Interview: Producer Ant Timpson Talks the Horror Anthology THE FIELD GUIDE TO EVIL

SXSW 2018 featured several dark visions of horror storytelling under one festival umbrella. Feature films like The Ranger, Ghost Stories, Blood Fest, Number 37, and Hereditary, are a few of the genre films offered at the fest. As the idea of genre storytelling continues to evolve with filmmakers, producers, and platforms looking for the balance of originality and marketable troupes that fans hold onto and expect in each project, the anthology The Field Guide to Evil made its impact. For me, I welcome originality and find comfort in those projects that do not base every aspect of their film on cookie cutter horror tropes.

Coming into SXSW, there was an energy around the new A24, Blumhouse, IFC Midnight, and Glass Eye Pix projects. All these features were deserving of praise for their hard work, vision, and passion that had led them to this grand stage. I made my way into another SXSW midnight screening of the latest Timpson Films and Drafthouse Films collaboration. I had read previous to this screening about the originality and variety which was to be the foundation of this film. Produced by Alamo Drafthouse Cinema founder Tim League and the mind behind such projects as Turbo Kid and The Greasy Strangler, as well as genre anthologies like The ABC’s of Death Part 1 and 2, the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar hosted the World Premiere screening of The Field Guide to Evil. I had picked right that evening as this anthology would stick with me.

Featuring eight tales from eight different counties with many different creative minds coming together, including filmmakers such as like Can Evrenol (Housewife), Veronica Franz and Severin Fiala (Goodnight Mommy), Peter Strickland (In Fabric), and Agnieszka Smoczynska (The Lure), to name a handful of the people behind the stories. The Field Guide to Evil was that unique blend of folk horror, myth, lore, and urban legends that we had forgotten or finally discovered from countries like Poland, Greece, Turkey, the United States, and more. Creating segment shorts tied together by a flip of a weather book, the different tales would marry visual aspects of color, light, and locations to audio design that would unleash exotic scores and unnerving sound.

Coming in with a lot of fan support through the public company of Legion M, and a platform like the Alamo Drafthouse, The Field Guide to Evil fell somewhere in the middle as many fans, peers, and journalists were unsure how to approach this or fully embrace what they had just witnessed. A top favorite of mine for my Film Festival Features list for 2018, I loved that clash of styles, unique stories, imaginative characters, unexpected lore, surprising scares, and the creative minds who brought together original genre storytelling from the dark corners of the genre. Built on tales surrounding genre figures of legends like the Djinn, The Melon Heads, goblins, the undead, and more, this anthology has something for everyone.

Having a chance over the last year to connect with Producer Ant Timpson, Timpson has continued to be a trailblazer of innovative genre projects which continue to push the boundaries and find elements of originality in the ocean of the same old. With The Field Guide to Evil hitting VOD last week as well as a limited theatrical run, Timpson took some time from his whirlwind world to speak about the film. We discuss the originality, the importance of timing and a producer, the risk of another anthology, a template to the tales, and the feelings during the SXSW World Premiere screening for Dread Central.

We thank Ant Timpson for taking the time to speak with Dread Central. Make sure to check his feature film debut Come to Daddy at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival and find out more about The Field Guide to Evil, including showtimes, film information, and more at the film’s website.

Dread Central: Thank you, Ant, for taking the time to talk about The Field Guide to Evil. First, go back to SXSW 2018. What was the World Premiere screening for this anthology like?

Ant Timpson: As a producer, you’re always nervous about premieres. So many things going through your mind. At SXSW, I was more concerned about what the other filmmakers thought of the film because they hadn’t seen the whole feature put together. We had a very late start, after 1 am. This is a tough one for a midnight screening slot, which may have translated into a few more drinks being consumed. The film played well though as we were all very proud of what was achieved by all involved.

DC: After such pretty well-received anthologies like the ABC’s of Death Part 1 and 2, you decided for several reasons to stay with producing features until The Field Guide to Evil came along. What made this project something worth giving your time, experience, and faith in with Drafthouse Films’ Tim League? What was this like to collaborate with Tim League again?

AT: Well, I wouldn’t say the ABC series was universally well received. The second one definitely seemed to work better critically, the first commercially. However, the idea of doing a third anthology together was something we discussed during ABC’s of Death Part 2. So, it had been percolating for some time and it took a few things to lock into place for us to move forward. Primarily, it was about working out how to do it as a crowdfunded feature, which was a big part of that. Tim and I are just great friends. The work stuff we do is really just a way for us to keep in touch with our busy lives, however, we prefer just hanging out shooting the shit or holidaying together. If you can do something you love and spend time with a compadre-in-arms doing it, then you’re on the right track I feel. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever had an argument with Tim about anything to do with filmmaking. We have robust discussions, but Tim always realizes I’m usually correct so there’s no drama.

DC: You both are defiantly characters. The Field Guide to Evil is one of the most original projects that I have seen in quite a while. Eight different countries, different directors and producers, eight different crews, eight different takes on urban legends, lore, and myth. Can you talk about the originality of this project overall?

AT: An anthology about folklore just seemed like something we wanted to watch, and I was amazed that there weren’t multiple examples of such films out there available. Now there’s a big batch coming out and we’ll be saturated with them no doubt, but I didn’t think it was highly original because fairytales and the like have been translated into a variety of visual mediums over the decades.

DC: That is interesting how you say the way they have been translated before. Makes a lot of sense since most of the fairytales have been whitewashed here in the States and not the cautionary tales we have seen overseas.

AT: What interested me, was a particular type of filmmaker tackling these from the countries of origin and what happy accidents may occur between the segments. I felt there was potential for it to be something unique in the marketplace. For it to retain a quality and aesthetic, that removed itself from the cheese that usually wafts off many anthologies.

