Simon Pearce’s Judas Ghost, starring Spartacus: War of the Damned’ Simon Merrells and Zero Dark Thirty star, Martin Delaney, won ‘Best Horror’ at the London Independent Film Festival.
Based on the fan favourite ‘Ghost Finders’ novels written by The New York Times best selling author Simon R. Green, Judas Ghost tells the tale of 4 experienced Ghost Finders who think they have seen it all…that is, until they encounter the chilling Judas Ghost. This elite team is sent out to an old village hall, on what they think is an apparently standard haunting. However things go from bad to worse when it becomes clear that they are facing something far more sinister than they initially anticipated. The hall harbours a dark secret and the team must use every trick they know to get out of there alive. Who will survive and what will be left of their souls?
As well as being a fan favourite as Crassus in the extremely popular Spartacus: War of the Damned, Simon Merrells is also a known for his roles in Family Affairs, Doctors and The Tomorrow People. Judas Ghost co-star Martin Delaney is also known for starring in Family Affairs, as well as Shortland Street and Beowulf & Grendel, alongside Gerard Butler. Also starring in this captivating film is The Office star, Alexander Perkins, Doctors actress Lucy Cudden and Game of Thrones star Grahame Fox.
Here at Just Celebrity we were lucky enough to chat with the director, Simon Pearce.
Tell us about Judas Ghost.
Judas Ghost is the first fantasy/horror film based on the Ghost Finders book series by New York Times best-selling author Simon R. Green. We are in a world where ghosts are known to exist and the Carnacki Institute is an underground government organization set up to combat them. The film follows a four man team who are dispatched to investigate an apparently standard haunting at a local village hall.
However, when they arrive they quickly discover it’s haunted by something far worse than they first anticipated and they have to use every trick they know to try and get out alive. The whole film takes place in one location and plays out in real time.
Why did you want to get involved in Judas Ghost?
When I first met Simon Green it was actually to talk about doing a different project together, an original horror/sci-fi script he had written called The Crooked Man. I was really keen to try my hand at the horror genre, I was fairly new to it as a fan but I loved the idea of giving an audience that kind of adrenaline rush and trying to create something that would keep them on the edge of their seat or make them uncomfortable. I also really liked Simon Green’s style in his books, he has a good ability to combine genres and also to inject comedy without upsetting the horror elements – a difficult balance to strike.
Ultimately we decided The Crooked Man would be too ambitious for our first project together, so that’s when he went away and came up with Judas Ghost. It’s an original story, but based on the world of the Ghost Finders books. I loved the idea of doing a horror all set in one room with just four people. It had all the usual Green signatures, plus it felt distinctly British which I think gave it an extra appeal.
What anxieties did you have before filming?
Well primarily I was anxious because this was going to be the biggest film I’d done to date. My first feature film “SHANK” was a very low budget, gritty coming of age drama which was shot in a naturalistic, documentary style – so a lot of off the shoulder camera-work and natural lighting, so Judas Ghost would obviously be an entirely different beast! Stylistically and tonally they were worlds apart.
The horror genre was also untested ground for me, it’s a genre I hadn’t really paid much attention to before, so I wanted to make sure I would still deliver something that was new but also satisfying for horror fans. Luckily a good friend of mine is a big horror nut so I made sure I watched a lot of them whilst we were in pre-production!
Finally and possibly the biggest challenge, as much as I loved the premise, was that it was all set in one space. I had to make sure that I could keep the same four walls interesting for 80 minutes! Admittedly I had just watched “Buried” with Ryan Reynolds so I thought well if they can do it with one man in a coffin I haven’t got much of an excuse!
I was anxious because this was going to be the biggest film I’d done to date
What challenges did you face whilst filming?
Well first off we built the whole village hall as a set – in order to give us total control over the environment, and so that did mean the usual things that plague a film shoot such as lighting and bad weather were not an issue. That being said, we were on a very strict schedule – we had just 18 days which is tight for a feature. Also, there was a lot of VFX work to be done – another new challenge for me. Getting the elements needed for these shots sometimes meant we would drop from 3 shots an hour to maybe one shot in two!
