This past summer I was very fortunate enough to catch up with filmmaker Ashley Thorpe. I discovered Ashley’s films through a filmmaking event at Exeter Phoenix called Cine. They were showing one of his short films called the Hairy Hands and another Scayre Crow. I love the visual style of the films and the storytelling, plus the use of animation with live action. For the Ashley’s next film he has attracted some an awesomely talented team. Here’s Ashley to tell you more
Tell us what first made you get into filmmaking?
I don’t remember ever making a conscious decision to be ‘a filmmaker’ as such. Honest Guv. I kind of drifted into it really. I was a film obsessive as a kid. I watched everything and was at the pictures every weekend.
I’d always been confident telling stories and always spent an inordinate amount of time painting and drawing, mainly imaginative things. Reality didn’t interest me in the slightest, but I’d always struggled with this idea of what do you actually do with this stuff?
Then I realised that via film you could fuse the two: the written storytelling and the visual storytelling, so I drifted into it almost by default. And, of course, animation was a natural deviation or development as having an early fascination with things like Melies and German Expressionism I soon found traditional – or should I say popular – filmmaking techniques a bit dull and rather limiting. Apart from the formal limitations you also suddenly found yourself surrounded by people who only wanted to talk about cameras rather than ideas. I’d rather watch paint dry.
You’ve made quite a few films on Dartmoor, what attracted you to the location?
It’s down the road! No, I spent a lot of time playing on Dartmoor as a kid and heard a lot of these great grotesque tales about the region from family, which invested this playground with a certain frisson. I remember many a night as a child going out to pubs with this elderly couple that lived next door to us in Barton Road and hearing tales of Vixiana the witch and the Hairy Hands, especially. They absolutely terrified me. I grew up feeling like Dartmoor was a huge burial ground full of unmarked graves, fathomless pools, a web of roots beneath your feet like some kind of nervous system.
It always felt like a region that was tamed but only just, with churches posted here and there at strategic points to ‘keep something at bay’. It’s a beautiful, extreme landscape of contrasts and those are relatively rare in the UK. We’re lucky to live so close to it. It’s funny actually, I’ve only actually made two films based explicitly on local folklore and set on Dartmoor thus far – The Hairy Hands and The Demon Huntsman (a radio play for Glass Eye Pix), yet somehow I’ve become inexorably linked with the region.
Tell us about the Borley Rectory?
Borley Rectory is essentially an animated documentary, inspired by a genuine haunting that caught the world’s imagination during the late 1920s.
It’s something quite old-fashioned, black and white, almost ‘noirish’ with a house very much a projection of the strange personalities within it. It’s an ultrasound of a haunting.
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We have quite an amazing bunch of people on board – Borley Rectory will star Reece Shearsmith (League of Gentlemen, Inside No 9, The Widower and forthcoming ITV drama Chasing Shadows), Jonathan Rigby (Kenneth Horne in BBC production ‘Round the Horne Revisited’, author of English Gothic), Richard Strange (Batman, Inkheart, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), Claire Louise Amias (Provoked, Telling Lies, Women of Twilight), Sally Mortemore (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, A Cake for Mabel) as well as the famed comedian Steve Furst (Little Britain and the Orange ads).
We also have an original score by Steven Severin (Siouxsie and the Banshees and now silent film accompaniest) and a narration by Julian Sands (Room with a View, Warlock, Naked Lunch and most recently The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).
I’m aiming for something quite beautiful and textural. Not a film that just apes a period look with Adobe plug-ins, but absolutely uses extinct techniques and nails an antiquated aesthetic. It’s funny because those techniques quite often lead towards obscuration, which is quite the tightrope when you are filming with people like Reece Shearsmith and Jonathan Rigby!
The temptation is to just deliver your stars in beautiful resolution. You have this amazing HD image of a great actor like Reece and you’re actively stripping layers away or lighting it in such a way to make him less visible! But then I suppose that’s the point – to present the audience with something they’re not expecting. Borley Rectory is going to be the summation of everything I’ve done thus far.
What do you think of the Devon film scene?
I initially had no idea there was one. It wasn’t until I won that first grant from the Exeter Phoenix that I realised that there were film makers actually in Devon. I’ve since discovered that it’s a vibrant diverse community; Realm Pictures, Cottage Industry Films, Cineon, all manner of styles and approaches and each and every one on par with anything that London can offer. A wealth of talent resides in Devon, it’s a shame that there’s little to no investment in it.
Well, it’s Borley Rectory for the forseeable future, probably until next year certainly. We completed the first shoot. which went very well but now the animation begins in earnest! While I’m cracking on with it my producer will be back on the campaign trail to attract further sponsorship to secure completion funds. So it’s Borley all the way for me. Once that’s complete? Well I still have a couple of feature scripts waiting in the wings; Spring Heel Jack and the Dartmoor set portmanteau horror Hell Tor, which I’m aiming to run past Reece in the near future so who knows what terrors the future may bring.
You can get involved in the next phase of production of the film via Thunderclap, which will spread the word about the next crowdfuning campaign for the film. Also you can find out more about Ashley and his films on his Facebook page or the Carrion Films site.