Peter Dukes, the ambitious and hugely talented filmmaker behind independent horror short The Beast catches up with The Horror Hothouse’s Emma Knock to talk about the inspiration behind his work, upcoming short Little Reaper and his admiration for Steven Spielberg.
Written, directed and produced by Dukes himself The Beast is a werewolf film with a twist, focusing mostly on the emotional struggles of a father whose son is cursed with a lycanthropic affliction. Starring indie horror icon Bill Oberst Jr (Abraham Lincoln vs Zombies and Take This Lollipop) as the father in question, the film is set in the woods on the night of the full moon. Michel (Bill Oberst Jr.) and his brother Douglas (Peter Le Bas) venture into the woods with an aim of tying Michel’s son Jacob (Alexander Le Bas) to a tree to prevent him from hurting anyone once he has transformed in a werewolf. However, following on from untold months of this, it seems the uncle has come up with another solution to end Jacob’s suffering and keep the town safe.
Under the banner of company Dream Seekers Productions, Dukes has produced 15 films, including many horror and fantasy shorts such as Ghosts, All Hallow’s Eve, A Goblin’s Tale, Lanrete and, of course, The Beast. Read the interview below…
Hi Peter, thanks for chatting with us. Firstly, can you give us a little background on your career to date and how Dream Seekers Productions came about?
I’ve been making movies ever since I was a little kid, like many indie filmmakers out there I suppose, which eventually led to film school. After graduation it took a few years to put the pieces in place that would allow me to start producing my own productions, but once we began, Dream Seekers was born. It’s been my creative center point ever since.
On your website it says that “Dream Seekers aspires to return audiences to the roots of the film” and “to remind them how inspiring, thought-provoking and wonderful cinema can be.” What process do you follow when you begin writing your screenplay to ensure you’re following that ethos?
Film has a long and rich history, and it’s a very powerful medium, so I use these things to drive me when writing my scripts. I respect the craft and so I always push myself to set the bar high. To tell really interesting, unique and challenging stories that truly engage the audience and make them want to think about and talk about what they’ve seen. Whether or not I succeed is another matter!
In terms of my process, I’m a big inspiration kind of guy, and there’s inspiration everywhere if you know where/how to look. That’s a big one for me when first starting out on a script. The idea must be INSPIRED. If it’s anything short of this, I won’t green light the production.
From your back catalogue we can see that you frequently work across all aspects of filmmaking, but which parts do you enjoy the most and why?
Whilst most of your work seems to have been done behind the scenes, you’ve also acted in a couple of your own shorts. How does that experience compare?
From your back catalogue, what films have you most been proud of and why?
Would you ever consider directing/producing a film under the Dream Seekers Productions banner that hadn’t been written by yourself and if so what would you look for in a film to peak your interest?
We’ve just had the pleasure of watching and reviewing The Beast. What we found most interesting about it was that it focused on the father’s struggle with his son’s affliction and not the son himself. We felt this to be quite rare, particularly in horror. What was your inspiration behind approaching the short from this angle?
Bill Oberst Jr. was cast as the father in The Beast. How did this come about?
You said that you filmed The Beast in only one night and with a miniscule budget. How did you manage this and what challenges did you face?
Ultimately, a production like The Beast should NOT be shot in one night. I promised myself after that I would never try something like it again. I was lucky to be surrounded by a great cast and crew, and they helped us get through the night. What’s important now though is that when you watch the film, you don’t pick up on any of that. One would never know how many issues we had to deal with behind the scenes.
In addition to Bill and the rest of the cast (Peter Le Bas, Alexander Le Bas) and crew, I’d really like to send a special thanks out to John Snedden, the DP on the film, for photographing such a great looking film with basically nothing to work with! Also to Giona Ostinelli and his musical score, which helped take the film up a notch. I was very lucky to have them both involved on the film.
What are your aspirations for The Beast going forward?
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline currently?
In five years, where do you see Dream Seekers Productions?
Probably Steven Spielberg. I grew up on Duel, Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T. I’d just like to sit back and watch how he prepares for a shot and how he works with his actors. He not only gets superb performances out of his adult actors, but out of his child actors too. That’s a very rare gift. Many have tried and failed. If you can’t draw the right kind of performance out of a child actor (especially if it’s a lead role), it will drag the whole movie down. Quickly. When I sit and watch the children in his films, and how natural and comfortable they are in front of the camera (and a large crew no doubt), even when in the midst of shooting very difficult emotional scenes, it’s amazing to see what he’s managed to get on celluloid. The man is an icon, so he carries along the baggage that comes with that. In other words, many people love him and many people love to hate him, but at the end of the day he’s an amazing storyteller, with mouth dropping raw natural talent, and I would find it very interesting just to stand by and watch him do his thing.
I’ve actually seen him in person once. I was at the Emmy’s the year his HBO series Band of Brothers won a slew of awards. I should have “accidentally” bumped into him in the hallway so I could shake his hand. Of course that’s when his well-hidden security detail would have hog tied me but perhaps it might have been worth it. Or not.
Finally…what’s your favourite scary movie?
I’ve never had any one favorite scary movie. Spielberg’s Duel and Jaws would be two. Tobe Hooper’s Poltergiest another. John Carpenter’s The Thing, Dario Argento’s Suspiria, Carl Theodore Dryer’s Vampyr, and of course Tomas Alfredson’s Let The Right One In, which basically restored my faith in horror film. When I was very young the Poseidon Adventure scared the heck out of me. It’s not considered a horror picture. It’s an action/disaster picture, but it’s got this perfectly dark, gritty, smoldering atmosphere wrapped around the horrific premise. You really feel like you’re there. It taught me early on how important atmosphere was in film. Without it you’ve got next to nothing.
My horror inspiration comes more from literature than movies. H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Mary Shelley, Henry James, Shirley Jackson, Susan Hill. Amazing storytellers. Not only some of the best horror writers you’ll ever read, but some of the best writers in any genre, period.
See our review of The Beast here.