Phillip Escott, Delves Into Horrors of True Crime, Social Commentary
Phillip Escott’s latest film Cruel Summer is scheduled for release the 27th of February 2018 on Video on Demand via Wild Eye Releasing.
Escott is a UK-based writer/director and in collaboration with Craig Newman co-directed, co-wrote Cruel Summer.
Escott has twenty (20) directorial credits beginning from 2011 and twenty-two (22) writer credits within the same period. In addition, Escott is the co-founder of Independent production company 441 Films.
The following interview was composed by Rebecca Kolodziej, DecayMag Content Contributor
Ken Artuz Founder DecayMag
Related Article: Cruel Summer Film Review
Rebecca Kolodziej: Hi Phillip! Thank you for taking the time to talk to me about your new film Cruel Summer. I just finished watching it and I must say it packs a punch! I saw that the film was inspired by true life events. Can you tell us why you chose ‘real’ life events as your influence for the film?
Phillip Escott: It’s my pleasure and thank you so much for checking the film out, it means a lot to all of us who worked on it. The biggest influence was the murder of Terry Hurst, who was a mentally challenged young man who was taken into the woods by three so-called ‘friends’, where they spent two days torturing and murdering him without ever giving a motive.
The second was a crime in Liverpool where an older teen bullied two younger boys into setting a homeless man on fire. The ‘inspired by real events’ is a brutal way of telling the audience that, even though the film is fictional, crimes like this do actually occur.
“It’s crimes like this, that are so barbaric and cruel, that you struggle to believe people are capable of them.”
Rebecca Kolodziej: Cruel summer touches on a very deep and emotional subject, that being autism. How did the story affect you as a filmmaker, do you have any personal relation to the theme?
Phillip Escott: I can’t say that I’ve been impacted by it personally, we wanted to bring awareness to the condition more than anything.
“A lot of documentaries have been made on the struggles of living with the condition for those who care for people with extreme cases, but they helped create a social stigma about people who have autism.”
Just hearing the word would conjure up images of large teens aggressively lashing out at their exhausted parents.
I’ve been involved with a group of autistic teens who are keen to get involved in filmmaking here in Cardiff and the group was made up of kids with various degrees of the condition and they were all incredibly creative and an utter pleasure to be around. We wanted to show that the spectrum of autism is a vast and varied one, we hoped to break the stigma somewhat.
Rebecca Kolodziej: How did you connect with the character of ‘Danny’ during filming?
Phillip Escott: It’s wasn’t hard to connect with Danny because he personifies innocence. You can’t help but root for someone with a real passion either; we knew he would be instantly sympathetic due to his autism, but we wanted to show him as more than just a person with autism. That wasn’t going to stop him from getting out, enjoying his life and doing what he loved.
Rebecca Kolodziej: Was it as hard for you to watch through a lense as it was for us through a screen?
Phillip Escott: It’s a funny thing shooting violent scenes. Because we were all in good spirits and the fake blood was getting splashed everywhere… it was oddly fun! It wasn’t until I was editing the film that I realised just how powerful it was.
“The hardest part for the crew was the scene with the parents, which takes place at the end of the film, that crushed them and it’s also what hit hardest when it played at festivals.”
Rebecca Kolodziej: I recently read an article that stated the horror genre was the best genre for social commentary. Where do you stand on this? And why?
Phillip Escott: When you look at what George Romero was doing with NIGHT, DAWN and DAY OF THE DEAD you can’t not see those films and think about race, consumerism and the cold war. I’m under no illusions that CRUEL SUMMER falls way short of those masterpieces, but we did try to include a little commentary in the film, maybe it’s a little too much on the nose in places!
“WHEN IT’S DONE RIGHT I WOULD FULLY AGREE WITH THAT!”
Rebecca Kolodziej: Cruel Summer falls under the category of drama/thriller and horror. Being a horror fan Cruel Summer is not the average horror movie full of jump scares and gore but instead uses a different approach, psychological horror. Was this approach deliberate for this style of film or was there another more gory depiction you had in mind that never made the cut?
