Oliver Park made his directorial debut with last year's phenomenal short horror film Vicious (you can read my review right here). And ever since, he's been on a rollercoaster ride of promotion for Vicious and pre-production for his follow up effort, Still. Despite his hectic schedule, Park managed to find a bit of time to sit down with me for an interview. So without further ado...
Benjamin: Oliver, thanks for sitting down with me today and congratulations on the success of Vicious!
Oliver: Thank you!
B: You're currently working on your second film, Still. Where in the film-making process are you?
O: Well, we're just about to launch our crowdfunding campaign, which goes live on January 29th, where we're looking to raise £5,000 ($7000). When we reach £5,000, Vicious will go live. We also have a few other surprises along the way, for example, when we reach £2,000 ($2800) I'll introduce everyone to Baby, who is my doll and currently the face of the campaign. We're looking to shoot in March, and hoping to finish post-production in time for horror festival deadlines. I'm desperate to attend some of the festivals this year, because I didn't go to any with Vicious. I've still never seen it on a big screen!
B: What is Still about?
O: Still is a short film, much shorter than Vicious, and it challenges the 'home sweet home' idea. There are two ways of watching it, one will leave you thoroughly creeped out, and the other will likely make you want to leave the house altogether. I'm trying to find everything you feel comfortable with in your house and take it away from you. As Hitchcock said: “Make the audience suffer as much as possible”.
B: Do you think, going into Still, you're more confident at running the whole show yourself?
O: I'm much more confident than I was, but I've made sure that I've got an incredible team behind me, professionals with years of experience who I can collaborate with. On Vicious, I'd be so excited when we got a shot and I was just trying not to laugh because I was so excited, because that was it! That was the shot I saw! Our actress Rachel Winters was awesome, she basically just knew what to do. Both her and Isabelle King worked incredibly well. They were completely natural, essentially what I needed and what I need for the next one as well.
B: As an actor, how did you find directing instead of taking direction?
O: The night before we shot Vicious, I sat down and spoke to Rachel, and we played a game where I turned off all the lights in the house, hid and said 'come and find me,' because I wanted her to experience what it would be like knowing that something is going to make you jump. I even put on some horror music in the background. It was actually the score from the haunted house that's no longer at Alton Towers [an amusement park in the UK]. I played that while she was wandering around the house, I wanted her to be on edge. I told her she could run, walk, crawl, do whatever she wanted to do, but I was going to jump out at her when she found me. So, the next day when we were doing it in front of a camera, she knew the pace, she knew how she would be doing it. There were some things I changed because the character is a bit different to Rachel. For example, the character is less confident, they wouldn't kick a door down, they wouldn't smash their way out of the house.
B: You've been working as an actor for a number of years. Did you find it difficult to adjust to that more authoritative role?
O: Oh God yeah, it was absolutely terrifying. I made sure I had Simon Pearce who is a very well known director and Paul Dudbridge who's an incredible director of photography. I had dreamt about Vicious every single day for months up until the shoot. I knew what it looked like, I lived in the location – I was lucky enough to be able to shoot in my own house. I felt like I could see the whole thing in my head.
B: Did you encounter anyone while making Vicious that you don't want to work with again?
O: I am so happy with what we all got in the end. I am using almost a completely different team on Still – everyone was so great on Vicious but it’s difficult to get hold of them all as they’re all off doing different things! I would love to get the team back together for something in the future though.
B: Did you always end up getting your own way on set?
B: How much did you have to change your vision?
O: It was half and half. Some of the times I'm glad I didn't get my own way because it was actually better for the film. Other times I found that we were missing a specific shot that I was argued out of. That's what some of the pick-ups were for. There was one shot specifically, which I loved. I completely understand why I was challenged on it and I'm really glad was challenged on it, because in life it doesn't make sense, but in the story and the feel of the film, it made complete sense and it worked, so I'm so glad we went back and got that shot.
B: Did all the shots you had to argue for make it into the final cut?
B: So all the arguments were for nothing?
O: No, not all of them, for example my DOP would suggest doing it in a slightly different way, and a lot of the time we used his way because we got to the edit and we realized it added a bit of nuance, or a bit of character. Nearly everyone on set added something at some point or another and I am so glad that they did.
B: Have you completely changed your crew for Still?
