Sinister sticks and hankies cascade across the screen for Hells Bells, Director Luke Jeffery’s black comedy with bells on.

This psychological thriller centres on Rosie Dean, as she delves ever deeper into the world of her local morris dancing troupe. Cutting off all contact with friends and family, she seems entranced by the ritualistic dances and cult-like chanting of the group – cue the intervention.

Screened at last year’s festival, and picking up the Audience Choice award for it’s category, Hells Bells went down a storm with the audience with it’s dark humour and slick cinematography. We caught up with Luke to hear more about the production, his top tips for a smooth shoot and his plans for the future…

Luke’s love of filmmaking came from watching the special features and behind the scene DVD extras, fascinated by seeing his favourite films deconstructed he soon realised this was something he wanted to try for himself with his first foray into film at age eleven,

“I was given a camcorder for my eleventh birthday and spent all of my free time shooting short films with my friends. We tried a variety of different filmmaking styles, everything from stop motion animation to horror, and I gradually taught myself the skills I needed to write, direct and edit.

Luke Jeffery and Ross Gill (Credit Mike Alsford)

“I’m a big fan of Nicolas Roeg and David Lynch. There’s a dreamlike quality to their work which I really enjoy. I’ve always been attracted to larger-than-life films.

“Hell’s Bells borrows heavily from the folk horror tradition. There’s definitely a strong Wicker Man influence. Englishness and ideas of national identity were also at the forefront of my mind while writing and producing the film. We actually shot the final scenes on the day of the EU referendum. There was a very strange atmosphere on set that day, watching Morris dancers circling around a fire as the sun set.”

Funding a film, whether a short or feature, can often be the first major hurdle a filmmaker encounters. Hells Bells was supported by Creative England and the BFI Network as part of their iShorts scheme – in fact he was the only filmmaker in the region to receive this support.

“In addition to the iShorts funding of £5000 we raised funding via Crowdfunder. The project received a lot of support from the Morris dancing community, we even had Morris dancers from the USA, Canada and Australia backing the film.

“Nearly all of the budget then went towards paying the cast and crew. The film is only 14 minutes long but I approached it like a much larger project. There were over a hundred extras involved and we shot in eight different locations. Shorts often seem quite empty and we wanted Hell’s Bells to look like it was part of a bigger film.”

The film is anything but empty – but those one hundred extras aren’t just screen fodder, Luke uses their expertise in morris dancing to lend an authenticity to the action.

“Most of the Morris dancers in Hell’s Bells are the real deal. The Dartington Morris Men kindly agreed to appear in the film and also provided props and costumes. The solo dancer in the pub is Josh Fedrick, who previously played Billy Elliot in the West End. He picked up Morris dancing in no time at all and brought a great deal of charisma to the part.”

A set of that size comes with it’s own range of challenges though, wrangling dozens of dancers with a limited timeframe for shooting outdoors is not for the faint-hearted. Luke commented on the biggest challenge he and his crew faced…

“The opening village fete scene was particularly difficult. The weather kept changing during the shoot and we only had a limited amount of time available for us to shoot the scene. We had around a hundred people on location, as well as a dance routine and a drone shot to contend with.

“The locals were really supportive and provided us with gypsy caravans, a classic car, bunting, tablecloths and straw bales to dress the scene. There was a real sense of community spirit and we were able to achieve an ambitious scene for relatively little money.”

So what is his top tip for maintaining a happy set, and ensuring a smooth shoot? Be a director, not a dictator.

“If you treat people well and listen to their concerns then the shoot will go a lot more smoothly. It seems like obvious advice but so many people seem to forget this, irrespective of budget.

“There’s a tendency for directors to assume the role of a dictator, but I think flexibility and the ability to improvise are vital skills. I spend a lot of time talking to the cast and crew during pre-production, so I don’t feel the need to micromanage everything on set. You have to leave room for creativity or it becomes like an assembly line.”

The film has been embraced warmly by the Morris dancing community, and the concept has captured people’s imaginations – prompting many to ask if there are plans to turn Hell’s Bells into a feature film.

“I think there’s a lot more potential for this idea, but as always, the main obstacle is funding.

“I’d like to shoot a feature next. I enjoy making short films but I’m eager to tell a longer story. We’ve built up a really good team of collaborators and it would be nice to build on the success of Hell’s Bells. I’m working on a script at the moment and I also have a book of ideas for future projects.”

Hells Bells was always intended for online release, with film festivals being a fantastic outlet for the team to gauge audience reaction and feedback. As with many short films, it’s success relies on word of mouth, with Luke hoping that people will discover the film online and share with their friends. This is your opportunity to do just that, and support a local filmmaker – be sure to watch and share with friends and family.

For those interested in the technical side of the production, Hell’s Bells was shot using Sony A7s – a tiny camera with a powerful sensor and great, natural colour and image aesthetics. Small enough that it could be mounted on a gimbal for the opening scene, but it could also be rigged with a cage for shoulder mounting, and a matte box to also use Black Pro Mist filters to soften the slight digital edge.

Hell’s Bells was produced by Wandering Tiger, keep up to date with their latest filmmaking exploits on Twitter: @wanderingtiger

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Author Katherine Peberdy

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