Dominic Brunt is best known for playing Paddy Kirk in ITV’s soap-opera Emmerdale. A self-confessed zombie addict, Dominic recently released Before Dawn a film which he directed, made and starred in alongside his wife and writer, Joanne Mitchell. Emma Robins caught up with Dominic to get his thoughts on all that is zombies, Before Dawn and filmmaking.
When did you first decide you wanted to get into filmmaking?
Well I’ve been in a couple of films as an actor but my first love is filmmaking. I’m a total film geek and because I work with directors and cameras every day, I didn’t have a fear of the enormity of making a film. Marc Price (Colin) gave me loads of encouragement too and steered me away from making a short film and straight into doing a feature.
It was all my wife Joanne’s idea actually. I am a massive fan of the zombie genre through thick and thin and my wife is a huge fan of European drama and really couldn’t see what all the fuss was about.
It was her hypothetical idea to revolve a story around a real couple with real problems and to give the zombies a reason for being a part of the drama which would then add further intrigue of the story as well as turning the whole set up on its head. She wanted a dramatic personal story to be told with characters you would recognise and care for within the horror/slasher/zombie genre.
Before Dawn was filmed over just 13 days. What was it like both acting and directing at such a fast pace?
Exhausting but exhilarating. It was 15 days in all, I finished Emmerdale for my summer break on the Friday night then shot from the Saturday morning through to the second following Sunday night then straight back to Emmerdale. We had planned the shoot to death though and had a very structured schedule which we tried our best to stick to.
I don’t think I would purposefully decide to Produce/Act/Direct/Edit again as it’s just too much for one person to do. I would love to direct again and hopefully will in the new year – I really fell in love with the editing process but I would need help in producing at that level again.
What have been some of your most intense or traumatic cinematic moments which have stayed with you?
Horror wise, I found myself feeling very uncomfortable watching certain scenes from Martyrs as ‘home entertainment’ and bits of Snowtown were really effective in repulsing me but that’s what the filmmakers were aiming to do. Midnight Express is a huge favourite of mine and has me gripped every time. The last scene in Sleep Tight is pure emotion and just amazing cinema.
I did not know that you and Joanne Mitchell were real-life husband and wife when I watched this. On screen, your characters both bicker and hurt one another – how did you mentally prepare yourself for those dramatic scenes and how did you deal with them?
My wife and myself are very different people and the central relationship between Alex and Meg is an extension of those differences. I am northern working class and she is southern middle class for a start.
Our outlook and opinions on almost anything differs from the other but that is the attraction also. I think in Before Dawn we pushed that situation to a dramatic conclusion of a couple growing apart and indulging their polar opposites away from each other. I think they were in love but couldn’t articulate how they felt because they had gone too far in their own directions. Then the zombies arrive…..
The zombies in Before Dawn are very fast and rabid – why did you opt for fast zombies rather than the slower, shambling kid? Did you have exactly what you wanted in mind before filming?
Before Dawn would have been a very different film without the fury of the ‘fast’ or ‘running’ zombies which we went for. Part of the central fight pieces was to see what would happen if you pitched an unfit human being (Alex) who had never experienced violence, apart from maybe in the school yard, against a rabid ball of unthinking dead fury. There were no guns just a garage full of tools. It was great to show that level of fear and confusion and to throw the film open to its violent, bloody second act.
Tell us a bit about the make-up/effects in the film. How many zombie extras did you have?
The special effects were done by the brilliant 2BaldiesFX and we cast actors to play the zombie extras who took part in a movement class with Dave Nolan who had all the physical choreography perfectly realised for what we needed. There would have been nothing worse than deflating the whole film with self aware extras and mates playing half-arsed undead.
Of course, people primarily know you as vet Paddy Kirk from Emmerdale, and I think it’s fair to say that many did not expect this sort of subject matter from you. Are you a big fan of the horror genre?
I am the biggest nerd when it comes to film and horror film in particular. I am also an avid comic book reader, too, so I have all my geek credentials unapologetically in tact.
Myself and my work partner/mate Mark Charnock also run the Leeds Zombie Film Festival which will be in its sixth year next April.
What are some of your favourite genre films and did you take inspiration from any for this project?
I love Dawn of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead, Night of the Demon, Evil Dead – all the classics – but I think the central idea for Before Dawn was from Joanne who didn’t know ‘the rules’ of the horror genre and I think that is what makes the emotional content stand out. There have been tons of cottage/hut in the woods films but I think we offer something a bit different, hopefully.
The part of the visitor comes at a time when we have to explain the back story to the central characters and Nicky is just an amazing character actor. I knew he would put the effort into building a personality which would bring a freshness and new threat to their world and a brand new ‘spanner in the works’ to their situation. He did a brilliant job and we were lucky to have grabbed him when he was free.
So, what’s next for you and do you hope to return to Frightfest?
Ideally we would like to get cracking on our next feature sometime next year but it’s getting all the factors into place. People, places, money, time all have to be concentrated into two to three weeks.
We have a really strong story for our next project and it will definitely be a step forward in terms of ambition, but we’ll see. We’re still enjoying the process of getting Before Dawn out into all the festivals and taking part in the Q&A sessions. Festival appearances include: GrimmFest, Bram Stoker Film Festival, Celluloid Screams, The Abertoir halloween special in Cardiff, Leicester Day of the Dead, Leeds International Film Festival and Razor Reels in Belgium.
We have also been lucky enough in getting a distribution deal through Metrodome and a DVD release in February/March.
As it all went so horribly wrong for your character Alex in the film – what would be the perfect romantic get-away for you and Joanne (sans zombies, if you’d prefer)?
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