In the Shadows: Q&A with director Gav Chuckie Steel

Gav Chuckie Steel checks back in with Horror Hothouse’s Emma Knock to discuss The Shadow of Death and what Deadbolt films are working on next.

I first heard the name Gav Chuckie Steel when his film company Deadbolt Films emailed me with a screener of his ‘horredy’ The Shadow Of Death last June. An English slasher comedy, the plot follows four friends who have ventured out in to the woods to pick up some weed when they are hunted down by the killer from a local legend. Full review here.  Now he’s back again having just finished writing a zombie screenplay and with the promise of a new movie about two security gaurds who run into a spot of trouble one night at work.

Hi Gav! Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for us. Firstly can you give us a little background on how the idea for The Shadow of Death came about?

Hi Emma, no worries, thanks for asking me! Well it came from a couple of reasons really, I [have] always wanted to make a film and, being a fan of horror since I was a child, I knew [that] one day I would.

The day came that I finally thought I could do it was watching Planet Terror and this got me thinking I could use a shitty camera and put some grain over it to make it look this sort of style, I knew it would not look as good as the Grindhouse double bill but I knew this was a cheap way of doing it. Just as I was watching it a friend messaged me to tell me his sister had an old camcorder to get rid of, so I snapped it up, wrote a 6 page treatment for Shadow and tried filming a couple of scenes to see if this idea with the grain would work and it did.

I gained some interest and a small crew and then we changed to working in HD and going about doing it at a more professional scale. The second reason was it was a way for me to showcase my music; I had been trying land jobs scoring and writing for horror films and had done a few things but not a full film. So this film does in fact showcase my music-writing side. But since making Shadow I have got really into all aspects of film making, from editing to directing.

Shadow has a nice mixture of gore and comedy – How come you decided to make the film a ‘horredy’ and not a straight forward slasher?

I have always digged horror comedies. I was slightly worried [as I was] making my first film; what if the audience did not get it? At least humor could save me. I thought it would be a good way to keep the set light-hearted, as I am asking people to give up weekends to do this and mainly for free, humor again may save me! The policeman character Craven, was originally a straight-forward policeman but my wife thought we couldn’t pull it off and I got together with Dan Bone (now my co writer) and we flushed out the character and added humor.

Talking of gore – the special effects are superb, how did you manage to achieve such effects when the film had (apparently) such a tiny budget?

My FX artist (Mark Kelly) is a friend who is a very talented artist, creator and (when I first started shooting the early scenes) a butcher. So, trying to fill gaps for crew members, it seemed to make sense as he could bring back pigs eyes and be creative with them! When it came to the proper shot Mark happened to be working for FX companies on World War Z at the time creating zombies. [He] had hands on experience and [was] able to speak to colleagues about the best way to make things and, at times, there would be spare bits he could use, We would get together and come up with death scenes and he would just go back and work on them. He is very talented and I think the fact it’s all practical brings out the whole 70/80s horror vibe. I don’t think I will ever use CGI, I like it old school. But yes, we had a very small budget, larger than IMDB states but most money did go on FX.

All good slashers must have a great killer, what was the inspiration behind yours?

I needed a killer whose costume would be subtle and not flamboyant. The whole black robe was just a good way of keeping him in the shadows and obviously helped with the name. Also the films title has the slight religious aspect, which kind of helped out in the writing and what happens through the film, I don’t know really where it came from but it worked well for keeping it ‘less is more’, which was a rule throughout every aspect of the film. There are parts in the film that the killer is in the background, but you cannot see him because of the costume.

Did you do anything special to get your cast into character?

Each cast member would have a list of three or four films to watch, which I felt would help them understand their particular character. Films that I remember passing over to them were things like Switchblade Romance, Halloween, Planet Terror, Friday the 13th  and other old gems and a few Italian flicks.

Shadow puts me in mind of some of the 70s/80s slashers that I love, was that your intention?

Yes definitely, I grew up with those films and I feel Shadow is a love letter to those. I took all the usual traits from those films, making almost the classic 80s slasher that I wanted to see on the screen. I’m very happy with the results and feel we achieved this look. Through all aspects the old 70/80s films were a huge inspiration – costumes, story etc.

I was particularly taken with the score, were there any composers that influenced you?

John Carpenter is a huge influence on my score writing. I tried to convey this in some parts, which if you listen again now knowing that, you will definitely hear that influence. Then there was Ennio Morricone and Goblin who helped fuel my composing and how I went about writing.