Phillip Escott: No, we never intended the violence to be graphic. As much as I love films like MARTYRS and INSIDE, we didn’t need to go to those levels because the actual act of the crime is so inherently vile and evil that by showing less it actually becomes more horrendous.
“It leaves the viewers imagination to fill in the blanks, and when you’re dealing with a crime as mean and cruel as this, that implants plenty of unpleasant imagery – possibly far more graphic than anything we could have filmed.”
Rebecca Kolodziej: The chosen location for filming was Cardiff South Wales UK. This delighted me as Cardiff is my hometown and it’s very rare for films to be filmed in my area which you are probably aware of. Why did you choose Cardiff as a location and would you film there again for future projects?
Phillip Escott: Haha, a fellow Cardiffian? Nice! I’m from Ely and I’ve always wanted to shoot here in Cardiff as that’s where we grew up and where we are based. We shot all around South Wales, including Merthyr, Caerphilly, and Barry.
We wanted to keep the location nameless to give the impression that this crime could happen anywhere, but those who know the area will spot where we shot the film with ease.
“I think Cardiff is a beautiful City and I wouldn’t hesitate to shoot here again!”
Rebecca Kolodziej: How did you find the process of crafting true crime drama into horror? Was the process difficult?
Phillip Escott: Luckily the crime is so horrific that it wasn’t too hard at all. Luckily we had a great composer, Josef Prygodzicz, who was able to help with that a great deal with his oppressive and dangerous musical queues that are spread throughout the movie.
“THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE WAS TO MAINTAIN A SENSE OF DREAD THROUGHOUT THE FILM LEADING UP TO THE ACTUAL HORROR ELEMENT OF THE FILM.”
Rebecca Kolodziej: What other projects do you have planned at the moment? Any other horror related material that you’d spill the beans on?
Phillip Escott: I’m working a lot with boutique labels at the moment producing extras for films I grew up loving, which is amazing. I have a few great titles that have been assigned to me but I can’t confirm what they are as they aren’t due out until later this year or in some cases 2019.
Though I will say that I’m currently working on a re-release of THE GRIFTERS which is a real honour as that’s one of my favourite 90s crime films and to be able to speak with the likes of Stephen Frears and Barbara De Fina, amongst others, has been a real honor.
Horror-wise, Craig and I have a few scripts completed that we are shopping around but it’s early days yet I’m afraid so can’t really say if they will get made or not!
Rebecca Kolodziej: What are your thoughts on the horror indie film industry?
Phillip Escott: It’s a tough one, I adore the genre but there is so much being produced right now – and with technology becoming cheaper and cheaper that’s not going to slow down – a lot of indie films get lost in the ocean as it were.
Which is why I’ve created the Fractured Visions Film Festival, it’s my chance to show some love to indie genre films I believe deserve an audience and with the connections I’ve built in the industry, I will do all I can to help get these films released in the UK.
“It’s not just filmmaking I love, I still adore watching them and losing myself in a film.”
Rebecca Kolodziej: Do you have a particular horror film or film that inspired you to become a filmmaker?
Phillip Escott: I guess the first big influence on me was George Romero. I remember being taken to a cottage in the middle of nowhere with my family and another family as part of a charity that my mother volunteered for and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was on the TV. Talk about the perfect setting for that movie, right? I was about 11 at the time.
Anyway, the family we were with the father was a huge horror fan and he could see how thrilled I was by the film and he told me about DAWN OF THE DEAD and when we took them home, bless him, he gave me his VHS of DAWN. That movie became everything to me.
“I had nightmares that were so fun, so thrilling, that I actually enjoyed them and would be pissed off if I woke up!”
I would be trapped in a mall, sheltered up just like in the movie, fighting these blue ghouls. That’s when I learnt how powerful film can be, how it can change you.