An Interview With Frazer Lee

Today folks film director and author Frazer Lee has kindly popped over for a chat about his new book Lamplighters, his new film Panic Button and among other things working with Doug Bradley 
GNOH – Hi Frazer, how are you doing?

HelloJim, I’m good thanks! Oh my wizened bones, my aching back, my bleeding eyes.
GNOH – Can you tell us a little bit aboutyourself?

I’m awriter and filmmaker who specialises in the mighty godhead of all genres:Horror. I drink a lot of coffee.
GNOH – What is the appeal of horror for you?

It haseverything all the other genres have, and then some more. Horror can becomedic, harsh, fantastical, real as you like but with that added allegorical edgesadly lacking from other shades of the genre spectrum. As a jobbing writer Ihave enjoyed working in other genres of course, but when I’m working on my ownstuff I just can’t seem to help leaning into the shadows a bit. The story mightstart out ‘nice’ enough but eventually people are going to bleed. I’m down withthat.
GNOH – Can you remember what first kicked offyour love for the genre?

Showingmy age now, but it was definitely the BBC’s weekend double bills of Hammer andUniversal films. Those characters and worlds became cosy and stimulatingenvironments for me to be in, a bit like a good pub is nowadays after a longwalk. The books, comics and radio plays followed and I was hooked. Hallowe’enhas been my favourite time of year from an early age and continues to be so.Just the way I’m programmed I think!
GNOH – What would you say are the your threefavourite films and books of all time?

Sodifficult to boil it down to absolutes but Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’, J.G.Ballard’s ‘Crash’ and ‘The Gauntlet’ by Ronald Welch would definitely be highon the book list. I wept as a child when I finished The Gauntlet as it socompletely placed me in another world I felt bereft when the story ended.’Frankenstein’ and ‘Crash’ pique my ongoing obsession with body horror. As faras films go, tonight’s triple bill could well be Robert Wise’s ‘The Haunting’,Jack Clayton’s ‘The Innocents’ and Jacques Tourneur’s ‘Catpeople’, allatmospheric classics that do a great deal with very little. Oh dear, now I’vesaid it I have to go read/watch all of those again!
GNOH – As both a writer and filmmaker, what doyou love and hate about the genre?

It’smostly love from me for the genre. Any hate I have, and that’s perhaps toostrong a word anyhow, is reserved for the industry side of things where peopleand politics and people-politics can get in the way of perfectly good ideas.And I feel any genre should thrive based on its ideas, not quash them becausethey are deemed too risky. Horror, by its very nature, is all about risks. I’mtempted to say I’m getting a little vampire- and zombie-fatigue, but then I’mreminded of work like ‘Let the Right One In’ and ‘Pontypool’, both of whichinvigorated the subgenres with their fresh takes on well-worn narratives andblew my flipping mind!
GNOH – What would you say to those that thinkthat current horror films are too concerned with blood and gore over goodstorytelling?

Iwould say that not all current horror films are obsessed with blood and gore.Some of them are, and that’s fair enough – it is clearly their missionstatement to deliver visceral thrills. Even the most inept camcorder gorefesthas the ‘right’ to become a cult classic if enough people fall in love with it.Others rely on strong characterisation and atmospheric chills. The best horrorfilms are perhaps the ones that are truest to themselves and don’t havepretensions to be delivering something else.
GNOH – Which came first for you, the writing orthe film making, were they both things you set out to do, or did you juststumble your way into them?

I wasat school, aged ten and the teacher asked each pupil their name and what theywanted to be when they grew up. I answered, “Frazer Lee, filmdirector.” So I clearly never ‘grew up’. I was already writing stories andcomic books and renting them out to my friends by that point. So it’s allthrough compulsion rather than design. That, and a sado-masochistic need to beconstantly rejected and broke.
GNOH – Let’s talk about your films first.  How hard is it to get an independent horrormovie made these days.  Does theavailability of relatively cheap camera equipment make it easy, or does theflood of independent filmmakers make it harder to get the funding?

Fundingis the toughest nut to crack when trying to get a film into production, italways was the hardest part and always will be. It all depends on your intent -if you want to make a gritty, shakycam zombie flick then you can do it on a fewquid and the goodwill of your mates. If you want to shoot a 35mm Cinemascopeepic with pro actors then you’d better go begging because you will need cash tocover insurance, lab costs and other processes you simply cannot get aroundwithout breaking the law. Your intent is where it all begins, and your intentis based 100% on the script, on the story you intend to tell, and the way youintend to tell it. Once a filmmaker answers all those questions truthfully,he/she will know the level of funding required. It’s tricky because iffilmmakers go the no-budget route and make that the ‘norm’ then those trying topay their crew and develop the script properly with funding for thescreenwriter can find it even harder to convince funders to part with theircash. But the industry also relies on the no-budgeters to create their visionsbecause that is where the real unfettered ideas should be coming from. Me, I’vegot bills to pay, responsibilities, so I rarely have the luxury to work forfree these days, much as I’d love to sometimes I just have to say no.
GNOH – You were named one of the UK’s top 12Directors by Movie Mash Up, that’s quiet an achievement, you musthave been stoked?

