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Exclusive Interview: Emma Dark Talks GORYŌ

David Gelmini talks to Emma Dark about her latest short film, GORYŌ!

Filmmaker Emma Dark has clearly been keeping herself over the last several months. Her latest short film, Goryō, was filmed and edited last year at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and was included as a segment in the lockdown-themed anthology The Isolation Horrors, which you can watch on YouTube. However, Goryō will soon be screened individually at the Horror-on-Sea Film Festival later this year in a socially-distanced environment, so fans of Dark’s work will finally have a chance to watch it on the big screen.

Goryō is a Japanese-themed ghost story filled with shocking and intense moments throughout its short runtime. Inspired by her recent visit to Japan, Dark stars in the film as a woman haunted by a malevolent presence, and the ending will certainly come as a shock to most viewers. We interviewed Dark about Goryō and some of her other recent endeavours, and she also discussed her views on the importance of the horror genre. You can read the interview in full below, and be sure to also check out her previous award-winning shorts Seize the Night and Salient Minus Ten, which can both be viewed on YouTube.

Dread Central: Can you talk about how the idea for Goryō came about? I understand it was inspired by your trip to Japan.

Emma Dark: I spent approximately a month in Japan, late 2019 to early 2020, and during that time visited a number of film locations, including those featured in director Takashi Shimizu’s original “Ju-on” films, and his American version of “The Grudge”. I spent time watching various horror films and other movies set in Japan prior to visiting each location. It became a fully immersive experience, and I wanted to capture something of that in my next film project. At the start of the first UK lockdown in 2020 I was contacted by fellow filmmaker Nicolai Kornum, who was putting together a short anthology film called “The Isolation Horrors” based on the pandemic. Initially, I wrote “Goryō” as a stand-alone segment for that compilation.

DC: Can you describe the filming and filming and editing process?

ED: I filmed “Goryō” on an iPhone XS, which at the time I bought it in 2019 had a fairly highly regarded camera for a mobile phone. I want to stress that you could do something similar with a cheaper Android phone for example, so for anyone who’s interested in shooting on mobile it’s worth exploring your options. I used a cheap as chips tripod with a mobile phone holder, which I picked up on Amazon for approximately £8. I would recommend investing in something more robust, but this was fine for the job at hand. 

I set the film in my office/studio, so I could ‘cheat’ and have professional lighting and kit looking like part of the scene if necessary. I didn’t have a professional lens kit, and I had no way of remotely viewing the screen, so it was 100% down to basics. I set up shots at a slightly wider angle than required at 4K resolution to enable me to add some faux camera movement in post production. I had to play both on screen characters, as well as film myself due to the lockdown, so I shot and reviewed a small clip first for each set-up to make sure I was in positioned correctly in frame. 

Everything you see on my laptop screen in the film – the news site, chat window, cursor etc. was all created by me graphically, and animated in post. This contributed to a significant amount of the production time. I shot everything in an afternoon, and edited and graded the film myself using Premiere Pro and FilmConvert. I created the sound in post with various sound effects, and the score was composed by M W Daniels, who also shot and directed a separate segment for the anthology. I had voice actor Alfred Clarkson on board for the role of the Newsreader and Izanami’s father, the dialogue for the latter was kindly translated into Japanese by native speakers Ayako Takahashi and Toyoko Tanaka.

DC: Goryō will be playing at this year’s Horror-on-Sea Film Festival in a socially distanced setting. Are you looking forward to this?

ED: I am indeed! The organisers have clearly put a lot of time and effort into the festival year upon year and attracted a strong and passionate audience, so I’m definitely looking forward to it. This will actually be the first time “Goryō” has been publicly screened to a live audience due to the pandemic, so it will be interesting to see how it’s received.

DC: Since you’re also a talented graphic designer, you created a VHS-style cover the Horror-on-Sea Film Festival’s video club, and I think it looks great. Was this a challenge to design? 

ED: Thank you very much, it’s skill that’s very useful to have when it comes to tasks like this! Laying out the design was easy enough, achieving the right level of ageing was a little more tricky. For an authentic look I asked Horror-on-Sea’s video club co-ordinator Singh Lall to scan in an original worn VHS cover from his own film collection (thank you again for that!). I then isolated some of the crease damage and applied that to my cover. I do of course have several VHS of my own, but I didn’t have anything worn enough to do the job. Another tip for anyone wanting to do the same is to rough up some suitable paper or card and scan that in, no need to buy expensive templates online.

DC: You now write a monthly column in We Belong Dead magazine where you talk about your views on the horror genre. What do you think makes the genre so endearing?

ED: I’m throughly enjoying writing my new column “Emma Dark’s DARK CORNER” in We Belong Dead magazine. The column covers my personal creative projects, the film scene, and any recommendations I may have for films, books etc. I also take answer a small amount of questions from readers in each issue. I think it’s nice to be able to interact with fellow film fans and talk about some of the aspects of film and genre that people are interested in hearing about from me. Although the magazine has a focus on classic horror it covers a range of horror and sci-fi. Horror fans, in my experience, are very sociable and community driven, and always interested in listening to other people’s perspectives on their favourite films and areas of interest.

DC: Are you working on anything else horror-related which you can talk about?

ED: We’re still in the midst of a serious pandemic at the time of writing, so there are limitations as to what I can successfully do right now. With the heavy pressures that already weigh down on independent filmmakers plus the additional health risk to cast, crew and potential for more extensive issues with production I’ll only be moving forwards with projects until the time is right. However, I’m currently writing the script for my next film, and have started to assemble a few key props for pitch purposes, so stay tuned for more news!