Back over the August bank holiday, director Paddy Murphy showed his latest feature film to the world for the first time. FrightFest, the biggest horror and genre festival in the UK was home to the world premiere of The Perished. A bleak tale of a young woman who has to deal with the physical and mental anguish of having an abortion in Ireland that we praised as one of the best of the festival.
A few short weeks later, Paddy sat with us and chatted about the film, the premiere and everything that has happened since.
It’s been four weeks since FrightFest, how are you feeling a month after your world premiere?
First of all, I can’t believe it’s a month. In my head, I keep telling people I was at FrightFest two weeks ago, max.
It was a bit hard coming home and adjusting to the reality of being at Frightfest and being on the media wall and doing all that stuﬀ, and then having to come home and like, “Oh, I don’t have enough money to pay my electric bill.”
The life of an indie filmmaker.
It’s the juxtaposition of indie filmmaking where it’s like you can be on top of the world one minute and then you’re just a regular shmoe like everybody else. But I’ve been kept busy after FrightFest with people looking to review the film, festivals are reaching out for us, all that kind of stuﬀ, and then, obviously, the big one for me which is we’re trying to get sales closed on it, so that would be great.
So you’ve had other festivals come to you for it now, instead of you having to submit it?
Yeah, yeah, which was a big diﬀerence to any other film I’ve ever done. I think it’s a little bit of the FrightFest prestige again, that a lot of festivals will look at you and say, “Well, if it was good enough for FrightFest.”
So, yeah. We’ve had a few festivals, and we have a couple more to announce in the coming kind of weeks, but obviously the first one that was announced was Horrorthon last night, which was brilliant for our home turf premier. And we have another festival then in Italy.
So it’s getting out there, so hopefully… the one that’s really killing me is I want a strong US premier, but so many of them are already full up.
All the big ones in the US get filled up quick, don’t they?
Exactly. It’s a super competitive season this year because there’s so many big, strong indie titles. I mean, [Bliss and VFW director] Joe Begos has kind of ruined it for everyone because he has two big ones.
So it’s like every festival you look at, it’s like Joe has two films in there. You’re like, “Oh, Joe.” Taking up all the slots.And something that kind of clicked to me was that you get into FrightFest, which is amazing, but FrightFest program 78 films or something, whereas most festivals program 20 or 24, you know what I mean?
But what kind of you realise then is that it’s amazing to get into FrightFest, it’s awesome, but that other festivals have to be so much more selective about what they’re programming. Not that FrightFest aren’t, because FrightFest gets so many submissions that they still have to whittle it down a lot, but it’s that realisation that 78 films at FrightFest has to become 24 films at every other festival, and there’s so many–
I mean, when you’ve got like [Colour Out Of Space director] Richard Stanley with a new film, and you’ve got, and I say, Joe Begos with two new films, and there’s so many amazing filmmakers and films doing the rounds, it’s tough.
It must feel good though to be getting festivals coming to you with that prestigious list of people getting films in and your film’s going along as well.
Absolutely because at FrightFest there was that idea of, “Holy crap, we’re playing with [Rabid directors] the Soskas. World premiere the same day as the Soska’s. We’re playing with Joe Begos and all these guys.” But then last night, when I was sitting in Horrorthon and he’s listing out the films that are playing and he starts by saying Little Monsters will be there which I was really excited about. And then he goes on, and a couple of FrightFest ones; Bliss, and The Girl on the Third Floor. It was when he said Richard Stanley’s Colour Out of Space, I was like “Holy crap,” because that’s probably one of my most anticipated films. So yeah, to know that I can watch Colour Out of Space and my movie, it’s ridiculous.
Tell us a little bit about your FrightFest inspiration for The Perished.
Oh, yeah, of course. I mean, it’s a legendary tale at this point.
It’s so important to how that film came about because I’ve been going to FrightFest since 2016.
That was Shepherd’s Bush.
Yeah, Shepherd’s Bush. It was my first experience so I thought that was the norm. And everyone was like, “This is rubbish.” And I was like, “It was great.”
And then in 2017, I went, for the first time, to the [Leicester Square] Empire and I was at a point in my career where I felt like pretty much giving up on the whole film-making thing. I had made a feature film and hadn’t set the world on fire. It had kind of fallen oﬀ to die on Amazon Prime. I kind of thought, “How can I do this as a career?” And I was just feeling a bit dejected, and one of my favourite film-makers is Joe Lynch who did Wrong Turn 2 which I absolutely love. And he’s also done Mayhem, and Everly, and stuﬀ, and most recently, Point Blank.
I was a huge Joe Lynch fan, and I got chatting to him outside the Phoenix [Artists Club – the nightly location of post-Frightfest antics] one night at FrightFest 2017. And he’s just such a ball of enthusiasm, and when I told him that I was dejected; I was thinking of giving up on film-making; when he found out I had made a feature film, he was like, “You idiot. You’ve done it. You’ve made one. That’s the important part. It doesn’t matter if it’s successful or not. You’ve made a feature film. Loads of people haven’t done that.” He was like, “You need to just go home and start writing something else and keep going, keep doing this.” So I came home and started writing The Perished. And at a very diﬃcult time in Ireland’s history.