How has The Shadow of Death been received by fans and critics since you started screening it?

I have had only one reviewer contact me and tell me he would not review because it was so bad, ha ha! That’s fine by me, the reasons for not liking were very small things, but everyone else has really been digging it and can see where I am coming from. I was hugged at Fright Fest by one critic when he met me, which was cool. I’m happy that people like it and some fans have been really cool in helping out with promotion and spreading the word! I love the horror community; having been a fan since I was a kid and knowing this community exsists whilst being a part of it myself, is just the greatest! I don’t think there would ever be another genre that is like the horror one! Maybe one day there will be a romance community with festivals world wide, but I bet it would suck 😉

What will be Deadbolt films next project?

Well I feel I jumped before I could walk and, without making shorts or music videos, I delved into a feature and have decided to step back and make a short. Don’t get me wrong though, we (Dan Bone and I) have two features written and an idea for another one, but the next project we will be making is a short Giallo homage. No humor, just straight up suspense! I need to get into the director’s chair rather then wearing so many caps; I love filming, but sometimes I would worry more about if something was in focus rather than if the lines were said properly etc…so I need to do this short with a crew and use it as a test to see how we should be adopting certain techniques and approaches to the next feature, which is called In Security, This is about two guards working on the graveyard shift on Halloween and what happens to them, it will be a side step from Shadow as there is hardly any swearing and one kill scene with not much gore… it’s a kind of Clerks meets The Shining meets The Innkeepers; that’s the best way to describe it. It’s again a comedy and I think it will become quite a cult like film in the vein of Assault on Prescient 13. So these are the two projects I would like to get developed this year.

I’ve heard you’ve just finished working on a screenplay for a zombie comedy film with Dan Bone (Craven in Shadow) – tell us how that came about?

Yes, Dan and I as soon as Shadow was in post-production started working on a zombie film. It’s kind of  if The Goonies met zombies type thing; a group of kids on a council estate get infected so another group of  kids band together to try and stop the invasion. It’s a real fun flick and I cannot wait to make it, but it’s a big project and will cost a considerable more than Shadow took to make!

Anything else that you’re working on that we should be getting excited about?

We have had the idea of a side stepped sequel to Shadow that focuses more on Craven’s (the policeman) character. It will be very grindhouse and probably filmed exactly the same as Shadow…one takes, all on location and very gory! It’s called Craven vs. The Devil Worshipping Doggers! It will be pretty fun. I do want to step away from Comedy horror and, at some point when we perfect our style, make something really different but for now keep an eye out for IN SECURITY it will be very fun and quite a tension and suspense mystery flick!

How did your love affair with horror begin?

As a child my parents let me watch anything I wanted to. I think it was a lot different in the 80s than [it is] now, admittedly we did not have the power of the new, but the whole VHS at home boom took off and we could pretty much get any thing – British TV was filled with Hammer Horror on a Friday night and a Tuesday evening Vincent Price films were on. I don’t know how it happened, but I had a huge love of Horror which has kept with me since I was about five or six. I thought I was maybe a bit weird (ha) but I was and still am very attracted to the dark side and the art form that comes from it.

What influenced you to get into the film business?

As a child I wanted to be an FX artist and just the passion to make something involved in films has stayed with me. I was writing music for years then showcased some of my stuff at a conference to some industry people and they straight away told me to go the route of writing of films, which was very obvious looking back now but at the time it wasn’t. So then trying to find film work, I managed to get a few jobs writing the odd song but then one day, I just said, “fuck it, now’s the time”, and I have not looked back. At the moment [I’m] working on another film, doing post sound. Can’t talk about it but it’s a fun film and great to be spreading out in the industry now.

Are there any particular people in the industry that you would kill to work with?

That’s always a hard question…Tarintino! I would love to have that man behind me in a producing manor. [Also], I would like to direct Kurt Russell and Johnny Depp in a project; that would be fun. And there are tons of horror icons that I would love to work with!

Finally…what’s your favourite scary movie?

One! You’re asking my one favorite film?! Um…I think the original Halloween. There’s so much style to that film, I’m not sure JC knew what he was making when he did make it. That’s one film where the film God’s shinned down on that production!

Check out the trailer below:

for more news and information, check out Shadow’s official site, Facebook and Twitter.

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