"Something Like A Phenomenon" An Interview with Jonathan Chance by @Voldemort2013
Anyone who has been following the surge in popularity of independently made films will have heard of Jonathan Chance, or if not him personally then certainly some of the projects he’s been involved with. The Timeslip, part of the Chance Encounters Film productions, won the Best Sci Fi award in 2011 at the Geek Independent Film Festival. It is perhaps his work with this very successful group that brought him to a position where he was able to start work on Something Like A Phenomenon. Phenomenon is a labour of love for Jonathan and I was keen to find out why from the man himself.
Hi Jonathan, thanks for taking the time to speak to me while you are over in the UK. You have been referred to as a "Guerrilla Film-maker," but I sense I great deal of affection for the growing Indie Film business. What are your opinions on this oft-overlooked area of film making at the moment?
Hi Daniel, nice to finally sit down and chat with you! I admire anyone that can do it. A lot of respect for anyone that tries, it really isn't given the respect it deserves especially if you can make something great with little or no resources. I really feel guerrilla filmmaking is the heart of original independent film, definitely. You can’t get any more hands on than doing it all yourself. It’s easy to critique someone’s work but go out and make a movie? It’s tougher than it looks. After one feature film and four shorts all self-funded - anyone who tries to wear the many hats of the filmmaking process know it can be tough.
Now, there’s b) the other end of the spectrum - people who work up from runners to AD’s then eventually to direct films, which can be a long arduous journey in itself. By this point those people must be crying out to do/show their own ability and vision to what they want to produce. I feel lucky to be in the former - the guerrilla filmmaker can do anything to their hearts desire (within budget or no budget but again that’s where the real artist in you gets creative!) find their staple of originality all the while getting the experience to be an Indie Director – not necessarily a big studio Director perhaps, but Richard and I (the other half of Chance Encounters) didn’t have to wait to see what we could do and be capable of with so little at hand.
With The Timeslip we still used the same work ethic as before with a slightly better camera and the result was our most successful film to date. It only gets me more excited for the future - by what we could do when we’re not held back by always funding our own projects – with the same sensibilities we hold so dear in always keeping the films ‘real’ despite if the film is in the realm of horror or fantasy.
It seems, at least to me, that things can only improve from here on in thanks to the development of films financed and promoted using social network, especially twitter, is there still an issue with getting the large multiplexes to screen films?
Oh yes! Always is for the little guy. I agree it is easier now more than ever to get your work seen – but the competition is higher than ever because everyone is having a go at it. It just forces you to be better, try to stand out and always think differently and make what is distinctly one of our films – so people will want to come and see a Chance Encounters film whether it be solely a Jonathan Chance film, or Richard Chance film, or a Chance Brothers film. A guy by himself or small Indie group simply cannot get his film in a multiplex without moneyed help of a PR company, or simply knowing people. Paranormal Activity would not have been as popular were it not for Screamfest and the mega advertising campaign everywhere – most people can’t afford things like that. To be taken seriously, essentially you still have to try and get your foot in the door like the old days but Twitter (like how I met you!) and other social networks and websites definitely help get the word out and the responses we hear completely encourage and support us to want to continue knowing there is an audience wanting the same thing we want - we always appreciate it.
So, moving on to Something Like A Phenomenon. Can you tell me a little about how you came to hear the story of "the most haunted house in Britain" and how you came to be involved in making the film about it?
I was nine years old and a friend and I read about it in old ghost books and heard stories from locals. Just knowing there was this scary story literally on our doorstep fascinated me more than anything, and I wanted to know more. The story of a real haunted house and this rather eccentric, but essentially pioneering first ghost hunter in Harry Price was so interesting! When I was in my teens’, friends and I went along to the existing spot to record phenomena of our own, and I totally see the fascination in the unknown, it’s always interested me. So combined with my love of horror movies and finding my passion in filmmaking, after a few films around 2008 I started writing scenes for Phenomenon - reading up on people in Harry Price’s life; friends, enemies and all about his work and I knew that one day I would make a film about it. Or at least if one of my films took off and I could finally be at a stage of making a financed work this would be my dream film to make.
Knowing now that there is a plethora of supernatural films – my intention was never to jump on a bandwagon but rather make a true ghost story to end the - and let’s start at the beginning. Or at the very least offer my take before someone else makes a film about Borley Rectory in some awful untrue modern setting and state it was ‘based on a true story’. My story is one of truth blended with the spirit of an innovative time for science and the supernatural. And it’s by someone who knows the legend well. I want my script transcend to screen to make a classic horror film that will stand the test of time – like the films I grew up on. I don't want it turned into another implausible CGI ridden mess. The legend, myth and truth essentially hang in the balance. This is a big one for me and, what’s more, I'm proud of my local history. I want to bring what the late great Michael Reeves brought to Essex with The Witchfinder General four decades ago – a unflinching, pulsating nerve inducing horror film based on a real legend – he is a perfect example of where we are steering onward and upward from guerrilla film making to our next step up in evolution and progression. I hope it will be our timeless Witchfinder of today for Essex, England, a place steeped in haunted history!
Michele Mulkey has recently announced that she is working on the lovers of fantastic quality special effects. Does this mean you are moving towards "old school scares" rather than CGI driven effects?
