Here at Movie Ramblings towers, we like nothing better than singing the praises of an up-and-coming genre talent.

So when, by a quirk of fate, we ended up chatting to writer/director/all-round cool customer Katie Bonham at an unrelated press junket recently, naturally we were intrigued.

You see, Bonham is one of that rare breed that has taken the giant leap from fandom to filmdom.

An avowed horror fan, Katie has already ploughed through three short films (The Doll, The Porcelain Ground and The Paper Round) in the last year alone, with the promise of plenty more to come.

And these are no slapdash efforts either, with her second production, The Porcelain Ground, attracting the attention of our fiendish friends at Frightfest, who shortlisted the film for their prestigious Shortcuts to Hell award.

Now about to unleash her latest effort, trauma trip The Paper Round, onto audiences (including its world premiere at February’s Frightfest Glasgow shindig), we thought it was high time to board the Bonham bus before she leaves us mere plebs in her wake:

 

You’ve obviously crammed in an awful lot into the past year – was there a ‘trigger’ at all that kicked off the filmmaking process for you?

I have always been a fan of horror films and annually attend Film 4’s Frightfest, but I started properly writing about 18 months ago, and, as an avid fan I mostly wrote short horror screenplays. When I finished my first short screenplay Doll I let a few friends read it and they asked why I wasn’t taking it further and shooting it myself. I had imagined every detail and felt a great responsibility to the script, so I decided to shoot it. We filmed over a single weekend and I was doing most of the jobs, from storyboarding to prop making to directing during the shoot. It was a great, yet stressful experience, but it sparked my passion to make horror films. I have a very supportive family who are willing to help in any way they can, which was put to the test when I needed to recreate an open grave set for The Porcelain Ground. So I called my mum and asked her if I could dig up her garden for the scene, to which she agreed and my dad constructed the coffin. My parents are really supportive – my mum has been a runner, stuntwoman, caterer and prop master. So really my trigger was realising I had nothing to lose and people who believed in me.

Your three films, while all considerably different, are all connected by a thread of (albeit warped) humanity, rather than say monsters or the supernatural – is that the side to the genre that appeals to you most?

Yes, I like horror placed within reality, so nightmarish scenarios that take place within someone’s everyday life, someone who is not special or important in the eyes of society. The past three films focus on horrors embedded in the normal routine of the characters’ lives, every day they encounter or create horror, something that has become part of them. Don’t get me wrong, I love most horror sub-genres, but I feel that the study of humanity that underlies these stories is what I want to focus on.

One of the more striking elements of all three of your films is the eye-catching cinematography and editing – how easy/difficult was it for you to put together a creative team?

I am very lucky with the team I work with. I know some very talented people who have great creativity, but who are not working in the field of their choice, so their passion to produce film is priceless, and we collaborate a lot on various projects. I have worked with the same DOP, Jason Weidner, for all three films, and his ability to grasp the concept and capture the look I am going for allows each film to come to life from the page to screen. I am also lucky to have found a great composer, Pat Fagan, whom I would happily use for all my films in the future. It all comes down to people’s commitment and dedication to a film, and I am lucky enough to have found people who are as excited as me about these projects and who are willing to put their time in.

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You yourself admit that your second short, The Porcelain Ground, was intended as a teaser trailer to showcase a full-length script you have written. Can you shed any more light on that?

When I began writing I started with very short screenplays, but I wanted to write a feature so I decided to take a screenwriting course at Raindance. At this time I had a notebook of single page scenes and small ideas jotted down, which were not yet properly developed. I was encouraged during the course to combine the ideas together and see what would emerge. I came up with an interesting premise and wrote the feature for The Porcelain Ground in three months, so I actually already had the full script before entering the 666 Shortcuts to Hell 2 competition. The competition involved creating a three minute short film based on an idea for a feature, to which, the winner would be rewarded with funding for a full length film. It was actually pretty challenging condensing a 90 page script into a three minute short, but it meant that we were able to strip it down and focus on the real essence of the story. We shot The Porcelain Ground short over a weekend and I subsequently entered it into the competition. When it made it through to the final 23, it was an amazing experience, and helped me to push forward with making The Paper Round. I have considered shooting The Porcelain Ground feature and we will see what the future holds for Adam (the main protagonist) and his friends.

