Zoe Kavanagh Exclusive Interview
Zoe Kavanagh Discusses Demon Hunter, Females in Horror and Career
Demon Hunter, (originally titled Taryn Barker: Demon Hunter) is a female driven Action, Horror film. Set against a modern backdrop the protagonist Taryn Barker prowls for demonic entities. Revenge drives her actions and quells the pain over her murdered sister. The concept to Demon Hunter reads as a comic book set to a film adaptation.
Demon Hunter is the brainchild of Zoe Kavanagh. The transition from short and music videos Kavanagh now sets sights on directing features. Kavanagh makes her feature directorial debut with Demon Hunter. According to IMDb Kavanagh served as co-writer on the film along with Tony Flynn
DecayMag Staff Correspondent, Stacy Cox reviewed Demon Hunter. In our extended coverage, we present our interview with Zoe Kavanagh. The interview has three segments. The first two discusses the production of Demon Hunter. The last section reflects on Kavanagh’s creative plans for the future.
Demon Hunter is slated for release in the U.S. sometime in 2017
As always we extend our gratitude for this interview opportunity. All the best to your endeavors Zoe Kavanagh!
DecayMag; Demon Hunter is your directorial feature debut. You also have two short films to your credits. Transitioning from shorts to a feature What areas did you find the workload to be more intensive? Please elaborate.
Zoe Kavanagh; Making shorts was a transition unto itself as my background is music videos. Most recently I directed a promo video for Clan of Xymox and in a sense telling stories in four minutes is a challenge unto itself. You can experiment more but it is a challenge none the less. The language of camera, editing, and lighting is developed over the process. The difference between music videos and short films are sound mixing and design.
My recent short film ‘Wounded Ella’ a social horror story that deals with transgender issues was a challenge to make but a lot easier to handle than making ‘Demon Hunter’ as smaller crew and lesser departments. Coming from music videos being a director you tend to learn all aspects of a production and wear a dozen hats on your head. A huge crew can be unnecessary for a short whereas a feature it’s a completely different story.
Transitioning to a feature film involved studying how other independent films were being produced on similar budgets. Looking at what departments needed crew most and how to assemble the best talent to collaborate on such an ambitious film.
The workload was quite intense. I believe the hardest aspects of the film for me were all in different ways. Having to self-finance the film was a challenge. Getting a crew, finding locations. Sorting out insurance and contracts. This is where you need a production company on your side.
Production was tough because of a lot of the time your thinking about the budget, the amount of scenes you can film on the days allocated. Things go wrong all the time and you need to prepare for anything bad.
Having a great production crew and cast really eased the workload in production. Post was the most work I had to do though with editing, grading and sound mixing.
DecayMag; In Demon Hunter, you serve as Writer, Director, Executive Producer, and Editor. Would you consider undertaking these same roles on your next production?
Zoe Kavanagh; If the next feature I make is not self-funded then the roles I would prefer would be all those four still! I’ve learned all aspects of production over a number of years and believe that it’s important for me to be able to deliver the best film of my strengths with the budget that I have. I’m not picky though if there’s a good script that needs a director then I would jump on that too.
DecayMag; Editing, by itself, sounds like a tough and time-consuming process. Please provide some insight on this workflow and how Demon Hunter was put together?
Zoe Kavanagh; Demon Hunter was put together on Adobe Premiere CS6 in 2015 and then when Adobe Premiere CC came out we shifted over to that. I used to be a Final Cut 7 person but Adobe is very adaptive to modern cameras and it’s plugins are second to none in my opinion.
When we wrapped the first section of filming in September 2014 it wasn’t until November/December that an assembly of the film was pieced together. No CGI, a temp score, no grade but a pace and feel of the film. My bin folders are usually a bit messy but it’s how I worked at the time. Initially, I was working on a Mac with only 2GB ram. Looking at the Assembly cut and not being able to achieve any completion funds for the film, I saved up a lot of money so I could add in more action scenes to make it more tight and fun.
