Swindon Link's Jessica Durston spoke to Swindon's own Mark Kenna about Bad Blood Films' latest release 'Sacrilege.'
My love and appreciation of film has remained a constant throughout my life. As an individual who is passionate about cinema, conducting this interview and learning more about Mark and Bad Blood Films was a real treat. This discussion was fascinating and I am sure any fellow cinephile reading, will feel the same.
Mark Kenna lives in North Swindon with his family and - together with David Creed - is a founder of the horror and thriller film studio production company, Bad Blood Films. The company's first feature ‘Sacrilege’ was released in cinemas last March. Mark discusses the journey of the film, from script to screen.
For those who have not yet discovered Bad Blood Films, could you talk a little about the company?
“It’s a British horror and thriller film studio production company, making features within the UK. We started the company back in 2013 with just one project. We started with ‘Facility 31’ which is a creature-feature action horror with a budget of about £1.5m. To raise this amount of funding was quite ambitious, and after going round Cannes and some of the finance markets, we realised it would be better to have a slate of movies.
Our aim is to develop into a sustainable film company within the UK, and to basically become the British Blumhouse. We want to sustain the film industry and keep using the skillsets we have here in the South West.
We currently have 16 films in development, and a TV episodic, and have both a low-budget slate and a high-budget slate. Our aspirations and ambitions have grown with the different projects and the progress we have been making. Ultimately it's all about trying to make films that British people like as well as the US, and the rest of the world.
We are working with a board of directors to help establish our ethos and aims for our business. With the first movie, it should be more about the film, but we want to make it clear we are here to stay and that we want to make an impact.
Additionally, we want to build our Bad Blood tribe. Members of the public can sign up and receive a newsletter from us. We will host competitions and maybe offer opportunities to come down to set with us. It is an opportunity for local businesses or members of the public to get involved and come along for the ride."
Can you tell our readers a little bit about the feature itself - what is Sacrilege, and what was the process of making the film like?
"Sacrilege is a pagan folklore, cult-horror film. It's a horror that is more in your head - it's more about facing your fears and exploring friendships and relationships.
It came as a fundraiser for the £1.5m for 'Facility 31.' We knew we had to drop the budget but not for that script. We didn’t want to change our plans for 'Facility 31' and compromise the film, so we moved our attentions onto another script and feature idea.
In August 2018, and my business partner and director David Creed, sent through the concept for the film and asked me what I thought. David is the horror guru through and through. He’s seen them all. I think 'The Thing' is his favourite movie and he’s seen it about a hundred times. He will often communicate with the cast and crew through horror references so they can watch clips and understand what he wants. It’s like homework for them.
The film has four strong female leads, and we wanted this as it is not commonly done within the horror genre. We wanted to shoot it in the South West of England because all of our cast and crew were there.
Once the script came to me in the December, we started raising funds. By the February of the next year, we had 50% of the budget. We started making the film independent of what we had. The film making process felt really home-grown and there were friends, colleagues, catering companies, all helping out. It was a real South West project. We even used the word's first robot dolly!
Everyone working on the film was well fed – we had three meals a day and some people wanted to move in on set. We really wanted to look after everyone well. Those things at the base of the fundamental levels of independent filmmaking, we are trying to change, as well as the lead female aspect. 50% of our cast and crew were female both in front and behind the camera. We really want to promote women in film and women in these roles.
'Sacrilege' was the first movie for the Director of Photography Sarah Smither, who brought her camera team from local universities and films schools. They also provided runners for our set – my own daughter was also a runner. It was composer Colin McGinness' first feature film – he is an Australian man who works in Bristol. The film was also David Creed’s first project.
The film was a first for a lot of people who worked on it. Our First Assistant Director has now gone on to do three more AD projects after 'Sacrilege.'
'Sacrilege' ended up being two to two and a half years in the making. Our post-production took around eight or nine months when it should have taken three to four - but because were low budget, we had to work around supporting ourselves which could be stressful.
I had to freelance and taught in film schools in Estonia and Norway. I was also working for Dolby on Venom and other films. I was with them as their senior film consultant for twelve years responsible for Dolby in Scandinavia before Bad Blood Films.”
What was the film's release and premiere like?
"We self-released in 43 cinemas across the UK and Ireland with Cineworld direct, and hand delivered our film to the BBFC to get our rating of a 15. In February 2020 we had our big film premiere in Cineworld, Leicester Square, which seats 1000 people. The VP of Cineworld said they hadn’t seen anything this big since ‘The Rise of the Skywalker’ in December.
