Thursday, September 23, 2010

Interview with Will Higo, writer/director of the Superhero Horror Short, "Nemesis"

There are a few sub-genres that I think are prime to explode on the market or are currently under served... like vampire films. What ever happened to them? You see no vampires anymore. I miss them. That and monster films... after "Cloverfield", I was sure that monster films of all sorts were going to emerge - from little ghoulies like, well, "Ghoulies" and "Gremlins", to human-sized beasties like C.H.U.D.'s to huge monsters like the Blob or Godzilla. Did it happen? No. There's been a few, yes, but not nearly as many I thought... and hoped. Mark my words, monsters will be back. Aliens have been fairly vacant for a while, too. However, I know there's a LOT of alien films in the hopper right now, so the next few years will be filled with them. You want to catch lightening in a bottle? Write a good alien script now, that sub-genre will be hot in a year or so. Having said that, don't do it because I said it. I really have no idea of what I'm talking about - it's all theoretical. Another sub-genre that I wondered about was superhero horror. I actually mentioned it in a post a while back. To me, it seems like a natural fit. Yet, where is it? Superhero films are all PG-13. You'd think that not all superhero's are good, right? Some have to be evil and slaughter people, right? I want to see that! Well, apparently so does Will Higo.

After I wrote a post saying that I wanted to see more superhero horror, Higo got right back to me. Guess what he went out and made? That's right, a superhero horror short called "Nemesis". My first thought was, I loved Albert Pyun's 1992 film of the same name... the second, I need to check Higo's film out and I did. He successfully created the look and feel of Hollywood superhero film, but sprinkled in some serious horror elements. It's shot well, it's acted well and it looks great. Now, I want to see it as a feature.

We had the chance to discuss the film with the writer/director, Will Higo.

Tell our readers about your short film, “Nemesis”

Nemesis is my attempt at a super hero slasher movie (a fusion of two genres that I absolutely adore). It follows a cynical tabloid journalist named Jess Jackson as she becomes embroiled in the struggle between a gang of youths and a masked vigilante whilst investigating a murder. Taken hostage, she is used as bait by the increasingly desperate criminals to lure out their Nemesis and take him down for good. Naturally, nothing goes to plan…It’s a sort of role reversal of the standard super hero story with the focus on the criminals – a sorted twisted version. Lois Lane is a bit of a bitch and Batman enacts violent justice with cold indifference.

If you don’t mind us asking, what was the budget and how did you secure financing?

The budget was just under a grand (about £900 I think…) and it came from a lot of overtime. I’m always a bit unsure about funding as it’s hard to pitch something like this which is seemingly quite commercial. In Britain there is a predilection for social realist dramas set on Council estates not for something which is unashamedly populist and, on paper at least, more than a little daft. Luckily in my job as an editor for a production company I have a few contacts which means I can raid various kit rooms and the like, so I could do something relatively big for little money.

The short looked fantastic. What did you shoot on and how big of a crew did you have?

I think all in all there was nine people (including make-up) with a few friends popping in on various days and helping out with extra work and driving people around (Thanks very much if you’re reading this  ) Everybody really mucked in. I was producer, writer, director and editor – my First AD, Ric Forster, also did some great Graphics work for me, my DOP came in and helped with the grade, my sound op did the sound design so we were wearing a lot of hats.

We shot on the RED ONE camera – a great bit of kit. You get film quality images for relatively little cost. We managed to hire one for £150 a day and seeing as we only had a two day shoot we could keep the cost down but really get a great look going. It’s the next level up from the various DV shorts I’ve been shooting.
Lighting wise we used HMI’s and practicals for the outside scenes – it was really important for Andy (the DOP) and I that we get a lot of texture in the background, so we had work lights hired in for the crime scene, a police siren balanced on one of the crew members cars. It’s those little touches that really bring everything alive and make it seem like the film is much bigger than it actually is.
You can dress practical lights in anywhere. We watched a bunch of David Fincher movies and you wouldn’t notice it, but there are all kinds of odd lights littered around. In the scene in Fight club where they leave the bar to have their first fight, you can see a fluorescent light hung over a bin. Completely illogical,. It shouldn’t be there but you don’t notice it and it really gives the scene a lot of texture.

