Director Raine McCormack takes us through the making of his incoming horror film, The Village In The Woods.

As a very famous director once said, “I always wanted to give a lecture at film schools. You go in and you see all these fresh faces, and you say: ‘You! Stand up, tell me your story. Tell me what your film is going to be about.’ And they start, and you go: ‘Shut up and sit the f-down!’ And if they do, you go: ‘You’re not ready.’ Because the film business is filled with shut-up and sit-the-f**k-down. You got to be able to tell your story in spite of sit-down and shut-the-f**k-up. If you are going to let something like that derail you, what hope do you have against transportation department? What hope do you have against f-ing development executives?”

The above has valuable advice to it. This is my film story. It all began in February 2016. Two 7.5 tonne Panalux trucks rolled into the sleepy village of Hadlow Down in East Sussex. A village which I lived in. I had no idea at the time that I’d started a journey that was to last almost four years.

A little backstory… let’s rewind to June 2015. My best efforts couldn’t get things rolling to start production on a horror movie entitled The Blessed. ‘You’ve never done one before’… ‘It’s a tough market’… ‘People aren’t investing right now’… Something very common for newcomers to features. But I’m not the type of person to give up. Using the filmmaking philosophy of ‘use what you’ve got’, I scanned my surroundings. One, I lived next door to a pub which many assumed shut, derelict or both. Two, I was surrounded by woods. Simple I thought. So I started writing The Village In The Woods. The story was inspired by the Greek mythology of Satyr, a lecherous woodland god. This character has found its way into many cultures throughout the ages. Once dark, lustful and lewd, now tame and domesticated. Ours, the former. My initial plan was for a super-lean shoot with only a crew of five. But that all changed when one actor passed the screenplay on to some other actor friends. In what seemed like no time at all we’d assembled a brilliant, talented cast.

We attracted Richard Hope, known for the BBC’s acclaimed Poldark. Therese Bradley from Young Adam and Filth. Rebecca Johnson, who stars alongside Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan in The Trip. Sidney Kean (Lifeforce), Phil Martin (Prometheus), Katie Alexander Thom (Game Of Thrones), Timothy Harker (Peaky Blinders) and our two protagonists, Beth Park (of the Royal Shakespeare Company) and Robert Vernon (Final Fantasy). So come February 2016, I walked onto a set with a crew of 60 plus people. My mission, to take all that creative vision that lived inside and commit it to screen. I’d gone from idea to film set in nine months.

Locality

The philosophy of ‘use what you got’ continued… Our home (next door to the public house) became a busy production office (not recommended). Our neighbour’s house? Makeup, wardrobe and a green room. The pub itself was more than ideal. Its upstairs condition was very run down. Cobwebs dominated exposed rafters. Wallpaper hung from neglected, damp walls. Plumbing dangled, disconnected from antique cracked porcelain sinks. Lamp shades wore nibbles from moths. Wind howled through ill-fitting windows. It looked very old and felt rather creepy. But the story downstairs was a little different. It was still a working pub that we’d managed to close for filming for three weeks. It needed to look as abandoned as upstairs. The art department went to town. Their tireless energy created overnight an atmospheric, haunting building. A setting for which the actors could lose themselves and the DP could light to great effect.

The shoot lasted three and a half weeks, and then silence. This whole whirlwind experience on a film set was over. The village returned to its familiar, sedentary pace.

Problems

A couple of assembly edits later and it became clear that something wasn’t working in the storyline. This isn’t uncommon in even the biggest budget movies. We needed to expand a couple of the main characters to help strengthen the plot line. Yet it was late summer 2016 and for continuity I needed to film in the approaching winter. I’d have to wait.

The delay enabled myself and Justine Dowsing (producer) to raise more finance. Come February 2017, almost one year on, cameras rolled again. This time with Jamie Hobbis as cinematographer. With every single proposed shot storyboarded and placed into the edited timeline, his shoot was a smooth, stress-free one. To further make best use of the time, we utilised on-set ADR services. This turned out to be a brilliant idea. These chaps set up in a quiet corner of the set and by use of an acoustic tent they recorded all the needed extra dialogue. Back in the cutting room, BAFTA and Emmy-nominated editor, Oral Ottey (Game Of Thrones), delivered a tighter, paced cut.

Watching the finished movie on a 40 foot cinema screen I was sure of one thing. My resolve to finish this movie to the highest standards within my means had paid off.

Simply put… I wasn’t prepared to ‘sit down and shut the f**k up’.

The Village In The Woods is available now across all major UK digital platforms, and arrives on DVD on February 24th 2020.

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