Tell me about The Perished. What’s it about?
So The Perished is about a young Irish woman who finds out she has an unplanned pregnancy, even though she’s done everything she can to avoid it. And at her stage in her life, she doesn’t want to have a child so she has to make a very diﬃcult decision of what she’s going to do. And she’s kind of pushed and attacked by her mother who kind of is ultra religious but ultimately wants her to go to the UK and have an abortion as well so that she can kind of hide the shame, the stigma attached to having a baby out of wedlock.
If you’re not going to have a baby out of wedlock and have an abortion, you still have to keep that quiet as well. Then when she comes back, she goes to an old country parochial house with her best friend. And it turns that that parochial house happened to be the site of one of these horrific atrocities that were discovered all over the country and where there was mass baby graves discovered under these religious structures, which is just traumatic. It’s just horrific that that was a real thing.
A producer that I worked with from Australia when I pitched the film to him he was like, “That’s a bit unbelievable though.” And I was like, “That’s real. That’s the real part.”
And that’s what makes it so scary though because it’s a real-life horror movie. This is a real thing.
Yeah. People kind of look at that and they’re like, “Mass baby grave. What a crazy term.” And I’ve even seen people that’s really funny, I’ve seen one or two people say this was a rip-oﬀ of House and stuﬀ where it’s built on an Indian burial ground. And I’m like, “No. This is based on what really happened here.”
But I think in saying that, I do think that every country has these kind of stories of these places where these massive atrocities happened and were just buried and forgotten about.
Did that make it diﬃcult to make the film? You’ve got this awful history that you’re trying to bring out to light, and you’re trying to talk about abortion in a country that really doesn’t want to talk about abortion. How did that make making your film?
Well, the funny thing is when I started writing it, the [Repeal the eighth Amendment] referendum hadn’t been announced yet. But it was crazy. Within a month and a half of me starting to write it, the referendum was announced. And so that kind of changed everything. I started to reread one of my older drafts yesterday, and it was originally about a priest. It wasn’t even about a young woman. It was about a priest in this house with a mass baby grave.
And when everything started to come up about the repeal of the eighth referendum, I was like, “Oh. It would be much more interesting to explore this from a young Irish woman’s perspective rather than this priest character “ this type of stuﬀ would actually aﬀect her. I feel like there’ve been a lot of films that touched on the church and how they’ve dealt with this stuﬀ, but not about real and just everyday people. So as I started writing, what I noticed was I saw that the problem wasn’t that nobody was willing to talk about it here. The problem was everybody wanted to talk about it, but they didn’t want to talk; they just wanted to shout about I’m right; you’re wrong. There’s no grey area. It’s good or bad. That’s it. There’s no discussion that can be had.
I see it happening all over the world. Because you have it in the States with Trump. And you have it in the UK with Brexit. And you had it here with this, where it was just these ultra-polarising views where it was it’s us versus them. There’s no middle ground. We can’t talk about this.
It’s really weird because all of the horror stuﬀ… well, the whole abortion angle and the whole mass baby graves. They become the top-level stuﬀ, the surface level stuﬀ. But really, it goes deeper. It’s about miscommunication and people not just being willing to sit down in a room and go, “Okay.
I’m going to table my emotions for a moment and just listen.” Because everybody in the film kind of goes through a thing of just shouting at each other as well.
If you watch any film that has a social element to it, it’s very one-sided. And that’s usually on purpose because that’s just how it is. I’m writing a review. I’m getting my point across. It’s literally the point of what I’m writing. How do you take a step back give both sides a fair shake?
It was actually probably the hardest thing about the whole film. Because I lean towards pro-choice. And so, a lot of the early drafts were very pro-choice heavy and really… it felt like every time I’d re-read it, I was like, “This kind of reads like a propaganda piece in a lot of ways.” Which, as you say, a lot of films are. And sometimes it can be really good to push. I think there’s a film I saw this year that was Gigi Saul Guerrero’s Hulu film Culture Shock. It was part of the “Into the Dark” series.
I watched Gigi’s one and that’s very much coming down on the whole Trump issue with the wall and the Mexican refugees. And it really has something to say on one side of it. But I think that’s a slightly diﬀerent issue as well when compared to this one. Because what really became the crux of how I’d approached The Perished. I knew somebody who had had an abortion when they were 16 and they’d had to hold it in for 18 years and never tell anybody. And it had eaten away at them and caused them all kinds of mental health issues and everything. Because, when you have to carry a shame like that, and you’re so afraid of anybody finding out, it has a massive negative eﬀect on you in your life.
It eats you up. And then, on the other side, these two people that I knew had a massive fall out on Facebook about this because they were on opposite sides. The other person, the other side had recently lost a baby. And so, their perspective was very much, “How could you want to choose to?” But these people weren’t talking to each other because they felt they couldn’t talk about their actual real-world issues with each other, because Facebook doesn’t encourage that.