I wasindeed! Especially as it was out of over 1,000 entries and based entirely onthe merits of my short films. I enjoyed the pitching process too, it had justthe right mix of hard work and extreme mortal terror. The winner was awarded a£1million budget to go make a feature film. The votes went to a romcom, fuck,shit, wank. It was on Film4 the other week at 3am. But I’m not bitter 🙂

GNOH – How would you describe your directingstyle?

I’lltell you when I develop one 🙂 I don’t know, I just like to get in there andshow the story, you know?
GNOH – Your films, On Edge and RedLines are both award winning films; can you tell us about them?

OnEdge was based on the short story by Christopher Fowler, who graciously gave usthe permission to film it. I lined up a dream team, Doug Bradley, CharleyBoorman and Beth Murray starring, with FX from the legendary Bob Keen, musicfrom the insanely talented Dooj (The Jazz Butcher) and Paulo Turin (SelfDestructive Nature/Gangland/Paul Di’Anno’s Battlezone), cinematography byBAFTA-nommed DOP Alan Stewart… the list goes on. It secured theatricaldistribution through Columbia TriStar, who ran it before one of their horrorfeatures in London cinemas (it would have gone nationwide, but this was in thedays before digital screenings so we couldn’t afford to make more 35mm of thefilm at over £500 a pop.) The film takes an everyday event and skews it over soit becomes horrific, something that many of my personal faves achieve – in thiscase it is a trip to the dentist that goes horribly wrong. We shot 35mmCinemascope and the film is still playing festivals and winning awards to thisday, 13 years on – proof that horror can have a longevity like no other genre,I mean this is a short film we’re talking about here, not some big event movie!Red Lines followed during the early days of web shorts when a producerchallenged me to tell a horror story in 5mins. I had a vivid nightmareinvolving another everyday event – this time a school detention that goeshorribly wrong. In addition to the challenge set by the short running time, Ialso wanted to create a film with hardly any dialogue in it. The film wasscripted, shot and delivered in the space of just a month. It too has beenscreened around the world and is still playing film festivals.
GNOH – They both star Doug Bradley, did you actlike a big fan boy when you first met him?

Haha,I hope not. The first time I met Doug was in the car park at a film conventiona few years before we worked together so I think I got the fanboy moment out ofthe way upfront so to speak. The first movie meeting was pure energy and wetalked about On Edge and lots of other projects. Oh, the optimism of youth 🙂

GNOH – And more importantly did you get him to say “No tears, please. It’s a waste of good suffering”

No, but “Don’t forget to floss” was scripted and believe it or not a few fans at horror conventions have quoted it, which is nice.

GNOH – How was he to work with?

Oh, I’d work with Doug again in a heartbeat. He brought the perfect balance of icy menace and edgy psychopathy to the role, and he’s done so much screen work – that definitely helped me as a first-time director.

GNOH – You have a number of films in development, can you tell us about them?

I can’t, I really can’t. Every time I’ve done an interview and talked up the up-coming projects none of the fuckers have happened. It’s a curse!

GNOH – The latest film of yours to be released is Panic Button, can you tell us about that?

Oh most definitely. Panic Button is a horror/thriller that warns of the dangers posed by social networking – the idea that someone out there may have a little too much information about you. Again it’s one of those ‘everyday situations’ that can go so horribly badly wrong, which is what I guess attracted me to write the screenplay. 

GNOH – The majority of the film takes place in an aeroplane, what challenges did this throw up in terms of keeping the suspension and the sense of belief going?

An early draft had an on-the-ground B-story to compliment the A-story on the plane. As the drafts progressed, it became quickly apparent that the limitations of the plane-bound narrative also provided its strengths, so that became the overall focus. A good thing as it tallied with the producers’ intent, based on their tight budget.

GNOH – There is a cover quote that says “the Social Network of shocks”, is this film your commentary on the cult of social networks? And what’s your opinion of them?

