Drew Cullingham is well on his way to gaining a notable reputation for creating challenging cinema. His new film, The Devil’s Bargain, was shot using an innovative pinhole technique along with the ambitious storyline of an impending apocalypse. Dave Wain caught up with Drew to quiz him on his new picture, his career, as well as life behind the camera...
You’ve worked with two of the leads in The Devil’s Bargain before. How much of a benefit does such familiarity give the film-making process?
A huge benefit, especially given the already-mentioned nudity. I've worked with Jonnie Hurn many times and with that comes (hopefully mutual) trust. I always know that he will come up with the goods in terms of performance, but it also helps to have a good understanding of how each other works – it saves a lot of time when you're under pressure. I'd only worked with Chloe once before this, but know her well enough that there is that important trust. Given the nature of this film, this certainly affected the casting decisions.
Some of the initial promo for the film underlined its full-frontal nudity. After watching the movie though, it’s actually really subtle and refreshingly natural as opposed to the usual exploitative nature of horror movie nudity. What was your thinking behind this aspect of the film?
I think it may simply be a matter of just how much nudity is in the film. It is there as a natural state of being, rather than necessarily a purely sexual one (though there's plenty of that too!). There's also not the usual horror trope you'd get in, say, slashers of associating nudity or sexualisation with sin, which in turns usually presages a grisly demise. It was also absolutely necessitated by the story and the themes at work within the story. It's a credit to the actors, and possibly the way in which it was shot, that it feels so natural, as you say.
2013 saw films such as Ethan Race’s Temple Wood and Robbie Moffat’s Seven Crosses appear first on VoD with other’s debuting on Vimeo or either YouTube. Why did you decide to debut The Devil’s Bargain on VoD?
It's really a matter of embracing what will in some fashion or other become the norm. It's also a way of maintaining control of the film, and having a direct line, through using social media etc, to the people that matter – the audience.
How does this method of release alter the way you prepare, shoot and ultimately market the film? Does it give you more artistic freedom?
I wouldn't say that it's all that different in terms of the prep and the shooting, although it does mean it's easier to make the film you want to make. The marketing onus is certainly more on the filmmakers, and reliant on social media and word of mouth as much as anything else.
What is the current status of Monk3ys and Black Smoke Rising? I see they’re both available to rent via your Facebook page.
They are indeed. Both those films were premiered at Raindance (Monk3ys winning best micro-budget feature there), who then offered to use them as flagship films in the upcoming launch of their own VOD service. Most of us practically live online these days, and again, the most important thing to me as a filmmaker is that people actually see the films. Making them available easily through either the Raindance site, or to stream on the films' websites and on Facebook just makes reaching people that much easier. That said, Monk3ys will also soon enjoy a North American DVD release!
Your career to date seems to epitomise going in the opposite direction of most people establishing routes in the film industry. You’ve shot on black and white, you’ve done a one location character piece, and now with The Devil’s Bargain you made the bold decision to use this pinhole technique. Bold decisions considering many are happy to opt for the predictable zombie / slasher avenue.
Well when you put it that way, it's little wonder that I'm still broke!
Finally, what’s next for Drew Cullingham?
Something very different again, for me! I'm about to embark on a raunchy comedy called Skinny Buddha. Oh, and there is a zombie comedy in the pipeline as well as a WW2 psychological thriller.
• The Devil’s Bargain is released on VoD on January 17 at Facebook