that chance. A lot of anthologies—especially these days with the technology, and of course COVID—a short is made in one country, then another, and they get put together; sometimes it can really work, but sometimes not so much. With this one, we shot all of them with the same crew, just swapped out the directors and it was very much a collaboration. Everyone looked at the script and the edits, not just their own piece, but the whole too. Working with Jake West, for example, was great: I’d seen some of his stuff, and now got the chance to work together and became friends. I don’t think that chance without an excuse to work together.”
So how did it work as a piece of writing then? “Most of the script was written before I came on board,” Andy answered. “Jake and Airell [writer-director Airell Anthony Hayles] had written nearly everything: the wraparound, story one, and story three; but they were searching for a middle bit. They’d tried a few because I think originally, they were planning to write everything themselves, but with different directors for each segment; anyway, none of what they had tried quite gelled. I knew both of them and they had seen an early cut of Graphic Desires [Andy’s new solo feature] and they said ‘Actually, you might fit in here’ because Graphic Desires looks at the dark web, dark aspects of sexuality, that kind of thing. I came up with a couple of ideas, and we went with the one they liked best. I wrote that up and then sat down with them to work out how to integrate it into the rest of the story, with little nods and links, to make it a whole cohesive film, which is hopefully a more satisfactory viewing experience.”
I also found it interesting that there was a different composer for each segment too. I asked whether each director chose their own to suit the atmosphere they wanted or whether someone else in the production team was responsible. “We all discussed whether we should have the same composer (we had the same cinematographer and so on, of course), but then Jake got Simon Boswell involved, but I think the deal was he was only going to do Jake’s piece because they were mates. I don’t think we could have afforded Simon to do the lot! So, we made a call: Ludovica [Musumeci] had a composer she’d worked with before, so me and Airell had to find our own. I used a guy called Andy Fosberry, who I’d not worked with before; but he’d messaged me a few times and so I asked if he fancied working on this.”
I’d been wondering about the gender dynamic in the story of Midnight Peepshow. The FrightFest audience is much more diverse than its male-heavy organising team, so I asked Andy how well he thought the film suited its world premiere crowd. “In terms of where it showed,” said Andy, “it was kind of perfect. It’s called Midnight Peepshow, it’s set in Soho, and it was shown near enough at midnight and next to Soho. Me, Airell, and Jake go to FrightFest every year, so we know the crowd, and when we were making it, we definitely had that in mind. We didn’t think it would headline on the Friday night, that was brilliant! But we always had that audience in mind, especially my segment: it had a few little jokes in it that wouldn’t work with every audience.”
It was definitely a London film. “Certainly, and if you know Soho at all, you’d recognise the places the lead character visits.
“In terms of gender, obviously the horror audience is a lot more progressive than possibly any other audience right now; and in terms of who’s making the films there are still way too many guys making films compared to women. But I bet if you looked at Sundance or the Venice Film Festival, you’d find there were more female directors at something like FrightFest. There are plenty of people who aren’t straight white men making movies—and very interesting movies—in that space right now. So, when I came on board as the third member of the team, it was clear we had to get someone who wasn’t another straight white man to join in and do our fourth part, and that’s where Ludovica came in. It was a shame she couldn’t be there and do the Q&A with us, but she was in New York.”
I’d not been present either, so I asked how the crowd responded. “As far as I know, pretty well,” answered Andy. “It was almost midnight and you’re never really sure how many are going to stick around, and how many are heading home or simply tired after watching movies for twelve hours! But the main screen and the second screen were both about two-thirds full. We were working on the film until about a week before getting the sound right and so on; so when we say no one had seen it, we mean really no one. I’d not seen it on any screen bigger than this one I’m talking to you on [and the main FrightFest screen is incredibly big] and when we walked in, well, some of our actors are quite new, and you could see some of them look up at the huge screen and their legs almost turn to jelly. A couple of the leads, Miki [Davis] and Sarah [Diamond], it was their first feature film, so I think they were quite gobsmacked by the experience.”
