With the extensive media attention it can be easy to forget that film exists in other forms outside of the big blockbuster Hollywood world of cinema. I wrote an article recently about the Top 10 Indie films directed by women, all of which came from a world outside of a big budget. For many women this is a space where they can get their start as there is less pressure and more freedom for them to explore the stories they want to tell in the ways they want to tell them.
This week I spoke to a genre director who has taken her career into her own hands and is using the resources available to her in order to make engaging horror and sci-fi films. Nicole Jones-Dion started primarily as a screenwriter but soon realised that if she wanted the story she had written to come out in the way she envisioned it she would have to be the Director. “I realized that if I wanted that finished film to match my original vision for the story, I was going to have to direct it myself. I see my role as the protector of the story.” She explained.
Looking through her catalogue of work it is clear that Nicole has an affinity for horror and sci-fi. I asked exactly where this fascination came from. “I think when done well, good sci-fi and horror are metaphors for the ills that plague our society. It’s easier to hide a moral message in a genre film without it coming across as too preachy or pretentious,” she said. “Devil’s Deal talks about how there are no easy solutions to your problems – if something looks too good to be true, it probably is. Debris is a cautionary tale about environmental destruction, especially in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Scars is about coming to terms with your personal demons. That sort of thing.”
The genre also provides more freedom when it comes to style and technique. “I think horror lends itself to more experimentation with camerawork, sound, and music because you’re trying to manipulate an emotional reaction from the audience.” Nicole explained, “With In The Deathroom, we did this by integrating various extreme angles, dutch angles, and vintage lenses to create an unsettling, dreamlike quality.”
Her latest project is an adaption of a Stephen King story as part of the Dollar Baby Program; a deal for aspiring and upcoming filmmakers to make adaptions of King’s short stories for the price of $1. In The Deathroom follows Fletcher, a reporter from the NY Times, who is captured by a Central American dictatorship and brought into a “deathroom” for interrogation. The film used indiegogo to help with financing and hit their $30k target, which meant Nicole has been able to bring the story she wanted to life.
The film is now in the post-production stage so I was keen to know what some of the highlights from the shoot were. “I had an amazing cast and crew to work with. And we got very lucky with our locations. Originally, we were thinking the deathroom would be set in some generic grungy warehouse or basement, but when we found an actual WWII era Quonset hut, we knew that was it. We’d found our deathroom,” Nicole said. ” Ditto with the Central American jungle… When we finally discovered this hidden green valley in the middle of nowhere, it was perfect.”
But of course film making doesn’t come without its challenges and there were plenty of those on set as well. “The Quonset hut was a total echo chamber, so sound became a real factor, especially during the gunfights. Our lovely little valley had zero cell signal, so you had to drive a few miles down the road to make a call or send a text.” Nicole explained, “Since it was deep in a canyon, it got dark really fast, so we had a hard stop as soon as the sun started to set. Plus it was home to the World’s Largest Mosquitoes.”
The nature of the film being a Stephen King Dollar baby means that they are limited with what they can do with the film once it is finished, but the indiegogo campaign has provided some extra funds to enter the film in festivals, which can be an expensive venture. Fittingly Nicole will be targeting horror and thriller festivals specifically. The film is also sent to Stephen King himself as part of the deal.
It’s a successful film venture without the help of a big studio or a super large budget and proof that it is possible to make films if you really want to make films. I asked Nicole for some final words of wisdom. “Don’t wait for your big break, create your own opportunities. No one else will care about your career as much as you do, so it’s up to you to take control of your own destiny. And don’t give up. Everyone’s path to success is different, so keep trying until you find yours.”