Horror-on-Sea interview with Underland writer-director Gemma Paul

Underland (2018)

Directors: Gemma Paul

Writers: Gemma Paul

Stars: Warren Hicks, Gemma Wilks, Francesca Howe, Terence Elliott, Dean Jovi

Hatter lures 2 girls to his ‘Wonderland’ for his infamous Tea Party. Little do they know that the party will soon take a dark turn.

 Date & Venue: 11th January 2019 at 20:00hrs

Park Inn by Radisson Palace Southend, Church Rd, Southend-on-Sea SS1 2AL, UK

Underland is  new horror short from writer-director Gemma Paul which has been selected to play at the Horror-on-Sea Film Festival. I got a chance to ask  Gemma Paul a few questions about what we can expect from the film.

Q. Your short film Underland has been selected to play at Horror-on-Sea Film Festival. Can you tell us what we can expect from the film?

Underland is a short art horror film that takes well known literally figures and presents them in a new and unique way encompassing that which we all expect from a horror film, a good old bit of blood and gore. It is a small peek into a larger world beyond and leaves you wanting more.

Underland also showcases the music of one of the world’s top classical cellists, Jamie Walton,which also helps to bring a whole new atmosphere and styling to horror shorts. 

Q. The film incorporates familiar themes from Alice in Wonderland, including the Hatter played by Warren Hicks. What made you decide to incorporate characters from the story when writing the script?

When writing I tend to take inspiration from classic literature, with Underland it was Alice in Wonderland. My next short film is based on Frankenstein and I also have a feature in development which also plays with classic literary figures. I like to take these characters and put a new twist on them. These are ideas and characters that have stood the test of time, that we all recognise and for me there is something so appealing about making them mine in some way.

With Underland I had the idea to film a tea party scene which of course immediately makes you think of Alice in Wonderland. It felt right to use that story and its characters with my own take on it and make things a little more literal, like the Queen of Hearts.

Q. What were your inspirations for the look and style of the film?

My biggest inspiration in anything and everything I do is Tim Burton. He brings a crazy, unique, art style to all he does,and my brain works very much in the same way. For Underland I knew I wanted to bring the art to horror in a different way than it is usually seen, and with it being my first film, I wanted to make sure it made an impact and stood out yet keeping to my style. My set design style is very much mirrored in my writing which in itself focuses on vintage ,gothic, steampunk and horror. These styles you will continue to see in all my films.

Q. Are there any elements of the original script which were changed during filming?

I tend to use my scripts as a guide for filming as I find that the feeling of a story can change when actors take on a role. This certainly became the case with Underland. The Queen was the original headliner in the script, but the way Warren Hicks took on the role and played the Hatter was simply mesmerising. He stole the show and because of that it felt right to change the story. The story line therefore was changed to focus on the Hatter rather than the Queen and the filming subsequently concentrated on this. The original script also had more speech in it, but when it came to editing it felt right to have minimal speech and let the music and visuals tell the story, becoming very much a moving piece of art.

Q. Did you experience any difficulties whilst making the film?

Time was our biggest difficulty. When you are asking people to give their time for free you try not to take advantage of it. As Underland is only a short (6 minutes) film, we shot in one day and therefore needed to plan our time carefully. Sound was also a big issue for us as we were filming in an empty warehouse, which lead to a lot of echo and also background noise from adjacent units. Luckily, we didn’t have much speech so we were able to work around it.

Q. What was one of your favourite moments during filming?

To be honest I love the whole filming process. Whenever I am on set, I truly thrive in the environment and it is the best day of my life. However, if I were to narrow down one particular moment while filming Underland, it would have to be a moment involving the main actor Warren Hicks. Kieron Evens, the DOP, asked Warren to slow down a movement whilst running to a girl, Warren decided to give us a blooper reel moment and went super classic comedy slow-mo causing the entire cast and crew to crack into hysterics. Yes, that’s definitely my favourite moment. That reminds me I must dig out the blooper for it.

Q. Do you have any other projects which you are working on?

Yes, I have in fact just finished shooting my next short film, entitled Adam. We are about to go into Post-Production with it and hope to have it ready for the new year. If it achieves half the success Underland has I will be delighted. I am looking forward to a fresh batch of festival submissions. This is another short horror based on the Frankenstein Story. We elevated this production to the next level and were able to get some very exciting sets and locations. Our star Warren is back with us playing our version of Frankensteins’ monster. We were also lucky to get established actor Tim Faraday (Primeval (2008-2009), Legend (2015), Snatch (2000)) on board playing Doctor Frankenstein.

I have also been working on a number of other projects for fellow writers and directors as part of their Pre-Production teams. However, of most significance I am just completing my first feature script which I aiming to take into official development stages early next year. So, there is lots going on.

Q. What advice would you give to someone who is looking to write and direct their own movie?

Just do it, you won’t know what you can achieve unless you try. I spent over 10 years wanting to write and make movies. I held off until I was 30 because I lacked confidence to just do it, to put myself out there and create. Underland is my first film and the response it has received was far beyond what I expected. It has already opened a number of avenues for me. So just do it, learn along the way, listen to others, have passion and most importantly don’t let anything limit you.

You can find out more about Gemma projects on the website https://www.twistedrootproductions.com/

and IMDB https://www.imdb.com/name/nm9422963/?ref_=rvi_nm

You can find out more about the feature films playing at Horror-on-Sea Film Festival and details of tickets on the website.

Philip Rogers

Philip Rogers

Published in various websites, Philip is a reviewer who is best known for his interviews and media coverage of independent projects including; films, books, theatre and live events. Always on the lookout for something different to cover!