Interview with “Wicked Witches” Filmmakers Martin and Mark Pickering

The Pickering Brothers talk about their new spookfest, Wicked Witches, which opens theatrically August 9 via Midnight Releasing.

-PH: Congratulations on the film! Where did you get the idea from?

-MJP: This film came out of Mark’s head in the form of a nightmare he had that led to a song he the wrote, called The Witches of Dumpling Farm. The song is performed in the film by Mark and his band. The Witches of Dumpling Farm was the original name of the film until it changed to Wicked Witches. I wanted to make a horror film so I said to my brother that his dream/song is a great idea for a film. So I wrote the script and started producing/directing it.

-PH: And Anything personal within the tale?

-MJP: There’s plenty in there that comes directly from our experiences, like the partying. Mark, myself and many of our friends are basically big kids that still party too much. Apart from the main character’s plight, there’s also an element of not wanting to get old. When does the party stop? That’s why Mark’s best mate Stevie is a coke addict and can’t settle down, he always says “Only young once mate”. Stevie leads the debauchery in the film and almost forces Mark into getting drugged up. We know people like that and so that went into the film. The main character Mark, is based on my brother Mark. It’s his story in real life but of course, it’s hugely embellished. In real life my brother Mark did leave his long term partner and child due to difficulties in the relationship. He then moved to a farm called Dumpling Farm with his old mate Ian. They always have big parties at Dumpling Farm and even a mini festival called Dumpfest. So this was the ideal set up for the horror to unfold while the main character is at his lowest.

-PH: Was this a local shoot?

-MJP: Yes, it was shot around Cambridge, England. Cambridgeshire is the start of ‘The Fens’, which is a large area of flat arable farm land and goes on for miles and miles. It can be a bit ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ kind of place when you get further into Fenland. There are some strange folk out in The Fens. This lent itself to the spooky feeling of the film and like The Shining, we get a feeling that the main character is quite isolated.

-PH: What were you looking for in terms of locations?

-MJP: In a way, I didn’t have a massive choice because the budget was tiny, so we had to use the village where I live. My house, the pub, the shop, the local farm and even the wood where the massacre happens was close to my house. Luckily all these locations had the old look and feel that we wanted. We went out into The Fens to get all our aerial shots and the shots where we follow Mark’s car into the middle of nowhere.

-PH: Is there anything you tried to achieve, but couldn’t, due to the budget or another logistical reason?

-MJP: There was a lot of things we couldn’t do due to budget but we made the best of what we had. You’d be amazed how much it costs to kill people on screen. The body parts all cost a lot of money to hire and then the blood and special effects and crew to make that happen, so we had to limit the amount of deaths. I would have liked to of had a whole lot more guys being chased and killed in a horrific way but the budget definitely limited that.

-PH: What did you shoot on?

-MJP: I shot on a DSLR Canon 5D. I used these old vintage Nikon manual photography lenses that gave a nice cinematic look. The DSLR, that had a really nice profile set on it, allowed me to shoot really quickly, which is something I do anyway as a Director and Director of Photography. A lot of it was hand held on a shoulder mount to speed it all up but we used a gimble for some of it and of course a large drone to get the aerial shots.

-PH: Any films or filmmakers you emulated here?

-MP: I tried to make it creepy from the outset, like Kubrick’s The Shining but there are other influences here like John Landis and Sam Raimi, but we didn’t consciously or overtly style the film in that way. It’s kind of like music, you absorb what you love and it manifests itself in what you create.

-PH: How do you think you’ve improved as a familiar since you first picked up a camera?

-MJP: I first picked up a camera around 20 years ago when I was at University and from there, I’ve just improved as you would after 20 years. I do this for a living with music videos, fashion films and other video work, so I shoot almost daily and that helped prepare my skills for a full feature length film.

-PH: And is there anything on this one that you won’t do next time?

-MJP: I’d probably not shoot on a DSLR again, as it does limit the image quality of the film. The master looks great, but compressed down a couple of times and it loses a lot. So yeah, I’d move onto something like 35mm film or the Arri Alexa, if I could afford it.

-PH: What do you think makes the film frightening?

-MJP: I think they way that it builds up is quite unsettling. Mark goes through a really horrible, psychological breakdown at the hands of the witches who haunt his dreams and lure him into a terrible situation. A lot of the horror is psychological. I think this is what’s scary about the film and something that The Shining got right and that film scared the hell out of me.

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