Elom Bell (INTERVIEW)
This is Elom’s debut feature, though he has been involved in film and broadcast for the last 7 years working for various companies ranging from film production to international sports broadcasts. He has co-produced 2 feature films – Back in Business and Killer Bitch and has also written, produced and directed two short films and worked in various producing capacities on a dozen music videos, as well as directing 4 videos himself.
Elom has written a number of scripts raging from comedy and horror to a series of children’s novels; he has 2 projects already scheduled for production in 2013, with 'Voodoo Magic' being the first.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. We hear you're currently a busy man?
*Laughs* We’ve been in post-production hell for ages, locked inside my house trying to get the film finished. I have about 6 weeks for the deadline.
Not Long then?
Well, I shot it last year while I was working. My company did the coverage for Wimbledon, we did the Olympics and loads and loads of broadcast work and that was the year I decided to make a feature film.
From everything we've seen so far at BloodGuts, 'Voodoo Magic' certainly looks like an ambitious and interesting project.
I like zombie movies and I also really like Breaking Bad so I had a crazy idea - imagine if you had a scene with a zombie doing some crystal meth?
'The Walking Dead' meets 'Breaking Bad'. We like it.
Exactly. I had it in my mind: how do I get zombies to be making meth? So I came up with a story of two gangsters that set up a meth factory and then all of the meth-heads turn into zombies, but how do I make it a bit different? And then I was thinking - not a lot of people have explored the element of voodoo for a while.
We noticed voodoo seems a little of a taboo in the genre. There aren't a lot of films at all, was it hard to look for inspiration?
It’s always a director and writer’s pursuit to find new angles. I tried to find films to reference. My main visual reference was Katanga from Live and Let Die, so I started the styling and got the actors on board. The link was meth-head zombies created by voodoo and we built the story around it. Another film I love is ‘Rec’. How do you make a cheap zombie movie? The best angle is going to be found footage so I decided to put an element of found footage in it and some animation.
I came up with a story where two gangsters have got a girl, this naïve student, who’s thinking she’s filming two drug dealers for a media project, but they kidnap her, start their meth lab and force her to film them. Then as I was building it up more - I read World War Z - one man going around trying to piece together what happened, so we decided to change tact a little bit (which came about in post-production) and decided to introduce a new character - an investigator.
The story now is about London having been quarantined for 5 years and then all the footage of the zombie plague gets opened up - video, CCTV, mobile phone footage - so we take the story from the point of view of one researcher investigating into the origins of the zombie virus. When the scientific.
community did scientific experiments, they couldn’t find any bacteria or anything else that would cause the zombie plague so the investigator sets to unravel the mystery of how the zombie virus started.
You've got me gripped. the inspiration of 'World War Z', 'Breaking Bad' and 'Live and Let Die' is a fantastic combination.
At which point we deliberate into a totally different arguement and comparisons of how the 'World War Z' adaptation ignored the concept of the book.
You say you have some animation included within 'Voodoo Magic'. How does that fit into the film?
Well, it’s quite interesting. Obviously, the investigator character is trying to piece together the story and there are gaps in the information, so what she does is she recreates key scenes with some animation which fits the narrative quite well.
So it won't be like 'Mary Poppins' then?
I did toy with that, to try and link some animated drum music but, no.
You've got quite an impressive ensemble too. Don Warrington ('Hamlet') and Danny John Jules ('Red Dwarf', 'Blade 2')
All the actors were amazing! We’ve also got Merveille Lukeba who was in Skins. A couple of the other actors I think are really going to grow to provenance in the next couple of years are Chris Brazier who was recently in a TV series with Jean Reno, and Sebastian Street.
Yes, he now has a screenplay written which is being produced by none other than Martin Scorcese if we are right?
Amazing! It’s a lovely story as well. I’m helping them produce that too. It’s serendipitous, really. I’ve known Seb for a while, he brought Chris Brazier on board and he paused filming and said “Do you mind if I go and work with a few of Scorsese’s people?” and I went with it.
Who would say no to Scorcese?
Exactly! Then there’s Danny John-Jules, the Cat from Red Dwarf! He was amazing. He plays the Voodoo Priest and it’s quite funny because as I was writing the script, a lot of the other stuff - the meth lab, the criminals - are all very serious and I needed to juxtapose that with some comic relief so he plays a cool kind of character just dancing and prancing around.
We couldn't imagine anyone else
Exactly, you think who’d be good and immediately Danny pops up! We got in touch with his agent, Danny read the script. He was filming Red Dwarf at the time and we managed to get some time for a meeting. We got on like a house on fire and he came over and did some amazing stuff for me.
Then Don. Don plays a South African gangster. In the story, the two drug dealers - Kane and Abel (Andy Seaman and Chris Brazier) - are looking to do a diamond heist and that’s when things start getting ropey for Abigail. They steal the diamond to order for the South African who is on a personal vendetta against the mining company whose forefathers had killed his whole family generations ago. I wrote Don’s part with an almost Christopher Walken ‘Pulp Fiction’ feel, a really nice monologue and thought about Don. It was like a masterclass in acting, Don was fantastic!
Seb wanted his character (Sparky) with a full set of dreads and… had an allergic reaction. He still soldiered through the whole film! He wanted to approach it with a Gary Oldman in ‘True Romance’ feel and fully delivered.
We’ve also got some martial arts in there.
Is there a genre you haven't made room for?
It’s nice to be influenced by other things. Ultimately when I decided to put this structure together it’s a bit like ‘From Dusk till Dawn’. This film takes a really unique turn into the third act where zombies arrive. I needed to keep the zombie action on a budget so I wrote in a character – a meth addict who was once a world kickboxing champion (as you do).
Our fight coordinator, Danny Styles, brought on a brilliant fighter, Liza Callinicos. Most zombies in Voodoo Magic are slow motion Romero type zombies, except those souped up on meth. Kane and Abel are “offing” the zombies all really easy-peasy and at a later point they face this little blonde lady, they snigger at each other and think they’ll take her out easily and the next thing you know… POW! POW! POW! She’s dealing with THEM. The fight scene goes on for three or four minutes, which was very interesting to film.
You’ll find there’s loads of action in the last act, a few twists and turns too. For my first feature I feel really privileged I worked with a good team and really good actors. Blending this 'World War Z' style slant and keeping it fresh - not just your average found-footage documentary.
Great cast, great story and most of all... Originality, you're on to a fantastic start already. When can we expect to see 'Voodoo Magic'?
I’m hoping to finish up over the next 4-6 weeks. I have a few festivals earmarked for the end of the year and then go from there, hopefully, the beginning of next year.