It encourages you to just say, “You are wrong. I am right. Fuck you.” And I knew both their stories and I couldn’t tell either of them either. And that was when I realised, I was like, holy shit, if people could just meet in the real world and talk about this stuﬀ, they would probably go, “Okay, let’s start from this common ground and work our way out.” But, yeah. That was where I was like, “That’s where I need this film to land is I need it to land in that common ground.” And give a voice to everybody, but I do still think that… I mean, Sarah is the central character and we’re following her plight. And she’s the person we get and we have the most, I would hope, empathy for throughout the film. But you do still get to see everybody else’s perspectives as well.
But what you’ve done with Sarah was you made it quite obvious that not everything that was happening to her was because of the house she was in or the history of where she was. So, some of the stuﬀ that was happening to her, especially in her body, was reaction to the procedure she put herself through. And you’ve made that as much of the horror as you have the monster that’s coming at you.
And as well as that, you’ve got the reaction within her body. But then, you’ve also got her mental reaction to that stigma and shame that she knows that she can’t talk about this, or if that anybody finds out, how horrible she’d be seen. And so, there’s the kind of horror that’s going on in her head, the horror that’s going on in her body, and then, the horror that’s going on in the house. And they’re three very separate things.
And I remember one of the bits of feedback early on was to cut some of the humour out and that Davet, the friend character, he’s a little bit more humorous. But I was like if we cut that out, this just becomes the most bleak film.
You can’t have a film like that without having a chuckle.
No. I know. And I do think as well that everybody has that friend that even when you’re at your lowest, right, your worst, they say something and it’s probably the most inappropriate thing to say at the time.
That’s something everybody has. One of the guys that worked on the film, Martin, he’s my mate for that. But If I ever just need somebody to say something to cheer me up, he’s just going to say something ridiculous.
And you just laugh. And so I knew that Davet had to be… if you were going to go and stay with a friend who knows this stuﬀ and who knows everything you’ve done, who knows your whole history, you need somebody who’s not afraid to try and cheer you up in those darkest moments. Yeah. And I think Paul Fitzgerald was great. One big thing I didn’t want was I didn’t want the humour to make light of the heavy moments, just to kind of come oﬀ the back of them maybe.
Davet’s quite an interesting character. So he is an openly gay character.
Again – like most countries at the moment because we’re fucking awful as a species, we’re not 100% accepting of it. But Ireland historically and quite famously isn’t particularly accepting of that. So was that a choice?
Well, it’s funny because we historically weren’t, but then in the gay marriage referendum in 2015; I think it was, two years, three years before the abortion referendum, and it was a massive landslide victory. I think it was 72% or something like in favour.
I remember the entire world praising Ireland that day.
Yeah. and a lot of people were like, “Oh, why did you have to vote on it? Why didn’t the government just bring it in?” And I was like, “Because we wanted to prove that as a democracy we’ve grown up and we’re not all bigots anymore.”
Prove that we wanted it, not that the government said we wanted it.
Exactly. Yeah. Because it would have immediately. Because our taoiseach, our prime minister is gay, everyone would have just said, “Oh, well he’s just forcing his agenda.” But there is definitely a lot more tolerance. I mean, from when I was a kid until now, the level of tolerance and acceptance in Ireland has just, it’s a completely diﬀerent world to me here. When I was a kid, nobody would talk about that stuﬀ. Nobody would ever. I remember. I think I was 12 and there was an episode of Coronation Street that my parents were watching where two lads kissed and they were like, “Turn it oﬀ.” Now, my parents are like, “Oh. That’s such and such, they’re gay” and everybody is acting delighted about it. Isn’t that brilliant.
A lot of people will be like, “Oh, well look. They just changed because…” But I’m like, “No.” But as a society we are hopefully in a lot of ways, we’re as you said, we’re still a shit species. But hopefully, by some respect, we are starting to evolve. But what I found interesting was during the repeal the eighth for abortion referendum, a lot of people used gay marriage as a means to kind of… they would say, “Well, look. I’m fine with gay marriage and I voted yes for that so I’m going to vote no for this. ” And it’s like these are two totally diﬀerent issues.
Just because they both have maybe religious connotations, you just can’t just kind of say, “Well, I did that one so I’m not…”
So I thought it would be interesting to have a gay character in there who maybe he is the closest thing in a lot of ways for her to be able to empathise with because as I say, we just had that referendum two, three years before. But because they’re so diﬀerent, he still can’t understand what she’s going through but he’s doing his absolute best. I wanted to kind of explore that.
I figured if it was just one of her mates, a girlfriend… Something that I find interesting is some people have said when she first goes to the house with Davet, before we ever get told that he’s openly gay, a lot of people thought, “Oh. He’s luring her out to get with her.” And I kind of like that; it wasn’t necessarily intentional, but I like that people think that. And then when they get that they’re like, “Oh, shit. He’s not. He’s gay. Okay.”