All three of your films feature sparse dialogue (in the case of The Porcelain Ground none at all), with large emphasis on music and mood – how difficult is it for you to create the tone you are looking for?

I had a very precise vision for each film, and I think, based on the limited time frame, that atmosphere (mood and music) are key to both evoking a feel for the protagonist’s plight and the overall sense of mystery. Depending on dialogue to establish the storyline can be difficult in micro shorts, so if I don’t feel it strengthens the story, I won’t put it in. I think sound is so powerful in driving the story, and the sparse dialogue allows the viewer to take away their own interpretation and personally engage with each piece. The difficulty comes from bringing both the shots and the sound together to form a perfect balance of emotion and mood. I knew every shot I wanted to shoot, and I am very specific with the sound for each scene, something that I really concentrated on for The Paper Round. In regards to score my composer, Pat Fagan, is very quick at producing short samples of scores, so we can cover a lot of ground and try a variety of music.

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The Porcelain Ground obviously got you noticed by those devilish guys at Frightfest, and saw the film included on the Shortcuts To Hell DVD release – that must have been a thrill?

It was! I really didn’t think I had a chance and when I got through I was ecstatic. Frightfest has a very special place in my twisted heart. I have so many great friends there, so to get involved with one of their competitions was a no-brainer. Being included in the Shortcuts anthology was a great experience – I was able to offer my friends, family and supporters a viable place to watch and download the film, instead of just sending them the direct link myself. The short was also screened on The Horror Channel which was also amazing. To know that die-hard horror fans were watching a short film I made on digital TV is pretty exciting, and as my second short horror I was, and still am, very overwhelmed by the response and success of the film. My main highlight was Emily Booth telling my DOP at this year’s Frightfest that she loved The Porcelain Ground and that it was on her ‘definite’ list. This was all the praise I needed.

Your most recent project, The Paper Round, appears to be your most ambitious yet, and you successfully used Kickstarter to raise funds. Were you at all surprised by the support you attracted? 

Yes, it was pretty crazy, I had heard about Kickstarter and websites that raise funds for films, but I was always worried about appearing too cheeky asking people to take a leap of faith in me and investing their hard earned money. I had self-funded my first two shorts, but The Paper Round was the one with eyes watching me and anticipating the final result. I was lucky enough to have a great art designer, David Malcolm, who designed The Paper Round poster and t-shirts. I felt that the art design was an important element to the fundraiser as it offered original, well designed perks to donators, and a memento that was exclusive. It was amazing to have a few very generous contributions and I also had people donating money whom I had never met before, which was very humbling. I hit my £1000 target within seven of the ten day run, and suddenly The Paper Round was funded. I realised that people were willing to be part of the process and wanted to see what I could create when given a real budget. Again, I utilised the support of my family and had a crew of eight crashing at my parent’s house for the weekend. I repeated everything I had done on the previous shorts from storyboarding and casting to producing and directing. I didn’t want to take an easier route by having a budget. I knew what I could achieve without a budget and so I put the same dedication in as always, which concentrated the funds on to the story and the quality of the film.

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Clocking in at twice the length of your previous shorts, as well as including more cast members and locations, would you say The Paper Round was a logical step for you?