So when we were doing the warehouse and car scenes we brought along these cheap little fluorescents and hung them off light stands, throw them out of focus and it gives you something interesting to look at as opposed to complete darkness which makes it look like the scene has been shot in a garage.
When you’re competing with major Hollywood productions you need to really put the time into the look, once you’ve done that you’ll find that making people accept different and challenging narratives is much easier. You want them concentrating on the story, not squinting and tutting about how it doesn’t look as posh as Transformers…

The concept is great – superhero meets slasher. Talk about where the idea came from and how you developed it.

I’ve always wanted to make a Super hero movie, but seeing as there is so many of the moment I couldn’t justify it. I love the Spider-man movies and the Batman movies, but didn’t want to turn in a pale imitation of those. It’s hard to find a unique angle especially when you’ve got such a dearth of super hero movies – they’ve been played straight, made into comedies and deconstructed by much better film makers than I.

I was watching Jason X (underrated) and it hit me that there are a lot of similarities between super heroes and slasher movie monsters. Both operate out of a sense of morality (though more often than not the movie slashers do so unknowingly) taking out people that contravene a moral code. They wear masks. They are often unstoppable. Combining that with my liberal sensibilities, I decided to come up with a movie idea where instead of cheerleaders you have criminals and instead of Jason you had Batman stalking them.

I wanted to look at blind uncaring justice. Justice completely without compassion, without due process and look at how terrifying that can be and the slasher elements just seemed to really bring that out in the super hero ones.

I couldn’t help but notice that the short really looks like a set up for a bigger project. Was that your intention with putting it together?

It started out as a feature script I was writing but as I went on I worried that I was losing sight of the concept. To allay my fears I thought I’d make a short side story that explored the same themes and get back to the purity of the original idea. Plus, though I’d made several short DV movies – it had been a while since I’d really tackled something of scale – I didn’t want to flounder on an idea I really believed in.

Hopefully the finished short stands on its own, but if nothing else I can use it as a proof of concept should I start pitching on a feature length version (I imagine walking into a room full of money men and saying Batman meets Friday the 13th prompts a few raised eyebrows)

Since completing the short, what are you doing with it and/or what are your plans for it?

I’m currently shopping it around festivals, but I won’t be hearing on those for a couple of weeks. There is a lot of enthusiasm for HD shorts at the moment with quite a few distributors (a friend of mine that works with me on a lot of my movies has managed to get his online web series and short distributed) looking to get their hands on them for their websites, foreign TV stations and mobile devices. His experiences have encouraged me that there are people out there that still have an appetite for shorts.

Failing that I’ll have a very pretty (and expensive) holiday movie and the conviction to get on with the feature length version

Did you enter it into any festivals and, if so, how did it do and what’s the response been like?

So far it’s gone into a few festivals, mostly British ones at the moment and I’m taking it to an open mic showcase at the end of September to try and drum up some interest for the website and the facebook page. I’m still waiting for the festival response, we’ve had a knock back already amongst the positive responses. I had to stop myself making a load of changes when I got the feedback back as they were a little disappointed with the Nemesis at the end, which nearly lead to a re-titling and reinstating of some cut dialogue. It occurred to me that I was the only person who knew about the super hero angle and seeing as there were no explicit references to it, people could be expecting an elaborate monster. It was then I realized that if I did make it more explicit (there was a line early on that made reference to a guy in a costume which I cut) I would undercut the tension in the final sequence as you would be very much aware of the nature of the ‘Nemesis’. So, I made the call that I’d rather people be a little disappointed at the end than puncture the atmosphere of the entire movie. Time will tell if it was the right one.

Now, tell us a bit about yourself, what are your influences and what got you in to indie film?

I always loved movies, ever since I was little. In Britain we have a history of banned movies (video nasties they were called) and a friend and I made it our mission to watch all these extreme horror movies like Evil Dead and I Spit on Your Grave that the big man on the podium was telling us we couldn’t watch. We couldn’t get enough of them.

I’d always written stories and comic book stuff when I was growing up (often of debatable quality) but I never really saw film making as an option growing up in an armpit of a city in North England. But growing up in the nineties there was the whole Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith and Danny Boyle stuff that was really hip and edgy coming out made for little to no money but powered by sheer talent and enthusiasm. I loved it and suddenly realized that it wasn’t an entirely alien possibility that I could make stuff too. Thus I made a point of learning as much as I could and working my arse off at school so I could head to uni and learn how to actually make one of my own.

