Having debuted at Frightfest back in 2014, urban supernatural horror film The Forgotten finally makes it to download/DVD this month.

The film marks the debut feature of writer-director Oliver Frampton, who came to the project with a background in television.

We sat down with Oliver to get the lowdown on this British slice of shock.

 

What is “The Forgotten”?

The Forgotten is a gritty, urban relationship drama, which evolves into supernatural thriller. It’s scary as hell but it’s bedded in a reality that firstly allowed us to avoid the character clichés of an archetypal horror film and, secondly, allowed us to explore a number of human themes that I’m extremely passionate about; flawed familial relationships, and the question of whether it’s truly possible for some people to escape the life they’re born into.

It’s an independently financed movie, with a very low budget, but it punches way above it’s weight because of these incredibly strong, naturalistic performances, characters you genuinely care about, and a really powerful human story. A horror film for grown ups.

It’s also my first feature as Director.

 

Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

I’ve actually spent the last decade or so working in television. I’m a Development Producer of Television Drama. Recently I ‘co-created’ and ‘co-produced’ a big three-parter for ITV called “Life of Crime”, starring Hayley Atwell. My background is editorial and specifically scripts, so I place a lot of value in script craft and in refining any piece ‘on the page’ before committing it to screen. The Forgotten was no exception and it meant we were in a really strong position when we sourced a casting director and began casting the film. My career in television is the real reason this film was made possible. It was me utilising twelve years’ worth of favours and contacts that I’d built up.

 

Where did the idea for the “The Forgotten” come from?

A number of years ago James Hall (my co-writer) and I used to work together on the ITV show “The Bill”. We would shoot in these big London estates that the council had all but cleared of people so they were like ghost towns. Literally acres of empty blocks in some cases. On “The Bill” we used to repopulate them so they looked like living, breathing, functioning estates. But I remember us talking to the location managers and they would say there was still one or two people living there who refused to leave. James and I got talking about what it would be like to be the only family living on the estate at night. How eerie that would be. And then it hit us that it had all of the elements of a horror setting (isolated, evidence of missing human life, imposing, unsettling). Almost immediately it seemed to open up the doors to be able to dramatically explore what kind of person would WANT to live here… Or need to…

Jen and I had been wanting to work together for a long time. And when we started talking about the idea, we all got very excited. So it sprang from there.

 

What were your creative ambitions for the film?

We felt very strongly from the beginning we wanted to make a film that said something about London and specifically about the people in London on the fringes of society, below the poverty line, and who are trapped in a certain kind of life with a certain set of constraints that make it very difficult to escape. And to explore this with a sense of hope.

Now, we’ve obviously chosen to tell this story through the prism of a horror film.

But the central conceit of The Forgotten is a metaphor for that struggle. Can one escape the life they’re born into? Are they fated to a certain end? It’s a film about London, shot in London, and crewed and starring individuals who all live in London.

We were really proud of this and knew that we were saying something with this film about the city. The other side of it was, of course, that we wanted to make a movie that was genuinely frightening. Not disgusting, but frightening.

I believe cinema is an immersive and emotional experience more than it is a cerebral one. Ghost stories, supernatural films, horror films – call them what you will – are an incredibly pure, distilled form of this kind of cinema. If they’re truly successful, you experience terror, you feel fear, and when the lights come back on you feel alive and energised, like it’s provided some kind of catharsis.

My co-writer James and I knew that in films like “The Innocents”, “Paranormal Activity”, “The Shining” and J-horror films like Hideo Nakata’s “Dark Water” and Takashi Shimizu’s “Ju-on” – to name but a few – are genuinely effective because they are character stories. They hook you with intriguing relationships way before they play out any kind of supernatural element. So I guess our ambition was to make a scary film the way we thought it should be made. A strong character story, boldly paced towards a terrifying climax.

 

For a low budget film, you attracted some great talent – how did you get them on board?

