British Horror Festival winning feature film Entity (2012) : HMZ Film interviews director Steve Stone and star Branko Tomovic
Following the screening of Best Feature film, Entity, at British Horror Film Festival in London’s Leicester Square.
I caught up with director Steve Stone to talk about Entity, his motivation behind making the film and exciting plans for the future:
HMZ Film: I enjoyed the film, I thought it was harked back to classic horror elements seen in the likes of The Haunting. What gave you the inspiration to make Entity? How did you become aware of the Russian story?
Steve: It was a collision of things, there was no method or system to it. I found these locations and really wanted to make a film, it was a case of trying to find a story to fit those locations. I’m not a conspiracy theorist but the whole area fascinates me, I stumbled across this Russian soldier’s programme which undoubtedly did exist with the CIA and the KGB. Now I’m thinking it really did exist, it was a huge story within that which motivated a character within the film. So the whole thing just came together in an organic way. Those locations spoke to me, when you walked into those places, there was a feeling of torture and incarceration. It reminded me of the concentration camps, it was those echoes which suggested a human tragedy occurred there. The psychic soldier area is fascinating so it came together.
HMZ Film: I noticed that you’ve not done a feature film before?
Steve: This is my debut feature film, I have done a load of shorts and spent much of the last 15 years working as a digital artist. I always wanted to go back to film, my wife and I started a family so that delayed things. It was finally time to get show on the road.
HMZ Film: So were your shorts always horror centric or have you explored other themes?
Steve: They have always been surreal. My first picture was a stop motion puppet animation, then they started to become bizarre and unscripted. They have been very influenced by the animation of Terry Gilliam. Then quite by chance when I was studying in Nottingham, I became very close friends with an actor called Vivian Mccerell who is the real withnail from withnail and I film. We made 3 shorts together: one was about a political prisoner in incarceration and his fantasies of what he wanted to take out of this world. We got in trouble with the police when he was walking around Nottingham with an M16! It was surreal but not out and out horror.
HMZ Film: What made you decide that it was the right time for horror now?
Steve: I saw a number of horror films which really inspired me over the last 10 years. One of my main motivations is that I like to write about women. I lost my dad quite young so was raised by women. I feel better suited to write about women, it’s hard to give lead roles unfortunately still in this day and age to a female. A female led project is harder to sell; horror is the genre which doesn’t have that prejudice. Extremist, my next feature due to shoot next year is driven by women
HMZ Film: What kind of horror films inspired you?
Steve: I loved Paranormal Activity. It did very well at the box office but was a marmite film, you either love it or hate it. It made people wait, I’m sick of films which deliver in the first 5 minutes, it’s like where are you going to go now? It’s like this immediate spike that has to be there, we tried to do that in the first act of Entity. We tried to be brave and said you are going to have to wait. Some people hate that and get bored but others really respond to it. I mean look at the seminal films like Don’t Look Now, The Exorcist and The Shining. I loved Rec, the end of Rec spun my head out. The last 10 minutes, I love moments like that. People think Entity is very close to Grave encounters but I can’t comment because I haven’t seen that, even the Chernobyl diaries like you mentioned earlier
HMZ Film: In terms of the script writing process, I know you wanted to make slow burning horror film, was this a challenge?
Steve: I made the biggest mistake in the world and started writing a script. You shouldn’t do that, you should start with a treatment and work from that. In my next film (The Extremist), we worked a treatment for 18 months. A 3 and a half page synopsis, we didn’t move 1 inch from synopsis to the script until we were ready. It took me an entire year to write the script for Entity, every time you change something you need to re-write the whole thing. The script for Extremist only took 4 and half weeks to write because we got the treatment right and it was just bang!
HMZ Film: For the treatment, do you think of themes and particular scenes?
Steve: Because of my visual background, I use to begin with images. Extremist, without giving too much away, came out of an experience of bereavement in the past 2 years. It was about going through that process of watching someone lose their life; there is a horror film in there somewhere about a person’s world becoming smaller and smaller. The Angel of the North started with a single image, where does this image lead you and how does it develop. Difficult to sum up but sometimes you get a moment of inspiration which tells you how plots will turn. Characters will turn on you but it’s always been about story. I think it’s about getting a great script and cast, the rest is easy if you get that right
HMZ Film: So the script is the most important aspect in the film-making process for you?
Steve: Definitely, it’s all about the script. There isn’t anything else to consider about a feature, short etc. Hitchcock said the 3 most important things about film-making are script, script and script. Were now looking to attract the best actors by the best script you can. The rest is logistics. You have to be creative and respond to materials but story and casting is critical.
HMZ Film: I think the ending of Entity is bold and might divide audiences. Did you give it a lot of thought and consideration to make it impactful?
