FrightFest recently announced that The Seasoning House would open this year’s festival in August. So we caught up with Director Paul Hyett to discuss the film, his love of Polanski, the awesome Sean Pertwee and the film’s prestigious slot at the festival.
1. Can you tell me how you got involved in the project originally?
Michael Riley (producer of The Seasoning House) and I have spoken about making a film together for many years. Originally we had developed a project called ‘The Black Site’, a psychological thriller in the tradition of ‘Jacob’s Ladder’, but we calculated that it would cost over £2 million to realise fully on the big screen, a stretch for my first film. Hence we decided to make a smaller scale picture to start with, and that’s when we decided on The Seasoning House. The premise felt perfect for me to show off in a contained but entertaining way.
2. How did you find working with a group of writers?
The main script writers were Conal Palmer and myself, with early contributions from Adria Rigelsford and Helen Solomon. I’m not at all concerned about how many people contribute to a script; I’ve always felt the most important thing is to have the script in best possible shape for the start of filming. Too many writers are too precious about letting anyone else work on their material, which I believe can be a mistake. Working with Conal Palmer was a very rewarding experience. We work well together and bounce ideas, structure, characterisation, dialogue, pretty much everything off each other. It’s a relationship that will continue.
3. The stills I’ve seen from The Seasoning House made me think of films like Polanki’s Repulsion and Tarkovsky’s Stalker in the use of image matching the characters emotional experience. Did these films influence you at all?
Polanski’s work was an especially strong influence, not only for the reasons above but also for the suffocating, claustrophobic imagery showcased notably in his trilogy of apartment films, as well as his almost voyeuristic camerawork. Another strong influence was Pascal Laugeir’s ‘Martyrs’ – an amazing study of beautiful style coupled with a nihilistic tone, but also extreme with an intelligent story and brilliantly crafted characters and performances. I like the description “neo-horror”.
4. Given your job history how quick into the process did you begin to think of the design and look of the film?
I began to think about the design and look of The Seasoning House as soon as I was writing it. I always had a very specific look that I wanted to achieve, and our Production Designer (Caroline Story) and Director of Photography (Adam Etherington) got it absolutely spot on.
5. The choice to split a film between monochrome and colour has been used previously in classics such as A Matter of Life and Death and If for instance. Did you always intend for the film to be shot like this?
Although a few stills of The Seasoning House are monochrome, the film is fully in colour. We used different levels of desaturation and colour to distinguish between the present day and Angel’s flashbacks.
6. It’s great to see Sean Pertwee cast in the film, did you always intend the role of Goran for him?
I had always thought that Sean would be perfect to play Goran, a sadistic but charismatic and intelligent military leader, and so I was thrilled when he liked the script and accepted the role straight away. It has been an absolute pleasure to work with Sean, and he and brought a lot of experience and passion to the project. We’ve a lot of history together. I’ve killed him in numerous films in the past.
7. How hard was it casting the role of Angel? And how amazed are we going to be with Rosie Day?
I think we saw about 150 girls for the role of Angel! Rosie came along quite near the end of the process and immediately when I saw her I thought she looked perfect. As soon as she started her audition I thought she WAS Angel – her vulnerability, inner strength, and expression of her emotions without words. She has an amazingly soulful look, with big bright eyes. I really think people will be swept along on her journey, really feeling and rooting for her and believe me, she goes through the mill on this emotionally and physically.
I think the extreme storyline and visual content actually made it easier for us to finance the film. The investors really liked the script; I think they recognised that it wasn’t just another violent film but an interesting emotional study with well rounded characters and, above all else, a strong, unusual story with depth and potency.
9. Can you tell me your reaction to the news of being the opening film at FrightFest this year?
I am totally elated. It is such an honour to be chosen as the opening film at FrightFest and I honestly couldn’t be happier, especially given that it’s my first film. It is the perfect stage for The Seasoning House to have its world premiere, and I believe the audience will love it.
10. The audience at the festival are renowned for their genre knowledge, are you at all nervous at the reception the film will get?
It’s only natural to be a little nervous about how people will receive the film, but I believe that if anyone will love it it will be the FrightFest fans. While it’s not a complete gorefest throughout, the moments of pure horror are heightened by the context and characterisation.
11. How did you enjoy your directorial debut? What did you find most difficult about the role and do you have plans to return to the chair anytime soon?
I absolutely loved the experience. It was by far the most enjoyable and fulfilling experience of my career so far. The hardest thing about being a director is the time pressure – we had such a short shooting schedule and had to film so many stunts, fight scenes, massive VFX, prosthetics etc, all which take a great deal of time and precision.
12. If you had to name 2 films: One a classic title that every film fan should see and a second more recent title that hasn’t been given the attention it deserves in your mind. What would they be and why?
A: A classic title that I love is John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’ – a pure classic, brilliant in its nihilism, claustrophobia and isolation. Recent titles that I liked are ‘Martyrs‘, ‘Frontiers‘ and ‘Inside‘. All of them intense, unpredictable, shocking and human.
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