We had our film’s promotional posters set up, and put blood dripping down the steps with ‘Face your Fear’ posters. We released the film on March 6, 2020, and then the Government started telling people to stay indoors.
We were left sitting at home wondering what to do next as we had no release in America or in Europe which removed that instant profit. We met a sales agent from Cannes, virtually. This was the first time Cannes went online. Because we had made a product, and because we did it so big with our cinema release, the Cannes team were interested and it opened conversation. We then had talks with 50 or 60 sales agents, all across the world and we got three companies who wanted to represent us.
There were 302 people at the premiere, and they all felt part of the project and this was very important. It made me feel quite emotional. We have not only released a movie that is now sold in 16 territories - including the UK and US, we’ve made a movie we can all be proud of.”
What inspired you to get into horror film production? Have you always loved the genre?
“Horror is that safe environment that you can introduce fears within. You can play with people’s perceptions of what frightens them. When I was young, I loved Jaws, and the Omen. I liked the idea that kids could be portrayed as dangerous and frightening - the subversion. I also love that horror offers so many sub-genres.
Watching horror films from a young age definitely made an impression on me. I remember walking home from secondary school with my friends and talking about this film that one of our dads had seen with an alien face-hugging attack – this was of course Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien.’ We put the video in and watched the scene and then had to rewind it back to the start so he wouldn’t know that we had been messing about with the tape.
I also love horror from a soundtrack point of view. I’m a very sound orientated person. That’s how I got into film - through my love of score. I used to have an old BBC sound effects horror tape where I would often make my own soundscape and record that onto a C120 two hour tape. I would then put that on underneath my brother’s bed and it would play silence for 50 minutes and then it would do this two minute jumpy-horror audio scene. I caught him out a few time which I found hilarious."
As Bad Blood Films is based locally in Swindon and Bristol, did you use the locations on offer around you?
On May 6, 2019 we started an 18 day shooting schedule. From May 6-24 we spent 90% of the filming time at the Forest of Dean in South Gloucestershire. This was the location of the lodge you see in the film. We wanted it to look lush and isolated and the Forest of Dean was a great place to get that effect.
In October we filmed some of the aerial shots over the Forest of Dean. We also filmed in my bike loop that is in the Cotswolds. We shot in and around my 40k bike loop from North Swindon, Purton, Minety, Oaksey, Cotswolds lakes, Cricklade and home. We shot at Oaksey Church, Lechlade Bridge, over the A419 dual carriageway bridge and the end of Cricklade High Street.
We shot the burning man scene at the Forest of Dean in December, and all our cutaway scenes within Wiltshire. It was shot very non-linear. We were excited to get in a real stunt man, and to set him on fire. The burning scene in the film is done with a real stunt man and real fire. We used David Anders who was a stunt man for James Bond. We wanted to give a glimpse of what we can do if we have a decent budget.”
You have some actors that audiences may recognise, like Tamaryn Payne who played Annalise Appleton on Hollyoaks, Emily Wyatt from the Rise of the Footsoldier films, Emma Spurgin Hussey from Poldark and Doc Martin, and Rory Wilton who has starred in other horror flicks. What was it like working with these actors?
“We took auditionees to Bristol for workshops and then had them play around with the script. The group with Tamaryn, Naomi, Emily and Sian absolutely stood out – they were exceptional. I want to work with them again!
I think 'Sacrilege' may have been the first feature for Tamaryn, Sian and Naomi. We looked after them and put them up in a holiday 'forest park' retreat in Gloucestershire and they didn’t want to go home. We like to think we gave the acting cast treatment they were not used to.
Emily was a bundle of energy to have on set and she was just fantastic to work with. My kids looked up to her as a role model within the industry.
We gave Emma Spurgin Hussey and Rory Wilton an audition and we were wowed. Rory is so menacing and he is in a lot of Charlie Steed’s films, who is a prolific indie-horror filmmaker. Emma and Rory’s presence on set resulted in everyone matching their level of performance. 'Sacrilege' was the first feature for some of our actors and Emma and Rory were outstanding and patient.
I remember Rory had a cold one night, and we had to keep going over the same groundskeeper scenes and our runners were looking after him. He wasn’t demanding or diva-ish at all."
