01st Jan2018

Horror-On-Sea 2018 Interview: Mike McMurran talks ‘Secret Santa’

by Philip Rogers

Secret Santa is a new horror comedy from writer and director Mike McMurran, which has been selected to play at the Horror-on-Sea Film Festival on Sunday 28th January. I got chance to ask Mike a few questions about why he chose to write a Christmas horror, his favorite scene and getting the film made on a small budget.

secret-santa-dvd

What can we expect from Secret Santa?

You can expect to have a fun ride! We really wanted to capture the nostalgia of the late 70’s and early 80’s slasher films but also put our own personal touch on the film. You can expect some great kills thanks to our SFX artist Carlos Henriques from The Butcher Shop. The movie is funny as well. There’s a big comedic aspect to the film that I think viewers will enjoy and find refreshing. When writing the script, I really tried to make the characters more than one-dimensional and there is some great character development in the movie. There are some really cool twists, too. If I have to describe Secret Santa in one sentence, I would say that it is a nostalgic, bloody, funny B-Movie.

Why did you decide to write and direct a Christmas style slasher for your first feature film?

I have worked many Christmas seasons in retail and one particular year I was not in the jolly spirit. I had a lot of frustration from dealing with customers and I had to endure an endless loop of the same 10 Christmas songs over and over again. It would challenge anyone’s sanity! A burst of inspiration came out of that frustration when I was having a surprise gift exchange with my family and came up with the morbid idea of doing a horror movie about a Secret Santa party. I am a die-hard fan of retro slasher films and thought that this idea could bring something new to the table.

Secret Santa has the look and feel of an old-school slasher, what were your influences for the look and style of the film?

We really wanted to capture that 70’s horror look that you see in movies like Black Christmas (1974) and When a Stranger Calls (1979). My cinematographer lit most of the scenes with practical lighting. We used lots of high wattage bulbs in lamps and had subtle backlighting with Christmas lights. In post, I added a super 16mm grading filter and added in all the scratches, dust, and other grindhouse goodies by hand. Andre Becker composed the score for the film and did an amazing job of capturing that 80’s sound.

Did you experience any issues whilst shooting the film?

Many… Our budget was super low, and we only had six grand to make Secret Santa. We put all of the funds we had on the screen to make it look like it was made for much more. Time was our biggest issue because we were shooting in my A.D.’s house and could only shoot on weekends. We would start Friday night and shoot all the way through until Sunday evening. The fatigue got to all of us, but we powered through. We shot Secret Santa in 15 days on one camera so there wasn’t too many takes of each scene. The actors killed every scene in only a couple takes, which was amazing to watch.

Were there any elements in the finished film which were different your original script?

Yes! There was a big one! The killer was different in the original script. I can’t give away any spoilers but I’m glad we made the change because it really shocks the viewers when we do the big reveal.

What was your favorite scene in the movie?

I have so many! It’s hard to choose just one! I don’t want to give anything away, but my favorite overall has to be the dildo toss in the climax. At every festival Secret Santa has been shown, people erupt into laughter when they watch that scene. It still makes me giggle even though I’ve seen it hundreds of times.

Are there any plans for a Secret Santa sequel?

I would absolutely love to do a Secret Santa 2 and I know exactly where I would take the story. It all comes down to funding, which I am in the process of trying to acquire. I would love to do a double bill DVD combo pack with both Secret Santa and Secret Santa 2. If you know any film financiers, please send them my way!

Do you have any other projects which you are working on at the moment?

I am currently working on my second feature film. We are a third done and am hoping to finish by the summer. It’s a Horror/Comedy anthology called The Final Ride. It’s three stories, one about a Tattoo gone wrong, another about a couple being haunted by the spirit of an 80’s fitness guru, and the wraparound segment is about an Uber Driver that drives the characters in the other stories. It’s a lot of fun and has a similar tone to Secret Santa. You’ll see a lot of familiar faces in The Final Ride.

What advice would you give to someone looking to direct their first film?

Just make it! Use what resources you have and scrounge up as much money as you can and shoot it. The technology is now affordable to make a film on a low budget. We crowdfunded Secret Santa and had a goal of $30,000 but only made $6,000. We had two options. We could wait and try again for more funding or make it for six grand. I didn’t want to wait so we put all the money on the screen to make it look good and we poured our heart and soul into the film. A lot of people worked for free or for a very, very small payment because they believed in the project. The one thing that is a must if you are making a low budget film and want to make an impact with it is to have a great story with great characters. There are tons of micro budget films out there that focus too much on cool shots and cinematography but don’t take the time to make great characters and good dialogue. A good story is always the number one priority when making a film.

Secret Santa will be playing at the Horror-on-Sea Festival on Sunday 28th January at 10pm.
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For more information on the event and to purchase tickets for the Horror-on-Sea please see the website for details:  https://www.horror-on-sea.com

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