There is a lot of commentary on social networks in the film, but more in the way of holding up a mirror to all of us who use them. It would be hypocritical of me to preach about the evils of Facebook and Twitter when I have accounts with both. But it doesn’t make them any less scary, the potential power these organisations have, and how willingly we give ourselves over to them. I think in the plugged-in world we’ve created, they’re sometimes a necessary evil – I mean, Panic Button has its own Facebook Page, oh the irony! Speaking personally, I sometimes duck out for a few days/weeks when I’m immersed in a project – you have to know when to switch it off. But there comes a time when that project will some promotion and social networking, it seems, is a very good tool for promotion, worldwide, with very little outlay. Just remember to check the Terms and Conditions, yeah?

GNOH – It’s been getting a lot of good reviews, from some respectable review sites not within the genre. How much do you think reviews effect a film like this? I’ve never paid much attention to reviews of horror films outside of the genre press as generally they don’t get it?

Good press is welcome from all quarters I think. So many people worked so damn hard on this thing, it’s gratifying to see the favourable reviews. A wider audience might respond to a four-star review from Sky Movies and a genre nerd like me might be more inclined to listen to what Brutal As Hell has to say about it, so for the filmmakers it’s all gravy!

GNOH – The film is released on Nov 7 in the UK, the floor is yours, tell the readers why they should go and see it?

Thank you. It’s a fun, dark contemporary thriller, based on aspect of modern life we can all relate to, that doesn’t take itself too seriously. And it has a talking cartoon alligator. If that sounds like your thing then what are you waiting for!?

GNOH – This is a busy time for you, not only as a filmmaker but also as a writer. Your novel The Lamplighters, is due to be published by Samhain Publishing horror imprint? How did you come to publish their book through them?

I admired the work of editor Don D’Auria who was at Leisure Books in the USA, who requested the full manuscript based on my pitch and first three chapters. Unfortunately, my submission coincided with Leisure having some difficulties (well documented in the horror fiction press) and so I took the book to Don’s new venture Samhain Horror, which launched this Hallowe’en. He liked the book, signed me up and it is out on November 1st in ebook (and February 7th 2012 in paperback). 

GNOH – You are published alongside some of the big names of the genre, Ramsey Campbell and Greg F. Gifune to name but two, you must be fair chuffed to be published along side them?

Oh yes! When I saw the roster Don put together for the launch I got proper horror fan goosebumps! It is a real honour to be in such esteemed company and I am also looking forward to reading my fellow newcomers’ books. There’s a good range of styles and tales, from the visceral and bloody to the downright spooky and disturbing – something for everyone who reads horror.

GNOH – It has a similar them as Panic Button in that the protagonists are all isolated from the world at large, is isolation something that bothers you? 

I like taking modern people with their modern self-obsessions and stripping them down, making them hurt and bleed and cry. It is my job to take folks gently by the hand into a dark place and to leave them there, screaming.

GNOH – How much would you say your experience as a filmmaker has affected your writing style?

My writing style is cynical and melancholic and blackly humorous because the film world has made me this way.

GNOH – Can you tell us what the novel is about?

The Lamplighters is about Marla Neuborn, a young woman who is offered the best post-graduate job in the world – caretaking on a Mediterranean island for a consortium of billionaires. All she has to do is cook, clean, turn on a few lights (hence the name ‘Lamplighters’) in order for the rich owners to continue claiming residency status and tax benefits. But it’s not that simple (it never is in horror!). The ‘billionaire lifestyle’ is not all it is made out to be and there is someone, or something, else on the island lying in wait…

GNOH – What gave you the idea for The Lamplighters, it certainly has a very mysterious quality to it?

Thanks, it is in part a mystery story so I’m thrilled that comes across to you. A friend told me about the real lamplighters – these caretakers actually exist in places like Monaco where the super wealthy go out to play – and Marla and her story came to me soon after. All my obsessions came into play as the tale told itself and to my delight it went in some pretty dark and interesting directions. All I can hope is that it takes readers there too.

GNOH – How would you describe the style of the novel, is it a quiet horror, or a full blown gorefest, or something inbetween?

The Lamplighters definitely occupies that space inbetween quiet, atmospheric horror and crazy nowhere to run, nowhere to hide gorefest. I intended it to be quite intense in places, so it absolutely needs those breathing points and build-ups. It has mysterious, supernatural elements and, because I wrote it, it also has one rubber gloved hand fist-deep in the gullet of the psychosurgical.

GNOH – So what can we expect from you in the future?

More books! More films! More coffee!

GNOH – Many thanks for popping over for a chat Frazer, I’m looking forward to reading Lamplighters and watching Panic Button, they certainly sound like my cup of tea.

Thanks Jim, I enjoyed chatting with you and hope you enjoy The Lamplighters and Panic Button – kick back and have a ginger nut with that cup of tea!

You Can find out more about Frazer and his projects by clicking the following links

And you can buy his books here


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