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JJ Barnes talks Halloween feature ‘Hollowhood’

Despite the restrictions put on filmmakers and the wider public over the past 12 or so months, independent filmmakers continue to find ways to get their products made.

Bloody Flicks got the chance to catch up with writer/director JJ Barnes to discuss new Halloween-themed independent feature Hollowhood. Here’s what she had to say –

Can you tell us the genesis of Hollowhood?

We came up for the concept of Hollowhood in 2019.

In 2018 we wrote the pilot script for a TV Show called Gracemarch, which was produced by Artisan Films, and we had hoped that it would be picked up quickly and our careers would be skyrocketed. However, we discovered that things don’t move as quickly as we had hoped. We spent the next year writing more scripts for films and TV pilots, networking, and trying to get picked up. Towards the end of 2019, we decided that it was time to take matters into our own hands.

Instead of waiting for somebody else to greenlight our production, we decided to go fully independent. On Twitter, we read a thread by Christopher McQuarrie filled with tough love about how to get into the film industry. Essentially, the advice was stop waiting for other people, and just do it. So, we did.

Because our budget was going to be incredibly low, we had to start with what we could use before we could work on the story. We were already running a creative business, Siren Stories, where we collaborate with other independent artists to produce books, music, podcasts etc. So we had a little network of people we could bring on board. We found locations we could afford, and a cast willing to work for nothing. Then, once we knew who we were filming and where, we started to develop a story.

We both love scary movies, and with low budget horror flicks already having a market it seemed the right way to go. We sat in the pub with drinks and notepads, and worked out the concept. A holiday weekend away in a small village filled with creepy locals over Halloween. We populated the village of Hollowhood with mysterious characters, motivated them with a nefarious goal, and gave a gang of friends a reason to visit.

What was the writing process like with your partner Jonathan McKinney?

Whilst we usually write separately, within the same shared universe, Hollowhood isn’t our first collaborative project. We’ve worked on scripts for other people before so we have developed a natural patter. We’re both passionate about our story craft and tempestuous, so sometimes we disagree about the direction a story or character arc can go because we both care so much, but for the most part we flow really well together. We mapped out the plot, worked out different scenes, and divvied them up. Once we’d written separately, we knitted them together and read through over and over and over again to get it right.

What sort of stories did you take inspiration from?

We both love scary films, classics like Psycho and slashers like Halloween and Scream particularly. We’re also both MASSIVE Buffy The Vampire Slayer nerds. We like a scary film that has lots of good dialogue, a story, a bit of heart and some humour, mixed in with the scares and the mystery. We wanted to make something that was fun and entertaining, as well as scary.

How did you scout locations for Hollowhood?

Because of the budget restrictions we needed to keep local. We also wanted to film somewhere big enough for everybody to live on site so we didn’t have to worry about accommodation costs. Luckily, my parents have a holiday cottage, Squirrel Barn, on out outskirts of our home town. It’s in a tiny village in beautiful countryside so we had space to film and beautiful scenery for outdoor shoots. After that we approached local businesses to see who would be willing to let us film there.

We wrote a lot in The Sun in Stafford. After talking to the brewers, Titanic Brewery, and the management who knew us pretty well, we were welcomed in to film. After that, we approached The Green Man in Milwich, a pub just moments down the road from Squirrel Barn. They closed off a day for us to film inside and made us welcome to film outside as well.

Other than those indoor locations, we tried to do outside shoots in public land. It was tricky at times, because of traffic and onlookers getting in shots, but we made it work.

How difficult has it been to film Hollowhood during the past 12 months?

We filmed the majority, probably 90%, of the filmed prior to lockdown. We filmed our first scenes on New Years Eve 2019, and the rest in January 2020. We’ve got the final shots to get and have had to put it aside over the last year for obvious reasons. However, with so much of the film in the can we had plenty to work on to get it edited and ready so when we do get to film the final scenes it won’t be too much work to get it finished off. It’ll be a hurry, but doable.

Was it always your idea to set the film around Halloween?

Because we are both big fans of Halloween in general, and we love a genre movie, it just made sense. We knew we’d be filming off season so the locations were available so it would be cold, and Halloween suited it perfectly. We created a reason why Halloween was particularly significant in the village of Hollowhood that tied it in nicely. Plus it’s fun. It gave us an excuse to dress the cast up in goofy Halloween costumes which looks so much cooler than regular clothes.

Are you a horror fan? If so, what are some of your favourites?

I’m a massive horror fan but I do genuinely get really scared! I will always pick out a scary film but then I’ll spend half of the film hiding my face. I’m the same with books, I pick scary books to read and then have to hide them under a pillow. Some of my favourites are Pscyho, The Birds, Scream, The Conjuring, The Silence Of The Lambs, I Know What You Did Last Summer, The Ring, Bird Box, The Invisible Man, Host and It.

I don’t particularly go for gore. I don’t mind gore, but it doesn’t draw me in. Clearly from my tastes! I like to be scared but I also love the mystery and to get to know the characters and a build up of tension.

What is the plan for the release of Hollowhood?

IDEALLY we’ll find distribution once the film is completed. However, it’s very low budget and our first film so if we don’t get picked up that’s okay. It’s not our last film and we’re just going to keep going because we love it so much. If it doesn’t go to any other platforms we’ll put it straight onto YouTube and let people watch it there. The point is to get it seen and hopefully enjoyed by an audience that enjoys scary fun.

Keep up to date with all the news on Hollowhood on their official website.

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