O: Yeah. The guys on Vicious were amazing, but since making Vicious I've come across even more people who love horror. Lots of people who worked on Vicious weren't really fussed about horror. There were some roles on Vicious that I didn't have – I didn't have an assistant director for example, but I will have on Still. A lot of these people are my friends, I've worked with them all before. I've got one of the production designers from Being Human, my AD is currently directing a documentary about Flash Gordon, the DOP has made several horror films – she loves horror. Interestingly, my crew on Still is 95 percent women.
B: So if someone you've worked with as an actor got in touch and asked to be involved, are you bringing them all on board straight away?
O: Oh God yeah, a few people have messaged me recently asking to be involved and I'm trying to find things for them to do! Because I want them involved, they're good people and I know the film will benefit if they're involved.
B: Did you have people approach you in the same way with Vicious?
B: It must've been hard to hear that no-one thought you could do it?
O: I tried to get someone else to direct it, all I wanted to do was watch it. No one wanted it. The problem with writing horror, I think, is that it's nearly all on screen. You can write a good horror novel which is terrifying, but if you write a horror script, they're not that scary to read. If you read the script for Insidious for example, it's not scary. You watch the film and it's terrifying! So a lot of people would read the script and shrug their shoulders and say they don't want to direct it. Whereas, once I finished Vicious, six people came to me and asked if I needed a director for the next one.
B: You proved yourself with Vicious!
O: I already had it all in my head – every single beat, every shot, every edit was in my head before we shot the film. There are some really, really good horror films out there, but there is a massive lack of short horror films. At the end of the day, you're just telling an urban legend. We all liked them as kids, loved them. But when was the last time you heard one that really scared you?
B: Is that because it is so hard to get horror right?
O: It's easy to fail. If you have a good script, get a good team. If it costs you money, find the money. A lot of people will say things like 'you've got a camera on your phone, shoot on that.' But if you've got a really good script, it deserves a really good camera. It doesn't need to be an Alexa, but make it the best camera for that project. I'm quite meticulous, and I made sure it was going to be good. I said right from the word go that I didn't want to make it unless it was going to do well. Everyone said you can't make it do well, it either does or it doesn't. So we have to tick every single box to give it the best possible chance of doing well.
B: In your films, do you try to stick quite closely to how a human would actually act?
O: Oh God yeah. I like to ask lots of people what they would do in a specific situation. I get some hilarious answers! My Mom is always the best, I'll give her a scenario like 'you're trapped in a closet,' and she'll ask questions like 'well why am I in there in the first place?' It doesn't matter! Just please play the game or we'll be here all day! I do this because I like to make it as realistic as possible, and I don't get that cliche of 'ugh, why is the character doing that?' I know full well that I can argue that every single character in every single moment of my film, would do that and I can tell you why they would do it. They don't do anything because ‘it's scarier that way’, they do it for a reason.
B: Where do you get the ideas for your films?
O: Most of my ideas come from my nightmares. Obviously they terrify me but they also inspire me. I think with Still, in the crowdfunding campaign video, I'm toying with the idea of just telling the audience a scary story. I'm going to tell them Act 1 of Still. It ends with a very creepy suggestion, which hopefully will get people excited because it’s an urban legend or old folk tale that you haven't heard before.
B: You've been acting for years, so the jump to directing is a very new thing for you. Where do you think you'll end up in the future? Acting or directing?
O: Best case scenario for the future – I would love to act and have a production company on the side, one that I could co-run with various other people. There are various things I’d love to do – people love to be scared and there aren't enough places to be scared. There need to be more horror mazes. I've also got a really good idea for a game, a horror game. Which as far as I'm concerned would be the scariest game - I've found a way to make it absolutely terrifying. I can't explain how passionate I am about horror. I live and breathe it. If I’m not acting, then I am thinking about horror.
B: So what's the plan for now?
O: As it stands, the feature script for Vicious is in the drafting stage – strong and the feedback I’ve been getting is amazing. I'm looking to work through it with whichever production company takes it – if anyone is interested, get in touch! I want to make it absolutely terrifying, it's something that’s never been done in this way. It will definitely strike a nerve with people. It will make you afraid of being in your own house. It'll make you afraid of your family and the people you trust the most!
Oliver Park is certainly a name to watch out for. In the next few years, he'll be doing massive things in the horror genre. While you're waiting to watch Vicious, take a look at the teaser trailer:
For more information on Park's next film, Still, head over to their Facebook page. If you enjoyed my interview with Oliver Park, you'll probably enjoy my interviews with Fabian Nicieza and WWE Superstar, Rhyno. Both can be heard on my podcast, right over here.