IT can be a frightening experience trying to make a name for yourself in the movie business – one that is notoriously difficult to get into unless you have the correct contacts and a lot of money.
But creative couple Damian and Nicola Morter are attempting to build a South Yorkshire stronghold with their company, Safehouse Pictures UK, an independent film production company specialising in the horror and thriller genres. It has already made two films, the latter planned as part of a trilogy.
Their debut Bicycle Day, a psycho-drama detailing just what can go wrong on a camping trip, was mainly filmed in the rural setting of Bradfield over three months. If you went down to the woods on one of those days, you were sure of a big surprise, as four friends – one played by Damian, who also wrote and directed the movie – fell out with horrific consequences.
But the biggest surprise of all is that an 88-minute long production that has been well-received by reviewers cost less than £100 to make. In fact the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) seemed not to believe this, putting the costs at £500.
But, as producer Nicola explains, all those involved gave their services for free, with the actors often taking on technical tasks, and the bulk of this money was spent on: “food, drinks and petrol for the cast and crew.
“We even had some of the cast and crew living with us during filming.” She goes on to explain that: “the actual budget went on making our own blood from corn syrup and red food colouring and on battery-powered lights for the night-time scenes.”
Damian, aged 32, and originally from London, had set his sights on being involved in acting and movies from a young age, while 29-year-old Sheffielder Nicola was simply a film fan who on meeting Damian was inspired by his ‘pure drive and passion for the industry – a labour of love.”
This is shown by him continuing filming for Bicycle Day despite suffering from pneumonia and then two cracked ribs caused during a choreographed fight scene.
“I have also always been a keen storyteller; writing long-winded horror stories back at school and all through college,’’ he explains. “I could never afford the film school route, the circumstances in my life during my late teens and early 20s just did not permit it, so I started to take on small acting roles.
“I had managed through the internet to find other actors who had been learning the ropes and started travelling up and down the country offering my free services to students, while sucking as much knowledge of the film-making process from them as I could – a fair trade I thought.”
They married in 2009, now live in Cudworth, Barnsley, and have a one-year-old son Seth, while Nicola’s two elder boys Tyler, nine and Charlie, seven, also appeared in Bicycle Day, which has been screened in several independent cinemas around the country and will be shown at festivals before a possible DVD release.
However, they keep returning to Nicola’s hometown for their filming, because after Bicycle Day which also had scenes filmed in Hillsborough and Chapeltown, many of the action sequences for their next work, A Father For The Dead, were made on and around the site of the former Pinegrove Country Club in Stannington.
And for this they invited members of the public to take part, although those hoping for glamorous close-ups were barking up the wrong tree, as everyone involved was asked to wear their scruffiest clothes but be prepared for a bloody good time – as zombies.
This entailed much theatrical make-up and fake red stuff and was seen by Damian and Nicola as such a success that they are expanding it into what they are calling The Eschatrilogy – ‘three tales of torment’ linked together by Damian as the storyteller.
There are plans for another filming session in mid-September – location still to be decided – and this time they want more people to take on the roles of the living dead than before, as well as anyone wanting to join the production staff or help in any way.
They originally hoped to have the Eschatrilogy available by – when else? – Halloween, but as according to Nicola, part three, charmingly entitled The Dying Breed, is their most lavish production to date so they have decided to delay screenings. There will also hopefully be a behind-the-scenes documentary as well.
They are also hoping to find funding or sponsorship for this and possibly other future works, so they can start making bigger-budget films in the future.
“We hope to increase the look of production values and continue to entertain with our stories,’’ explains Damian, while Nicola adds: “I think it’s every independent filmmaker’s dream to be given a big budget on any film you are working on – but for us just to earn a living from the industry and doing something we feel so much love for would be enough for now.
“It would be nice not to be restricted and from a producer’s point of view it would be very interesting to see what Damian could create with a decent budget. People are very surprised the work Damian and I put into the production. We never have a day off and my husband is up most nights till gone 4am.
“We never stop working which I think is pretty impressive as we are a family of five with three small children to look after.”
Anyone interested in becoming a zombie or wanting to know anything about Safehouse Pictures UK, can contact them by emailing Nicola at firstname.lastname@example.org or by joining the Facebook group Safehouse Pictures Presents. Their website address is www.safehousepicturesuk.co.uk or if you are interested in funding them, look up sponduly.org/project/damian-morter-s-eschatrilogy