It’s a sunny day, which is just as well as writer/director Luke Jeffery is scouting a location for a summer fete after our conversation. Although you wouldn’t put it past Luke to somehow conjure up a snowstorm as a backdrop for summer activities. Judging by his films, he has a rather side-long view of the world.
The film Luke’s scouting for is Hell’s Bells, a tale of Morris dancers and mind control. It is the only one from Devon to get support from Creative England’s iShorts process.
And it has the kind of hook that gets people talking -the press so far for a short film shot in Devon has been pretty widespread.
“Hell’s Bells began life as a feature script but then I found out about the iShorts scheme and decided to rework the idea. I took the main character and came up with a completely new story. The hope is that we can use this short to generate some interest in the feature, but at the moment I’m just focusing on getting this one right.”
With iShorts there’s support plus some money to get the film made, but Luke has also gone down the crowdfunding route, which has garnered support from far afield. Who knew they had Morris dancing in the USA and Canada?
Hell’s Bells was also the only South West film to get iShorts funding -a fact Luke wants to make the most of.
“Making a film in Devon, you want to capitalise on the resources you have down here, which is the landscapes, the countryside and all the local talent,” he says. “To get crew down from other parts of the country seems a bit of a shame. You could spend at lot of money shipping people in from London.’
Luke’s own filmmaking sensibilities began as an 11 year old with the family camcorder. “I’d head off into the woods with my friends and we’d make terrible copies of the films we’d just seen,” he says. ‘I spent all of my free time shooting and editing short films.’
The guerrilla approach fed into his film degree in Falmouth, but when he returned home to Newton Abbot, in Devon, he was at a bit of a loose end. Rather than moving to Bristol or London he wound up at the Exeter Phoenix, and found himself working on a few of their bursary films.
It was during a lunch break while working on one of these films that Luke decided to apply for one of the Phoenix’s bursaries. “I was lucky enough to get the funding but quickly realised that the script I’d written wasn’t achievable on the budget I had. It was set in the 1960s and there were chase sequences, vintage cars and a garden party scene with dozens of extras.”
Roll on a crowdfunder to raise the extra funds, which included a donation from a gold miner from the Congo. Luke has a wide appeal in the crowdfunder community.
The result was Seeing Red, a story about a wedding photographer who finds out he’s colour blind and is prescribed LSD by his optician. It’s a colourful, imaginative romp, and picked up awards at the Exeter Phoenix’s Two Short Nights Film Festival.
Seeing Red demonstrates some of the same styling as Hell’s Bells, says Luke. Both feature Charlie Coldfield, who Luke’s worked with before, and will be shot by the same cinematographer, Ross Gill.
“Seeing Red was set in the 1960s. And even though Hell’s Bells isn’t set in another era, there’s still going to be a stylised, timeless look to it. There are no mobile phones or modern cars. It’s all very specific.”
For Hell’s Bells, Luke is also collaborating with the Dartington Morris Men, who he says have been really supportive. ‘Ken Hudson of the group was kind enough to let us borrow some costumes for the crowdfunder shoot and the Dartington Morris Men are also going to be appearing in the film.’
But they won’t be the only dancers on set.
“We’ve got an actor called Josh Fredrick, who played Billy Elliot in the West End, and he’s going to be appearing in the film as a Morris dancer and doing a dance routine in the village pub,” says Luke.
For his filmic inspiration, Luke’s eye turns to British sensibilities.
“Hell’s Bells is very much inspired by films like The Wicker Man,’ says Luke, ‘I’ve always been attracted to larger-than-life films -surreal stuff. I’m a big fan of filmmakers like Terry Gilliam and Richard Ayoade. There’s a slightly distorted reality to their films and as a filmmaker I really enjoy that sort of stuff, creating a world that’s a little bit off kilter. I could never do a kitchen sink drama!’
The sun is still shining. It looks like Luke doesn’t need a snowstorm, or even shadows to create a bizarre nuanced world. Turns out it could be all around us, hiding in plain sight.
For more information about Hell’s Bells visit crowdfunder.co.uk/hellsbells
Or to find out more about Luke Jeffery, pop over to wanderingtiger.com which includes details of his film and theatre work.