Behind the scenes of our latest artist film

Our Visual Art Programme Manager Bren O’Callaghan takes you behind the scenes of Rough Cut

For the past six months, I’ve been planning, preparing and plotting as nominated producer for a film crew from Cornerhouse to undertaken a week-long film shoot in June 2013 for artist and director Jamie Shovlin’s forthcoming experimental feature.

Entitled Rough Cut, it’s a co-commisison with the Toronto International Film Festival, and will be released by Cornerhouse Artist Film. Previous titles under this same scheme have included Turner Prize winner Gillian Wearing’s first feature, Self Made, and Andrew Kötting & Ian Sinclair’s Swandown, which was screened in exhibition this year at the Cannes Film Festival.

Rough Cut is a hybrid that explores the attempt to capture the making of a film that never existed (yes, really), using documentary techniques, interviews, fictional material and ‘recreated’ scenes. The film-within-a-film, Hiker Meat, is the imagined remake of an illusory slasher flick from the late 1970s, following a lone hitchhiker as she falls in with a bunch of wayward teens. Finding herself at a summer camp run by a mysterious figure in thrall to an invisible force, the members of the group disappear one by one.

Principle filming took us to the site of Grizedale Forest in the Lake District. I was familiar with the area having collaborated with the wonderful Forestry Commission team there for AND Festival back in 2010, and knew that there were a number of ideal locations within accessible reach of each other. A locally based colleague from that period, Tor, joined the crew as location manager. It was an invaluable asset to have someone who knew the area and the people, proving able to negotiate otherwise impossible-access for a low budget feature like ours. These included such spectacular locations as an abandoned mine, a workshop space in a renovated barn, cobweb-strewn basement for our slaying scenes, and for our controlled explosion of a scale model of the Bates Motel, a remote moor-top.

Cast and crew stayed together at the exceptional Ashlack Estate, where our hosts Ben and Katie had gone out of their way to accommodate our unusual requests: here we spent the first few nights ‘glamping’ in yurts within the forest, replete with wood fired stoves and comfy bunks, before relocating to a labyrinthine farmhouse. Much of our food consisted of mammoth tray bakes (again, all carefully planned in advance allowing for individual dietary requirements, including one specification that stated ‘please, no eyeballs or Caramac bars’), provided by our in-house café team at Cornerhouse and the Café in the Forest at Grizedale Visitor Centre.

It would be fair to say that we expected a challenging time of it, and we were soon clocking up 22 hour days in order to capture the material required within a limited time frame. These weren’t helped by being attacked by Biblical plague-like levels of midges as we filmed in the forest at night, having coincided with the otherwise unpredictable breeding season. Apparently these fanged harpies need blood to lay their eggs, and they took it – in abundance. Some of the crew were so badly bitten that allergies kicked in, body parts blistered and swelled, and we came close to calling an air ambulance in the early hours of a particularly bad night as it seemed our director was close to anaphylactic shock… but Jamie soldiered on, and through, not being alone in appearing to resemble a dot-to-dot picture that once the lines were joined would reveal some hideous midge-human hybrid!

As an experimental documentary containing behind-the-scenes footage, it felt as though a ‘reverse curse’ was at play whereby a situation would begin to unravel in dramatic fashion, only for the team to salvage it and thus provide more interesting material for the wider feature that we would never have opted to pursue otherwise. One example would be the disaster with the vintage cars: a selection of classic US left-hand drive vehicles owned by amateur enthusiasts in the region and required for a key hitchhiking sequence. The owner of our mint condition 1959 Chevrolet flat bed truck was towing it up an incline when it hopped off the tow-bar and careered into a hedgerow, causing almost 1k of damage. We were mortified, but the owner and his family were lovely about it, recognizing it as an accident and allowing us to continue with our filming – albeit from the uncrumpled side. As the emergency rescue vehicle arrived, the cameras were out to capture this unintentional drama.

The UK and Ireland theatrical release date is currently set as Fri 6 December, with an earlier offshoot and gallery installation appearing at MOCCA: Musuem for Contemporary Canadian Art in Toronto during September as part of the exhibition David Cronenberg: Transformation, by artists who together with Shovlin who share Cronenberg’s fascination with biological horror, the human psyche and the merging of humans and media. We’ll be releasing further exclusive blog posts, clips, images and footage in the run up to this exciting period, and you’ll want to keep Fri 29 November free in your diaries – that’s when we have the Manchester premiere planned!