Absolutely! In horror CGI should aide not ‘make’ the scene if used at all. I want to get back to the feel of believability again. Speaking of believability brings me to my secret weapon; SFX artist Michele Mulkey! I am completely over blown, happy and very blessed to have someone of her standard and calibre to want to work on the film and - become head SFX artist for it. She has wanted to work on something like this for quite a while and I’m happy it’s my film. Her unwavering passion to see this get made from the very start means so much. With her on board the better this film will be, we can make a great movie – I already know it will be of higher quality when we finally get to production and trust me… this is not one I want to cut back on – it has to be done right! In FX, whether it’s our own self-financed indie films where we’re making the FX ourselves down to classic horror films – how you build a scene or cut it or film it chances are it still holds up better than a CGI horror film from five years ago – I am and always have been for the classic scares. A great horror film will always have suspense, build etc. It’s more believable, tangible. CGI has its best merits in supporting SCI-FI fantasy/ horror - there it is jumping bounds and always improving – you only have to look to say Battlestar Galactica or The Avengers they look fantastic. But in the horror genre until I’m not questioning whether or not something is fake – real SFX will always make a better horror film. Great SFX you never ask was that CGI? You never question its legitimacy. All my favourite horror films are traditionally made.
Have you been a fan of Michelle's work for long? How did you get involved with working with her before this project?
Oh yes! She has produced and contributed her unique original style over so many genres and of course my favorite’s horror and sci-fi (of course). I don’t doubt the standard of quality she will bring to Something Like a Phenomenon. I met her on line through projects she was talking about on Twitter and simultaneously I was tweeting about my own films namely The Timeslip doing the film circuit, The Veil: Unmasked Edition (their first film recut and packaged now streaming) and a sci-fi collaborative project anyone can get involved in Richard is working on called The Last War. We were on friendly terms for a time then many tweets later Phenomenon came up and Michele must have seen something in my proposal article that resonated and she jumped to come on board. I couldn't believe it! So many people high in the industry don’t get in touch – but the fact she saw my screenplay proposal and wanted to get in touch with doing the effects and concept drawings, I was ecstatic. With her support I can see this might be the ‘one’ that breaks through. Always on the outside looking in after so many years in the Indie film rat race trying to prove ourselves with our own films it goes to show with enough effort, experience and building exposure and accolades you too can meet someone as cool as Michele and raise awareness of someone in the industry if your work has well… something.
How far into pre-production are you? The big question being are you actually going to film in Borley Rectory itself if not the grounds?
Slowly wins the race for sure. This has to be done right. Having said that - as quickly as Michele coming on board happened beginning the journey from script to screen, a don’t doubt if there is interest for a really real ghost story the ball will get rolling even quicker soon, so keep watching this space!
I'm interested about the pitch for this project? Did you approach many studios?
In the process of it currently, looking around – we have a balls to the wall approach – no holding back. Whichever studio is with us on this we'll be ready to go. The ‘found footage’ thing is done – it’s amateurish and predictable. We don't want it to be bogged down in a sea of similar looking films that come out every year it seems. We want to bring something new, as said before my aesthetic is guerrilla style, maybe even documentary slightly – but it has classic ghost story written all over it. An air of grandiose even – but only on surface – underneath it’s an indie with a black hearted underbelly.
Phenomenon has already been awarded the position of Semi Finalist for the Shriekfest 2012 awards, an impressive award, does this help when it comes to casting?
I really hope so! Denise Gossett and the team at Shriekfest are wonderful. They are very supportive of independent filmmakers and screenwriters. I was really proud to have become a semi-finalist in such a prestigious festival – and I've seen where former finalists and winners have picked up from afterwards. I already have a ‘wish list’ of casting I would love for the film. Who I have in mind – if I can just get one or two would bring considerable weight to the production. I am well aware today a lot of teens have a short attention span and this would be a traditional horror that will suit the niche (who are crying out for a real, gritty proper horror film from yesteryear) but in the story set around the one year Harry Price has a lease to the most haunted house in England all walks of life take part in the experiment of living in the house within the year and some of the important characters are youngsters who carry out the experiments the house (which I’m sure kids will relate to). Meanwhile, Price and his cohorts - the main adult characters need to have great screen presence that bring different generations of cinema-goers together and has to hold the screen. I know the perfect actors in mind that can bring the perfect balance of lending weight to the film and compliment it but not upstage the film itself. The house and its goings on is probably in all essence the biggest character in the story.
I'm assuming that working with Dennis Wheatley on the film short won’t do you too much harm, how did that come about?
Dennis Wheatley was a novelist of some of the best horror stories of the twentieth century some of which were made into film – spectacularly by Hammer studios. In my studies I found that Wheatley knew Harry Price very well and were friends – it’s one of those stranger than fiction accounts that made me even more fascinated to want to make this into a film. Take two very interesting people; one larger than life Ghosthunter, the other; a weaver of horror stories not too far from what Price was really uncovered in reality. Moreover there’s more people you would have never known were in the same circles – but you will have to wait and see to find out! Playing Wheatley for a moment was fun. I played him on a short trailer spec I put together one evening solely to get some attention at Shriekfest film festival for my screenplay– the actors were great and did a wonderful job I would recommend them for another one else to work with! Also the marvelously quaint Victorian house we used is actually a museum called the Howe-Waffle house, comes highly recommended as well.
Finally, have you any idea at this stage of timescales for production? How can readers follow developments with the films production?
Indeed! Just like Michele coming on board things could just take off - so watch this space! The website will be up very shortly it will be under: http://somethingphenomenon.wix.com/movie meanwhile currently our Facebook page is: http://www.facebook.com/WhoIsHarryPrice
Also mine or Michele’s twitter handles will always keep people current on what’s developing – and of course people talking about it and getting the word out really will help us move into production faster too.