I wanted to play with that convention of the presumption that well, if a guy and a girl are friends then obviously he’s just interested. Well, you can completely negate that with a sentence. Yeah. So and I figured that also there was a moment where him and Sarah are sitting on the couch and it kind it feels like she’s asking him about his personal life, his history. But really what you kind of come to realise is that she’s kind of still selfish in that she’s not really interested in his history. She’s just trying to relate it back to what she’s going through without just saying like, “I’m going through this. Help me.” She was teasing it out of him. And he kind of realises that;.
So when you were prepping for The Perished when you were writing, did you talk to any anybody that had been through it? You said you had a mate that went through it when she was 16. Did you get any other points of view, talked to anybody else that had been through either side of it?
Yeah, I spoke to a friend of mine. Well, I spoke to another person… they were totally a die-hard pro-life person. I had to sit down with them and have a chat and be like, “But why?” And they were giving me all these reasons, which I fundamentally disagree with. I’m not even going to get into them here, but they were saying stuﬀ that I was like, “That’s ridiculous.” It was eﬀectively boiling down to this argument that I think is absolute nonsense of, “Well, if we allow abortion, then women are just going to go out and use it as a contraception.” I’m like, “No. Nobody wants to put their body through that for… don’t be fucking ridiculous.” So there was stuﬀ like that but then also, I did research into the procedure. Courtney [McKeon] actually helped a lot.
Fun bedtime reading.
Oh, man, it was rough. And Courtney, who plays Sarah, she very early on before she was even cast, we were talking because she was campaigning in the repeal referendum for pro-choice. And we were sitting down talking, and she was telling me how long it would take to get a procedure, how much it costs, the diﬃculties involved, and I was kind of in shock. And then I spoke to women in the UK who had an unplanned pregnancy when they were 17 in the, who checked, the child would say, but they were like, “I can’t believe.” In that moment, they were like, “I had that option. I can’t imagine not having that option.” They were like, “I didn’t choose it but I knew I could. And I wouldn’t be judged and stigmatised, and people would have just kind of gone, ‘Look that’s what she had to do in her life.'” Whereas here, it would have been like, “You’re blacklisted. Nobody will ever speak to you again. Just leave the country.” And a lot of people have asked as well if, “Oh, well, this seems like maybe it’s the Ireland from 20 years ago. Is it really still this bad?” And I’m like, “In rural areas, it’s still that bad. There’s still the neighbours looking out their windows, being like, ‘Did you hear about so and so? They did it.’
I live in a rural area and I think you just have to be so careful. You just keep it all inside because every neighbour wants to know everything you’re doing. And the moment they find out, they’ll tell the whole town. And then the priest finds out and he comes down to you.
I’m 100% glad I’ve always been a city boy.
Yeah, I kind of miss living in town in Limerick. But in saying that, I like living at the country but it is a very diﬀerent mindset. And while we obviously have a majority of progressives now, judging by the marriage referendum and the abortion referendum both going through. I mean, the abortion referendum was only by something like 2%, so not quite the majority…
Not quite as much of a landslide as you were hoping for?
No. Definitely not. I stayed up. I was on tenterhooks waiting for that announcement. There had been the pre-tallies and everything and it looked… it was like, okay, it could be like 1% over or 1% under and it was terrifying. And because I have two daughters myself and I’m just… as I say, I am myself very pro-choice. And I was like, “Please, for my daughter’s sake, let this be done herewith.”
It‘s interesting because even with the abortion referendum and the vote going through… because people were like, “Oh, well, your film is kind of irrelevant now because now it’s happened. And I’m like, “Just because they wrote it through in a legislation does not mean that opinions or mindsets have changed.
Like you said a couple of times, there’s just no room for conversation anymore. And that’s hopefully something that your film can kind of promote a little bit.
Hopefully. And one of the most interesting things I found, and I mean, when I read reviews where people really get the message of the film, it blows my mind because I’ve read other ones where – and they have been fine reviews. I’m not here to slam any, every opinion of the film is valid. You know what I mean? But I’ve read somewhere they say, “Oh, she was being punished for her decision to have an abortion.” And I’m like, “Okay, when you watch The Exorcist or you watch any of these movies, you can say, ‘Oh, well, she’s being punished for going out and having a job and leaving her kid at home. And so now her kid is possessed by the devil.'” You can say that about anything, but my whole point with The Perished, and I think a couple of reviews really got it, was the idea that it’s not about saying that women should be punished for this stuﬀ, it’s saying that historically, they have.
I mean, the monster is a metaphor, but the monster is just a metaphor for that same stigma, shame, and guilt that these women for the last 80, 100 years – well, I mean, I think it was 1948 that the law came in, but had been basically experiencing that.
