DEMON HUNTER is the directorial debut from Irish Woman Zoe Kavanagh, who self funded the whole project . Winner of over 15 awards internationally including Best Director at the Fright Fest International Film Festival she has already secured VOD and DVD Distribution come June 12th in the UK and Ireland. The film stars Niamh Hogan (Don’t Listen) as Taryn Barker, whose dark journey with the supernatural involves avenging the rape and murder of her sister, surviving a deadly possession and becoming trained to fight evil by a team of demon hunters. When she is detained by police years later in connection with the murder of a man she believes to be a demon, the tables turn as Detective Beckett (Alan Talbot) asks for her help in rescuing his own daughter from a demonic cult. Running against the clock, Taryn must venture into the darkest depths of the city to save Beckett’s daughter and prevent a potential Hell on Earth.
DEMON HUNTER will be screened at the Gate Cinema, Movies @ Swords and Dundrum on June 6th and other venues to be announced shortly .
Congratulations on ‘The Demon Hunter… how did the project begin?
Thank you! It began in 2008 when I shot a no budget short film with the character on a mission to defeat a ghost in an asylum. It was fun but ultimately the short wasn’t that good but the character’s of Taryn & Ethan and the world of demons they inhabited was something special and from there I wanted to reimagine it. In 2009 I had written a feature script entitled Demon Hunter: Retribution, which would be the third part of the film trilogy, and the story was too big to make so I teamed up with Tony Flynn and we decided to make a prequel web series and pitched it for RTE Storyland as ‘Taryn Barker’. It was rejected and I went back to it, expanded an extra forty pages, and send a draft to Tony. We had the first proper draft of ‘Taryn Barker: Demon Hunter’ written in 2011 and it was so good I was determined to make it.
So in 2012 I was planning to direct the film in blocks over the year, beginning with a short twelve minute flashback scene set in the past and followed by shooting present day action scenes. We couldn’t get finance for the film and being more about film making at the time and less about producing I wasn’t going to get finance from anybody so I saved up all the cash myself. Things didn’t go according to plan between 2012 and 2013 so it wasn’t until I teamed up with Constant Motion Pictures in 2014 that production moved ahead and September that year was the period we shot the bulk of the film, followed by pickups in spring 2015 and then a full year of post-production.
Whats your background in film? Did you study it or are you self thought?
I studied in three courses. I did Television & Film in BCFE (Ballyfermot of Further Education) and also Cinematography in BCFE before studying a 4 year Bachelor Honors Degree in Film & Television at the National Film School, IADT which I graduated in 2012.
Between studying in college and now I would direct music videos for bands and that would be very educational to my directing visual style and editing techniques. So it’s a bit of both. I would learn from college aand keep myself updated with camera and editing technology whilst always filming something.
You wrote the film with Tony Flynn, what was the writing process like?
We began writing the first half of this film as a web series in 2011 and worked from there. I would take the script file and amend it. There is always a balance when the two of us write because we are kind of opposite in tastes at times it seems our scripts are like the best of both worlds a solid middle ground. Writing a screenplay like ‘Demon Hunter’ is a challenge. You’re not just telling a story but in a way it’s a package that needs to deliver certain content. There needs to be a satisfying amount of action, horror scenes, back story and plenty of setups and pay offs and of course an strong ending. All of the character’s need their moment too. So yeah it would be a back and forth of sending different drafts to each other.
How difficult was it to get funding for an Irish horror film?
We got no funding for ‘Demon Hunter’. There was a few producer’s that invested into the budget but overall the budget ballooned quite high and I paid for the bulk of it. It’s very competitive though. I believe that if you’re going to get funding in Ireland, then you need a key executive producer,a good script and a trustworthy and experienced production company that have gotten funding before. Financiers will only invest in production partners they’ve worked with before and that’s just how it is. Maybe after ‘Demon Hunter’ comes out I’ll have the opportunity to get finance for my next project.
The film was originally titled ‘Taryn Barker: Demon Hunter’, why the name change?
LEFT Films who picked it up for UK & Ireland retitled the film to ‘Demon Hunter’. It was called ‘Taryn Barker: Demon Hunter’ as it’s google friendly and also original but is inspired by Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and stuff like that. The distributor changed it for their marketing purposes and I guess as long as it reaches an audience then that’s the most important thing.
Niamh Hogan plays the lead character Taryn. Was it a difficult character to cast?
Casting Taryn was a challenge as she goes through a journey in the film. Not only would the actor have to play a melancholic vengeful young woman but she’ll have to know martial arts and be really fit. There is also moments where she is possessed by evil demon lord Eskerin Falstaff and it was up to Niamh to emulate Michael Parle’s performance.
I remember when we put the casting call out back in 2014 and there was hundred of emails coming through for people wanting to play the role. So many people wanted to play Taryn but Niamh had a few things down. She had the look, the martial arts and was trained by some of the best in acting and stunts.
What were you looking for when casting?
Sometimes depending on the character it would be something different. With Taryn there was a lot of specifics I looked for like stunts, agility, age, performance skills and does the actor look like Taryn in my head? Other character’s like Eskerin Falstaff I wanted a villain with a British accent as although it’s a trope in action films, it’s a thing I enjoy to see and try at least once.
When casting it’s all about a few things I look for. One of the most important is casting an actor that doesn’t need too much direction and can deliver what they do best so we can trust each other when filming begins. I can focus on the style and direction and they can focus on their performance and if I need to tweak it I will tweak it.
You shot in some unusual locations like Charleville Castle, Ardgillan Castle and the iconic Pigeon House in Dublin… How were they for shooting? Was it difficult to get permission to shoot here? Did you have to dress the locations or were they suitably spooky?
