Self Constructive Nature
by Tom Mes
Part 1, 2
There is no doubt that newcomer Frazer Lee is swiftly heading for that coveted director's chair. Simply by going out and getting things done he got Doug "Pinhead" Bradley to star in his first film, the amazing horror short On Edge. Not only that, but he got Bradley's Hellraiser cohort, and make-up wiz, Bob Keen to do the effects. With the enthusiasm of a true genre addict and a healthy dose of impatience, he is already planning his first feature. Time to hand the mic to mr. Frazer Lee.
TM: You've just made On Edge, which I believe is your first film.
Frazer Lee: My debut as a writer and director. We shot it in July 1998 over a four day period. Three days in a dentist's surgery in the West End of London and one day in a club called The Slime Light, which is a fetish club. I adapted the script from a short story by Christopher Fowler, who is a well-known horror writer in England. My producer Joseph Alberti fell in love with the script, we agreed that it just had to be our first project, because it kind of sets the style for all the other things we want to do.
We approached Chris Fowler, who loved the screenplay, so he gave us the rights to the story. He runs the Creative Partnership in Soho, which is a movie marketing and post-production house, so we edited the film there as well. And we should be screening for distributors when we get back in February.
Doug Bradley was my first choice for doctor Matthews. I sent him a screenplay through his agent and he loved it. He met myself and Joseph and agreed to do it. And we got Charley Boorman as well, John Boorman's son.
Joseph and I started out in the film business doing lots of different jobs. We worked in low budget film in England for about four and a half years. Working as production assistant, assistant director, even lighting, just anything that would keep us on set. But really the last six months have been the biggest learning curve. It's like three years of film school in one chunk. From script to screen in seven months is pretty quick. No disrespect to any low budget filmmakers out there, but a lot of people take a year or two to get their short finished, which is just unacceptable for us. We're very impatient, we've got plans. TM: With low budget filmmakers taking a year or two years, I think most of that is down to finding financing.
Frazer Lee: Financing is a problem. It's getting better, there is a lot of money out there, but what we're up against is that we're very into genre. We want to put British horror movies back on the map. And horror is a bit of a dirty word really, in a lot of territories. Even something like Scream was billed as a 'thriller'. It's a horror movie, there's nothing wrong with that. And it's a highly commercial form of film, so I don't see why people are so shy about it. I think if we get to do our first feature people might question us less about what we're doing and let us get on with it.
One of the things people have said to me after the screenings in Rotterdam is how lucky I was to have such a huge budget. Now, they're assuming that we spend like eighty thousand pounds on the film.
TM: Because it looks really good.
FL: Yeah, and it's in Cinemascope. But the fact of the matter is, our movie is about ten thousand pounds cheaper than your average ten minute short for tv. So I don't really know where they're coming from. I think it's just the quality of the piece. On Edge cost around the thirty thousand pound mark, which when you look at the work is pretty cheap. So I'm quick to point that out to people now, because I think when I do, people are even more impressed. They'll go "wow, you made that with that budget" and it follows that we can feasibly do a similar excercise with the first feature.
TM: I think the psychology to many people is: if it looks, quality-wise, lighting-wise, etc., like a Hollywood film, then it must be expensive.
FL: Yeah. I think if you've got good people working on your movie and you've done enough work on the script - I mean, I did seven drafts of On Edge, I wasn't afraid to chop and change it. For the very last draft I went right back to the original source material and made some changes in favour of the original story, because the original story, when I read it I just knew it had to be a short film. Because it's got a progression, it's got a solid story, eleven pages, beginning, middle, end. And the ending is a big visual moment. Which is a perfect for a film translation. So I was very careful to stay true to the original material but I put some other stuff in there.
There's some additional dialogue, the connection between technology and flesh particularly, which is something that interests me. Also the framing device in the beginning and end of the film, in the nightclub, wasn't in the original story. I wanted to put the character of doctor Matthews into context and I think it works, because if you've got a big gore sequence at the end of a film the audience needs some downtime to digest what they've just seen. And if you can underline the horror they've just seen, even if it's making them laugh, then I think it gives a bit more depth to the story. Doctor Matthews sitting in the fetish nightclub, doing a bit of research for his next project. That's what it's all about. I've had some positive feedback about the framing device.
TM: I think it makes the film stronger because it gave it a theme, a sort of parallel with the whole piercing culture.
FL: Yeah, definitely. A guy like doctor Matthews wouldn't go to the Tate Gallery for ideas, he'd go to The Slime Light or Madame Jo Jo's and he'd look at facial piercings and get worked up thinking "Oh, I can do much better than that, and I've got the technology to do it." (laughs)
TM: That was very much a theme, before its time, in Hellraiser as well, the whole piercing thing.
FL: Definitely. Just look at the hommages to Pinhead, you know, you see them everywhere. When the first Hellraiser movie came out, Pinhead was billed, only in the end credits, as 'Lead Cenobite'. But he's the image that everybody latched onto. People started walking around with tattoos of Pinhead and everything. If you look at the research manuals on body piercing, that successful series of books, there are lots of photographs of guys with big acupuncture needles in their bald heads and you know where that's coming from. Hellraiser was one of the movies that breathed a bit of life into the genre I think.