Luckily we had a great FX company on-board, Peerless Camera of London, who’ve worked on big movies like Skyfall and Edge of Darkness and I worked closely with John Swinnerton, our on-set FX supervisor, to make sure we got what we needed. Their whole team was incredibly supportive and it was a fantastic learning experience for me.
Finally as I mentioned was simply the challenge of keeping it all visually interesting for the film’s run-time. I worked a lot with my DP Roger in the run-up to the shoot, blocking out shots and planning the look carefully so that hopefully it would always feel like we were looking at the room in a different way through the movie’s major sequences.
I have to say though so much of that is also down to this movie’s incredible cast –All four are on-screen almost the entire time and they’re what keep you watching. It’s tough because they’re playing characters that are larger than life and have a very surreal job, and they need to convince us of that whilst also making the characters believable and still relatable to an audience. I think all of these guys absolutely nailed that and whilst it’s a cliché to say it all of them really were a pleasure to work with.
Do you have any funny stories that happened on set, to tell us about?
One good story for trivia fans is that one of the first sequences we filmed was a flashback with actor Simon Merrells running through the woods, and he actually tripped and hit his cheek on a tree branch, giving him a small red mark – initially we panicked but we actually then realised that it looked quite good and really added to his back-story as this troubled ghost finder – it was like a scar from a previous haunting. So we decided to keep it and then had to maintain it with make-up for the rest of the shoot! Lucky we’d shot that scene first.
Another fun highlight was one in which another of our actors, Alexander Perkins, has to be showered Exorcist-style with fake vomit, which was made up of Tesco’s pea and ham soup and then loaded into a barrel before being fired at him with a high pressure hose. It smelt pretty awful but Alex was a trooper and got through it smiling.
Judas Ghost has already won a few awards, could you tell us more about these awards?
Yes the response so far has been fantastic, people seem to really enjoy it. We won “Best International Horror” at the Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival over in the US last November. Our lead Martin Delaney was also nominated for Best Actor, and our villainous Judas Ghost, played by Grahame Fox, was nominated for Best Specialist Make Up/FX. This was done by Derek Lloyd who is a veteran of shows like Being Human and BBC’s Casualty. We were lucky to get some great people working on the show.
Creating an original horror movie villain is tough, but I think Grahame did a great job. I remember watching the first take with him and it was spot on – the way he moved and spoke, it was so eerie with him just standing there in this wide shot.
I think all of these guys absolutely nailed it and whilst it’s a cliché to say it, all of them really were a pleasure to work with.
What made you want to become a director?
I’ve always been a big fan of blockbuster Hollywood entertainment – classics like Back to the Future, Raiders of the Lost Ark, just great escapist cinema. I started making shorts with the family video camera when I was around 10 or 11, getting together with school-friends at the weekends, and I just loved the process of coming up with a story and then trying to figure out how best to shoot it. It was then I knew this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to tell stories that an audience could enjoy and hopefully respond to in the same way I’d done with so many movies I loved growing up.
What advice would you give to youth’s aspiring to become a Film director?
Just get out there and do it. The tools like the camera and editing software are so much more accessible now, as well as the platforms to show it, and it really is the best way to learn – to see what works and what doesn’t. Just keep making stuff. Also try and work on other peoples shoots too, there are lots of online communities where film-makers can speak to one another and look for help with projects – so whether it be as a runner, camera assistant or whatever, just work on different things. You’ll also get to meet new people and networking is essential in this industry.
What can we see from you in the future?
Myself and a friend Paul Dudbridge, a very talented director based in Bristol, have just finished work on a 10 part sci-fi web series “Horizon”, the official page for which you can find on Facebook. We’re in post-production on that now and it’ll be out towards the end of this year.
I also have a short film I’m doing in May, an action/thriller called “Watch Over Me”, which I’m really looking forward to, I’ve always been a fan of action films and we’ve got some nice fight sequences planned for this one. And finally I’m developing two features, the first, Thieves, is about an undercover cop and is being written by a friend of mine Chris Marshfield, we grew up making films together, and the other is of course the science fiction movie “The Crooked Man” with Simon R. Green.
I’m always looking to up the ante with my next film and this certainly does that! So watch this space!
For more information: www.judasghostmovie.com