Interview by Chris Olson with director George Louis Bartlett.
How has the journey for Demon been, given the pandemic?
The first lockdown was the perfect excuse to spend unhealthy amounts of time in my windowless editing cupboard finishing the film on my 2011 MacBook. My mental health has deteriorated rapidly, partially due to render times in excess of 48 hours, and I’ve developed an allergy to the sun. Some people gave up drinking, others learned how to cook, but I finished my movie, so who’s laughing now?
For those who don't know, how would you describe the story?
A heartwarming adventure about a Brummie on the run from a bailiff who becomes trapped in a tightening net of vague innuendo and petrol station catering until a pair of newly-wed tourists and their unborn child kindly offer him a no-strings-attached lift to the airport, from where he flies to Japan to start the life he always dreamed of.
Why did you want to tell this story?
I used to live in Germany and they take train fines pretty seriously over there on the continent. I unknowingly forgot to pay one and was sent to court, where I narrowly avoided spending the night in jail. As a result, I became traumatically terrified of faceless authority, so swiftly moved back to England where I can safely say I feel protected by London’s world-famous and omnipresent closed-circuit television infrastructure.
Separately, Theo Macdonald (co-writer, producer) and I were desperate to make something that would validate us as real filmmakers. I’m bad at writing short films, so we wrote a long one. We thought the noirish b-movie genre would be the most appropriate context for telling a story about being a young person in today’s Britain.
You have an impressive cast. What were your favourite moments working with them?
Thank you. We were beyond lucky and privileged to be in a position to work with such committed and talented performers. We wrote the role of Mr Kinny (the bailiff) for David Schaal but didn’t actually expect him to say yes—which he kindly did, thankfully for us. He was game for anything, and never did more than two takes. We also spent the whole final shooting day in the woods with Gary Beadle, who was cast at the last minute and came full of considered and intelligent ideas.
He was exploding with life and energy, which meant I didn’t have to do any work (a director's favourite thing to do).
The fresher-faced talent such as Ryan Walker-Edwards, Jacob Hawley and Rachel Jackson were a joy to work with, and impressively professional. Ryan and I have known each other since school and have worked on smaller projects before this, so had an unspoken trust with each other that was a massive advantage for production—which was the longest either of us had been on. The latter two performers are both also stand-up comics, and therefore brought a playful, sporadic energy to set, which could sometimes be slow and dry for most people.
I was also lucky enough to work with Harry Baker, who plays the motel secretary/manager. I’m most proud of my work on those scenes with him. He brought the costume from home and together we developed this idea that his character was perpetually hungover and had a nasty habit of eavesdropping; I thought he played it exceptionally.
The film will be premiering virtually at the Cinequest. How do you feel about that?
I originally envisioned DEMON as a 4D VR experience, a hope that was ultimately defeated by several panicked majority investors. However, I’m extremely proud for the film to premiere at a festival such as Cinequest, which values the emerging art form of virtual reality.
The online aspect can only help us reach a broader audience that can’t afford to travel to California in August to watch it at the pictures. The theatrical cinema experience is quickly becoming a relic of the past, and I’m excited that our film can be part of the evolution towards new forms of movie exhibition. Some people are concerned that online film festivals negate the communal spirit of going to the movies, but I’ve always preferred going alone, preferably in the middle of the day when it’s empty—therefore the film’s cyberspace premiere gets a thumbs up from me.
What advice would you give to new filmmakers?
I’m not sure I can offer sound advice at this stage, so I’ll humbly defer to Lynch with: “Never turn down a good idea and never take a bad idea.”
What's next for you (after Demon)?
I’m making a kitchen sink horror film called Bangham Pit. It’s set in the suburbs of Hollywood, Birmingham, and follows a widowed pensioner who is driven to violence after a sinkhole beneath her floorboards begins leaving threatening messages on her answering machine. I’m hopeful Alison Steadman will accept the lead. Failing that, my nan has read the script and is currently on standby for the role.
Demon will be screening at Cinequest between 20th-30th March with a UK release date later in the year