It all starts with the script. That and – of course – a passionate, proactive producer like Jennifer Handorf. Our first step was to find a great Casting Director and we went straight to Daniel Edwards, who I had worked with on television projects a number of times. He absolutely loved our script and came on board immediately. And he was instrumental in opening doors for us. Both Shaun Dingwall and Lyndsey Marshal were my first choice for ‘Mark’ and ‘Sarah’. But I was nothing to them – someone they’d never heard of – so, again, it all came down to the strength of the script and meeting me for a cup of tea and a chat to convince them it was a worthwhile project.

Thankfully, both said yes.

Then we started the tough job of finding our ‘Tommy’ and our ‘Carmen’ – the heart and soul of the film. Elarica Gallacher had just come off the back of the award winning Channel 4 drama “Top Boy” and when she auditioned she asked if she could read a different scene to the one we’d requested because she liked it more. She knocked it out of the park.

Finding our ‘Tommy’ was much harder. Daniel set up sessions where we could audition groups of young lads together and then pick out those who had a whiff of the ‘Tommy’ about them. We must of – without exaggeration – seen about fifty potential ‘Tommy’s’. And nobody was quite right. So Daniel dug deep and started looking further afield, placing adverts on smaller agency websites and trawling local theatres. Eventually we found Clem Tibber and when we put him and Elarica in the room together I could tell instantly that the chemistry was just right – a ‘young lad’ looking up to (and attracted to) a much bolshier more street-smart ‘young woman’.

Just the touching dynamic we were after.

 

 

As your first feature, how did you find it working with actors like Shaun Dingwall and Lyndsey Marshal?

Just a joy. Lyndsey and Shaun were really into it. They had meaty roles to play with and had come on to “The Forgotten” only because they wanted to; they believed in the project and in me – it certainly wasn’t for the money! I think they realised I knew what I was after and that this clarity of vision would actually allow them the freedom to dig deep and find the life and the truth within scenes.

Our schedule was massive and we were working incredibly quickly but the actors tell me they never felt rushed because they always knew what they were doing and that we wouldn’t move on until we were all happy with what we had.

Lyndsey was only with us for a short while so I wondered how she’d feel joining a crew who had already well and truly bonded. But we had a blast and she completely blew everyone’s socks off. She plays someone who has suffered a mental breakdown and in my research I had pinned down that, depending on the case, some of the symptoms of a breakdown can be very close to a ‘bipolar episode’. My brother-in-law is ‘bipolar 1’ so I knew this territory well. And when I first sat down with Lyndsey, we looked through photos of real cases so I could draw her attention to the fear sufferers have behind their eyes. She came in, having not washed her hair for days, with that fear ingrained inside her head somewhere and her scenes were just mesmeric.

Shaun was with us a lot longer and his character journey forms the spine of “The Forgotten”. I think we share similar philosophies on work and on life. We talked a lot up front about ‘Mark’, about what he’s going through and what kind of man he is. What he thought about, what he wanted. And we purposely scheduled so that Shaun only needed to go to his darkest place towards the end of the shoot. It meant there was a really interesting tension between he and Clem on screen because he didn’t quite know where Shaun would get to, how scary he would become. Shaun is also an extremely generous actor and he was so invested in the piece as a whole that I could tell much of his performance was designed to bring out the best in Clem – and their on-screen dynamic.

 

Was it any different working with Elarica and Clem?

It’s different working with every actor. They all bring different personalities and lives and experiences to the floor. That’s the beauty of acting – there’s craft involved in performance, of course. But there’s also life and personality. I think the key thing about being a director is being good ‘one-to-one’.

And capitalising on that life and personality to bring a character alive. It’s a job that requires trust and, while so much of it demands wrangling large numbers of people, looking back it’s those private conversations that yield the most important results.

Clem is perfect as ‘Tommy’ but his demeanour (and I mean this in a positive way)was perhaps closer to his character than, say, Elarica. So with Clem, he was always believable as ‘Tommy’ and my job was pushing him to try new stuff and develop that character as the film progresses. As an actor he became subtly more confident throughout the shoot – which worked so well in terms of tracking his ‘coming of age’ in the story. Of everyone he was the most impressive in terms of naturalism. With Elarica she was that bit more experienced and so our working together was different. My job was more getting her to trust me enough to visit some quite dark emotional places. The two of them gelled really well. And I was so proud of what they achieved.

