We're very excited that 'Evil Spirits' by Graham Hughes will become the next film under the Tartan Features banner.
One of the reason's we are so excited is that Graham has been creating a name for himself over the past few years, in true indie maverick style by beating his own path into the world of micro-budget feature film making. Over that time he's directed two features that have been nominated for 3 BAFTA NT awards (and winning one at age 21), and a coveted EIFF Michael Powell nomination. We're delighted that we've found each other!
Here's a little Q+A on 'Evil Spirits', Graham's background, making low budget features, paying people and his thoughts on the future.
1. (TF) Tell us a little bit about Evil Spirits.
"Evil Spirits" is my third feature film as director, and first as solo writer. Here's the logline: Three friends get drawn into a possessed drinking game in an attempt to save the soul of one of their parties sisters – and in the process risk losing their own. I'm trying to make something that's simultaneously hilarious and terrifying and with a lot of heart. Think "Jumanji" meets "Evil Dead II".
2. Why have you decided to shoot it on a micro budget?
Finding any sort of budget for a feature film is seriously difficult. Not only this, but it can take years to do. So I was faced with either spending years trying to accumulate a decent budget that might never materialize, or just plunge head-on into another no-budget escapade. Not to mention that micro budgets allow a certain freedom and nimbleness, both artistically and logistically that is pretty damn exciting.
3. You've decided to put a good proportion of your budget towards paying the cast and crew, which is unusual in the world of micro budget features. Why did you decide to do that?
Well the last film I made was built on favours, which was an amazing show of faith from everyone that was involved, but it's definitely not something I can do again. Proportioning a lot of the small budget into paying cast and crew builds in some good will as well. Whether people should work for free is a long and ancient argument and I won't rehash the same arguments here, but I think as a gesture, devoting a big chunk of our budget to that is a step in the right direction.
4. Even outside of Tartan Features many people are deciding to shoot their own micro budget feature. Some with great success. Why do you think this is happening? Is this something the film industry at large should be helping with, like the microwave scheme in England?
I think this is happening, purely because it can. Film was always an art-form that was restricted to those that had a career in it, and the super-rich. The democratisation of filmmaking has been amazing. I mean last year was the first feature shot on an iPhone and this year has the first Snapchat feature film. Now any film-lover can be a filmmaker too. As for a Scottish Microwave scheme? That would be amazing! Sack the years of development and the endless shorts. Invest in three £100k features a year, with three filmmakers that have yet to make a funded piece of work. Two might turn out shit, but you've taken three rolls of the dice on £300k, which is still smaller than the budget of a small indie. How great would that be!?
There is such a wealth of talent in Scotland, one that I think is still being under utilised. But there are so many people that have not only film experience, but feature experience. And for whatever skill-set you're looking for, there's always a guy that knows a guy.
5. Why collaborate with Tartan Features?
Why not! There are tons of advantages of making a film with Tartan Features, and no perceivable disadvantages as far as I can see. Plus I've been wanting to collaborate with the good folks behind the organisation for a while now and I think "Evil Spirits" will sit nicely in with the rest of your "catalogue".
6. What are your hopes for the film? Many Scottish micro budget features have been very successful of late, do you think this could become another?
Haha, that's not for me to predict, but I can day-dream... My main hopes are firstly to make a crazy scary, funny film that moves people (no challenge there). After that, ideally the film will hit the festival circuit and have a good run. I see it as the kind of midnight screening film. Something that film geeks will love. And for extra points we'll get distribution. Really though I'd be happy to get a name for the film within Scotland, show off our talent and change peoples perceptions of what a Scottish film can be.
7. How have you financed the film?
So far, most of the finance has come from myself and from family members. There is also a small good chunk of in-kind funding from a facilities company. I'm currently chasing the last third of the budget.
8. From your previous features, what lessons have you learned?
Here's some really short tips from my experience.
Simplify your script.
If you think the script is done, you probably need another draft.
If you cast well, it takes the pressure off directing.
A film is never finished, only abandoned.
Read your bad reviews like advice, but remember you don't have to take that advice.
No matter how good you think that first take was, always get a second one.
Say 'cut' as late as possible, those quiet moments after the last line can save you in the edit.
Don't use temporary music tracks in the edit, you might get too attached.
Table scenes are surprisingly hard to shoot/make compelling, use them sparingly (unfortunately I have ignored this last piece of advice. 90% of "Evil Spirits" takes place at a table.)
9. Did the BAFTA wins/nominations and the EIFF success help your career?
I think they did to an extent, but it was hardly a meteoric rise. I remember after we (my co-writers Keith Grantham and Graeme McGeagh) won the BAFTA, we were just like, "We've made it". And we sat and waited for the phone to ring with job offers. Little did we know. I heard some great advice from Mark Duplass recently (his keynote speech from SXSW a couple years ago, essential listening for any no-budget filmmaker). He said "The cavalry isn't coming". You just hopefully do a little bit better each time until you realise you have made a career making movies.
10. What are your current thoughts on the Scottish indie and emerging film scenes?
I think there's a lot of great films and filmmakers coming out from that crowd, but unfortunately the films aren't getting as much exposure as I'd like. Hopefully that's something that will change soon. There's so much good content out there. I'd love to see STV Glasgow or Edinburgh giving some slots to no-budget Scottish features, in the same way they did for Colin Ross Smith's "The Crews".
11. And what are your thoughts on the future?
I really just want to keep making films. I always said that if ten years after I made my first feature ("The Big Slick") I'd round up anyone that was involved in that film that was still interested and make a sequel ("The Big Slick 2: Bigger Slick"), just for the sake of making a film and keeping at it. The end game was always to become a career director, but if I can make a living and also make features on the side, well that's a close second.
12. When do you plan to shoot?
I would love to shoot this year. Something like November would be ideal. The script is one draft away from being ready, I have some crew and cast assembled and all that is really standing in the way is the last chunk of the budget. Once that's there it's all go. But that's a large last hurdle. If anyone has a few thousand quid down the back of the couch then give me a shout.
We will be giving regular updates on the progress of Graham's film, which should be completed by the end of the year.
You can read and see some of his previous work here:
Spectacular Suicide Trailer
And Graham's Directors bio is here:
“Twenty-seven year old Glasgow-based director, I come from a no-budget film background. After getting my film degree in 2009, I directed my first feature film at the age of 21.
Winner of a BAFTA New Talent Award in 2011 and nominated again in 2014, I currently split my time between editing educational videos and writing and directing everything from features to online content. My second feature "A Practical Guide to a Spectacular Suicide" played at film festivals around the world and was also nominated for the Michael Powell Award for Best British Feature Film at the 2014 Edinburgh International Film Festival.
Previously part of BBC's Fast and Funny new writers development scheme and currently making content for BBC The Social.”
EVIL SPIRITS, TF12