Kevin Gates on The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill

Kevin Gates talks about his latest film that he co-directed with with Michael Bartlett called The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill
Terry Wickham:  What was the genesis of The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill?
Kevin Gates:  The genesis of the film was that back in 2009, Michael Bartlett and I were trying to get Zombie Diaries 2 off the ground and there was a period of waiting around. I’d known about a local haunted ruin at Clophill since I was a teenager and had long thought it would make the perfect backdrop to a film, but it was about finding the right approach. Michael and I were both interested in the supernatural and we knew that a film in a documentary style would suit the setting, but it had to be different and not just another ‘found footage’ movie. The film was thus conceived as a small ‘in between’ film, but ended up taking over my life for the next four years.
TW:  Was it always going to be a camcorder movie?
KG:  It was always going to be a documentary horror and there was never an intention of shooting it like a conventional movie as that wouldn’t have fitted the concept. It also would have increased the budget by a huge amount as there was no way we could shoot it in such a short time frame. The key for us was shooting something that was a little different.

TW:  Were you influenced by any other camcorder movies or TV shows?  If so, which ones?
KG:  The film was influenced by two key movies: the BBC’s reality television-movie Ghostwatch (1992) and the excellent Australian faux documentary Lake Mungo (2008). Both of these had a big impact at me at different times in my life, but I wanted to mix that with a realism that hadn’t been seen before and so a fact/fiction approach was born and one where Michael and I wouldn’t let everyone in on the secret that it was anything other than a straight-up documentary.

TW:  Was it more important to you that the picture comes across more as a documentary or film?
KG:  Definitely that it was more of a documentary, but one that gradually moves into fiction. But it was important that the transition was gradual and when revealed, nothing too far removed from reality and actual events that have taken place up at Clophill in the past.

TW:  What did you attempt to do that would separate your movie from all the other paranormal TV shows and movies?
KG:  It’s a mixture of fact and fiction, with an emphasis on fact and set around a real legend and featuring real witnesses and experts. 90% of what you see is real and that’s the hook. A lot of ‘found footage’ films pretend they’re based on a real story, but this one actually is. For the most part it is also a real paranormal investigation. Most of the people involved did not know about the fictional elements.

TW:  Do you feel the paranormal market is over saturated?
KG:  There’s a lot of rubbish out there for sure and all the TV shows have an agenda that something must happen, or else people would switch off. I was well aware of that prior to shooting Paranormal Diaries, which is why we took a different approach. You are of course always going to get marketed or branded in a certain way and some of the distributors have simply tried to make it look like another found footage film. The UK distributor did a decent job with the marketing so that it stayed true to its origins. I can’t quite say the same for the US and French marketing from looking at the artwork.

TW:  How did you choose the location of Clophill?
KG:  It was local to me and I’d grown up hearing about the stories of black magic and witches up at the lonely hilltop location. I’d visited when I was a teenager and found it incredibly eerie at night. The supernatural has long fascinated me, and the fact that black magic rituals really had taken place at Clophill had me hooked from the start. In fact, it was the occult side of things that I found far more interesting than the ghostly side, which is why the film steers in that direction.

TW:  Was it easy getting access to shoot there?
KG:  It was relatively easy with the local council’s help and then during the evening shoots it was a case of locking the location down with police and security so that the investigation wouldn’t be interrupted.

TW:  How many shooting days did it take to make the movie?
KG:  The main shoot was just 3 days with a few days for doing pick ups and some additional (fictional) scenes. An incredibly quick shoot, but an incredibly long period of post-production piecing all the footage together and shaping the story and structure.

TW:  What was your approach to this film?  Was is strategically planned & scripted or was there more improvisation?
KG:  There was no script. The main weekend shoot was a documentary/investigation so I wrote out a detailed itinerary for the weekend. The key was that most of the crew had no idea it was anything other than a documentary about a haunted location and that included all the witnesses and the local paranormal group – we had to maintain the realism. It was only right at the end of the weekend in the final scene where we added a little surprise. After the main shoot I had a whole load of footage that formed the framework and was shaped with subtle fictional scenes into the finished film you see.

TW:  How did you divide the filmmaking responsibilities with your co-director Michael Bartlett?
KG:  Michael was line producing the film rather than directing, but is credited as co-director as we worked on some additional scenes together and wanted to keep the spirit of our other films.

TW:  One of the problems I have with camcorder (some folks call found footage) movies since The Blair Witch Project is that many times they show you nothing.  There’s a lot of mystery and build up but no pay off.  How do you feel about that and was that a concern with The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill?
KG:  I know where you’re coming from and a lot of people feel the same, but I do like to think we tried something a bit different to the norm. The film isn’t about jump scares or flying demons coming at the camera, it’s about being immersed in a real legend and trying to work out what is real and what isn’t. If audiences are wanting big pay offs and a jump moment every five minutes, then they’ve bought the wrong ticket. It’s a slow burn creeper, in the vein of Lake Mungo and Ghostwatch but far more immersed in reality and the true story of witchcraft and black magic.

TW:  What’s been the response to the film so far?
KG:  There has been some amazing responses from the likes of Dread Central, Rue Morgue, Starburst and a whole host of other websites and magazines. As with any film of this type, there will also be a lot of people who are not into this type of thing at all. I’m well used to a strong divide following the Zombie Diaries movies, but the way I look at it is if there is an audience for the film, even if not hugely mainstream, then I’ve done what I set out to do. 

TW:  How happy are you with the final film and what’s next?  Will you be co-directing again or make something on your own?
KG:  Given the incredibly low budget and short shoot time, I’m incredibly proud of what the team achieved. If people are interested in the Clophill legend, I also have a book of the same name out the same day as the US release. Information on the release of the film and book can be found over at our Facebook page Michael and I live in different countries now and while we’re working on our own projects – Mike has Treehouse out in the UK next month and I’m scripting a new horror called Forever Darkness, we are trying to find ways to link up again on another horror flick.