And so the film isn’t going yay for punishment. It’s going, “This has to change. We need to stop punishing young women for what they’re doing.” And even with the mass baby graves thing, it’s trying to take something. I’m going to get into this a little bit…
There was a little drawn cartoon in the newspaper at the time of the referendum here, and it was a priest standing on top of a mass of babies bodies, pointing at a woman in a repeal T-shirt and saying, “Murderer.” And it was just showing that hypocrisy of they’ve actually been found out to have these mass baby graves, this organisation, but they’re still like, “You can’t do that with your body.” That’s horrible.
So I knew I wanted to tackle something where you could show what the church did but not necessarily be going on and on about the church because I mean, you don’t have to. When you say the word mass baby grave in one of these facilities, it’s like you don’t need to get into it any further than that. It’s like that’s wrong.
There’s no justification for it. But then to have that organisation be so vocal about women’s rights of what to do with their own bodies that was, for me, another big element of what I wanted to tackle in the film and why I wanted to set it against the idea of something that happened in the past and something that is happening in the present. That was where that kind of came together.
Since your film’s come out, and obviously a lot of people have seen it have you had any negative reaction to your film?
Yeah. It’s been shocking. We’ve had 14 reviews so far. 10 of them have been what I would call positive review, kind of three and above. Three and five and above, or when they’re not scored, just positive. They read positively. and there’s been four what I’d call mixed, and even I think there’s one great review where the lady who wrote it at the end says, “Look, this film just didn’t resonate with me, but I can understand that it would resonate with other people.” So even though she’s not in love with the film, she’s not saying, “Don’t check it out, it’s garbage.” She’s like, “It just didn’t work for me, but it might work for you.”
It’s a tough subject matter to recommend. You’re not making this easy for yourself.
It’s like when somebody told me, “Aw, man, you’ve got to check out Irreversible.” Oh, thanks for that. I’m never taking a recommendation from that person ever again.
But yeah, as you say, it’s a tough one but I think that whether people like it or dislike so far, or are sold on it or aren’t sold on it, people are still very much kind of saying, “Well, look, whether I like it or dislike it, it is about an important subject, and somebody is tackling it, and whether I like it or dislike it, it’s important.” So nobody has kind of come out… look, it’s going to happen. It’s the internet. Some day someone’s going to come out and be like, “Your movie’s fucking garbage.”
Well, I mean, I came from video game development, and people were so much more… I could handle film critics, game critics a million times more than going into the IGN comments on any of the trailers for my games.
But yeah, I think that a lot of people, as I say, whether they like it or dislike or get it or don’t get it, still see the value of it and say, “Well, it’s still an important movie to exist, regardless of whether I personally like it or not.”
Which is an amazing reaction for anybody to have. If you don’t like it but know it’s important, that’s something pretty special.
And to me, that was all I wanted, was to make something that did open a conversation, that did encourage people to say… and as I say, even these people that say, “Oh, I think she’s being punished,” While I disagree, I’m like, “Discuss. Talk about…” While I disagree, I’m happy for that conversation to be open because then that allows you to discuss the topic. And it’s like, “Well, do you think women should be punished? Because I don’t.” So yeah, it’s been a very cool response, and I’m very eager to see how it does in the States. So far it’s been diﬃcult to get a screening Stateside, but I think it’s a film that could be received very well in the States or absolutely destroyed in the States. I think I already know the States that are that bit more progressive where they would probably be like, “This is great,” and then I know the ones that would just be like, “You’re evil. You’re going to hell.”
So what’s next? Where does The Perished go from here? Obviously, you’re trying to get stateside. You’ve got a couple of festivals coming. Anything home release?
Well, look, I mean at present whereas we say a month out from the world premiere, so we haven’t had any kind of like… we did get a bunch of sales agents as well out of FrightFest coming and saying, “We saw the film playing at FrightFest. We’d like to talk to you.” Now, a lot of them jumped around a mile from it as well because the subject matter. It’s not an easy sell either because you need the right partner who’s going to be like, “This is challenging,” or “This is tough job. Taking on something challenging. I need the right way to market or sell this to people.”
It’s interesting because… we both were talking about recent Tigers Are Not Afraid, which is just an exceptionally powerful piece of filmmaking. Yet again it’s not a fun watch. It’s not a ride. It’s not a roller coaster. It’s tough, challenging, upsetting viewing. And it took a long time for that to find a home. So anytime I get worried now about like, will this ever find a home? Will this get there? I think of Tigers… and obviously, I’m not trying to compare my Film to Tigers. She’s phenomenal. I just, I realised that even films like that which are that good, it can take a long time for them to find their home. So that’s kind of where I was maybe three weeks ago being like, “We need to get this sold.” Now I’m like, “The right home will come along when it’s good and ready.”
And I’m jumping straight on to my next project. I mean, I’m going to still be pushing this. I’m going to still be going to all the festivals and talking about this film, singing his praises because I’m so proud of it. But I also feel that if I was to rest on my laurels and kind of take a step back, I’d fall back into a similar track that I did before I met Joe Lynch. So instead, I’m just like, going to do something very wild. very experimental, totally diﬀerent, with the exception that the themes are still about grief, loss, sadness. That’s my jam.
Tell me about your new project then.
