23rd Jan2018

Horror-On Sea 2018 Interview: Mark Goodall and Julian Butler talk ‘Holy Terrors’

by Philip Rogers

Holy Terrors is an adaption of six Arthur Machen tales which has been brought to the screen by from co-directors Mark Goodall and Julian Butler; and was selected to play at the Horror-on-Sea Film Festival on Saturday 20th January. I got chance to ask them a few questions about why they chose to adapt the stories of Arthur Machen, collaborating together on the film and their favorite adaption.


What can we expect from the film Holy Terrors?

Mark – A strange and eerie cinematic experience that is atmospheric, hypnotising and perplexing.

Julian – A feature film bringing together six weird tales by Arthur Machen, the apostle of wonder.

Why did you feel it was important to adapt the selected stories of Arthur Machen together in a film?

Mark – It was a challenge as there are very few audio-visual adaptations of Arthur Machen out there. Julian Butler and I felt that the stories would work well visually, although not always the most obvious ones. The ‘portmanteau’ form was partly dictated by budget constraints. The idea of film one long story (such as ‘The Great God Pan’) didn’t appeal to us. We also wanted to make a totally original film, a mix of textures- not a copy of something else.

Julian – We never felt it was important. It was more of an accident. We happened to have a free day, a free actor, a free camera operator and a free story (The Happy Children by Arthur Machen). We made the 15-minute film in a day and edited it in an evening. To our surprise the result worked really well. We then decided to make a feature film using The Happy Children and five more Machen stories.

What were your inspirations for the look and style of the film and why did you choose to shoot it this way?

Mark – Our influences were things like the BBC TV Christmas Ghost Stories; early impressionist and silent cinema (Jean Epstein, F.W. Murnau, Carl Theodor Dreyer etc.); the films of Andrei Tarkovsky

The shooting was constrained by budget and the fact that we chose not to record sync sound, although that was also freeing as it helped us develop a more spontaneous approach to capturing the images (the DP is a news cameraman and works fast and gets good coverage of a location). The film was shot at 50fps to lend it a dream-like atmosphere. The slow pace gives the viewer time to take in the narration. Black and White makes the location appear more weird and ancient.

Julian – The style of the film wasn’t a choice – we had no other options. Our £0 budget meant we had to film each story in just a day. The cameraman we used (Justin Robertson) works for CNN so he was fast. There was no screenplay; the actors were just sent the story to read and then we improvised on the day. No sound was recorded on set which helped save time too. We then added a reading of the whole story over the images. We knew after making The Happy Children that these restrictions would work in our favour giving the film a uniquely eerie feel.

Did you change any elements of the original stories?

Mark – No. The order of things in White Powder may have been altered slightly but we kept the core of the original texts. This means that some viewers find the stories confusing (in contrast with a conventional film) as we kept Arthur Machen’s obscure references (the occult; Christian rituals) and ambiguous endings (see especially The Cosy Room)

Julian – Cut a few paragraphs from end of The White Powder – they were too long and too baffling. Small change to The Ritual – the original story was printed in a newspaper and therefore Machen took for granted the reader knew he was ‘prowling’ the streets because he is a journalist. This didn’t work in a film though so I think we added the words ‘..for a journalist such as I..’ at the start to help. Apart from that, changed nothing else.

What was your favourite story to adapt for the film?

Mark – The Happy Children as it is set in Whitby where I live and has, I feel, the best writing.

Julian – The Happy Children. A happy accident. Nice fish and chips at the end of the day.

Where there any other stories that you wanted to adapt and are you looking to adapt any more stories in the future?

Mark – Yes, I think the approach we took to Holy Terrors could be applied to other short stories, not just supernatural works but other experimental texts. We plan to adapt Henry David Thoreau’s Walden for example.

Julian – Machen stories: The Great God Pan, The White People. Other writers: The Willows by Algernon Blackwood, the poems of Li Po.

By co-directing the film together, you can work to each other’s strengths. What do you think the other person brings to the film?

Mark – Julian is great at production and direction. He is also a great editor. Justin (DP) is also very talented and gets beautiful images. It’s a good team, as left to our own devices we would probably either go too ‘arty’ or too ‘trashy’.

Julian – Mark comes from an academic background and I have worked in TV/film production. So, we come from 2 different angles which seems to work too. Maybe it’s because we trust each other in their particular field. Mark was the one who brought Arthur Machen to the film though, which helped.

What was one of your favourite scenes in the film?

Mark – The opening scenes of the murder at the viaduct work well. I like the scene where the landscape is prominent, or the human face becomes like a landscape.

Julian – The reading of the letter in The White Powder – Perfect mix of image, music, text, voice over and satanic ritual.

Do you have any new projects which you are working on?

Mark – We are planning some adaptations of great Chinese ghost stories.

Julian – The Willows by Algernon Blackwood, The poems of Li Po, The Beckoning Fair One by Oliver Onions etc. ad infinitum. I am currently editing We plan to shoot something this year hopefully.

If someone is looking to direct their first film, what advice would you give them?

Mark – Focus on making a film within the resources you have, not wasting time on raising funds and getting backing from professional bodies. The resources are there now to make a film for very little money (as we did with Holy Terrors). To quote another influence, Maya Deren:

“Cameras do not make films; film-makers make films. Improve your films not by adding more equipment and personnel but by using what you have to the fullest capacity. The more important part of your equipment is yourself: your mobile body, your imaginative mind and your freedom to use both”.

Julian – Most of the filmmaking process is very dull so make things as fast and cheaply as you can. Then learn from your mistakes and move onto the next one. And always finish with fish and chips.

Holy Terrors screened at the Horror-on-Sea Festival on Saturday 20th January at 10am.

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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