Blood Shed: how we made our bloody short film

As James Moran takes his story of a scary shed to Horror Channel FrighFest, he tells us how it came about...

After a lot of blood, sweat and tears (mostly blood) our new short film, Blood Shed, is unleashed on an unsuspecting Horror Channel FrightFest audience this month. The story of one man’s love for his shed, which eats people, it’s a horror comedy inspired by Creepshow, starring Shaun Dooley and Sally Phillips.

People have asked how we brought this unique monster tale to life, and the answer is… slowly, with guts, and lots of planning (and blood, don’t forget the blood). Ahead of its world premiere this weekend, here’s how we brought our evil shed to life.

Concept

Sometimes ideas come from news stories, or real-life situations. And sometimes they come from your partner running into the room, shouting “This is either the best idea in the world, or the worst idea in the world – Blood Shed: a shed that eats people!” That was enough to get Cat Davies, my co-writer and producer, and I started on this sheddy tale.

Short films need to grab people! They have a very limited time to get the audience’s attention. If you have a high concept that can be easily explained, you’ll find it easier to get people on board.

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Writing

Cat and I have similar writing processes – we brainstorm around the core idea, then do a rough outline, then do a rough draft. I do this in a text file as a stream of consciousness, but Cat does it in visual diagrams linking scene to scene.

We thought about everything we wanted to see on screen – jokes, moments, props – without worrying about the actual story. This makes it more fun, and keeps you open to alternate directions. Then we nailed down a structure, kept the bits that fit, and found an arc. We typed up an outline and then passed rough script drafts back and forth until it was ready. If we were laughing at the drafts, we were happy.

Crowdfunding

There aren’t many funding sources for shorts, and running a Kickstarter was also a way to see if there was an audience. Luckily, a lot of amazing people chipped in and spread the word.

Kickstarter isn’t easy, though. It’s REALLY hard to get attention and press coverage now, and cut through the sheer volume of other projects. It takes a lot of work, generating new artwork, videos, gifs, memes and press to keep people interested. BUT KEEP THE FAITH – plan your campaign, do a fun pitch video, be yourself, have cool perk names, and importantly, explain how you will spend the money. People want to know that you aren’t just going to buy Funko Pops and Twix.

We learned that the £25 level is the most popular – offering a link to the film and all the digital extras. We tried to price things appropriately, with limited perks people couldn’t find anywhere else – props, costumes, signed scripts, screening tickets, being an extra. Make it easy for people to combine perks, too – give them clear instructions. If people love the idea, they might even want a piece of the shed… or pie.

Casting

Figuring out who should play your leads is a huge decision. And they have to fit each other, too. Shaun Dooley and Sally Phillips are amazing actors, and we knew they’d look great on screen as a believable couple.

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Once you’ve found the actors you want, check their availability with their agent, then make an offer – state what the pay is, your dates and where you’re shooting. Be professional and give details – reassure them that you aren’t a serial killer or crazy fan.

In an ideal world, the agent sends the script to the actor (you’d be amazed how often this doesn’t happen), the actor likes it, the agent comes back to negotiate terms and everyone lives happily ever after. This is the simplistic version! You will need contracts, but that’s a whole other novella.

Nobody makes a fortune from short films, so it entirely depends on the actor liking the script and the team. Find an actor who might not have done anything like this. They might take a punt on something different.

Pre-production & Design

Blood Shed is set in 1985. This meant lots of 80s props (a Teasmaid, Homepride Freds, Smash potato memorabilia, SodaStreams, VHS tapes), and a ton of 80s clothing. We scoured costume houses and vintage shops across London, working to mood boards and visual references that Cat pulled together to design the right look, and found some awful, awful fashion. In the 80s, fashion was “ALL THE SHAPES! ALL THE COLOURS! WOOOOO!”

We assembled a crew, some we’d worked with before and some new, bought production insurance (you’ll need this too), hired kit, wrote a schedule, and booked catering… The list of tasks is endless and doesn’t stop. I say “we”, Cat produced the short, and did this part – I’m not built for that…

Shooting

It was a two-day shoot at a house in Ealing, with much of the film shot on two cameras. All of the scenes took place in and around the house. It was a complex shoot, with technical tricks to achieve, so we had to minimise the difficulty – shooting in one place with lots of rooms really helped!

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I try to look after actors, but I have to admit I enjoyed throwing buckets of freezing cold blood at them. Fortunately, they took it like champs, and we had a never-ending supply of blood and guts.

Post-production

The edit can be difficult. It takes a long time to get the right look and feel. Matching shots from different cameras and different takes when the weather kept changing, with blood flying around… going for such a specific look meant very carefully crafting the colours in the grade.

Once it all came together, the amazing Ben Foster gave us the most 80s-tastic score possible. He and synth-wizard Toby Pitman used vintage equipment, including an ancient synthesizer built into a suitcase that, according to Ben, “smells of burning”. The score is such a crucial part of the film, and feels like a character in itself.

If you know a great musician, they may be able to help you out. Otherwise, try copyright free music – incompetech.com is a great source we’ve used many times.

Premiere time! The fun part!

And then the film is done! It’s time to submit to festivals…

Horror Channel FrightFest is our horror home. Everything we’ve produced has premiered there, so we definitely wanted Blood Shed to do the same. We submitted, waited, chewed our fingernails off… and were thrilled to be selected. Competition gets harder every year, so we’re doubly happy that they felt it was good enough to make the cut.

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We’ll be there on Sunday, seeing what an audience thinks of it for the first time. It’s always exciting, always terrifying, and always completely unpredictable. The big moment you think is comedy gold won’t get a laugh. A throwaway line you don’t even think is funny will bring the house down. But that’s the joy of screening your work. There’s nothing quite like it. And you learn all too quickly that the colour of adrenaline is brown…

Shorts rarely get seen or reviewed, so festivals are usually the only way to get them out there. Shorts have a couple of years shelf life, and then maybe find distribution or become part of an anthology feature, if you’re lucky. And then it starts all over again, finding a whole new audience, while we’re doing the next thing… It’s all part of the circle of life, or sheds.

Can anyone do the same? Of course. Have a fun, high concept. Do lots of prep. No, more than that. More. Figure out how to fund it. Surround yourself with good, talented people. Don’t overextend yourself. Take the time to craft it further in post-production, or get your mitts on someone who can. Figure out what you want from it – your own personal amusement, something to show online, or a festival run to help build your profile. Keep an eye on what you’re spending. And seriously, do even more prep. It still won’t be enough, but it’ll help.

And most importantly, take a moment to enjoy the process – especially when throwing blood at people and working with killer sheds. Sheds have egos too.

No actors were harmed during the making of Blood Shed, only the filmmakers.

Tickets for the screening available here! See more at bloodshedfilm.com or on Twitter @bloodshedfilm.