DC: Can you talk about how the talent was selected for each country?

AT: Tim and I just bounced around names that we thought could bring something special to the table with this type of fare. It was also a way for us to perhaps balance the gender inequality issue that plagued the ABC series. We approach directors who we admired and then they introduced us to producers from their territory. Sometimes it was the producer who we began with like Andy Starke, who we had just worked with on The Greasy Strangler but also on the ABC’s of Death Part 2. Directors love working with Andy because they know he won’t fuck their film. So, having someone like that on the team gives reassurance to [the] directors involved.

We had an idea of what countries would be interesting for the project. It was also timing. I approached Agnes after The Lure, which had made a splash at Sundance and she replied immediately! The team behind Goodnight Mommy, I had met in Vienna and we spoke about them doing an amazing ABC’s of Death 3 segment, which led into them being involved. Of course, Tim via Fantastic Fest and Neon had relationships with many of them as well. Peter Strickland, I met at a pub with Andy and Ben Wheatley. I had a pint and pitched him. He said, ‘OK.’

So, it wasn’t too convoluted in the end. I find that filmmakers like to create when you offer them a full creative and a no interference platform. They respond in kind.

DC: This project was crowdfunded successfully. What did that mean to you, Tim, the creators, and the project to have that support from the fans?

AT: It was a great way to get the word out about the film first and foremost, but we got most of the money from some large backers. So, in the end, we wrapped it up pretty quickly with only a few hundred.  Working with Legion M though is very interesting. Their model is much more involved with the fan level and I look forward to seeing how that plays out. They are super enthusiastic about involvement.

DC: One of the criticisms for this project, is that some segments in the collection stand out over others. Many people don’t take into consideration the different countries, filmmaking styles, perspectives on the legends, etc. I feel that each filmmaker has their strengths and weaknesses in each segment. What are your thoughts on the balance of the overall product and creative interruption from each country and filmmaker?

AT: Well, that’s a criticism I think every anthology ever created has been hit with. I wouldn’t expect anything less. Just expand that conceit. Show a group of 10 people, 8 films. You’re bound to get the same data. It’s not symbiotic of anthologies, it’s just a personal preference at its core. I did speak to Mitch Davis (Fantasia) about his issues with the film and I found them very astute and justified. They were mainly focused on maybe it would have been better to do less stories but make them more substantial. Now coming off anthologies that had 26 segments, 8 felt like a breeze to me. I never considered we had too many, but I can understand that criticism.

We all want our coffee made in a particular way, but you know what, sometimes the talented barista making the coffee has their own way. Theirs is no right or wrong way, it just is what it is. I felt the overall balance was very good and strong. If there is a segment that stands out, it’s our U.S. segment because it’s in the contemporary United States, in English. It doesn’t connect with the other foreign segments, but I do love how it becomes this bridge in a way. I think that for some it works extremely well. The filmmakers weren’t in touch. So, we were reliant on the producers to make sure no toes were stood on. We did have an avenue for them to check in on each other’s scripts, but many chose not to do that, so we ended up with some natural crossover for bordering countries. Specifically, Germany and Austria which both featured similar folklore.

DC: How much of a risk is doing another anthology?

AT: Well, now I see that David Fincher is involved, it’s probably a great time to get out of the way (Laughing). LORE is with HBO, which is a folklore show based on the podcast. I feel we were ahead of the curve. I’d love to see LIQUID TV come back to Netflix and having a great curatorial voice behind it. I’ll put my hand up for that one now. I don’t think I’ll do another one unless we do ABC’s of Death Part 3 and only when we have a whole new generation of filmmakers including a few more POC and women.

DC: Can you talk about the requirements you gave each segment and its crew? Was there a template? Did it create challenges?

AT: We gave them a budget, some specs, a running time, some tips of the trade, and full creative freedom. We really pressed the tone of what we were going for, which I think really helped and kept them in the same arena.

There was a template, but we ended up doing work on various ones which fell outside of what we expected. This was fine, but the budget got a little tight because of it. Most were contained and controlled within the country as everyone delivered or in most cases OVER delivered in terms of quality. Schedule wise, we blew out because of various obstacles with some of the terms including flooding in India or people having to make their features.

DC: What lesson or lessons were brought from the ABC’s of Death in producing The Field Guide to Evil?

AT: Nothing apart from the paperwork and ‘E&O’s,’ which are a real bitch when you have translation issues and contracts.

DC: Each segment has some sort of monster at the base of their lore, myth or legend. Were you surprised by this connection in the storytelling?

AT: Not at all. After reading tons of creepy folklore, so many sprung to life from various creature myths. However, many of them are also connected to human sin and they all go back to various forms of guilt and punishment, which was also the basis for the ABC series.

DC: For me, I love the score which each country has created for their segment. Was there anything segment that surprised you with sound or the music?

AT: Well, I really love the opening track by Karl Steven, who is a gifted composer. His theme is so on the money. I feel the musical essence of folklore carries through too many of the segments and surprisingly, many use soundscapes and sound design as well as score to evoke the right quality. I love Yannis’s (Veslemes) Greek segment. He composes as well as is a director, so his score is such a wild mix of ancient and contemporary synth arrangements. Of course, the music in Peter Strickland’s final tale is a knockout as well.

DC: Let me finish it off with this. This genre is subjective, but what makes you want to produce the more bizarre side of the genre?

AT: Just can’t see myself doing a rom-com anthology and have always been drawn to the dark side. I guess I could do a true-crime one with spooky recreations and Phillip Glass type score! Oh, that’d be good.



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