Gav Chuckie Steel is one of those guys that just ooze horror. He eats, dreams, and breathes the gory stuff. This non-stop motor of his serves him spectacularly well in his directorial debut, a fantastic super low-budget flick titled The Shadow of Death. If you haven’t checked out my review of the film, be sure to give it a look after this interview!
Steel began to cut his teeth in the entertainment business as a music producer, writing music and producing others’ tunes which became a springboard for Steel to begin scoring films. Soon, he was putting together his own feature-length project to showcase his musical talents. Alas, what he and a fiercely determined group of volunteers came up with is one of the most entertaining indie horror flicks in recent memory.
In Mr. Steel’s own words The Shadow of Death is “in the vein of The Evil Dead and Bad Taste” and “a throwback to the ‘70s and ‘80s backwoods slasher genre pictures.” I couldn’t agree more.
Steel’s passion for the horror he grew up on bleeds (no pun intended… or is there?) through the eighty-one minute film nicely and it’s clear this picture was not just a labor of love, but a horror film for horror fans made by a horror fan. His production company, Deadbolt Films, is one of those teams that love the gloriously grainy celluloid of yesteryear and promise to churn out some real nifty all-or-nothing horror in the not so distant future. If Shadow is any indication of things to come, anything can and will be used as a weapon. Bong-kill for the win!
The film has enjoyed a successful jaunt through the festival circuit. It has garnered enough attention to have a large following eagerly awaiting Steel’s next project, which you can learn a little more about in my chat with the up-and-coming filmmaker.
RAVENOUS MONSTER: As a first-time filmmaker, what was your inspiration for making The Shadow of Death?
Gav Chuckie Steel: For quite a while I had been writing music which was very film score-like. I had not thought of ever making stuff for films until some industry people suggested that that was a good avenue to go down. As soon as they said that it made complete sense, so I tried for a few years offering my services (for free) to producers to score their films, but I was let down many times either by people talking shit or the films falling down. This just spurred me to make my own film as an example of the sort of score I could produce. It seemed a logical, if crazy, thing to do at the time but I’m glad I did it like this.
RavMon: Having written, directed, produced and edited the film, was there one aspect of filmmaking in particular that proved to be the most difficult for you?
GCS: I think the overall pre-production side was the most tricky in making a film. Just attempting to organize everybody and persuade people to do the film. I was coming from no real experience, apart from watching a lot of films, and we were working with a ridiculously small budget! The only other thing I found hard was, during production, when my wife broke down to me one evening saying she could not take it anymore! Times like that are a kick in the teeth. Apart from that, I think I had some horror gods look down upon me because it was sunny all the time (we actually had to cut rain out of the script) and everyone turned up in time every shooting day. There was no room for Plan B, so I was very, very lucky!
RavMon: You tip your hat to a number of classic horror films in Shadow. Whether it be the grainy glory of The Texas chainsaw Massacre, the shockingly gruesome deaths of Last House on the Left or even the Giallo touch at the beginning of the film; were all of these conscious efforts to pay homage to favorite films of yours or was it more a simple fact of budgetary restrictions?
GCS: Nope, it is all intentional. I love all those old flicks and wanted to show that this is a fan-made film and that I understand the genre. It was almost a love letter to the films I grew up on. One location I ran out of time while filming was the pub part where Dan says he is sitting in the Slaughtered Lamb. I filmed in my local pub but the actual interior pub used in An American Werewolf in London is only a 30 minute drive from me. But we just could not fit it into the schedule. Also, I live near the cathedral that Damien does not want to go into in the first Omen and we were going to shoot there, but it has tight security.
RavMon: The practical effects in the film are downright awesome. What was your favorite kill of the movie?
GCS: Bong kill, hands down! My FX wizard Mark Kelly came up with the kills and we were going through ideas to mix it up and homage it like the Friday the 13th series and he just came up with it on the spot! My fear was filming all the kills and not fucking up. On a very small budget you have no second chances, so some things could have been filmed better at times, and we did have a day of pick-ups where it was a case of filming a few bits to make it look better.
