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Warped Imaginations: Darklight's female horror directors

Digital film studio Warp X want to address a specific problem: why don't many women direct horror? Suchandrika Chakrabarti finds out how DarkLight aims to encourage female directors to reinvent the horror genre for the 21st century.

Four women

After months of development, Darklight has chosen four directors, out of an original ten, to have their ideas for a horror movie expanded to 25-page treatments: Smita Bhide (The Blue Tower), Miranda Bowen (Honeymoon), Corinna Faith (Ashes) and Juliet McKoen (Frozen).

As Warp X co-ordinator Kate Fewins said: "The final four directors are all well on the way with the writing of their projects now but we haven't had anything greenlit [yet]." At least two of these will then be developed to script stage and greenlit on Warp X terms for production this year. The films will be shot within the East Midlands.

The first threshold

The application process began with three one-page treatments, including outlines of plot, action, themes and style. The ten who went through to the first round were then invited to a training weekend, run by Threshold Studios. The four finalists praised these workshops, where horror directors, special effects experts, editors and low-budget distributors advised them on their next steps.

All four agree that a scheme encouraging female directors is necessary. Smita thinks that the horror element makes the DarkLight scheme groundbreaking: "Female directors often get pushed into a very arthouse, sensitive-films-about-relationships, drama direction. It's all very gentle and tasteful. I loved the idea of taking that stereotype and smashing it." Juliet reckons that the gender ratio is "certainly not 50/50& it's 10%, if that."

Here's Johnny

The directors all came to filmmaking along very different paths. Corinna has been a

factual television director and producer for seven years, and Miranda started out as a researcher in an advertising agency. Smita wrote a novel, King of Fear about the case of Winston Silcott, charged with the murder of a policeman during the Tottenham riots in 1985, "which did absolutely nothing at all. So I thought that film would have more opportunity." For Juliet, an English degree and an abstract film on T. S. Eliot's The Wasteland led to job as a trainee director for a production company.

Filming horror is a bit of a departure for the foursome. Three of them were keen on the genre anyway; Juliet found herself with a fair bit to catch up on. She's been boning up on horror knowledge while developing her script, and has developed a new-found love for Japanese, teen and comedy horrors, with a special place in her heart for The Shining.

The body politic

It's also a favourite for the other three, who are keen to discuss their lists of top 70s classics, and how the films have influenced them. Corrina is the most excited about the possibilities of the genre, saying, "I decided the most interesting thing about the horror genre for me was the political edge it can have."

Miranda agrees, and admits to being a fan of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers and Rosemary's Baby, while "an Asian Rosemary's Baby," is how Smita describes her DarkLight effort. Given industry mutterings about how inferior post-1970s horror movies are, it's a good to know these directors are admiring the right films.

The fab four

The DarkLight group's range of subjects shows just how flexible horror can be. Corinna's This Little Piggy is set on a farm and ties in with her vegetarianism. 2d4, Juliet's project is "about a gang of kids in a very dull, out-of-the-way town, who amuse themselves by participating in extreme sports, and have become kind of celebrities in the area. Unfortunately, when they do one of them, something very nasty starts to happen..."

Smita's film, The Tantrik, concerns a sinister arranged marriage, and "taps into the negative, more traditionally western belief that they're terrible things, instruments for oppressing women." Miranda is working on The Men's Room, set in a city firm, "looking at an all-male environment, and a woman intrudes, who soon finds that something eerie is going on."

Scream queens

So what lessons have been learned so far on this project? For Juliet, a renewed sense of audience has been invaluable. "What I have really, really enjoyed about this is that horror is such a niche, faithful market. Actually going out and consciously thinking about the market and the audience is actually quite liberating in a way. Before, it's been about a story you want to tell, rather than the other round, which is: what story does the audience want to see?"

Looking at horror's history, it's clear that audiences have no beef with strong women on their screens. Smita cites "Carrie, Alien, Rosemary's Baby, Halloween" as horror films with "very strong female characters in them, and that it therefore "makes a lot of sense for women to be working in that genre." Hopefully, the films that do come out of DarkLight might just convince people that women in horror can be as great behind the camera as in front of it.




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