Interview with director Ashley Thorpe

NOTE: This interview was first published on Examiner.com until the site ended on July10. Kellie Haulotte is the author.

I contacted director Ashley Thorpe first using Twitter, then sent him via email these seven questions about his recent animated film, "Borley Rectory." His campaign goal for the new feature is on INDIEGOGO and it's running till Dec. 15. Thorpe is known for directing other animated films like "Scaryrecrow," "The Screaming Skull," and "The Hairy Hand." He's also a regular contributor to "Fangoria," and as written some stories for the Glass Eye Pix Radio Drama series.

What is his new film about?

Borley Rectory is essentially an animated documentary, inspired by the haunting that caught the worlds imagination during the late 1920’s. It’s going to be something quite old fashioned, black and white, very textural and stylized, with a house very much a projection of the personalities within it – and the ghosts manifestations of what may be missing from their lives.

Now that you know a little back-story, learn more about his project, his career, his belief in spirits, and other things by reading this:

1. Why did you choose to make a film about Borley?

It’s a subject that seized my imagination as a child after stumbling across the legend in the Usbourne "Book of Ghosts" at the local Library as a kid. I was very susceptible to frightening material when I was young. I think it was that moniker ‘The Most Haunted House in England’ that really struck a chord. This wasn’t just ‘a’ haunting, it was ‘THE’ haunting. And being a visualist first and foremost it was a story that was full of these wonderful gothic archetypal ghosts; the phantom Nun, the ghostly carriage, all that wonderful stuff. The book had the story broken down into a series of almost vignettes, little square pictures of the key happenings and so the story stuck in my head almost like bullet points. It lurked there at the back of mind for years, fermenting...

2. What are your own views about ghosts? Do you believe that Borley is really haunted?

I believe that ghosts exist but whether I believe that we are in communion with the dead I’m not so sure. I’ve always been of the mind that it’s a ‘Stone Tape’ sort of thing; residual energies that we have no means of recording or confirming as yet. I believe that a ghost story for instance reveals more of the teller than it does of the dead. That’s not to say that I disregard the paranormal. In fact in many ways it represents everything that I find magical about the human condition. I’ve always been far more interested in the tale than the hunt for the truth. For me the tale is enough. Was Borley really haunted? Who can tell. The myth has clouded whatever really was happening at the Rectory. I suspect that there was a root occurrence that sparked the tales but once the flames of folklore caught hold there was no stopping the legend growing.

3. I see that it's going to be animated, why that medium?

Animation is my medium of choice for numerous reasons. First and foremost it allows a blending of reality and fantasy greater than ‘straight filmmaking’ as there’s naturally a greater freedom and playful flirtation with abstraction which I think works very well with this type of story. That’s another reason why I like a technique like rotoscoping because it’s not quite photography and not quite painted art, it’s somewhere between both which I think is perfect for tales that weave between fact and fantasy.

4. How's the funding going for the film?

Very well at the moment. We launched an Indiegogo campaign on Halloween and raised £3000 in a week! People seem very excited by the project. As a consequence we’ve launched a number of stretch goals for £6K plus so with a month to go (the campaign ends on December 15th) it’ll be exciting to see where we get. We’ve just had some interest from Clive Barker’s ‘Seraphim’ films so there’s never been a better time to get on board and help us!

5. What made you decide on having Julian Sands to narrate? (Which was a great idea!)

Julian’s involvement came about via an interview I did with him for Fangoria magazine. I was writing a retrospective on Ken Russell’s ‘Gothic’ ( a film I adore by the way) and after we’d concluded our chat over the phone he must have seen a link or something on my email and went off and watched some of my previous animations online and loved them! I was of course over the moon. Julian asked me if I was working on anything and at that time (circa late 2011) I’d literally only just finished writing the Borley script so I suggested would he like to be our narrator? And that was that! He’s been incredibly supportive of the film since the project started, a real gentleman, with a wickedly dry sense of humour.

6. I see that you've directed other films, would you like to talk a little about them?

The previous films were also animated studies and were all based on what I believed to be neglected British legends. They’re very Hammer horror inspired both in look and tone. The first ‘Scayrecrow’ is the tale of a ghostly highwayman and reflects my love for tales of Dick Turpin and the other ‘Gentleman of the road’ from the 18th century. It’s a real unashamed hammer style romp! ‘The Screaming Skull’ is a First World War era tale of ancestral anxieties and hereditary madness and very much inspired by the quiet terrors of M.R. James and finally ‘The Hairy Hands’ is based on a genuine Dartmoor myth about a pair of disembodied hands that are reputed to seize hold of the wheel of your car when you’re traversing the inky black moor at night. That one was my chance to give Hitchcock a bit of a nod and a wink.

7. Last but not least, what would you like to share with the readers?

First and foremost I’d like to encourage your readers to have a look at our Borley Rectory campaign page and see if our campaign trailer wets their appetite for something dark and dastardly! We've had phenomenal support from people such as Neil Gaiman, Neil Marshall, Derren Brown, Mark Gatiss. It’s a very exciting project with a great cast on board and I think it’ll be something genuinely unique, a real love letter to a bygone age of gentler terrors.

So I want thank Ashley Thorpe for his time and once again don't forget to check out his campaign here. The campaign started on Halloween and closes on Dec. 15. Like Thorpe said in question seven, so far the likes of Neil Gaiman and Mark Gatiss have supported the project. That's quite exciting for him. "Borley Rectory," starred Jonathan Rigby, Reece Shearsmith, Steve Furst, Nicholas Vince, and Sabrina Dickens. Julian Sands will be narrating it.

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