RavMon: The acting is another strong point of Shadow. How did you manage to wrangle up such a solid cast, considering everyone involved are amateurs? I believe a lot of that can be attributed to your passion for the film as well as your clear cut vision of the script. So, kudos for that as well!
GCS: Thanks! We put out casting calls and were very lucky to get the people we did. Dan Carter Hope was suggested by another actress who originally was going to play Debra but pulled out because she wanted to be paid. Since I was not paying anyone else, there was no way I could pay just one person. This happened a couple of times, but in the end, the cast members I had were happy to work for free! I think they could tell I was passionate for what I was doing and took me seriously even though I was filming with a camcorder and no money. Again, we were just really lucky. My wife was friends with Dan Bone and he had done a few things, so he was on board but I didn’t know any of the other leads. Working with friends is OK but they have to be as dedicated as you. Marley the dealer was a friend but he was also working on set the whole time as a runner type and he knew to take it seriously.
RavMon: Any self-respecting shack in a horror film must have a bloody past. Is it true that the original owner of the cabin committed suicide there? How did your actors react to this when you first told them?
GCS: Yep, that’s true. The first time checking it out, the owner’s son told me. I knew this was the place to film a good movie! At no point did it seem spooky there—I told everyone involved but no one was fazed. The story goes that a dad gave the land to two of his sons in the ‘70s, but one was paranoid that the other would try to take it all so he built the cabin to live in but one cold winter, he just went outside and blew his brains out with a shot gun! Crazy story but true, or so the story goes.
RavMon: You’ve shared that Dan Bone, who plays Craven in the film, had to keep his moustache for three weeks, despite having to still punch the clock at a regular job during shooting. Your film stands up quite well when put under the microscope and judged on continuity. If you could go back and re-do one particular thing or scene in this film, what would it be?
GCS: Well I had to cut quite a lot of the story out due to time and budget, so backstory on the characters was lost. For example, Debra is supposed to be the killer’s daughter. Knowing this, the film at times makes more sense as she [SPOILER ALERT] follows in his footsteps. I’m happy how it turned out, though, but there were bits all over I would have taken more time to shoot or maybe reshoot. Most takes were one takes, due to keeping momentum up and I did not want to piss off my cast and crew. I was very aware it was my first film.
RavMon: How was the reception of the film when it first hit the film festivals and premieres?
GCS: Everyone likes it. There hasn’t been much negative feedback. One reviewer said it was so bad he could not review it! But yeah, all good. It’s not played many festivals. I’ve tried but they cost a lot of money to submit to. A few have turned us down and I’ve been finding a few distributors that are saying no, too. Trouble is, it is shot on a camcorder and the more I look into film making the more I see this as a big no-no. BUT if I had not shot with what I had, there would be no The Shadow of Death at all. Getting back to the question, the people who have backed it have seemed to be the sort of folk I was making the film for anyways. It was not meant to make money. I’m shocked it’s turned out how it did and how far it’s come! I’m more than happy and that’s the main thing to me.
RavMon: Where can people see the film now?
GCS: No Netflix or any pay-for-streaming just yet. I’ve not tried to hit those big companies up yet but the film is unclassified so that’s a problem. You can catch it from time to time on BlackFlagTV and I’m at the stage where I may just put it up on YouTube for the world to see for free. I just want to unleash it onto the horror community.
RavMon: What projects are you currently working on?
GCS: I’ve taken a step back recently. I have a good crew and connections to other actors and we as Deadbolt Films plan to make a few short films and music videos until we are ready to try and get some funding and go ahead with the next feature. Dan Bone and I have written two more features and a couple of shorts. We have just filmed one called Monitor and it already has a higher production value than Shadow. It’s a good move to take it back so we can all develop our roles in a more professional way. With this latest short, I worked with actors rather than filming, so I could concentrate more in that side. Monitor is about two parents who, one night, hear a voice over their baby monitor. It’s a real creepy, tension-filled film and it will be finished very soon. I will then upload it for all to see. I’m using these shorts as a way to perfect angles, shots and just get to where I want to be as a filmmaker. I also have almost finished my music album, which is dark hip-hop based on horror films, so we are going to make videos for those songs, too. It’s all practice and maybe these shorts will help secure us funding to go ahead with the big boys!