One of the more intriguing offerings at this year’s Frightfest is director Louis Melville’s Boots On The Ground, a fresh take on the found footage genre that sees a bunch of British soldiers get far more than they bargained for when they stumble across a crumbling fort while on duty in Afghanistan.

We can’t break embargo with our review until the film screens in London, so let’s just say we’ve seen the film and were mightily impressed by it. So much so in fact that we hounded Louis to answer some of our questions. Luckily for us he was happy for a chat……..

 

Q. Can you give us a little background on how the project came to be?
BOOTS ON THE GROUND was over three years from script to screen, from day one the idea was to use the actors as camera persons wearing head cams for the whole films, which did cause us some obstacles with financing; the script was unreservedly embraced by financiers, but the way we wanted to shoot the film was not. A number of companies wanted to finance the film if we would shoot it in a more conventional way, to us this was non-negotiable, as we knew for the film to reflect our vision and the structure of the script we must stay true to our vision to create a head-cam style of shooting never seen before for a whole film in British horror.

 

Q. Using multiple head-cams on the soldier’s helmets is a neat spin on the found footage formula – how did you come up with that idea?
The idea of the head cam style of shooting in fact came before the script, it was when I first saw real head-cam combat footage on YouTube uploaded by serving British Troops that I got the idea for the film, our aim from that point on was to try and replicate as close as possible the style of the real combat footage I watched, that’s when I also had a sort of eureka moment, I suddenly saw that we could create a found footage movie where the filming by the characters  was truly justified at all times, negating the question asked by so many found footage audiences “WHY DON’T THEY PUT THE CAMERA DOWN AND RUN”.

 

Q. Did that technique pose many problems for you as the director?
Yes, many, one was you had to find actors that not only shared our vision for the film, but were willing to attempt something that had never been done before, that could possible impinge on their personal performances, by way of them having to not only act but remember to film each other as well, it was all very much a leap into the unknown for all of us, a leap which we could only partially prepare for.
Another problem as a director was how do you monitor scenes which at points take the actors over a mile on foot at speed; we also found inside the forts that we had major problems with the monitors due to the thickness of the walls, so it was very much back to an old school non-monitor world. Couple this with where do you put the lights and the sound person when you are giving the actors the freedom to work in a full 360 space and hay hoy, you’ve got all the fun of the fair.
 

 

Q. The location – a crumbling, disused building in ‘Afghanistan’ is also key to the film’s effectiveness. How did you find the place?
The hero fort is in fact two 19th century forts and a staircase called the Grand Shaft built into the cliff in Dover, Kent. In the first drafts of the script our main location was an Russian airfield in Afghanistan, for which we looked at locations in both Spain and Malta and we were going down that route until I moved to Dover and was out walking my dogs one day when I came across a fort called the Drop Redoubt, on further investigation I found there was also another fort on another hill behind Dover Castle called Fort Burgoyne, once I saw these two forts I knew I had found new fresh locations not seen in British horror to date, it was a no-brainer to decide to rewrite the script to fit the new locations. And who would not want to shorten their commute to work!
 

 

Q. The film is tremendously effective in terms of atmosphere, with scenes of the soldiers roaming darkened corridors and dimly lit staircases almost resembling a first-person shooter/survival horror at times – was that something you were aiming for.
Once more very much yes, we were looking for something new, something not seen before, like with the main location, we wanted to create a new kind of mash up, that crossed the bridge between video games and conventional cinema, which we felt our actor cam POV style of filming would give us, I am glad you found it so effective.
Q. There is a bit more ‘meat on the bones’ with this film compared to say a lot of horror fare – I was sat trying to work the whole thing out for sometime after the credits rolled…..
That was our intention, we aimed to give the viewer both a non-conventional shooting style and narrative, which hopefully gives the audience as many questions as answers to ponder.

 

Q. Was everything scripted? The tension is palpable at times and I wondered if anything may have been ‘adlibbed’ as it were?
Yes, everything is very scripted, of course we gave the actors room to flesh out their characters and to interpret the dialogue in their own vernacular, apart from that very little of the dialogue is adlibbed.

 

Q. How excited are you to be debuting at Frightfest?
Frightfest is the prime horror fantasy festival in the UK, if you are going to be making British horror you want to be at Frightfest, to us it’s very important to put our work in front of a British audience first, and Frightfest is the place to do that.

 

Q. What’s next for you?
I have two scripts in development, one Sci-Fi, one Horror, both are envisaged to be shot in new and unconventional ways and with genre busting narratives, hopefully one should be ready for production this time next year. Which one it is, is somewhat down to which one is fully financed first. I find them both very exciting and challenging and can’t wait to get started.

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.