One of the creative forces behind Not A Number Productions, Simeon Halligan has sewed creative seeds that have touched the film industry throughout Britain. Boasting an extensive filmography of commercials, television shows and feature films, Simeon is also the founder of Manchester’s annual festival of horror and cult films, Grimmfest.
Over the course of two feature films, Simeon learned what it takes to make a film well.
“Put as much work and effort into your script as you possibly can,” he said confidently of the most important lesson he’d learned from his first films.
“Probably the key I think is to get the best script you can, make sure your script is solid, before you start shooting. I think one of the mistakes I made with Splintered is just that it wasn’t developed as it could be.”
He explained that he had similar experiences with White Settlers: “We had to go back and shoot pickups. The final act of the film wasn’t developed enough, it wasn’t long enough. So we had to go back and shoot more. If we’d had a more developed script from the start … we wouldn’t have had to go back and do that work.”
White Settlers, 2014
Unlike his previous works, Habit was adapted from a novel, so the plot was already there. However, it did prove challenging in its own right.
It was the written in the first person, with large chunks of the narrative happening inside the character’s head. Although the more action packed scenes were easy enough to translate to the screen, Simeon said, the more introspective sections took more creativity to get right.
“I did seek support and help from various other people that I trust to deal with the structure of the script,” he said.
The fact that both Simeon and McGeagh are native to Manchester gave the setting of Habit an authentic and palpable sense of character, almost coming to life its own right. All the settings in the book are real places, including the flat in which the protagonist lives, which was based on student accommodation from McGeagh’s youth.
“Even the massage parlour is a real place,” said Simeon, “Although it’s not called that any more.”
Behind-the-scenes: Habit, 2017
Habit has recently been on tour around the country being screened at festivals and events where film and horror fans gather. Simeon describes himself as being “really, really pleased and lucky” to have visited the wealth of places he’s taken the film already. But for all his success so far, he was nonetheless cautious about introducing his new release.
“Habit is a dark drama with horror elements,” he explained, “so I’m never sure if a horror audience is going to like it.” But that hasn’t stopped it performing well so far. “Horror audiences are open-minded!” Simeon said.
The film combines gritty social realism and dark fantasy in a way that explores the underbelly of Manchester and its lost and lonely reputation. The first reactions from the early screenings of the show are already in and are broadly positive.
Behind-the-scenes: Habit, 2017
“People have said that they like that, in Habit, there is no moral judgement about the character,” Simeon notes. When it comes to creating horror that really impacts an audience, he has become something of an expert on the topic.
“Use the genre, but use it creatively,” he said. “People think horrors are easy to make, but it’s a complicated thing to achieve to scare people or inspire certain types of feelings. A lot of Grimmfest films are creative, imaginative and visually exciting.”
Although Habit has only just been released, Simeon is already looking to the future.
“We’re moving onto getting another film shot early next year called The Besieged,” he told me, and explains that the new project is a “bank heist movie that turns into a monster movie”, which he describes as “Dog Day Afternoon meets The Thing“.
Paul Gerstenberger, the screenwriter of The Rezort, is writing the script. Simeon went on to describe The Rezort, which was proudly screened at Grimmfest, as “like Jurassic Park but with zombies.”
When it comes to good film, having a good director is imperative. For Simeon, being a good director takes “absolute dedication and determination. It’s hard.”
“Be patient with your project,” he advised, “Make sure you’ve got it right before you rush into getting it made. A lot of films at Grimmfest are made with not a lot of money but are so well written and well made that they are fantastic films.”
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