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The supernatural feature Stormhouse is set for its U.S. premiere at the Screamfest LA Film Festival on Saturday, October 22nd, and in honor of the occasion we spoke with the film’s writer Jason Arnopp and director Dan Turner.
Penned by Arnopp and produced by he and Dean Fisher with directorial duties handled by Turner, Stormhouse stars Katie Flynn (daughter of Jane Seymour), Grahame Fox, Patrick Flynn and Grant Masters. The film’s synopsis is as follows: Six months before the invasion of Iraq, the British military caught and imprisoned a supernatural entity at a secret base in the English countryside. This film documents the days that followed, culminating in a battle that transcends their worst nightmares.
Filmed last year, director Turner told us of the Stormhouse production, “The whole turnaround from script to screen was very, very fast. We had the idea in May 2010, and by August 2010 we were shooting. The premise came out of the blue and was, ‘What if the military actually had captured a ghost?’ Ordinarily, horror films work under a ‘Where is it?’, or ‘What is it?’ kind of structure, but we wanted to say, ‘They caught it. It happened, and look how scary it is’. Plus, it’s a frightening notion to wonder what the repercussions might be of capturing a supernatural entity.”
Offered writer and producer Arnopp, “Stormhouse’s gestation was pretty speedy. That was a really thrilling time. The shoot was dictated by the availability of the location, which was a disused military base in Suffolk, England, where we wanted to film.”
“It was immediately evident that we needed it (due to the narrative), and preferably one that was still in good condition,” said Turner regarding the military base. “As soon as we arrived to check it out, it was apparent that we had the perfect location. It was challenging, though, because it was in the middle of nowhere with no phone signals or anything approaching civilization. And of course, that only added to the whole atmosphere!”
Working on elements of the script post-location lock, “As I wrote it, I was receiving photographs and production design artwork of the exact places where we’d be shooting,” related Arnopp, “and I plastered the walls of my office with them, which really helped give me the feel, and establish various logistics, too.”
Filmed over the course of three weeks, Arnopp stated of Stormhouse’s principal photography, “We got everything we needed in that time. I can tell you that the budget was under £100K, but we aspired to make it look and feel like way more, thanks to Dan’s attitude to directing, our brilliant director of photography Richard Swingle and all our tireless crew.”
Like any independent film shot on a tight schedule, Turner related, “Every day was a challenge! The visual effects-heavy days were the most grueling. It takes time and patience to get the right elements that can then be used by the visual effects artists.”
Speaking with the director concerning his approach to the flick (it’s not a ‘found-footage’ film per se, although it is interspersed with surveillance clips), “It’s important to say that we never set out to go down a path stylistically,” said Turner. “The script informed the shooting choices, which is how it should be. It can be a hindrance to go down one path like ‘found-footage’ as it can tie you up creatively. You begin to wonder how someone is filming, why they are filming, etc., and in a military base where they have caught a supernatural entity, we felt the military would not want someone with a camera walking around! Instead, it made sense that the military would want to record everything in the ‘holding area’ where the entity was being held captive so we used CCTV for that because any kind of movement or sound could be captured night or day, with time and date stamps. Technology was also a consideration, as we set Stormhouse in 2002.”
Given the now period setting of the film, we questioned Arnopp if there was any intended geo-political subtext in the wartime narrative. “There’s nothing too heavy in it, in all honesty,” the writer and producer answered. “The post-9/11 setting simply gave us an effective backdrop for the film. 2002 saw the world still shaken by that terrible event and more concerned with security than ever. If the military had caught a supernatural entity back then, their first priority wouldn’t have been to use it to discover all the profound secrets of life and death, as our lead in the film hopes to do.”
Of their lead (actress Katie Flynn) and other Stormhouse cast members, “We really lucked out,” reflected Arnopp. “Perhaps the most random piece of luck was the fact that our LA-based star Katie was on holiday in the UK when the Stormhouse casting calls were put out! Katie extended her stay in order to shoot this movie. We’re very glad she did that, as she put so much into it.”
As in any filmmaking venture, a movie comes to life (or death) during post, and Turner related of that, “It was pretty long due to the intensive visual effects we had in the film. The VFX had to be realistic and not feel like VFX, if that makes sense. So that takes longer. That level of authenticity requires a lot of time and effort, but it’s definitely worth it. Editing the film was quite tricky, too. Horror is all about pace and pulling an audience in and not letting go. The jumps and the scares have to be carefully timed.”
“One of the best things we did in post was to invite a bunch of horror fans, lured from the London Film4 FrightFest’s forums, to watch an early cut of Stormhouse at London’s plush BAFTA venue,” said Arnopp. “Afterwards we gauged reactions and asked questions. More than anything, though, we encouraged the audience to ask questions of us, and some of those frequently asked questions really helped us step the finished film up in terms of storytelling clarity and impact.”
As for the Screamfest debut of Stormhouse, “It’s the perfect place to hold our U.S. premiere for the movie!” concluded Arnopp. “I’ve attended the festival twice before and loved it both times. The festival’s director and founder Rachel Belofsky is a true supporter and connoisseur of the horror genre, and the event’s advisory board seriously reads like a ‘who’s who’ of horror. I really hope people enjoy this ghost story from across the water! U.S. horror fans will also be glad to hear that it was recently rated ‘R’, mainly for violence and gore.”
If you’re planning to hit Screamfest before it wraps up on October 22nd, buy tickets here.
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