Axelle Carolyn Interview

Interview conducted by Daniel Benson

Axelle Carolyn

To say that Axelle Carolyn has had a varied career in the movie industry would be an understatement. She's worked as a journalist, actress, special effects make-up artist, screenwriter and director and is the author of the award-winning book It Lives Again! Horror Movies in the New Millennium. When she's not directing stylish short movies such as The Last Post, Hooked and The Halloween Kid, she spends her time as wife to director Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, The Descent). Axelle took time out to answer some questions from HorrorTalk on just what it is she enjoys about the film industry...

Daniel Benson: Axelle, you have a variety of talents when it comes to movies, when did you first get involved in the industry and is directing now the focus for your career?

Axelle Carolyn: I started out as a film journalist, completely by chance: I got invited to visit a set in Spain (for Brian Yuzna’s Beneath Still Waters) and at the end of my couple of days on set, Brian, who I’d met in festivals in Brussels and London, suggested I pitched the story to Fangoria. I did, and they said yes. I worked for them and half a dozen other mags and websites until around 2008: I wrote my book, It Lives Again! Horror Movies In The New Millennium, as a sort of farewell to non-fiction.

Thing is, I’ve always been writing, and always knew I wanted to work in horror somehow. Writing and directing are pretty much the coolest things you can possibly do, but getting there isn’t easy, so I seized job opportunities along the way. After a few cameos (in films I was covering for mags, mostly, like Doomsday), I was offered a part in a short film, and from there I started to work as an actor for a good couple of years. Acting is fantastic, but the business that surrounds it, not so much. I’ve also been a script reader for production companies, worked in film PR, assisted producers… Of all the jobs I’ve done, I definitely feel most at ease as a director. But anything creative within the horror genre makes me happy.

Axelle Carolyn Directs Halloween Kid

click image to enlarge

DB: Your latest short is The Halloween Kid, can you give our readers some information on this project?

AC: It’s the story of Henry, an eight-year-old boy who imagines monsters around him, and is only happy on Halloween. It’s mainly told through a voice-over (by the great Derek Jacobi), and it’s a dark and pretty sweet tale about loneliness, creativity and imagination. Quite a few people who work in creative positions in the film industry today say they really related to little Henry.

The Halloween Kid stars Leo Donnelly, a 7-year-old actor who has a very bright future ahead of him. He’s supported by Anna Walton (Hellboy 2), Julian Glover and Dave Legeno (Harry Potter). We shot this one over three days, on the Alexa, in and around London.

DB: How have you found the film-making process from the perspective of the director’s chair? Has your past experience helped you understand the issues that the cast and crew can encounter?

AC: I found it both very natural and incredibly hard. With the exception of a couple of silly student shorts I’d made in my late teens, The Last Post was my first time directing anything ever, and we had to shoot the whole 10-minute film in one day. It was really hard, but I remember feeling very calm, and really eager to solve problems and keep going. Probably because I was very prepared, but also because I had such a great team around me. Our director of photography, Gary Shaw, shot Duncan Jones’s Moon. Our 1st AD Simon Hedges had worked on Four Lions and Cherry Tree Lane. And James Webber, who later produced The Halloween Kid (alongside Ben Robinson), was also there.

The Last Post 01The Last Post 02

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DB: You’ve directed three short films up to now, is there a reason you’ve chosen to stick to shorts rather than full features?

AC: It wasn’t really a choice, I nearly got to direct my first feature a year ago: The Haunted, which would have starred Olga Kurylenko and for which we’d assembled a fantastic team. But financing collapsed a week before the planned start of the shoot. It was really hard. I took a month to whine and mope, and then I made three short films and wrote two feature scripts. It felt like the best way to get over it.

DB: Are there any problems you face when making and distributing a short film? The talent you’ve managed to assemble across your work has been solid, so I’m guessing it’s not been difficult to attract prominent names, but getting distribution for the shorts must be more difficult than a full-length film?

AC: Short films are tough to finance, precisely because there’s no real distribution deal at the end. They’re purely creative endeavors; very few people ever make money out of them. On The Halloween Kid, we’ve been extremely lucky to get some money through crowdfunding; it’s been a fantastic way to get the film made and I’m extremely grateful for all the help we got.

As for attracting cast, we simply went the traditional route of sending the script out to their agents. Thing is, directing actors is my favorite part of the process so I put a lot of time into casting, and my scripts are usually very character-based, which I think makes it easier to attract talent. And there’s always an element of luck: availability, timing...

The Halloween Kid 02The Halloween Kid 01The Halloween Kid 03

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DB: Your husband Neil [Marshall] has taken producing and editing details on some of your work, is he a harsh critic or does he tend to give you a break?

AC: We’re both into horror, obviously, but we look at it from such completely different perspectives, with such completely different tastes, that we mostly just give each other a break. In very broad strokes, he loves action and gore, and I’m more into all things weird and, well, a bit sad. In pre-production and on set, Neil mostly handles practical things rather than anything creative. I think it’s the best way to appreciate and respect each other’s work.

DB: Reading up on you (research, not stalking – I promise) you’ve been credited with writing Ghost of Slaughterford and acting in The 4th Reich (which we featured some time ago on the site). Are these projects still going ahead?

AC: Ghost of Slaughterford was the working title of The Haunted (I bet the title will change again before it gets made!) We’re looking for new producers on that one. As for The 4th Reich, I don’t know, I haven’t heard a thing in ages, but then again my part would have been really tiny.

DB: You’re obviously a fan of horror, but do you have a desire to write or direct any other genres?

AC: I’m open to anything, as long as there’s a supernatural element to the story. What I’ve done so far, both in my short films and in my writing, can’t really be 100% classified as horror anyway. To me, the supernatural can be much more than scary. It’s actually a lot more interesting if it’s used to express other things.

DB: Finally, what can we hope to see from Axelle Carolyn once the distribution for The Halloween Kid is sorted?

AC: I’d love to get The Haunted back on track. And I also have another feature called The Skeleton Dance which I’m dying to get made.

But I might make another short film in the meantime, because feature film financing is such a long, horrible process, and filmmaking is very much like a drug.

DB: Axelle, thanks so much for your time.

Axelle Carolyn Links: IMDB | The Halloween Kid | Twitter

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Fuelled mostly by coffee and a pathological desire to rid the world of bad grammar, Daniel has found his calling by picking holes in other people's work. In the rare instances he's not editing, he's usually breaking things in the site's back end.
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