Back in October I was fortunate enough to catch a screening and Q&A of Before Dawn, a refreshing take on the Zombie sub-genre at one of my favorite horror festivals Celluloid Screams in Sheffield. Set in the picturesque Yorkshire countryside, Before Dawn focuses on the relationship breakdown of a married couple determined to solve their differences, the film uses the idea of zombies as a backdrop, giving the film a stronger sense of depth than your average splatter, zombie flick! In my top horror movies of 2012, Before Dawn ranked at a well-deserved #4 due to its well-written characters, its commentary on issues people face in our society today, the stunning cinematography and of course its scare-tastic zombie make-up! In this interview, director and leading man Dominic Brunt discusses the making of the film, the positive response the film has gained since its Frightfest debut, Emmerdale, future projects and of course I couldn’t resist asking him about that OTHER Yorkshire based horror film in which he has a very memorable, chainsaw wielding cameo!
1. When did your interest in the horror genre begin?
My friend’s dad owned Accrington Video in the early eighties, before there was certification for home video hire. We used to watch loads of horror films at the weekend and spent our time laughing our arses off and cheering at the special effects and gore. This was pre-CGI and very often their efforts were better than todays more sterile attempts. I probably know every word of dialogue from Evil Dead and Dawn of the Dead. I’m not sure if all this affected my fragile young mind but I don’t think so.
2. Who would you say are your main influences in the genre?
Romero without a doubt but I was lucky enough to have a small part in an Alex Chandon film (Inbred) which was a dream come true. I loved his earlier films, particularly “Cradle of Fear” and I think “Inbred” is a modern classic. I can’t wait to see what he does next. The man is a horror genius and one of the kindest, most supportive human beings you could wish to meet.
3. Your new film Before Dawn had its world premiere at FrightFest last year, what inspired the ideas behind the film?
The ideas behind Before Dawn came from my wife’s dislike for the zombie films I watch. I do seem to get through quite a lot of them in preparation for The Leeds Zombie Film Festival and It annoyed her greatly that there was no characterisation for the most part. There were other elements which bugged her like guns being pulled out left, right and centre even in British zombie flicks and ropey actors wandering around in badly fitting army/police uniforms. She just expanded on a supposition of what would happen if an outbreak were to be experienced by a normal couple like ourselves with normal lives and problems of their own to deal with. This grew into a hypothetical story which we just kept adding to with more and more “ooohh what if’s”. It was important to make their story as intriguing as possible while we set up their characters. Then all hell breaks loose and we throw the undead at this very British couple who are struggling to keep their marriage and family together. All the gore and violence had to be up to scratch and as repulsive as we could make it so most of the budget was spent on the effects and the make up.
4. As well as directing Before Dawn, you also have the lead role, what challenges and what benefits did that present with combining the roles of actor and director?
Well I wouldn’t necessarily work in that way again because it was very time consuming and problematic at times. I would love to just direct next time but with Before Dawn I was Producer, Actor, Director and Editor which to be honest, has left me totally exhausted. I’m over the moon with the results and with where the film has gone and what we’ve achieved but It would be easier to get more hands involved with the next project and concentrate on directing and editing. I’ve learned so much but it’s taken time to get things right. The ideal situation would be to have a film out every two or three years providing the story and ideas are strong enough. We are a good, strong gang of film nerds now and we just want to make films.
5. Your mostly well known to the public through your role of Paddy Kirk in the long-running soap Emmerdale, what would you say are the major differences transitioning between film and television?
My first love is Emmerdale and everything else work wise has to come second to my day job which I still love to pieces. I suppose the main differences are in the dialogue which there is less of in film and also in the framing and pacing and music of course. Working on Emmerdale has taught me that scheduling is so important and sticking to that schedule is even more important. Also, the best directors can keep the mood happy and vibrant on set and always know what’s happening one step ahead of everyone else. I tried to emulate the working conditions of a tv set and tried to stay focused under stress. We also planned the Before Dawn shoot to within an inch of its life.
6. You star alongside your wife Joanne Mitchell in Before Dawn, did you feel casting yourselves in the lead roles created a sense of authenticity for the film rather than bringing in other actors to play the parts?
The characters have their differences as do we. We are total opposites and i think that is what attracted us to each other in the first place but those very differences can be conflicting, which we used. Casting ourselves meant more funds were available to put on the screen and I’d have been gutted to have given over the part of Alex to someone else. We rehearsed in the evenings and obviously we were both available at the same time in the same place. It was our project so we were always going to play the parts.
7. The response to Before Dawn at Frightfest was very positive, what was it like for yourself and the cast and crew when attending the screening?
I was too nervous to watch it through with a paying audience for the first time. It’s one thing showing it to friends and family who are only going to encourage you and another giving it over to cinema goers with no links to you or the film. We were delighted with the response and it made it all worth while. The support which we received from the FrightFest team lead on to so many other fantastic opportunities for Before Dawn and ultimately a cinema and DVD release through Metrodome in February.
8. You also worked on another horror film recently, Alex Chandon’s INBRED, which is rapidly becoming a cult classic, tell us about your experience working on the film?
I would happily work for Alex any time he wanted me to. In fact I’d give an arm in exchange for a part in his next film. I was very lucky to be involved in such a great film. It’s absolutely insane and works brilliantly.
9. Would you say there are any similarities between INBRED and Before Dawn in terms of style and influence?
I would say they are very different films apart from both looking and feeling British and in fact wearing their Britishness on their sleeves. I suppose they are both violent but with different intentions behind them.
10. So what’s next? Have you got any more genre related projects lined up?
We shot two shorts last year (After Three and Grace’s Story in post-production) which we’re very proud of and we’re in pre-prouction with our next feature which will be an ultra-violent revenge drama.
Keep your eyes peeled for a Before Dawn DVD release this February!
Interviewer: Hayley Alice Roberts