One final question on Midnight Peepshow: I asked Andy how he navigates the line—if there is one—between erotic and horror. “Erotic and horror are uneasy bedfellows, I think,” pondered Andy. “They’re both about eliciting a response, both often deal with the transgressive, perhaps. I think you must be careful when mixing the two, and try not to eroticise something that you really shouldn’t. Careful but not steer away from it too much, I mean: Midnight Peepshow is meant to be a film for grown-ups after all. My piece has a little more humour than the others; that was deliberate because the other segments go to some dark places. When I read the other scripts, I said, ‘Why don’t I do something in the middle with a few jokes?’ It was meant to be a little palate cleanser before you get to the dismemberment. My thoughts on writing this were that I wanted to write a story with characters who might be in a rom-com, but shoot it like Saw; that’s what I told the actors. We have three female leads, one for each segment, and the leads for the other two segments are strong women who drive themselves into these dark places: I wanted to steer away from that. Helen was going to be a girl in a rom-com who has trouble deciding between three men; she’s not an action hero, a horror victim, but just a normal person who you might have in Love Actually or something. She’s a little ditsy and makes terrible decisions…and that’s how me and Miki built up the character.
“Then the plan, I think—especially nowadays—you need to apply equal opportunities to the nudity and the sexual content so that everybody gets a little of something. It’s not just the male gaze: in my segment, there are three guys tied to chairs and being watched. What I wanted was for the audience to almost play along with Helen, thinking, ‘These guys are all terrible, which one would I like if this was me?’ I’m sure it’s not a relatable situation, with people tied to chairs and having to choose one on pain of death, but we’ve all had to choose between ex-partners, make a decision; and it’s kind of a rom-com dilemma taken to an extreme, scored and lit like a Saw movie. That’s where I hope the humour comes from: the contrast of rom-com characters interacting with a horror setting. It really was a genuine dank basement, by the way: it had a water pump, and if you didn’t have it running, it would slowly fill up with sewage water, very grim.”
The three men particularly seemed very down-to-Earth, like they could have been plucked out of Eastenders. “Absolutely,” agreed Andy. “That’s especially the case for the Essex bloke. I wanted him to be like he belonged in Love Island, The Only Way is Essex, that kind of thing; not the kind of person you’d normally see in a horror movie.”
Andy was also involved with another FrightFest film, as I mentioned earlier: Ghosts of Monday. I’d not seen that myself, but JP Nunez who reviewed the film had suggested a question to ask. He wanted to know whether the mythology in the story is based on real mythology, or written originally for the film. “I don’t know,” Andy said hesitantly. “I can’t talk too much about Ghosts of Monday because I was one of many writers on that film. I wrote the original draft with a friend of mine called Barry Keating, and it was a job for hire, commissioned by the producer. Then the director changed it fairly significantly; the mythology element was something he added in, so that wasn’t in our draft. I did go to the screening, and they did a Q&A afterward with Julian Sands, and he said there was quite a bit of improvisation on set, and the director rewrote things as they went along. It’s a fun movie, worth checking out; but I watched it as a writer of the original draft and recognised maybe the first half hour. The characters and set up are what we wrote, but where it went after that is very different. It was very interesting to be part of that process, but unfortunately, I can’t say much about the finished movie.”
I wondered what it was like to let go of a story like that and hand it over to someone else. “That was always the intention,” said Andy, “we were very much writers-for-hire, and that’s how big Hollywood movies get made: you can sometimes have over twenty people involved in one script at various stages. It’s relatively unusual for an indie film (they normally can’t afford many writers), but we knew once it left our hands, it was up to someone else to bring it to life. It’s not like a ‘spec script’, which is your story; this was always going to be putting together characters and a scenario for someone else to play with.”
Sounds like kicking off a project, in other words. “Exactly,” said Andy. “It wasn’t heart-breaking at all, but a really interesting process, especially to see what they had done with it in the end. The ending is not mine at all, so if anyone asks about that…I did not see that coming. Even for one of the writers, the twist works.”
Now onto Graphic Desires, released very recently. Considering Andy’s first feature was Ibiza Undead (AKA Zombie Spring Breakers), I was curious to ask how he made something so different for his second. “Yes, there is quite a difference between the two,” said Andy. “In some ways, my bit of Midnight Peepshow is between the two, with the dark sexuality of Graphic Desires and the comedy of Ibiza Undead.” (And some gore as well, I offered.)
