The horror genre has crossed swords with martial arts in quite a few cinematic and television outings of late but 'The Witches Hammer' (official website) is one of the few efforts to hail from the merry old land of England.¬† Packed with high kicking action and blood sucking vampire antics, the film arrives on DVD this month and we caught up with the director, leading lady and action choreographer to get the low-down on the production.
James Eaves - Director, Writer And Producer
Far East Films: How did you get started in the industry and who would you site as your influences?
James Eaves: I studied film at the Southampton Institute and on leaving, set up a company to make genre films (horror to start with). Influences? Hmmm, the obvious ones... Spielberg, Hitchcock, De Palma... maybe comic books and cartoons, all sorts really. I have ended up making mostly horror films but I wouldn't class myself as a pure horror buff, we try and make the films we want to watch!
FEF: Making an independent film seems so demanding, but it must be very rewarding in the end. Could you tell us about the creative process from start to finish?
JE: You start with a blank page and then have to come up with something you're passionate about (but can still afford to make). A lot of the time on a film like this you have to be creative not just with the story but with your ability to get things shot. For example, the film has a fight sequence with Rebecca against a demon that can teleport, since I don't have a huge budget for effects this was achieved with editing and camera positioning. As a scene I think it works very well (if I do say so myself!)¬†
The crew prepare for the credit sequence
FEF: You've been director, producer, writer and editor for most of your films. Can you imagine doing just one of those in the future or is there a desire to keep control of your products?
JE: I would LOVE to concentrate on one role, the direction mainly but at this stage I think it's best I am involved fully, from producing through directing and then finally editing. We work very fast when on location so the rushes aren't always in a good order/notes correct so it saves a lot of time in post production with me knowing where/what everything is.
FEF: There's been a real resurgence in independent British action/horror films in recent years. What do you think has bought this about?
JE: Horror and action can be filmed cheaply, horror relying on the gore and guts and action relying on the skill of the martial artists/stunts. Also, horror and action are both universal language free genres, easy to understand and engage no matter what country you're from, which means the low budget film makers can make these genre movies and be able to sell them to an international market. Comedy, for example, is a difficult one as the humour sometimes doesn't translate well in different countries.
FEF: You've had some interesting stars in your films, from Stephanie Beacham to Uri Gellar. How do you go about approaching them with your idea?
JE: Most people are at least intrigued by the offer, for all the ones that say yes there are 10 times as many that say NO both politely and very rudely!
FEF: What's your one dream project?
JE: I have tons of things I would love to do given the right budget, I'd love to take on one of the lesser known Marvel comics and make a live action feature.
FEF: How did you assemble your behind-the-scenes team?
JE: We seem to collect crew members along the way and end up with the same team behind the camera. On our new feature 'Bane' we had minimal crew and in some of the larger scenes our cast outnumbered our crew.
The handy video assist captures the action
FEF: What do you regard as the ultimate barometer for a successful film?
JE: If people enjoy the film and take the time to tell us that they did.¬†
FEF: How do you think you've matured as a film-maker over the years?
JE: I think I've become more confident in my ideas and hopefully that shows in the quality/entertainment of the films.
FEF: Can you tell us what projects you have planned for the future?
JE: We are currently in post-production on the sci-fi horror 'Bane', the film is VERY different from 'The Witches Hammer', being more of a character based horror with elements of classic sci-fi. After that we go into pre-production on the Martial Arts feature '7 trails'.
Claudia Coulter - Leading Actress
FEF: You've worked on very contrasting productions in 2006 with 'Jane Eyre' and 'The Witches Hammer'. What challenges does this offer you as an actress?
Claudia Coulter: A fantastic opportunity to inhabit two completely different worlds.
FEF: Was 'The Witches Hammer' fun to make?
CC: Tremendous fun!... with wonderful people and a huge learning experience which is always a plus.
FEF: How much of the action did you take part in and did you get any Jackie Chan-style bruises?
CC: All the fight action scenes you see me in, it's all me, choreographed by the brilliant Kris Tanaka and yes, I did get a few bruises which is all part of the experience.
FEF: How did you first hear about this British independent picture?
CC: Through my agent.¬†
FEF: What was it like working with an experienced actress like Stephanie Beacham?
CC: It was very exciting to work with Stephanie Beacham. She is a pro... wonderful, strong, sincere and a beautiful woman.
Claudia Coulter sinks her teeth into her character
FEF: How did your day as the main actress on the film typically pan out?
CC: The same as everyone else's - up early, breakfast, location, wardrobe and make-up, run throughs before taking the shots, lunch, more shots, dinner, more shots and sleep - mostly late nights. The times we were shooting was a luxury we had to take advantage of as this was a small budget film.
FEF: Do you have a role model as an actress or do you try to carve out your own specific style?
CC: I love seeing actors who have awe inspiring talent. I love Carmen Maura, Jessica Lange - what characters! And too many to mention for their different beautiful qualities. But one can only be inspired, and as you say 'carve my own style' which only time can bestow.
FEF: There's often quite a bit of industry snobbery towards independent action films like 'The Witches Hammer'. Have you come up against this and what is your reaction to it?
CC: W.H is a bit of fun that does not pretend to be anything else. Every work has it's own merit. Simply to start and finish a film as a whole is a HUGE accomplishment. And no I've not come up against this - one can only do one's best at the time and that is all one CAN do. It's by DOING we learn and grow.
FEF: What kind of reaction do you think the film will get when it's released on DVD and how do you think that will influence your future roles?
CC: Hopefully it will be seen as an entertaining, horror, action, fun film and as to how it will influence my future roles - that's simply out of my hands so wish me luck!
Kris Tanaka - Action Choreographer
FEF: What inspired you to move into this part of film-making?
Kris Tanaka: I have been creating fighting sequences as pair work for Martial Arts students for many years and it seemed a natural step.
FEF: Do you have any martial arts training?
KT: Over 30 years in a dozen different martial arts. I am ranked as professor level in the Martial Art of Goshin Jutsu.
FEF: Are you a fan of classic HK action? If so, to what extent has it inspired you?
KT: I am a fan, but like the action to be more realistic.
Kris Tanaka shows the actors how it's done
FEF: How do you tailor your choreography to the different skills of the cast?
KT: Some scenes were structured such that it was required that the actors were trained well outside their expertise. Where possible I worked with their strengths but also pushed their limits in both physical and mental areas of the arts.
FEF: What do you consider to be the 'perfect' action scene?
KT: Realistic skills with realistic outcomes. If a guy gets hit in the face with an axe he should go down and stay down.
FEF: Which moment of 'Witches Hammer' are you most proud of?
KT: The long fight sequence where Claudia starts off unarmed and ends up defeating both witches and vampires with various weapons and finally a gun.
FEF: So many action directors make in-roads into directing. Is it something that attracts you?
KT: I think I would like to but would definitely like to stay hands on too.
You can find out more about 'The Witches Hammer' at the Official Website and the DVD is available now from Amazon.co.uk.
Far East Films¬†would like to¬†thank¬†James Eaves, Claudia Coulter and Kris Tanaka