Definitely, I think there is a slight snobbery in making what would be termed ‘micro’ shorts and I wanted to push myself by making a longer film, with a real budget and see what I could create when faced with a larger project. I think that in each film you should progress, even if ever so slightly, you should always be improving and setting the bar slightly higher for yourself each time. The cast and crew were larger, we used more sets, and there was a very precise sound design and the score had to be spot on, so preparation was everything. The Paper Round was actually the first short I wrote and when writing it I set it around my childhood home which we shot on location in Hythe, Kent. We only had a weekend to shoot, which was the same amount of time we had for the previous films and with The Paper Round clocking in at double the time we really had to be on our game, but this came down to preparation and developing the experience we had from the other shoots that made it achievable.

The film will be getting its official ‘World Premiere’ at Glasgow’s Frightfest in February. How did that come about, and how excited are you to be showcasing The Paper Round to such a genre-savvy audience?

I have been attending Frightfest for years so it holds a special place in my horror heart and it was the first festival I submitted The Paper Round to. I am ecstatic to share the film there especially for it’s world premiere! Most of the audience are my friends and we have created a big family community so I have a mixture of nerves and excitement. I just hope everyone enjoys it and can take something away from the story it has to tell.

Although you write and direct all three, you also appear in The Doll (even if in voice only) – do you see yourself sticking to being behind the camera from now on?

Absolutely – I cannot stand being in front of the camera. I ended up doing the voice-over in Doll due to the lack of female voice-over artists, and an impending deadline, so I had to step up, and I cringe every time I watch it. For the second round of the 666 Shortcuts to Hell 2 competition I had to film an ‘elevator’ pitch. My cameraman will tell you that I was a nightmare, as it took hours to film a five-minute pitch – mainly because of nerves, involuntary facial expressions and even throwaway body gestures. The shortcut judges must have been tempted to YouTube it just for giggles, so, yeah, I really do not like being in front of the camera.

Would you say you have any influences from within the horror genre? Any directors out there that you look to for inspiration?

I am a massive fan of John Carpenter and Wes Craven, and a sucker for a slasher. I love Carpenter’s scores, and the sound design from the opening of Halloween is unbelievably compelling. I like horror with an identifiable villain. Also, a mask or iconic weapon is a powerful element within horror and creates a lasting image of evil in the minds of audiences. Also, another influence, although not horror, is that I am a massive Mike Leigh fan. His gritty kitchen sink realism dramas explore the personal tragedies of domestic working class people, and I really resonate with that. It’s beautiful yet horrifying to highlight the private and personal struggles that people face, and the horrors that come to shape them. So I guess I naturally try to cross both genres over, which is where I believe my humanity-focused horror comes from.

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Here at Movie Ramblings, we recently established a Women Of Horror section on the site, celebrating the fact that women are now seen as movers and shakers in the genre, rather than mere on-screen victims or set dressing. How important do you think this shift has been?

Really important that there are more female directors getting involved in the horror genre and the impact they are having on the industry with their success; it just shows the amount of support, creativity and talent they have. People are evil, people are storytellers and anyone can tell a horror story, regardless of gender. I think it is essential to highlight the influence that female directors are making on not only horror films, but on the film industry as a whole. It’s a hard industry to be in without the element of sexism added in too. I am just happy that there are people making good horror films, and yes they are female, and yes they are an unstoppable force. We need more female directors to inspire others to produce horror films, ones who are taken seriously for their talent, and not only being noticed for looking hot in a dominatrix suit.

Where do you see the future taking you? A move into feature-length productions perhaps?

I would love to make a feature, and that’s certainly my aim over the next few years; however, I do have another short in the pipeline, which is the opening ten minutes to a horror/fantasy feature idea. I have a full treatment lined out so I plan to shoot the short early next year, hopefully through Kickstarter funding and go from there. My latest short The Paper Round has also been entered into various film festivals, and I still have the full screenplay to The Porcelain Ground which I soon get the right back to, so really anything could happen. It’s a very exciting time and I am just trying to stay focused, creative and horror happy.

 

If we’ve whetted your appetite for Katie’s work, The Porcelain Ground can be viewed as part of the Shortcuts To Hell compilation via this link:

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/movie/shortcuts-to-hell-ii/id931061821

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.