I know 'Sacrilege' has got to where it is today due to community support and funding. Has it been nice to collaborate with local people and organisations in order to give something back?
"Yeah, I mean that's what it’s all about, right? Collaboration. We have had amazing support from the local news, BBC, Swindon Link, The Ocelot online and Swindon Advertiser. We have also been dealing with New College as I know Sam Storey, who runs media courses there.
My son is undertaking a computer course at New College, and he helped me with the digital marketing campaign for 'Sacrilege.' He did thirty posters for the thirty-day countdown. He’s 14, and a social media and photoshop wizard.
Even though it was a global project, my boy was doing this work. I was asked if I would come to New College to do a group session with some of the students, and of course I was happy to. I love giving back to the younger generation – we’re making films for them. These students are going to be making content for everyone once they have finished their studies – you know?
We also worked with students from Bristol's University of West England. Some of the university's students did our foley sound at Real World Studios in Box. Real World is owned by Peter Gabriel. I don’t think those students realised that one minute they were going to be sat learning about foley sound effects with the BBC mixer Martyn Harries, then they would be at Real World - and then a month later, their work would be in a film on the big screen. We view this as a massive opportunity for the South West and we just want to do more of that.
There were some great local organisations in Gloucestershire too. We used the company Complete Utilities’ which is run by Steve Chaplin and John Dowds who joined us on set to be extras as well as providing a low loader to transport the yellow van for the driving scenes and a welfare unit to keep the whole cast & crew warm and somewhere to prepare the food during the ritual scene as we were in the middle of nowhere with a generator as power.
We also went to a local gym in Gloucestershire - Forest of Dean Gym. We were after a crash mat so actress Sian Abrahams could do a jump stunt, and one of the staff members was happy to lend it to us. We used it, cleaned it, and brought it back to her. The gym asked if they could have a credit and we said of course you can. We also owe a big thanks to Country Catering Services run by Jacci Cawte.”
'Sacrilege' has amassed a lot of recognition and won the FIFF London award for 'Best Horror'. I know the feature was also nominated for other categories. Did you expect the reaction that the feature has garnered?
“We didn’t even think about awards when we were making 'Sacrilege.' We just wanted to make a movie and get Bad Blood Films on the map. It was far from our thinking to put it into festivals or go any further than just getting the project finished.
We didn't consider all the follow up work too – the interviews and director’s commentaries. It has been an amazing learning process. We realised it is not just three weeks on set. It’s the money, planning and everything else.
To get nominated for the South West version of the RTS awards - held down in Bristol - was amazing. 'Sacrilege’s VFX company, Primary VFX, are a local Bristol company who have worked on Netflix’s The Witcher and some of the Harry Potter films. 'Sacrilege' was nominated for best VFX. The film also received a nomination for best composer.
'Sacrilege' ended up being sold in 16 different territories around the world including US/UK, Germany and Scandinavia, which is amazing. We were officially selected for 10 international film festivals, winning 6 for best horror in UK, best concept in India, two for best female director of photography out in Toronto/US. We also had a physical DVD being sold in Walmart and on Amazon.com and a Blu-ray in Germany. In fact, the linktree link below has all the places around the world you can watch or buy the movie - the list is growing."
Your next project is the feature entitled, 'The Ripper's Ghost.' What can you tell us about this film?
"We wanted to write a story around Jack the Ripper and who he is as a character - not around his original victims, as that has been done before.
The Ripper’s Ghost is going to be more of a cinema movie, a more immersive, engaging cinematic version of the story. We wanted to bring the tale into modern day with the Jack the Ripper character in a Freddy Krueger-esque serial killer role.
We’ve held a lot of online votes within our Bad Blood tribe and within our inner circle. Out of the 16 movies and other projects we have going on and The Ripper’s Ghost came out on top. It's important to know your audience and interact with them, and the polls we run help with this.
Cineworld have expressed interest in having The Ripper’s Ghost in 4DX. Not many people are doing 4DX, especially indie companies, and we at Bad Blood Films want to utilise new technologies and actively seek what the ‘big boys’ are doing and try to put this into place within our own company.
Doing 'Sacrilege' has helped us to further realise what we want to do, what we want to be, what worked and what didn’t work so we can take this knowledge through to our next project.
We’re all about the mix and match of old and new school approaches, diversity and equal opportunity. We want to support under-represented backgrounds and work with people within the South West who may not be in the industry already, but that have studied media or film."
Bad Blood Films links: