Developing HorrorLessons from our session with Prano Bailey-Bond & Oliver Kassman
Prano Bailey-Bond and Oliver Kassman discuss their creative journeys, horror fandom and a changing genre.
Back in June 2020, we hosted an online conversation with Oliver Kassman (Producer of Saint Maud) and Prano Bailey-Bond (Writer-Director of Censor) as part of our Genre in Focus: Horror season. In the intervening months, it's been exciting to watch both Oliver and Prano cement their status as two of the names to watch in British genre filmmaking.
Saint Maud converted its early festival hype into a successful UK release, scooped two awards at the recent BIFAs and is one of the leading titles on the BAFTA Awards longlist. Censor looks set to replicate that success; it received its world premiere in Sundance’s Midnight section and is appearing in Berlinale’s Panorama section in early-March.
With Oliver and Prano’s work in the spotlight, we’ve revisited June’s conversation and picked out some highlights to inspire the North’s next generation of fearsome filmmakers. Read on for insights into Saint Maud and Censor’s journey to the screen, the inevitable challenges along the way, and Prano and Oliver’s history of horror fandom (or lack thereof…). Or skip to the bottom of this article to watch the conversation in full!
On their history with horror…
Prano: I grew up in Wales, in the middle of nowhere, on a diet of VHS horror. I didn’t have a cinema very close to me, so I devoured the films that I had on video and that were on TV over and over again. And I was always really drawn to the darker stuff.
But it never really scared me, it just excited me. I like the thrill you get from horror - even something like Strange But True?; I used to love watching that and then having the fear of going up the stairs at night. I enjoyed being scared by that, because I knew it wasn’t real - it was a safe space to be scared in.
Oliver: For me, it was a more recent thing. I’m a complete wuss with scary movies. I watch them through my hands, I jump at anything. And that meant I didn’t watch horror films for most of my life because I was too frightened.
About 7 or 8 years ago, I thought: “this is ridiculous; you’re working in film and this is a whole area of film history that you know nothing about.” So I went back to the beginning: I started with the original Nosferatu and kind of worked forward from there. And going through the decades helped because I was able to watch the techniques develop. And then I got completely obsessed with it.
I think it’s arguably the genre that cinema is best placed to do. In a cinema, you can control what people see and hear better than possibly any other form - it seems to be the perfect environment to really frighten people. - Oliver Kassman
On the industry’s attitude to horror…
Prano: I think things have changed a lot in the last few years. There’s been some really great, breakout horrors that have shifted the industry’s attitude to the genre.
Earlier on in my career, I felt that being a female horror filmmaker was putting me in quite a difficult position, but now I feel that it’s a really positive thing and the industry is looking at it that way.
That’s because of films like The Babadook, Raw and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. These women have paved the way for the industry to see that there’s a market and appetite for these films, and that horror can be about something. It’s not just about blood and guts and women running and screaming through the woods - as much as I love that kind of thing.
Things are changing, and that’s changed my experience of making Censor.
On what a producer is looking for in a filmmaker…
Oliver: It’s strange, after a while you develop a kind of gut feeling. It’s partly some very basic, pragmatic things that you would think of for any partnership: do I get on with this person? Is our communication good? Can we build a trusting relationship? When you talk about a project, are you sharing the same vision?
One thing that was so key to the successes of Saint Maud creatively was that we were all so clear of what film we were making from the start. It’s not that we didn’t disagree throughout the process - but we were disagreeing about how to achieve the thing that we set out to do, rather than what that thing was. That was essential.
On the move from shorts to features...
Prano: I remember a few shorts in, some of my friends in the industry were asking me why I wasn’t making a feature. I just didn’t quite feel ready. I took my time.
I felt like I needed to make Nasty before I made a feature. I was creating a world that had the depth that I wanted to bring to a feature, so I wanted to exercise those muscles as much as possible.
Those short films were my training ground. I think any director should be making short films before making a feature. You’re learning so much about your own voice, working with people and the practicalities of making a film. All of that experience is going to let you make a better feature and handle the process much better.
On overcoming challenges...
I’ve had tons of rejection. My ideas have always been a bit weird, and I would go for funding and get rejected. And, as much as possible, I would try and make that project happen myself anyway. If I had just gone: “OK, nobody likes my weird films” then I would never have got to make Censor. - Prano Bailey-Bond
Prano: The challenges are constant. Each draft, you don’t know if you’re going to get funding for the next draft. There’s a conversation going on between what you’re trying to create and what you think the financiers might want you to be doing. That’s one of the huge challenges: creatively keeping your intentions in the project.
One thing we did to get the project off the ground was going to Frontières, which is a genre-focused finance and packaging forum that’s organised by Cannes and Fantasia festivals. It’s 13 projects and a bunch of financiers for 4 days. You have to do Q&As about your project before you’ve even made the film, and all these financiers ask you questions. Some of them will be interested, and that’s great. Some of them might not be, but they can also give you advice on what might help the project.
That was a really great experience. I highly recommend anyone interested in genre who is developing a feature to apply for Frontières.
On defying genre conventions...
Oliver: We were nervous about calling Maud a horror, because we didn’t want people to expect a James Wan movie and be disappointed. We had it in Frightfest at Glasgow Film Festival, which is a fantastic festival and a really discerning audience who know their horror, and that was really nerve-wracking. But they liked it and that meant a lot to us.
When I started Escape Plan five years ago and I said I was just going to genre material, I wasn’t going to do any drama, there was a reaction that they weren’t “real films;” they’re “commercial.” It’s not a word I like in that context, because what commercial means is that people are willing to spend their hard earned money to see your film - which is something significant.
There is still kind of a thing in the UK that “proper art” is social issue driven drama. But the thing that really helped with Maud is that we wanted people to have fun. If we managed to say something, that was brilliant - but fundamentally this should be a fun movie.
The entire conversation between Prano, Oliver and our event host, Anna Bogutskaya is now available to watch on our Vimeo channel.
Our thanks to Prano, Oliver and Anna.
Saint Maud is available to stream now. Censor is currently playing international festivals.