The new horror anthology film The ABC’s of Death is built on a fairly simple idea: take a number of top-tier directors and have them all make a short film based on a letter of the alphabet, from Nacho Vigalondo’s A Is for Apocalypse to Yoshihiro Nishimura’s Z is for Zetsumetsu. But after the first 25 filmmakers were found one letter was left unassigned: T. Instead of finding an established name for the segment, the search for a helmer was turned into a contest where aspiring directors would have a chance to submit their own ideas. And when the dust settled it was Lee Hardcastle’s Claymation exercise T Is for Toilet that ended up taking the prize.
With The ABC’s of Death currently available on multiple platforms, including Cable VOD, iTunes, Amazon, Xbox Zune, Playstation Market, VUDU and Google Play, and gearing up for a theatrical release on March 8th, I recently had the chance to correspond with Hardcastle via email about his big break and his wonderfully horrific short. Check out our chat below, in which the director talks the arduous process of stop-motion, how fear of losing his parents led to the gory short, and his hopeful future as a filmmaker.
But that’s not all! We are one of 26 sites who got to speak with the directors of The ABC’s of Death and you can see all of them over on the movie’s official Tumblr Page.
How did you first hear about the contest? Was it something you immediately jumped at the chance to do, or did it take some time for the idea to find you?
It's funny because I read about the ABCs of Death project before the competition was announced back in March 2011 and at the time I was really dedicated to making claymation horror shorts and it was something I was just getting off the ground. I got really excited about the project and had a moment of frantically searching online for contact details so I could maybe offer myself as one of the directors to one of the producers or something, I really wanted to be a part of the film and it was in that moment I stumbled upon their plan to run a competition for an unknown director to come on board. I thought that was the coolest idea for a competition ever, so rather than contacting anyone, I just waited for this "26th Director" competition to be announced, which was a couple of months later and I gave it my all once I read the rules and everything else.
I know that they set down the guidelines that it would be a segment for the letter “T,” so how did you decide that “Toilet” had to be the theme?
When it was announced that they were looking for the letter T, I went through the motion of putting together a list of T words. I considered a few, the closest I chose before I settled on 'toilet' was 'Toad' which I thought would make a funny sort of monster movie about a giant toad eating people. I settled on toilet because I thought it was a simple, bold and beautiful word and a great setting for a Claymation to take place in.
Would you say this is a personal story? Was this a fear you had when you were a kid?
Hah, not really a fear of the toilet but a fear of losing my parents, which I once had a dream about. And I've spoken to other people before about dreams that they've had about losing their parents and it once came up in discussion in a class I had at high school which my teacher explained that it was a subconscious anxiety of growing up and becoming independent and so, the story of giving up the potty for the toilet and everything like that all made sense to me and fit together perfectly and gave me a playground to show of my claymation gore.
While obviously not exclusive, there seems to be an interesting link between stop-motion and the horror genre, with features like The Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline, ParaNorman, Corpse Bride and Frankenweenie. What do you think the connection is?
I think because stop motion is old skool it has that weird charm to it that adds to the atmosphere. I remember watching Wallace and Gromit films as a child and I recognised that the mood and the lighting and sets and everything else was actually pretty creepy. I've always thought as an animation form that stop motion is a perfect match for telling a unsettling story.
Stop-motion animation is a tough process - how long did it take you to make the short? Did you have friends helping you out with the animation?
I was all alone when I made 'toilet' except for my sound engineer, Tim Atkins, who did all the sound from scratch. To shoot, I think it took about 20 days. There's an awful lot of planning involved before you start shooting and building models/sets. All in all, it most have took a full month to complete.
How long have you been doing stop-motion animation?
I've played around with stop motion all my life while I've had access to a camera, rather than using stop motion because I like the art form - I've always resorted to stop motion as a plan B to get a video made, stop motion has allowed me to make videos without spending loads of money and depending on cast and crew, it allows me to just get my head down and get the job done without dealing with anyone else. I started full time in October 2010 and haven't stopped since!
What was your reaction when you first found out that you won?
An absolute dream, I couldn't believe it. I set out to do something and worked my hardest for something I really wanted and for it to actually pay off was the stuff of dreams. Words cannot express my utter joy and pride. I still can't believe it really, I feel I might wake up from a coma any moment and it was in fact just a deluded dream. It's funny because it really did mean everything to me when I didn't have much of anything else going for me at that time.
Is filmmaking something you want to continue to pursue? What directors would you say have inspired you?
I will make videos while I'm still breathing, I always have and always will, it's who I am and I'm lucky enough to call it my day job now. I've been inspired by too many directors to list but for what I do now I will say Adam Buxton and Joe Cornish are the biggest culprits who really got me started in "bedroom film making" and stop motion with their 'the adam and joe show'. Right now, most of the ABCs of Death directors are my biggest set of directors that inspire me and when I saw their names attached to the project at the start, it was that that got me fired up to the realm of "I MUST be a part of this film!"
Is there a dream project out there that you’d like to tackle?
I have a treatment written for a feature film that people are looking at right now, it would be really cool to actually make a feature length film. It's been my ultimate dream since forever and it will be something I have to do before I die, if I didn't, if I died a horrible toilet death or something rubbish before I got to make a feature then I would be bitterly disappointed.
What has been the strangest thing about this entire experience?
Everything!! Going to Toronto was intense, first I'd never been to North America before and to turn up there and be accepted by the ABCs of Death family as one of their own was a serious "what the fuck am I doing here?" because it went from a 'deluded young film maker wank fantasy' to a real life situation that's really happening. I am at a world premiere of my own movie (well, sort of "my own") with some of the most amazing film makers on the planet and I was in stunned silence most of the time, drinking a lot just to be able to hold a conversation with anyone.