Stylistically, I was always massively influenced by Ridley Scott’s Alien.
It’s perfect.

Script? Perfect/ Camera Directio? Perfect. Lighting? Acting? Effects? Perfect. It has one problem and that’s a slightly dodgy edit when Ash’s head is on the table. That is it. There are elements of it in everything I’ve done – particularly Nemesis with a monster all of my own!

Also, Sam Raimi and Robert Rodriguez were people I idolized because they took the fight to the majors and created thrilling movies that felt fresh but were cheap as chips and twice as inventive. It’s those elements of indie cinema that I love. You have nothing, so go and make a movie with whatever you can lay your hands on. It’s working with those limitations that get you thinking in creative ways.

Film school: yes or no?

Yes. No-one will give you the opportunity to make movies so you need every advantage you can get. I got a BA (hons) in TV production and now work full time as an editor making behind the scene documentaries on big Hollywood movies (Fantastic Mr Fox, Quantum of Solace) and no-one would have let me near an edit without my degree. It’s this day job that gives me the opportunity to make shorts like Nemesis, I get access to the equipment to steal away for my own personal use and more so I use it every day so at the very least I’m proficient through repetition.

Uni gave me the technical know how to edit, record sound and shoot. A lot of indie cinema suffers technically and at least with this know how all I have to worry about are whether my ideas are shit (no uni can teach you how to get ideas I’m afraid). It opened a lot of doors for me and definitely helped shape me as a filmmaker.
I’ve said it before, but if you want to go toe to toe with Hollywood you can’t slack on the technical stuff. Your average audience expects to be able to see and hear the movie. Get this wrong and you’ll struggle to keep them hooked into the story and characters.

Talk about the indie horror scene. Where do you think it is now and where do you see it going?

Because of the recession I think it’s in a bit of a decline, which is rather worrying. There was a bit of a boom where distributors were buying anything they could lay their grubby hands on and slapping a fancy cover on it. People got burned when they picked up crap from Blockbuster based on a swish cover and lurid titling and I think that Indie Horror has a bad reputation as a result. To your lay oerson indie horror has negative connotations because of the dirge of zombie movies with ketchup effects and no real innovation. Annoyingly these things have become synonymous with the movement and it simply isn’t true!

A friend of mine recently directed a movie, shot for 10,000 on a z1. He’s struggled to find distribution – despite it being a great movie because the buyers are tightening their belts as the outlets they depended on aren’t there anymore, the Blockbsters and the video rental shops are all gone. The sort of movies that got a free pass previously have closed the doors for everyone else.

The sad fact is it will take a new hot Hollywood property to open the gates again and get the distributors buying carbon copies of them. Then Zombies will be replaced with found footage movies and we’ll cry ‘Where are the Hellraisers? The Aliens? The Martyrs? Where is the innovation?’ People forget that Indie Horror has the power to eschew Hollywood trends and give people something different. It’s sad that a lot of people don’t make the most of that opportunity or are forced to play this ridiculous game of Simon Says.

That said I’ve just seen Monsters and I see a little bit of hope. Made for 15,000 and it’s every bit as innovative and exciting as the best of Indie horror. Hopefully it’ll get everyone to up their game a little.
Ahem, sorry rant over.

Where can people see this and any other film you’ve made?

I have a vimeo channel ( with my shorts available for viewing there. Nemesis isn’t going to be online just yet – but you can see a clip of it. We have a facebook page, which will keep everyone up to date with upcoming festival dates and screenings – plus it has a load of stills from the shoot too!

The facebook page can be found here.

And for up dates on my projects you can visit my blog at

What’s next for you?

I’m in the final four to receive a grant to make a £100,000 movie. The project I’ve been developing for the last six months is called Stay Awake and is a science fiction horror movie. It would be great to get it and the script, written by The Fallow Field director Leigh Dovey, is really something. So fingers crossed. Failing that, I’ve got a slightly whacky monster short to film about pest exterminators that come up against something bigger than your average rat called “Vermin’– so if I don’t get the grant I’ll have something to wipe my tears away with.


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