George Clarke's Grand Designs

GEORGE CLARKE is the Belfast based director responsible for Battle of the Bone, The Knackery, The Last Light, Onus and Splash Area.  He’s also the founder and driving force behind Yellow Fever Productions & Distribution.  With Onus due to grace the silver screen as part of the Belfast Film Festival and the casting room barely cooled from his most recent harvesting we sit down with Clarke to discuss what has been a emotionally strenuous, creatively rich period of time.

KiV: In August 2011 your distribution wing [of YFP] lost thousands of pounds worth of stock due to the London riots, a year later as a direct result of that loss you were on the brink of losing everything and were only saved thanks to a last minute injection of capital.  We’re a year future on, how has this past year been?
GC: The past year has been tough. Better, but tough. It was a blessing being saved but I still need to iron out a lot of things that sprouted from the loss we had. On top of that, the crash of HMV led to more loss, and so on. I tried to take my mind off things by shooting Chapter 2 of Onus which was a good move as I think it is one of the best films (as a whole) that I have made. The other great thing to happened was that our previous features got picked up by US distribution company, Eagle One Media. With most of them already out in the shops across North America, its another weight off my shoulders to see that we are doing something right.

KiV: You recently took your short Onus [chapter 1, review here] and built upon it to create a feature, your fifth if I’m not mistaken.  Where the first chapter is high concept the second feels like a more introspective, soul searching piece?  Was that born out of the dark days post London?
GC: It could well be. Outside of my mental, Asian influenced and zombie drenched mind, I am quite philosophical when thinking about life in general. I guess a lot of that came out in Chapter 2 because of the previous events, and I think it helped make it work to complete the feature.

KiV: Since London you’ve opened up channels for distribution across the U.S and are in the process of re-doing the audio on your back catalogue for release in Asia.  Is it accurate to say that Yellow Fever is spreading?
GC: I think it is. Live the dream, spread the fever has always been our motto and we try hard to make sure everyone gets infected. Whether it's us fuelling inspiration or them being fuelled by hate, everyone gets a touch of yellow when we are about! The worldwide move is just fantastic news, and is a great big slice of humble pie for quite a few folks from the industry here that told us we would be waiting at least 12 years for such success. Its nice to see we did that in half the time.

KiV: Onus [review here] plays as part of the Belfast Film Festival this year.  You have, in the past, achieved recognition further a-field quicker than here at home.  How important is local recognition for you?  Does it feel like the “walls” are finally coming down?
GC: It was my mission for the past lot of years to get local film fans and the general public to appreciate and enjoy local cinema. Not bigger studio productions from the UK and US that are coming in to film, but those from people like myself. And aside from the support of those involved in the movie and fans like yourself, the majority of the NI people just don't care. It seems that the mind-set is still very much along the lines of, 'If its local – its shit!' So this year, with the near loss of my company and the rollercoaster of the months that followed, I decided to put aside my concern for keeping it local and working on what is best for us. And then we get selected for the BFF. If there are walls to come down to show that support from those that should be doing so, then the upcoming screening at the BFF hints at us tearing off some wallpaper. The beginning of a long and tiresome battle to try and make things better.

KiV: Splash Area [review here] is certainly your most accessible piece of cinema so date, and for my money the most enjoyable as it plays into a cinematic period that fascinates me.  As the years go on your storytelling is becoming more and more visual, is that intentional?
GC: My first love and given talent is drawing. I always wanted to be a cartoonist and the ability to make movies allows me to adapt that in many ways. I love shooting my work – although I think my eyes are going – and in doing so, always try to focus on amazing shots, mostly in the style of a graphic novel. I also know that, with having no budget to work from, it is important to keep things looking the best we can to make up for the things we can't achieve.

