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Saturday, December 19, 2015

Creating Some Christmas Mayhem: My Interview With "Good Tidings" Director Stuart W. Bedford

Stuart W. Bedford's 2016 holiday horror "Good Tidings" is getting some pretty positive early buzz. I for one look forward to the intense and thrilling story that plays on theme of homelessness, human cruelty, and the dying display of cheer and charity that makes the Christmas season so grand. "Good Tidings" is a multilayered tale with heart, and horror.It is a film that already has me counting down to the 2016 Christmas season!

The film follows a homeless vet who becomes victim to cruelty as masked psychos in Santa suits attack him and his companions. Co-written with filmmaking partner Stu Jopia, "Good Tidings" looks to be a great Nightmare treat for next year. I hand the opportunity to ask Stuart W. Bedford some questions about the film. Check out what he had to say about "Good Tidings", film, and especially horror.

A Southern Life: How did the concept for Good Tidings come about?
Stuart W. Bedford: It was actually a bunch of factors. Stu Jopia (my co-writer and producer on Good Tidings) have spent the last few years working on other people’s movies and eventually got to thinking why the hell aren’t we doing this ourselves. Last year, when we started Two-Headed Snake, we actually spent a year developing another project that we were unable to get off the ground in terms of funding.
Frustrated, we looked instead to start a project that we could do ourselves, without relying on a large amount of outside funding. The siege plot perfectly supports that idea so we knew that was the direction we were headed. The idea to go seasonal was actually Stu Jopia’s – he’s wanted to do a Christmas horror his whole life and brought an idea to the table: three psychopathic Santas. It immediately piqued my imagination.

The concept was solidified after we found our location - a disused courthouse in Southport, UK. Christmas is a harsh time for many, and none more literally than the homeless. Once we settled on the idea that our Santas would a crucible for a homeless community, just trying to find shelter for the winter, the concept and story fell together without too much resistance.

A Southern Life: The plot holds a lot of subtext about how society deals with war vets post service, is this an issue that hits home for you on a personal level?
Stuart W. Bedford: I wouldn’t say it hits on a personal level in terms of real life events that have affected me, although both my Grandfather’s served in WWII. The idea for Good Tidings from the start was to create a slasher infused with thriller elements, and the inclusion of a veteran was to support that idea. Of course there are kills and there is fodder, wouldn’t be a slasher without it, but a military character with skills and the ability to keep a cool tactical head gives the film that 70’s horror-thriller Assault on Precinct 13 vibe that we were after.

Although that subtext is definitely there. We wanted to show our homeless characters as people with lives prior to their homelessness – as is of course the case in reality – people with skills and abilities as well as wants and dreams. We also wanted to show that homelessness can touch anyone, from all walks of life.

A Southern Life: Did the story initially start out as a Holiday horror/thriller?
Stuart W. Bedford: Absolutely. We’ve always loved the seasonal genre. Halloween, Christmas, Easter, doesn’t matter. We love it. The seasonal element just seems to add a layer of pageantry to the whole affair and supports that ‘one-foot-in-reality-one-foot-out’ thing that we always seem to gravitate towards.

The Santas – and the title - were the first thing about Good Tidings that came together so it’s safe to say that Christmas mayhem was always our intention from the start!

A Southern Life: The teaser material that has been released shows some pretty vicious characters exploiting the Santa costume, how hard was it to choose the actual design for the psychopaths in Good Tidings, and how important was it to portray such distinct antagonists?
Stuart W. Bedford: In terms of design, the Santas came together really quickly. As I mentioned earlier, they were Stu Jopia’s idea and when he brought them to me, he had a really clear idea of the character design – the type of costume, the masks, everything. Developing the vision of them from there was satisfying.

We did some very early camera tests which we passed to our crew and then did our first photoshoot (a green screen in my living room). This was the first time our performers had put on the get up and been supplied with their weapons. During that day, we did a lot of character stuff and the three of them just seemed to fall into their characters. Despite wearing, effectively, the same costumes and the same masks, they became three distinctly different entities. It was a thrill to be a part of!

It’s one of the things I’m really proud of actually. In the movie, these guys have distinct characters and I don’t think it’s ever confusing as to who’s who. They also have their own weird little story arc which I think further separates them as individual characters, in a sort of Texas Chainsaw murder-family kind of way. I don’t want to give anything away, but they’re not just hack-and-slash killers. They think, they plan and they approach their day of murder with a twisted sense of fun.

A Southern Life: Good Tidings is your first feature as Director, what made you choose this story, and did you always intend your feature debut to be a horror film?
Stuart W. Bedford: I think it’s safe to say I would find my way into horror. My first short was a post-apocalyptic zombie drama called Survivor, actually starring Alan Mulhall, one of the leads in Good Tidings. When I was a kid, horror terrified me and fascinated me at the same time. I was always scared to watch, and didn’t until I was maybe thirteen or fourteen, when my best friend forced me to watch A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 in black and white (so I wouldn’t get freaked out by the blood). What an embarrassing thing I’ve just told you…

But, that did actually break me of my fear and after that the fascination took over. I’m definitelyn drawn to the escapist genres – horror, sci-fi and fantasy. So I’d say I had always intended my first feature to be in one of those genres. But it was joining forces creatively with Stu Jopia, who is the most ridiculously knowledgeable horror enthusiast I’ve ever met, that cemented the genre as the one I would become attached to.

A Southern Life: What were some of the classic horror, more specifically Christmas themed horror, that you drew inspiration from?
Stuart W. Bedford: We have worn a lot of influences on our sleeves with Good Tidings for sure. I think we always will. We are horror enthusiasts first, filmmakers second; the only reason we want to make this stuff is because we love to watch it. Silent Night, Deadly Night is probably the most obvious influence (and of course the 2012’s retelling Silent Night, which was its own kind of badass). As well as both versions of Black Xmas – can’t forget them! I’d also list Don’t Open Till Christmas as another notable Christmas-themed influence on this project.

In terms of non-seasonal influences, we are definitely flying the ‘Assault’ flag proudly – Assault on Precinct 13 being one of the greatest examples of a siege plot out there in my eyes.  The Santas themselves have come from our love of films like Halloween, Friday the 13th and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies. And believe it or not, there are even a good few Die Hard references and a cheeky nod to Lethal Weapon.
As I say, we wear our influences proudly, but also worked hard in Good Tidings to twist the conventions we know and love to keep the audience guessing at every turn.

A Souther Life: What can horror fans expect from Good Tidings, in both story and horror elements, is the film more suspense or gore?
Stuart W. Bedford: The film does rely heavily on suspense. Our Santas, I think, are unpredictable. They can be anywhere, they’re seemingly always one step ahead of Sam, the protagonist. I tried to create an oppressive movie, in which characters are never safe and the killers can come from any angle, seemingly out of the shadows themselves.  So suspense does play a huge factor in that atmosphere – sometimes it’s as much about toying with the characters as simply killing them.

But that’s not to say we’ve skimped on the gore. The body count is high in Good Tidings and there’s one scene in particular I just know will get us an 18 certificate (R-rating). Without giving too much away, it involves a severed head and an innocent sprig of mistletoe. We have done our utmost to create a film we’d want to watch ourselves – which means healthy doses of suspense and gore, as well as principal characters that we think aren’t just two-dimensional kill fodder.

A Southern Life : Good Tidings has a 2016 release date set, will you take the film through the festival circuit leading up to the 2016 holiday season?
Stuart W. Bedford: We are currently in talks with several sales agents who have approached us after seeing the teaser. I think any deal we strike here will dictate what happens to the film once it’s completed but I would personally really like to see Good Tidings hit the festival circuit. Nothing creates a buzz for a movie like ours like the festival circuit and I would hope that any company we may sign with over the coming months would share our enthusiasm to see the film do the rounds.

A Southern Life: What future projects do you have lined up, and will you stay within the horror genre?
Stuart W. Bedford: I think we’ll definitely stay in horror for the time being. Why wouldn’t we? It’s literally so much fun to create a horror movie, I can’t even describe it. But we’re all also massively into sci-fi I could definitely see us doing that in the future, if all goes well. Sci-fi is one of those genres though; tough to do, expensive.
Saying that, we do have a couple of lo-fi sci-fi ideas in the bank, but we have a good few horror concepts in much further stages of development, so for now, horror is where we’ll stay. Once we’ve sent of the final cut of Good Tidings, we’re going to start work on our next script. It’s hard to say at this stage exactly what that will be – and how we sell Good Tidings may be a deciding factor in what the future holds for us - but we’re definitely excited to start on something new!

A Southern Life: When did you first realize you wanted to make movies, and which do you prefer more, writing or directing?
Stuart W. Bedford: It’s a hard question to answer and one that’s based on many factors. But I’ll keep it simple. I think the moment the thought crystallised in my head was right after watching Shaun of the Dead in the cinema, I think I was 17.

Everything about it captured my imagination; I felt connected to Shaun as a no-hoper in a dead end job myself. Shaun’s Mum – played superbly by Penelope Wilton – looks and acts exactly like my own Mum, and I had nightmares afterwards that it was my own mother that got bit. So it was during the credits to Shaun of the Dead really that I started to think, man I want to do that. I want to make people feel like I feel right now.

Shaun of the Dead started a voracious search to watch every zombie movie I possibly could, and was definitely a Launchpad further into horror for me and in fact, the first script I went on to sell is a zombie movie called Apocalypse.
As for which part of the process I prefer, that’s not exactly a black and white answer. I love writing and it’s actually the part of the process where I feel most powerful creatively – the story is literally shooting out of your fingers. It’s an exhilarating thing. But by the end of that process, I tend to have become insular, isolated, lonely and a little bit crazy. So by the time it comes to directing, I’m really ready to pop the bubble and invite the magical collaborative process that is filmmaking (even just to get my social bar up a little – and yes, that is a Sims reference). The film evolves with the personality of each crew member, you lose a modicum of control but you gain a movie.

But then, by the end of the production, dear god, you are hollow, aching all over and tripping over the bags under your eyes. And the same goes for editing too. So I love each part of the process for its own virtues but am also always happy to be moving on to the next stage.  

A Southern Life: Who are some of your favorite directors, and what are some of your favorite films?
Stuart W. Bedford: There are far too many to list them all but I’ll try to do a cross section! First off John Carpenter has to get a primo mention. I love practically everything he’s ever done and I don’t think any director has influenced my story telling style more than him.

Other major influences include Stanley Kubrick, Guillermo Del Toro, Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, David Cronengerg, Terry Gilliam, George Romero, Edgar Wright, Rob Zombie, Tobe Hooper, Michael Haneke, Wes Craven, Alfred Hitchcock, Stuart Gordon. The list goes on and on. This is why I love horror; it’s been visited upon by some of the world’s greatest modern visual storytellers.

As for favourite movies, again, that list is long! I think my favourite movie of all time, horror or otherwise, is The Shining; a movie with an atmosphere so oppressive it practically pins you to your seat. If I could ever make a movie even one fiftieth as good as a Kubric movie, I will die a happy man.

Other favourites include: Assault on Precinct 13, The Thing, Hellraiser, Silent Night Deadly Night, Shaun of the Dead, Brazil, Falling Down, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, The Fly, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Dawn of the Dead… jeez, there really are far too many to mention and calling any my favourite makes me feel like I’m cheating on all the others!   
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