Yes. It’s a ridiculous little project – the title at the moment, it’s a working title. It could change, it might not, but it’s In Memoriam. And it’s found footage film, which it’s really funny because if you would ask me three, four years ago, “Will you ever make a found footage film?” I would have said, “Absolutely not. Not in a million years.” But It’s weird because with this… I came up with an idea about two people who have a shared experience of grief and loss who become friends through that, which is loosely based on me and my friend Steven Tolbert who plays the creature in The Perished. We both connected very quickly because we both lost people close to us. And I think that brings people together in a weird way. Because when you can share that feeling that… you feel like nobody else maybe understands it, and it creates a kind of kinetic friendship. So I wanted to do something about that. The more I talk about it, I was like, “Shit, this only works as a found footage film.”
But I kind of also changed my view on found footage films, because I saw Creep, which blew my mind and I was like, this is a phenomenal found footage film. I watched Hell House LLC recently, which I was like, again, it was really well done. And the first one… and just really simple scares that weren’t kind of trying too hard, just a little placement of things. And so we’re basically kneecapping ourselves left, right and centre because it’s going to be very improv driven, so it’s not as much script. So I’m going to be much more focused on directing rather than writing. Barry [Fahy – The Perished’s Producer and Director of Photography] might direct the photography. He’s been kind of hamstrung by the fact that it is found footage. He’s not going to be behind the camera. He has to be a director of photography. He has the cameras. And then the actors don’t necessarily have that comfort zone of, “What’s my line?” They have to kind of be in the moment, in the part. So it’s a bit of a wild experiment. I could be back talking to you in six months and be’d like, “It was garbage. We threw it in the bin because it just didn’t work.” But I’m going to try it anyway.
I’ve seen some pretty shit found footage movies in my time.
Oh, so have I. Because as I was doing research for this one, I did go watch a bunch of them and saw them, like you say, I’s just like, how did this get made and sold?
When I saw Creep, what blew my mind was when I read up about it and I was like, “They made this film for like 100 bucks in like three days.” Obviously they’d come back and did reshoots or something later. But still, to me, it was that understanding that a good idea trumps everything. You know, if you have a good core idea that can sustain an entire film if you do it right, so yeah.
I really want to make my big-budget next film, but obviously I’m still climbing my way up this thing. It’s a challenge. I’ve been making films for coming up on five years now. But I look at people like Adam Egypt Mortimer who did Daniel Isn’t Real. And that film took him seven and a half years to get it made. So I’m looking going, “Yeah. I’ve gone from that guy who was like, ‘I’m thinking of giving up because it hasn’t happened for me yet and I look at these people and I’m like, “Holy shit. Some of these people were trying for 10, 12, 15 years before they got the film that got them noticed and then they got a budget behind them and stuﬀ.” And some people never do.
Are you just looking to have a review one day not mention The Three Don’ts?
“From Paddy Murphy, director of The Perished and In Memorium comes…” and that way we can completely forget everything else?
It’s fine because I’m still super proud of the Don’ts.
It’s just a bunch of lads baiting each other in the woods. But as you say, everything that could possibly ever go wrong in a shoot went wrong in that shoot. But that’s why it was the best film school you could… you couldn’t pay for that kind of experience because going into The Perished, we were so prepared by comparison.
Because you’d done everything wrong the first time.
Exactly. And especially audio was the biggest one. And every time I look at The Three Don’ts, I do think there’s some great performances in there, I think there’s some great stunt choreography, but every time I’m like “Oh the audio” I’m just like, “Fuck. If only we had known how important audio was.” This actually would be a step up again a little bit I think. But that’s all part and parcel of it. I’m hoping, as I say, that the funding bodies here like Screen Ireland, they’re not massively well known for genre films, but I do think with the success with stuﬀ like Hole in the Ground and other Irish genre films, like Sea Fever’s just played at TIFF and things like that, that hopefully they do start to go, “Well, who’s making genre in this country? Yo, where are they? Let’s see what we can do to support them.”
Every time I talk about Screen Ireland I will always try to make it clear that I’m not being combative or confrontational like, “Where’s my money. Support me.” It’s more that I really want to work with them because I think those type of funding bodies can support and help genre film. Like Telefilm Canada do it. They did it with Rabid. But I think it’s the duty in some ways of those governmental bodies to look at these genre filmmakers because that’s where you get your Cronenberg’s.
Do you have issues with funding in Ireland? Because funding bodies in Ireland do it slightly diﬀerently, don’t they? They fund on treatment as opposed to finished script. Have I got that right?
Well you see, they do both but it’s really weird because when I came with The Perished, I had already gotten to a script stage. And so at that point they were like, “Oh, you’ve gone too far for development funding. You now have to go into production funding.” And production funding is way more challenging to get because at that point you have to probably have all your legals done and all that stuﬀ, which all costs loads of money. So you’re trying to get funding but you have no money to have the stuﬀ you need to get to get funding.