We had media insurance and a budget for filming in locations. I also had some help from one of the best location scouters in the industry which I am s thankful for. I would travel to these locations and chat with the owners and tell them I’m making this action fantasy film out of my own pocket.
Our art department lead by the ultra talented production designer Lilla S Nurie dressed up all of the locations. Every scene in ‘Demon Hunter’ is dressed to a certain aesthetic which took weeks and weeks or pre-planning. We spent a week in Charleville as we filmed there and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I didn’t encounter any ghosts but I loved the castle and the people that maintained it.
Can you talk about the special effects/make up used in the movie?
One thing that I wanted to do with ‘Demon Hunter’ was to call back to movies from the eighties. Horror and fantasy films from that era was all prosthetics and miniatures. Having an art department with the same mind set really helped us make a film that wouldn’t look too dated by horrible CGI.
Our effects team began in the summer of 2014 in Bowsie Workshop assembling and building props and weapons. Eoghan Hegarty and Francesco Bufali focused on the creature suits, masks and design with overlooking and tweaking by Lilla S Nurie.The makeup was quite a slow process and really thought out. For example, the flashback scenes of Eskerin Falstaff have him in older make-up and the idea is the more souls he’s devoured then the more he retains his looks.For the demons we had lots of masks and latex costumes for the stunt actors to wear. That stuff sweats a lot and of course we had a lot of blood.
There was also a huge make-up team lead by Tee Elliot and I don’t think we could have had any better.
You’ve managed to secure a cinema release for the film, was that a challenge for an independent film, especially now we’re in the middle of summer blockbuster season.
It was somewhat a challenge as the plan was to follow a current trend of indie films where you release the film in cinemas pretty close to your home video release.The only issue there is that cinema owners want to protect their business, quite understandably, and so there is a four month window in place between wide theatrical and home video. It’s to kind of curb stomp this trend as if Hollywood followed suit then cinemas would be in trouble. However, I believe this route is a good double push for your films release especially if it’s independent. How ‘Demon hunter’ will perform in cinemas will be an interesting experiment in this new way of simultaneous releasing.
The film has won over 15 awards from festivals around the world – were you expecting it to perform so well? Do these awards help the film or indeed help future films you’re working on?
It’s certainly overwhelming. I wasn’t too sure sometime last year I was getting countless rejection letters and it was quite disheartening especially when you gamble so much money on festival submissions. There is never really room in major festivals for small films because they aren’t released by known producers or indie distributors that always get there products in each year. However, after a few acceptions we started to get into some major US film festivals like Days of the Dead, Fright Night Film Fest, Horrorhound Weekend amongst so many.
It was a blast going to both Fright night Film Fest and Horrorhound Weekend. The crowds are wonderful there. One guy who missed it at Fright Night Film Fest came up to me at Horrorhound and said he travelled to Horrorhound to check out ‘Demon Hunter’ because it won so many awards at Fright Night and so that was an honour. I ended up winning ‘Best Director’ at Horrorhound Weekend so that was surreal adn especially after making friends with TROMA producer Lloyd Kauffman.
These awards help in marketing but they haven’t, as of now, helped me get more work. I guess only time will tell, I suppose.
What films, writers and directors have influenced you?
For ‘Demon Hunter’ the most influential director’s have been James Cameron for The Terminator as that played a huge part in the script, style and influence of the films tone. Russel Mulcahy for his film ‘Highlander’ and just like ‘The Terminator’ it tells a story in past and present in such a stylistic way, David Fincher for so much and although there may not be much Fincherisms within the film it’s actually the way he directs his cast and crew on set. I would watch the making of ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ on BluRay and look at how he operates. Sam Raimi for the Evil Dead movies and TV series. If it wasn’t for Ashley J Williams being a smartass demon hunter well there would probably be no Taryn Barker. I also love his crazy floaty dutch camera work in his films.
What other genres do you enjoy besides horror?
I enjoy action, science fiction and fantasy a lot. Some of my favourite films are Aliens, Terminator 2, Blade Runner, The Fifth Element, Legend, The Crow and so on. I like good strong stories with flawed character’s. They’re the most interesting to me and if they’re in a fantastical environment then all of the better!
What advice would you give to upcoming film makers?
If you believe in your story and want to make it, well then think long and hard about it. Do it but prep everything and never give up as the first feature is the longest journey and anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Keep thinking about how good your script is and just keep pushing through all the problems. There is a solution to everything and there is a way to always improve. Jump in, get a good team and prove yourself.
Demon Hunter started life as a short and became this award winning feature film. You’re currently working on another short called ‘Wounded Ella’ – would you like to see it get a longer adaptation also?
That film is now finished. It premiered to a great reception at the Underground Film Festival that’s run by the great Dave Byrne. I’m going to submit ti to more festivals in the summer. I’m not sure if it’d be a pleasant experience to view a feature version of Wounded Ella as it’s a heavy social drama about a transgender girl suffering prejudice and horror. Hopefully when it gets out to more festivals people will see some of the true horrors that can happen to individuals going through some tough times instead of stereotypes that are made on the subject.
Finally, whats next for you?
Aside from planning to do a few music videos this year I have three different features in development and hopefully one of them will move ahead. There’s ‘The Blade of Hilde’ which is a viking period dark fantasy revenge film, ‘INEXORABLE’ which is a horror film about some nasty tarot cards that draw in archetypes to an evil ghost town and there is ‘Demon Hunter: Devil’s Night’. So we’ll see I guess!
DEMON HUNTER will be screened at the Gate Cinema, Movies @ Swords and Dundrum on June 6th and other venues to be announced shortly .