“Graphic Desires came about during the lockdown. I had various projects that I was trying to get off the ground and then COVID came along, and all plans went out the window. I was looking at making a film called Vampires of Soho, which we’d done as a short; it was about a vampire rock band, so it was going to deal with live music, big crowds of people…and it was not going to happen during the lockdown. Six months later I knew I couldn’t just do nothing with that time, and looked at the ideas I had that might work with a small cast, and shot in London. This idea popped out, and it’s kind of a homage to those nineties erotic thrillers with A-list budgets and stars. As a teenager at that time, 9½ Weeks, Basic Instinct and that kind of thing was a formative style of film to watch; suddenly there’s nudity and violence all on the screen, eye-opening at that time. I’m not sure if that kind of thing is being made much, but there’s clearly still a market on the streaming platforms now. You don’t really get A-list stars anymore in those kinds of movies, because big-budget movies are largely for children: the infantilisation of blockbusters means it’s rare that you get truly adult thrillers on the big screen, some on TV, mind you.
“I found a production company called Proportion Productions, run by Scott [Scott Jeffrey] and Becky [Rebecca J Matthews] who are my co-producers on Graphic Desires; they had done some films in that genre, and I got in contact with them via an intimacy co-ordinator. As well as COVID, these are also the times of the #MeToo movement, and terrible things coming out about people’s experiences on film sets, so in an effort to manage all that, this new role known as the intimacy co-ordinator has emerged. It’s only been around for the last couple of years, and it’s kind of like a stunt co-ordinator, but for sex scenes. They make sure everyone is safe and comfortable, both cast and crew; they help with choreography; and on a practical level, they help out between takes with a blanket around the cast to make sure they are covered and warm. They look after the little patches (‘intimacy garments,’ they’re called). These were all jobs that would have fallen on different members of the production team before; costume would have looked after patches and pouches; production assistant would have been ready with a blanket; producer would have checked everyone was content and so on.”
I had seen the role in the closing credits and had no idea it was about safeguarding;
I had assumed it was about making the sex scenes look authentic. “It is that to a degree,” said Andy, “but the main function at the moment relates to safeguarding. Once you’ve got the safeguarding in place, then you can look at making everything realistic as well. What I found was that if actors feel they’re in a safe space, they’ll give you the performances you want, whereas if they’re uncomfortable or cold, you won’t get that result. Look after people, and they’ll give you the sexy mood you want in the film. So, I wanted to see if it was possible to produce my story in an ethical way, even in a low-budget independent production. I went to a talk held by some intimacy co-ordinators, and I asked how I would go about hiring one, as an independent producer. They were like, ‘Well, we’re all booked up with HBO and Netflix,’ because obviously, they’ve got sex scenes too. And then the woman sat next to me said discretely ‘I’m an intimacy co-ordinator and I work on low-budget films,’ so I talked to her, and she put me in touch with the right people.
“I used Jamila [Wingett], and she was a great help. Then I brought her onto Midnight Peepshow as well and recommended her to the directors in the rest of the film, because they’d not worked with one before, either. I wouldn’t do a scene like that without one now.”
So, what’s coming next for Andy? “I’m in post-production on a film called Punch now, a seaside-set slasher movie. In a way, I’m going back to Ibiza Undead, as it’s teenagers being killed in a holiday location, but this time, it’s Hastings rather than San Antonio. It was mostly shot in Hastings, some of it in Clacton-on-Sea. It’s an American-style slasher movie, with a man in a mask killing teenagers, but with a very British aesthetic of a seaside town in winter. We shot on piers, in amusement arcades, chip shops, beaches; all of that is in there. I’ve pitched it as Ken Loach’s Halloween, just so I can get everyone on the same page. Social realism combined with slasher; a contrast like I did with Midnight Peepshow, but this one is a slasher with an evil Mr. Punch. I’m in post now, hoping to get that one out soon.” Sounds like fun!
Midnight Peepshow had its world premiere at Arrow Video FrightFest last month; as did Ghosts of Monday, which is now available on VOD. Graphic Desires is also available on VOD. And I shall be on the lookout for Punch!
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