So this time, I’ve learnt that for the next film – for the next bigger film – I’m going to go in at development stage. I’m restraining from writing a script and instead just trying to get the treatment down really tight and then bring that in and lookbook and all those materials and say, “Here it is. The budget is XYZ. Can you guys help?” I mean, they are supportive. I never tried to be as I say, too diﬃcult. And I know there’s there are some people in the country that do take issue and have a very strong standpoint on… “they’re not supporting these people. They’re not supporting those people.” But I think it’s probably very hard for them as well because it’s down to people coming to them at the right time at the right thing.
And if I was a governmental funding body and somebody came to me with The Perished, they’d probably tell them to go away as well because it was so hotbed. I don’t think they could have touched it if they wanted to.
They came back and said like, “This sounds like a great film and we’ll definitely be eager to see it,” But we cannot have our fingerprints anywhere near this! Which is also totally fair. I’m okay with it.
When you pick a tough subject like that, you’re going to get reaction like that, aren’t you?
Exactly and you just have to be prepared for it. It’s a dream of mine to work with the screen Ireland or even with other big Irish production companies like, Fantastic Films who did Stitches, which I really enjoyed, and Let Us Pray and stuﬀ like that. I’m hoping that The Perished, and with the fact that it had FrightFest premiere and Horrorthon and all these other things that hopefully it does just take those companies there to say, “Wait, who’s this lad from Clare that’s made this made abortion film?”
And I mean, I’m hopeful. Every day when I’m looking at what’s going on with The Perished, I’m hopeful that I’m going to get that email from Screen Ireland saying like, “Hey, pop up to the oﬃce, let’s chat,” even if it’s just that it’s not like, “oh, here’s a ball of money” that’s never gonna happen even if it was just “we’d love for you to come up and chat about like your next projects and stuﬀ.” Because I feel like that’s the next step for me on a professional level with this, is to get to that level where I’m working with those kinds of government bodies. But then it also becomes a challenge of like, do you get to say the same kind of things.
Would you have full control of your film?
Now, in saying that, I think for certain films, it’s not going to be as big of an issue. The Perished was definitely a little bit of an outlier in that respect. I don’t think every one of my films is going to be quite as challenging.
They’re going to look at you and go, “Let’s have something we can sell this time, yeah?”
Have you got a talking dog film?
Or if not, put a talking dog in it.
The Perished would’ve been more sellable if Sarah had a talking dog in the house instead of Davet!
See, this is where the Tigers’ thing comes in. She has a walking tiger teddy bear.
It don’t need to talk. It just waddles around looking cute. That’s all you need.[The conversation devolved for a good ten minutes about favourite films and how our wives reacted to our favourite films recently. We got back to The Perished when we talked about the greatest films that are tough to recommend.]
It’s going back to what you were saying about The Perished being hard to recommend, they’re always my favourite films.
That’s why I like The Perished so much because I was like, “Jesus. This is horrible. Everybody needs to watch this but I don’t know who I can tell to watch it.”
It’s so true. As I say, I’m the very same in that those are the kind of films that resonate with me are the ones that I will never watch again.
Possibly the hardest thing about The Perished was that it was such a heavy shoot but we were – unless the actor specifically said, “Look, I’m trying to get this on. Can we not…?” Unless we got a request people were kind of very uncomfortably making jokes and stuﬀ. Like I was saying that people do that and it’s like everyone’s suddenly really tense and so somebody has to say something really inappropriate or really awkward or really ridiculous. And then everyone just explodes laughing.
Just to break the tension.
And yeah, the tension dies. And unless an actor goes, “Look, I need space.” in which case, we’d be like, “Okay, we’ll all go into another room,” or that actor would go oﬀ and find somewhere to work, but yeah, it was hard to balance that. We need to laugh and joke because if we were just to feel like this for the whole shoot it’d be horrible. But then the other side of it is we need those moments as well where everybody gets really serious and intense.
It was bizarre because if you look at all the stills – I think Mike Shawcross has sent me something like I don’t know four or six thousand stills – at this point for those BTS and stills from the shoot. And in almost every behind the scenes still we’re laughing. And I look at it and I go, “For such a bleak film we seemed to be having the times of our lives.” I know we weren’t all the time but it’s just whenever Mike captured it, it definitely looks like it was just a riot of a shoot. And I guess in a lot of ways, it was because we were all comfortable enough with each other from having worked on numerous things together to be able to understand what do people need? Do they need a joke? Do they need a laugh? Do they need space? And that was important, to be able to isolate what actually the actors needed more than anything.
How was it having [FrightFest director] Paul McEvoy on the set?
That was awesome. Yeah, having Paul was epic because Paul – I had met Paul at FrightFest in Shepherd’s Bush and it’s an infamous story now as well because I came out and I asked Paul – we tell it diﬀerently as well. So Paul’s story is slightly diﬀerent from mine. I like Paul’s one though. But I came out; I was still smoking at the time but I asked Paul, “Oh, did you see my short film, Retribution, which I submitted?” I didn’t realise that A) Paul didn’t do the shorts programming. And B), that it would kind of come across like, “Hey, did you see my film? Why didn’t you programme it?” And Paul was in a really bad mood at the time. There’d been an incident at FrightFest, and he was in a really, really bad mood, so perfect timing. And he went oﬀ at me. He was like, “You think I watch all the fucking shorts. What the fuck?”