Steve: A problem I have with a lot of American cinema, a lot of it tries to take responsibility for me as an audience member no matter how much you’ve messed with my head during the film, in the last 10 minutes you will be sure to remind us that everything is ok, we tied it up all for you and you can walk outside and go back to the beautiful world. Bollocks to that! I know that this world we live in isn’t a super beautiful place in every aspect. I’m very happy to leave with questions, unresolved issues with plot, is a character good or bad? Did they survive this, if physically, did they survive it mentally? I’ve explored this in my other films, my problem is I don’t want to make other types of cinema. Steven Spielberg used to send Kubrick all his films, he sent copy of Schindler’s list. I think in places it is a remarkable film, Kubrick turned round and said you’ve made a film about victory but the holocaust is about failure. How do you resolve those two things? That spoke to me because our films can leave the audience with some thinking to do for themselves. You go out and resolve this, what did it mean to you if I don’t tie it up? I think we tied it up well in Entity but an area which interests me. My third film, Angel of the North, we are thinking of making a completely ambiguous ending. Your intelligent people, you tell us how it should end.
HMZ Film: So it’s all about giving the genre audience some credibility?
Steve: Definitely. There is no more savvy crowd than a genre audience. They know their genre inside out, there are bloggers and writers out there who know the genre better than I do. Who am I to tie it up for them? I want to leave an opportunity for them. There is nothing scarier than our own imagination and I want to relay that to the audience. What do you imagine is around the corner? That might be scarier than anything I can do
HMZ Film: How did you find promoting the film? Were festivals a good avenue to get the film out there?
Steve: Would love to be trendy and say we used Facebook and grew virally. We called four UK distributors, two of them asked us for meetings. Two of them made an offer on the film. I would love to go with all the new trends of social media but getting our distribution deal helped to grow out. Of course we did festivals (a great help) and you can certainly grow a film through festivals. Festivals are the lifeblood for independent filmmaking but we were fortunate to get a deal for Entity quite early on.
HMZ Film: By all accounts, Entity has performed quite well?
Steve: I’m amazed, the sales figures of DVDS as the majority of the business on the film. So what happened to this digital age? To VOD and on-demand? People are going out to buy DVDs, that just staggers me. The digital revolution isn’t necessarily playing out the way we thought especially with horror films, horror fans want the artwork and the box. I was staggered by the proportion of Entity sales figure through physical copy
Thanks for a great interview Steve, HMZ Film wishes you every success with the future. You will always have a friend and supporter here and we look forward to what is sure to be an illustrious career
After I caught up with Steve, I had the pleasure of interviewing the supremely talented star of Entity, Branko Tomovic. Branko’s heartfelt performance was the clear standout in the film, an emotional role played with flair and sincerity.
HMZ Film: How did you become aware of Entity and how did you become involved?
Branko: I wanted to do a good horror film for a long while, I’m a huge genre fan and have been looking for a good script. I worked with a producer Rob Speranza on a short film years ago for the UK film council where I played a tormented, twisted character. Steve at the same time saw me in Whitechapel where I played this creepy morgue man and he thought I’d be perfect. The first script I received I was 50 year old English professor of paranormal study, he re-wrote the part with me in mind and here we are now.
HMZ Film: So being a genre fan, what kind of horror films motivated you to become involved in the genre?
Branko: I love the subtle ones, early horror such as Polanski. I enjoy ghost stories, some of my favourite films are the likes of the Poltergeist, The Others and The Orphanage. I’m into more of the supernatural and the psychological rather than gore
HMZ Film: Tell us about your experience promoting Entity? I see you have had success in the festival circuit?
Branko: We’ve played at many of the festivals in London and at the London independent film this year, we won best horror and best feature film. It’s done really well across the festival circuit. We achieved distribution in the USA through Fangoria and Metrodome in the UK
HMZ Film: Do you see yourself doing horror in future?
Branko: I would love to. You have to be careful and make sure you make a genuinely good horror film. The whole genre has changed so much, it can be made cheap and easily on a small budget. One has to be careful to be more selective.
HMZ Film: What are your future plans? What are you currently working on?
Branko: I’m set to play Nikola Tesla, the iconic Serbian/American inventor who worked for Edison in the past century. We are trying to shoot early next year, it’s an American/German/Serbian co production, I hope it’ll be great. It plots the story of his life and battles with Edison and JP Morgan, it covers the great inventions and he’s a really eccentric character. I’m really looking forward to it. The difference is that he really existed, i’ve read everything that I can get my hands on. I’ve also done another horror short film called ‘The case of Mary Ford’. It’s a British film set in Greece in the early 19th century, it is about the legend of a sea vampire. A seaman who got lost at sea who eventually comes back as a vampire. It’s just premiered now at aesthetica film festival in November. It’s doing the rounds right now
Branko is a hugely talented actor and HMZ Film will certainly follow his career closely. Thanks for taking the time out to speak with us and good luck for an incredibly exciting film on Nikola Tesla!
For those in UK intrigued by Entity: You can buy the film here
Thanks for reading and the continued support!