I was sitting on a plane reading an article about the censorship of Hammer Horror films back in the day, and I had this idea for a feature, so I discussed the idea with my writer/co-writer Anthony Fletcher and we started to develop ideas, and essentially Nasty was a short idea that came from the feature idea. Both explore the early 80’s video nasty era. I fell in love with the short idea and so the ball began to roll…
What was it that drew you to the story?
Nasty is quite a personal story – it’s kind of a love letter to horror and to VHS. It’s about the bonds that we form with one another through films. I’m also really drawn to the social hysteria surrounding video nasties and our fears of new technology – the whole thing totally fascinates me.
You showed me very early draft of the script many years ago, although the tone and themes have pretty much stayed the same, the structure of the finished film is drastically different. It’s far more ambiguous and experimental. Can you tell me how the script developed into the final film? What changes were necessary and why?
I have to admit that when people ask me about the writing process on this, it feels like such a long time ago, and we did transform the script over the many drafts we did, so it’s a bit of a blur how exactly that happened. This is the reason I keep a writing diary now! I remember there was a draft of Nasty where Doug basically murdered his parents and I had a really strange, defensive reaction to that draft and it changed quite dramatically after that. Perhaps it’s because during the writing process I get quite attached to my characters, and so what might start out as a script with a really bleak ending slowly gets infused with the characters getting what they want after all, but as in Nasty – there’s usually a hefty price to pay!
What was the greatest challenge and the greatest benefits of filming on both digital and film?
Nasty was shot entirely on 16mm and 8mm film, but my background as a director had always been on digital prior to this. The greatest challenge was definitely on set – not being able to see a really clear picture on the monitor of what you’re going to get in post. With digital setups you can see every minute detail on the monitor, but with film it’s more like a representation, and when you turnover on the camera there’s a flicker, which I found incredibly frustrating as I couldn’t always see the detail of the actor’s performance, so this affected how I positioned myself on set during takes, in order to see both the shot on screen and the actor in the room. What I learned through this is that I really trust my DOP Annika Summerson, who is incredibly talented and I have worked with a great deal. But the benefits of shooting on film greatly outweighed my initial teething problems on set. I remember getting the rushes back and it was at that point that I knew shooting on film had been the right decision – I kind of fell in love with the format at that point, despite the frustrations I’d felt during the shoot. The results were stunning, and perfect for our 80’s period setting too. I feel like film has a timelessness. When I see a film from the past shot on film, compared to digital, it just holds its quality so well. Saying that – I do love digital too, and I think you always have to choose the format that will best suit the requirements of your shoot and your story.
You really seemed to have captured that creepy early eighties VHS atmosphere, both in tone and visuals. Can you explain a little bit about the cinematography and the shooting process? Was there any specific techniques you used in attempting to recreate the foreboding weirdness of VHS era horror?
I think maybe foreboding weirdness is what I’m always striving for, so in Nasty I’ve fused that with the VHS-horror vibe. Shooting on film definitely helped, because so many of the films Nasty references were shot on film.. But it’s really everything on screen, from the cinematography to the costume, production design, sound design, colour grade, effects etc – every element is playing its part in making the tone and the era come to life. What I love about directing films is that I get to kind of orchestrate all these different elements, and to work closely with really talented people who can bring their own ideas into the mix within their department – it’s my job to inspire my crew and then to balance everything to make it work on screen. In terms of the cinematography, the film transitions from grey British suburbia, which has quite a cold colour palette, to the lurid, vibrant colours of video nasties. This colour transition is representative of Doug’s journey into the video nasty world. The film also moves from 16×9 aspect ratio to 4×3 – so there are lots of little techniques like this used visually, but also sound plays a huge part too, moving from the stiff, controlled ‘real’ world into the wild, technological, synth world of 80’s horror. In terms of tone, I wanted to recreate the feeling I had as a kid when I watched horror films – that feeling where you’re frightened of going up to bed after watching a horror, as if upstairs has turned into another, unrecognisable world. It’s such a scary and exhilarating feeling that any horror fan will know and love. So I was really trying to find ways to communicate that feeling. The VHS distortion and texture was also an important element for me in reference to the era and the format – and I worked closely with some very talented people at Framestore to get that right.