TM: Definitely, because Hellraiser came out right in the middle of the slasher movie wave of the eighties.
FL: Slasher movies will always thrive, because 'monster chasing cute girl down corridor' is something that we can all latch onto and get all excited about. But Hellraiser really dug the depths and got nasty and that was very refreshing. I remember seeing it when it first came out and just thinking "I want to make movies, this is really good." (laughs)
TM: And it was a British film.
FL: A British film. American money and dodgy American dubbing but that aside, you can tell it's intrinsically British. But bang up to date. I watched it again recently and I think that in many aspects the first film will not date as much as the third film.
TM: The third one will definitely date, because with the third one they did some concessions to American franchise moviemaking.
FL: Definitely. And you can't blame them for doing that, really, because it's the individual's choice whether or not to go and see a sequel. I certainly won't be seeing the remake of Psycho, because what's the fucking point? Spend it something new, you know. It's the same thing with Stanley Kubrick's 2001. That was made like thirty years ago or something? You watch the second movie, 2010, and that's much more dated than the original. And I think that says something.
TM: I think with Hellraiser the watershed was after part two. Because part two was very much in the vein of part one, only elaborating a bit more, a bit darker, a little bit less down to earth, so to speak.
FL: I like the mood of the second one, the atmosphere is there and Pinhead is really vicious in the second movie. And he's conspicuous by his absence. Kenneth Cranham's character took over to a certain extent, but it just increased the audience's expectation of "when is Pinhead coming?". And when he did, he had the best lines in the movie. So you can't go wrong, really.
TM: Getting back to On Edge. You mentioned you stayed close to the original story, with the exception of the framework story. I think that framework very much stems from you as a person, as well as the music.
FL: The music is my band. That's me singing. I have a band called Self Destructive Nature with a Brazilian guitarist, a brilliant guitarist called Paolo Turin. He plays with a band called Battlezone with a singer called Paul DiAnno who was with Iron Maiden for their first two albums. He's a terrific singer and they've just done an album called Feel My Pain, which has got 9 out of 10 in two Brazilian magazines and one English magazine, so I think his fate is sealed. But I've been working with him for a couple of years on bits and bobs and we recorded a couple of tracks. One of those is going out in Brazil next month on the cover of a magazine. That song is called 'Defiler' and the second song 'Cycles Of Abuse' I used for On Edge, because it just sounded right and I didn't have to pay anybody for the copyright.
So when we shot the club scenes, which were like two forty-five second tracking shots, quite a complex set-up - a whole bunch of extras, huge lighting rig -, we hit the play button and it all just seemed to come together. We mixed the sound at this place where they did some work on Titanic, so I was in good hands there, and I just got them to push the bass forward and got them to do a bit of left and right panning.
I saw On Edge last night, for the first time, really. We screened it at the Pathé cinema and I had no idea that it was such a massive screen, it's the full Godzilla-size Cinemascope frame. It was like watching a completely different film. So I feel really vindicated now that the different elements of the film are coming together and working. Obviously this is our first print, so we can give it a little polish, but the audience reaction has been great.
TM: Was this the first it's been shown?
FL: We had our world premiere here. We arrived at lunchtime and had our first screening in the evening. We had a question & answer session, which was great. There were a lot of film students in the audience and they picked up on a few things. David Cronenberg influence and why did I choose the story and what was it like to work with Doug and all those things. It was a good way to kick off, really.
TM: I think for beginning filmmakers and film students a lot of things changed after Robert Rodriguez made El Mariachi.
FL: That's part of it. From my point of view, I really took notice of things like Abel Ferrara's The Addiction and David Lynch's Lost Highway. Both of which didn't have huge budgets, but looked marvelous. And told a very twisted tale. I went to see those movies with an open mind and left them with an even more open mind. And they're genre pictures, they're noir-ish horror movies. I think there's room for everything really. You've got Scream and all the sequels that are going to follow and then you've got something like The Addiction. I'm going to be aiming somewhere in between those realms for the next bunch of projects.
TM: What have you got lined up, then?
FL: Well, I'm working on my first feature, which is called Urbane. It's a urban gothic noir horror thriller, set in London, end of the twentieth century. Should be a lot of fun if we get to make it. It's an ensemble piece, so there's six or seven main characters, all of whom are from different corners of the world. Because I think it would be ignorant to have a film set in London and not have lots of different nationalities there, because London is like the world in microcosm. I moved to London about nine years ago and I don't think I'd even met an American, or a Chinese person, or a Japanese person before then. I've got a circle of friends now from all over the world, it's brilliant.
A director that I greatly admire, Dario Argento does this, he casts people for the look more than anything. It might be the way they move, or the way they squint, or something about the voice. He'll cast people from anywhere (laughs). And if you can't understand what they're saying, he just dubs them. I think it's a great way to work. It's very positive. Especially with co-production being such a big thing now. If you need to raise three million for a feature, you sure as hell better involve a couple of other countries.
TM: Especially when you're making a film in Europe.
FL: Yeah, definitely.
TM: Though you always run the risk of the Europudding.
FL: Yeah. It's all about risks, this game (laughs).
Go to part 2