 

Can you briefly outline the type of production it was?

We shot entirely on locations and studios around South London with a stripped-down on-set crew of around 25-30 depending on the location and demands. The majority of that was in and around a real-life abandoned housing estate in Sutton, which we essentially had the run of (inside and out). Before moving onto streets, cafes, parks, and a few days in a studio in South Wimbledon.

I had a really strong sense of how I wanted the film look and feel, which was cementing during the writing process. In my mind it was a subjective movie from Tommy’s ‘point of view’ both visually and audibly and everything had to invite the audience into his world. So I wanted an urban, hand-held look, which could also very easily slip into being fluid and dreamlike. And rather than a washed-out / high-contrast colour palette we’d all associate with gritty photography, I wanted deep, rich colours and dynamic light that felt genuinely motivated. I also wanted to do long, single shot takes where it felt we had earned it.

We chose to shoot on a combination of two DSLR cameras specifically for their intimacy in those tight locations. The movie is almost entirely shot handheld (a rigged camera), with lenses specifically picked because they most closely replicated how the eye sees these spaces. We also – after some experimentation – decided to shoot almost entirely with ‘practicals’ because I wanted to chase naturalism in every sense as much as possible. Eben Bolter (my DoP) is a genius with the camera and really bought into the challenge, he pulled out all the stops and helped create something really different and original.

 

Did you find it difficult moving from television into cinema?

In all honesty, no. My heart has always been with film and I naturally gravitate towards a more cinematic form of storytelling – both editorially and visually. This film was only really possible because of ten years’ worth of favours that I’d built up with a career in television. And the amazing crews with whom Jennifer Handorf (Producer) had worked on other low budget features.

For example, I managed to get a Locations Manager that I had previously worked with to help us out with good suggestions. And we even went back to my old studios at “The Bill” to shoot on their hospital set.

Television in the UK (and across the globe) is an incredibly exciting medium at the moment. We have a really healthy industry. TV drama is increasingly funded in similar ways to film – with multiple financial contributors – and it feels like the floodgates have opened in terms of the ideas and the genres that audiences want on their screens. So the knock-on is that broadcasters are commissioning more and more cinematic projects. It strikes me there’s less of a divide in the ambitions and outputs of the two mediums.

But what’s fantastic about shooting for cinema is that you can construct scenes slightly differently. You can go wider, you can go darker, you can heighten the sound a little more and play with it spatially. More than anything, you can employ techniques to utterly immerse the audience in the story world which is perhaps tougher on a smaller screen. People expect more of an experience. So that notion affects how you shoot and how you edit the film.

 

Can you tell us a little bit about the post-production?

I had an amazing editor, Thomas Perrett, who has a great eye and a strong sense of story. We spent a long time working and re-working the film, mainly for pacing. Once we felt we were getting close we started screening cuts to cold audiences who had nothing to do with the film. That process was invaluable. One of our screenings was held at OnSight the post-house and they were suitably impressed by the film, and the reaction, to offer to finish the film for us in-house. Jennifer and I had a whole other work flow planned but were really keen to work with OnSight, so shifted our film over to them. Tony Maher at OnSight has done a fantastic job for us.

 

How was it being independently financed? And what constraints did you find you had?

The beauty of being independently financed is that we were able to work with total freedom – to tell the story the way we wanted to tell it. We absolutely cast for character rather than profile, we shot where we wanted, we gave the film the look we wanted it to have, we paced the film the way we wanted to pace it. There was a great meeting of minds and of passions that means when I look back at the film now I can see it’s a real expression of a group that was pushing in the same direction.

Obviously the constraint was money. And specifically how that translated into time.

We had a short shoot – fifteen days – which meant we were working at a hell of a pace. But that process was right for this film and we’d made all the right decisions in the run up to the shoot in terms of the crew Jen and I put together, the way we worked, the style of the film and so on. I actually wouldn’t have wanted it any other way and I enjoyed the challenge of incentivizing a crew with little else at your disposal than energy and reinforcing the sensation that they were making something really worthwhile.

 

 

The Forgotten hits EST on 18/4, VOD on 25/4 and DVD on 2/5

 

 

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.