KiV: I was lucky enough to have been able to read through what you’ve got coming up next.  It’s called Zombie Schoolgirls, Attack!  It reads like a return to your own favourite cinematic movement, Asian cinema.  Why don’t you tell us a little about the film and its primary influences?
GC: SOPHIE, CINDY, and KATY are the Schoolgirls Alliance, a crack team of teenaged bounty hunters who are rounding up “half breed” zombies freed after a disastrous raid on the UZRF (Ulster Zombie Research Foundation). They're so successful that fellow Bounty Hunters collectively decide to wipe them out, which only adds more troubles to their already busy schedule of 'skippin' class and kickin' ass'... At the UZRF, DR SINGER has come up with the “7-3” serum that, when injected into humans, makes them super-strong and resistant to pain. Singer intends the serum to be used for good, but is alarmed when his colleague DR FAIRCHILD envisions using it to create super-armies. Singer escapes the UZRF with the serum and stumbles across the Schoolgirl Alliance who agree to help Singer escape the country. The battle begins with the Schoolgirls taking on the undead and humans alike, in a bid to save the world from further destruction.

My main influence for ZSA is purely Asian yes. Animé mainly for this one, along with shades of Japanese zombie schoolgirl madness. Sometimes a random title just pops into my head and I start thinking about it. Before I know it, I'm writing and then it begins. I think this one came up when I joked about how most Hollywood films today need a bit of T&A to help sell a film. I wanted to create a film that mocked that element while still containing the kung-fu and zombie gore that I always love without exploiting the stars.

KiV:  The reason I love Exploitation cinema is because, in an odd way, it’s quite even-handed and blind to race, gender, creed, etc.  You look at films like The Muthers, The Switchblade Sisters and Savage Sisters and you see an interracial, all female main cast.  It’s something that doesn’t appear too often in mainstream cinema.  Is that feel of East meets subversive West something you’ve been trying to cultivate or does it instinctive for you?
GC: I think its just something that's in the blood. I loved the same genre growing up and feel the 70's to early 90's was the best of the film world – especially in Hong Kong – and I want to try and encourage that same grittiness back into movie making. Today's cinema is too polished, too 'perfect' yet without being perfection in entertainment. The saturation of Hollywood needs a shake up and I think very soon, indie cinema and a return to the Exploitation genre will do so.

KiV: So introduce us to the girls, what are they like?
GC: Sophie (Rachael Stewart, 17), Cindy (Rachel Galloway, 26) and Katy (Chloe Sacco, 16) are 3 beautiful, funny and talented new faces to the scene. As usual I wanted to find fresh talent and after a couple of weeks of auditions at the always supportive Holiday Inn Belfast, we found them! Each of them are different in many ways which will play perfectly on screen and had never met each other before, but even after their first meet, they all became close very quickly. They are more excited than I am to get started because I keep seeing Facebook posts about how much pain they are in from stretching and training. I can't wait!

KiV: In reading the script [for Zombie Schoolgirls, Attack!] I felt it all boiled down to a story of the young generation trying to carve out a future for themselves against a recent history of death, murder and bloodshed.  Battle of the Bone [review here] drew intentional parallels between narrative fiction of the socio-political environment in which it was shot.  Was this parallel an intentional?
GC: As I turn into a grumpy old man, I still feel strong for young people to be heard. It was something that didn't pass when I was a teen, and it was something that held me back from many things I wanted in life. A lot of the times in my films, I tend to use a younger person in roles such as you have explained. Adults don't always know best, and in ZSA that is most certainly highlighted with the girls setting the example and taking the lead. I suppose in the wider view of it all, its maybe a shout out to the kids of NI to ask that they make a change for the better and learn from their parents mistakes of our past.

KiV:  Zombie Schoolgirls, Attack! reads as a highly visual film.  In the past you’ve managed to deliver strong work at a budget of next to nothing.  How do you plan on fundraising for this one?
GC: Well I think, honestly, its about time we had a budget. If ZSA is the first of a trilogy then we need to do it right. And I'm not talking millions – just a few thousand to help us get the correct make-up, FX and costumes as well as look after the huge number of cast and crew involved. We have a great Kickstarter set up which we hope to launch the first week of April, and with some great incentives on there too. Fingers crossed it will work for us, and if not, well... It's not like its stopped me before!

To donate towards the Zombie Schoolgirls, Attack! Kickstarter campaign click [here].


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