Paul Hyett is better known for his FX work in cult horror classic The Descent, but 2015 has seen him release his second title as director after debuting with The Seasoning House in 2012. Howl follows an eclectic mix of characters as they battle through the night to survive against one of horror’s most ancient monsters.
This is Horror’s Rachel Howarth caught up with both Paul and Howl star Rosie Day at Grimmfest 2015.
Your background is in effects and makeup, what sparked the transition to director?
Paul: I think from twenty years of prosthetic makeup and effects, it was one of those things where I had learnt so much about film making and also there’s that transition of when I was younger I enjoyed to sculpt and I loved films and painting and it was a very creative outlet. Then over the years my love for film was always there and it got to the point where I had learnt so much about whether directing was good or bad, whenever I read a script I would visualise it. I would think I would do this or that, then it just goes to the point where I thought I want to shoot my own movies and do my own vision and write my own stories. I was lucky enough to raise finance for my first feature film The Seasoning House, which was received really well, but a lot of it just came from wanting to tell my own stories in my own individual style.
So what was it about Howl that drew you in?
Paul: For me after The Seasoning House, because the subject matter was dark, nihilistic and bleak I wanted to do something very very different. I felt like doing something fun and enjoyable and Howl came along and it was a very enjoyable popcorn movie that was funny, exciting and scary in places and had a lot of cool creatures. It had a retro feel, kind of horror express — like a Hammer movie and I felt it was about as opposite to The Seasoning House as I could get. It just felt like I wanted to do something more commercial and mainstream, but most of all it was an interesting script with good characters its very VFX heavy and technically a big challenge.
A lot of actors and directors draw on their own experiences, but how did you develop the characters with Howl?
Paul: With The Seasoning House we spent a lot of time talking about what the girls had gone through. We looked a lot of real case studies. With Howl I said to Rosie, just be an annoying teenager.
Rosie: According to my sister, it wasn’t too much of a stretch for me!
Do you feel like you have taken positive things from The Seasoning House but you have also learnt lessons of what not to do as well when making Howl?
Paul: You always learn from every film you do. You always make mistakes. I kind of learnt with The Seasoning House that preparation is the key. Always listen to your actors, try to get a good crew together, treat them really well, and explore the story. Everything I did with my first film I took as an experience and then tried to fine tune it within Howl.
Rosie: Paul is so great with actors. It’s a wonderful experience. It’s very collaborative. He directs so well but he also gives you your space as well. It’s a very creative set which is lovely.
Paul: That’s the nice thing as well — if you cast well then you don’t have to over-direct. I know with Rosie for example that she will bring her own character and she will have thought so much about the character. The actors are so well prepared and they nail it. It’s a collaborative process — we get on so well and it works perfectly. I’ve also been very lucky with cast — you hear horror stories…
Tell us more about the set you used for Howl.
Paul: Oh Goddd! We shot in an old warehouse in Croydon. Basically we built the set, then we built the forest. A lot of people can’t believe that we shot inside a warehouse but most of it was green screen. We built one side of the train and forest on the green screen. You wouldn’t believe that we were in old Croydon.
Most of what you have done has been horror. What drew you to it?
Paul: I love horror. I always have since watching John Carpenter’s The Thing as a kid and Nightmare on Elm Street. I’ve loved it since I was way too young to be watching it.
I don’t see my first film as a horror film but more as a war drama but it had such horrific elements to it so it didn’t feel to me like a horror movie. But the horror community embraced it which was a lovely thing.
I just feel like in England I get offered horror films more than anything else — I’m not going to get offered a rom-com.
Rosie: I think you would do rom-com really well.
Paul: It would be really dark Rosie — and you would have to die in it.
Would you do it?
Paul: I’ve always said I will read any script that comes to me and if I really like it, the story and the characters then I would do it. But I would have to put my own dark twist on it.
Howl is out on DVD in the UK on 26 October 2015 and in the USA on 12 January 2016.