He flipped out at me. Shawcross is just standing there with his hand over his eyes like, “Oh, no. What have you done?” And while he’s kind of coming at me with all this instead of doing the humane thing and bowing down and lying down, doing the right thing. I’m just like, “You are the dominant male. I’m sorry.” my instinct was to go, “Can I borrow a cigarette oﬀ you?” And so Paul was like, “Oh, what the…?” Gave me a Marlboro Menthol. I’ll never forget it – and went away. And then the next day, I came up to him, and I brought a 20 box of Marlboro Menthols. And I came up, and I was like, “I’m so sorry for last night,” and I gave him the Marlboro Menthols. And he was like, “I am so sorry. I was just in a really bad mood,” and he gave me a big hug. And I was like, “Okay, these people are like family, where you can lose your rag at your family and then be friends again.”
Obviously, people that read this that haven’t been to FrightFest don’t know that Paul is the nicest guy in the world.
Oh, he is incredible. And he’s the life of the party. He’s just wonderful, wonderful. But what I learned having him on set of The Perished is I didn’t realise how much – obviously, it should go without saying that he has an immense amount of film knowledge. But I didn’t realise just how much he knew about the art of film making, not just films as a viewer until we had him on set. Because I’m very inclusive on set. I like to allow discussion. And somebody says, “Oh, this will be a cool thing to try maybe,” I’m not going to be like, “No, I’m the director. How dare you? No.” And Paul was great that the last act, Paul comes up beside me and says, “Where this is going, I feel like this person’s performance is maybe going too escalated. And this person’s performance could…”
And he was so right. When I kind of went back, and I was like, “Can we get playback on the last couple of clips?” And then I was like, “I totally missed that the performance was too heightened.” But that’s what I mean. Having him on set was great. There’s a lot of jokes that go around about, “Oh, you brought him to set just so you can get into FrightFest.” What it really boiled down to was I know Paul well enough as well to know that you can bring him to set. You could buy his meals every day. You could buy him all the booze in the world. But if your film is shit…
He’d still tell you your film is shit and that he’s not going to programme it for you.
Yeah. It doesn’t come down to like, “Oh well, I’m going to wine and dine him and get the film. I know Paul well enough.” But really, it was more a case of having skills on set. That last weekend was the most important weekend because it was all the big genre stuﬀ. And we had Paul McEvoy. We had Jonathan Barkan from Dread Central, who was another industry veteran eﬀectively, and Ariel Fisher, she’s worked for Fangoria and Rue Morgue. And so the three of those were kind of on-set advisors who would give some advice about creature stuﬀ. They worked with the makeup team. They’re stood in with the makeup team and observed and kind of said, “Well, what about…?” “Maybe do it…” And it was just great to have those kind of consultants, and they liked that.
When I sent the first draft of the film to Paul, the first cut in April I think it was, Paul was brutal. This was not a Fright Fest submission. This was just me sending it to Paul as a mate like, “Look, can you throw eyes on this, and tell me if you think it’s good.” And Paul came back and was like, “No. Cut this. Change that. Move this. Bah, bah.” And like with any feedback I ever get, I will take some stuﬀ onboard. What I generally find is that if it’s something that isn’t… if I put the film out to four people and something comes back from all four people recurring, “That’s an issue.” If something comes back and it feels like more of a personal preference on that person’s part, I’m like, “I might stick to my guns on this.”
But really, Paul did help. I mean, the very first rough cut was two hours long, which was way too long and ridiculous, and it was awful. There was 1 hour 46 cut. That was the first one I showed Paul. And, I mean, it’s now an hour and a half, so we took 16 minutes out of the film from that version to what we streamed. And some of it was full scenes. There’s a scene on a beach with Sarah and Davet where they’re talking about stuﬀ. And then there’s a scene with Nigel and Shane in the warehouse loading up the van. And there’s whole scenes – a lot of the stuﬀ with the parents at the start that got cut because it was taking way too long to get into the meat of the film. And it really came down to “Well, what’s important? With the parents, for example, what do we actually need to see versus what would be nice?” And the way I looked at it, in the end, is when we got down to the hour 30, and I love that cut. I’m happy with it. I was like, “Well, all that other stuﬀ would make good deleted scenes on a blu-ray release.”
Here’s hoping we get to see that blu-ray release soon. The Perished is a film that absolutely everyone should watch, like Paddy said, just so you have somewhere to start the much needed conversation.
If you’re near a festival somewhere that is showing the film, it’s well worth your time and energy.
A big thank you to Paddy for taking the time to shoot the breeze with us and spill the beans on The Perished. We wish him the best of luck with the film.
*Featured Image Photo Credit: Mike Shawcross*