Sian Harries talks Frightfest short ‘Neckface’

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With its London premiere just a few days away, we chat to Director Sian Harries about her short ‘Neckface’ which features at Arrow Video Frightfest.

This film sounds like the marriage film from hell, right?
It is indeed the marriage film from hell! It’s about the stress society puts on brides and a look at what would happen if, instead of just trying to be perfect, we embraced our inner bridezilla and let rip.
It was weird because Isy Suttie who plays Laney is actually engaged to the voice of NeckFace – comedian Elis James – and even though we put his voice on in post and it’s been manipulated – it was really weird for Isy to see her fiancé ruining her on-screen wedding with swearing and sex noise. I hope this isn’t an omen for their upcoming nuptials.
NeckFace actually ended up costing more than my own wedding but it was far more fun because we got to trash it.
Tell us about working with Isy Suttie?
Isy’s a fantastic performer and is also a really good friend of mine so I was so happy when she agreed to play Laney. Her fiancé, Elis, and I have been friends since we were in primary school and regularly write together. Isy was an absolute hero on set because she had to sit and have a prosthetic NeckFace fitted ages before other cast members had even woken up. She’s one of my favourite people and brought the part of Laney to life beautifully – a real combination of a sweet and naive bride who evolves into a someone who doesn’t give a sh*t about what other people think.
NeckFace comes to life with CGI (provided by the wonderful Bait Studios) but for some of the close up shots we used a scaled-up NeckFace puppet (made by the brilliant Dan Martin) which was an exact replica of Isy’s neck, only massive. So I still have an enormous replica of Isy’s neck in my kitchen. I like to think it’s brought us even closer.
Isy did sometimes have it easy though. For example, there’s one scene where she got to lie in a gorgeous four poster bridal bed for two hours whilst I traipsed around in very high heels and Spanx. There was also a scene where she got to stuff her face with chocolate wedding cake at 7am. I’m never allowed to do that.
Was it hard to balance the horror and the comedy?
The strange thing is I never really saw it as that horrific and I’m not sure what that says about my brain. I suppose it’s because I’m a comedy writer/performer so I tend to focus on what’s funny.
By the time NeckFace reached the big screen for the first time at the Asethetica Film Festival I was so used to what NeckFace looked like I was taken aback when the audience recoiled in disgust. It also recently screened at the Bucheon International Film Festival so I know we have a lot of fans in South Korea who just find the NeckFace monster really cute.
What has the reaction been to the film so far?
People seem to really love our little monster and I’m relieved people seem to be laughing at the right bits. As with any comedy, there are parts you totally forget are funny because you’ve re-edited and analysed them over and over – and then it’s a lovely surprise when audiences remind you why you put them in.
For example, having seen Isy wearing a big plait for most of the shoot I’d totally forgotten how funny I’d found it when I first wrote that gag, but it always gets a big laugh when audiences see it for the first time.
What was the most memorable day on set?
Every single day was memorable; when the entire cast had to run out of a smoking marquee; when I got to punch one of my favourite performers, Di Botcher, in the face; when Isy and I ate lunch and I had a fake bleeding nose; when comedian Nick Helm made me laugh so much my dress fell down…But I suppose the one I will always cherish was the first day when we filmed the wedding service.
The Producer Barry Catsagnola and I had worked so hard for months organising everything – finding a cake, a wedding dress, marquees, venues, flowers – everything you’d need for an actual wedding – and during the last few days I’d turned my focus to re-writing the script and learning lines. So when I came on set and saw how beautifully our brilliant Art Director, Carrie Love, had dressed the set I felt like I’d genuinely turned up at my own wedding. Everyone had worked so hard and come together for this occasion. It was only when I was walking down the aisle with the cameras were rolling and the Supporting Artists all turned to look at myself and Isy, that I realised how many of our friends and family had come to support us – and it was the exact same feeling of love and gratitude I felt on my wedding day. Ok, slushy stuff over.
Where did the idea come from for the film?
For me personally, I wanted to tell a story about the pressure we put on brides and the impossible expectations we place on women to have this one, perfect day. When I myself got married (to NeckFace Exec and comedian Rhod Gilbert) I was determined to be a chilled out bride. But as it drew nearer, I realised society places these incredible demands on brides (e.g. magazines with features such as ‘Your 12 Month Countdown to the Perfect Bride Body’) and I felt myself succumbing to the pressure.
Suddenly, for the first time in my life I felt I was expected to organise a party for over a hundred people, look perfect in white, walk in front of everyone in high heels, be graceful and fun despite not having eaten carbs for a year – all whilst getting into thousands of pounds worth of debt.
Also, I got the feeling that if I dared show any signs of cracking I’d be labelled a ‘bridezilla’ – a monster – even though surely any sane human being would crack under this heat? I thought it’d be interesting to tell a story where a bride embraces that inner bridezilla and just lets rip. I think a lot of us women get swept up in it all, having been told all our lives it’s the one day where we’re allowed to shine (one day??) and I wanted to see a woman reject all that and choose to obey her true, ‘monstrous’ self, the ugly bits we usually try and cover up, the bit that swears and maybe does sex noise.
I’d also read an article in Easy Living magazine which asked ‘Are you Worried About Your Neck?’. I had never even considered my neck worrisome before, but I thought ‘Fine, let’s make it something to worry about’.
Were the special effects challenging at all?
It was certainly an ambitious first short film considering we have a talking NeckFace, a full on punch-up and a fire! But we were so lucky to have the amazing Bait Studios who really helped us bring everything to life. On set we shot Isy with a still prosthetic on her neck which was then made to move and talk using CGI and we also had an extra Puppet shoot where we filmed close ups of a scaled-up NeckFace puppet against a green screen doing things like blowing a raspberries, chewing big necklaces, eye rolling and eating chocolate cake. These were then plopped in and made to match the shot.
For the fire, we made the entire cast run out from a marquee we’d filled with smoke from a smoke machine and then added more in post. When the plait initially catches fire we had a small controlled on-set explosion which was then enhanced in post to look like the plait had gone up in flames. We had some brilliant VFX artists, Chris Lince and James Johnson, help us enhance these and then of course, once we added the incredible SFX from Martin Pavey, everything came together.
Did you use any films as references for your ‘monster’?
Having basically paid to put on a wedding, our budget was really tight so I know we tried to save on VFX costs by limiting the amount of shots NeckFace actually appears in. I remember thinking it was similar to Jaws in that respect, in that we never really see the monster that much but you can see others reacting to it and you can hear it so you know it’s there, causing havoc.
NeckFace’s face is actually based on a face Elis does when he’s impersonating a drunk Geordie. Which, is yes, horrific, but as I said, I’m used to it.
Neckface has its London premiere on Monday 27th August at the Short Film Showcase 3 at Arrow Video Frightfest.
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