I would estimate I edited over 2 years on Demon Hunter. Even when we’re submitting to festivals or getting rejected I was still touching it up in tiny ways. Never stopped touching the edit until it was handed over for distribution to LEFT Films early this year.
So in March 2015, we filmed more action scenes. Then in April, I collaborated with filmmaker Seamus Hanly (director of TROMA’S The Middle Finger) on getting second eyes on the edit. He added his touch on the pace. The run time was 93 mins and was cut down to 86 with no scenes removed.
Sound Design was done on Pro Tools by Brian Grieco and edited in pieces on Logic Pro and in Adobe Premiere. I graded with Conor O’Toole in Adobe Premiere CC with a few awesome plugins.
DecayMag; I like that Demon Hunter doesn’t look to have a massive amount of CGI, which has become quite the standard today. What was the creative direction you wanted for your film?
Zoe Kavanagh; Yeah I knew we couldn’t pull off quality CGI on our budget in any way. It would look like a really bad bargain bin film. I love retro everything and my favourite decade of the genre is the 80’s. ‘The Terminator’ and ‘Highlander’ were two huge influences on ‘Demon Hunter’. I wanted the film to emulate the essence of past films that I grew up with whilst doing something different with it.
Making the film feel like a comic book surreal dark fantasy was something I wanted.
I also love locations and seeing everything on screen. It’s a visual medium and indie films sometimes don’t go too ambitious. I think you need to so you can showcase what skills you may have and also make your film stand out. Plus low budget CGI really dates your film in the wrong way.
2. Production (Narrative)
DecayMag; How can you best describe the construct of Taryn Barker and how does she stand with modern audiences?
Zoe Kavanagh; What you have is a heroine that is everything you aren’t but wish you were.
Taryn was developed through a lot of things blended in my imagination. It’s like you take me, my personality, my film, and video game collection. Sure while you’re at it take in a bit of my experiences in life.
She perseveres through anguish and sorrow and her determination to fight evil and hopefully, one day find answers to the truth about the killer of her sister Annabelle. She is fearless because she isn’t afraid to die and in that sense is a bit of a cynic, whilst treating killing monsters as a job.
I hope the majority of audiences connect with her and welcome her into their world as this film is really just a taster of the dark world she hunts in.
DecayMag; How did the concept of Demon Hunter develop and what was the process to bring it to screen?
Zoe Kavanagh; It was the year 2008 I believe and I was listening to some metal music. Actually, I was listening to ‘My Heartstrings Come Undone’ by a band called Demon Hunter. I wanted to create a character that would be strong and melancholic.
I drew a picture of a girl walking in the rain holding a sword and looking broken. I thought what is the worst thing that has happened to her and how can she seek to fight through so much to get the answers.
Losing her young sister Annabelle and then looking at the band on in the background I was like; “What if she fights demons?!”
A few weeks later I made a not so good short film with the character but it evolved her mythology and the world. That short helped me learn what works with the character and what doesn’t. Eventually, it evolved into another short in 2012 and finally into this feature film ‘Demon Hunter’.
DecayMag; Taryn Barker has many adventures to take, do you plan on extending on this character in other mediums such as comic books or shorts films?
Zoe Kavanagh; I’m currently in the process of writing the novel ‘Taryn Barker: Demon Hunter’ it’s a book of ten missions which each one runs in around 60-80 pages. All stories link to a bigger overarching one whilst giving you everything you need to know.
A comic book series is certainly something I would love to pursue. I just need to find the right talent to bring it to the comic world. I certainly want to make at least two more films. Demon Hunter: Devil’s Night and Demon Hunter: Retribution but all of that depends on if the first film finds an audience. I hope it does.
DecayMag; What are your thoughts and opinions on strong female leads in Horror cinema (especially kick-ass characters such as Taryn)?
Zoe Kavanagh; We’re living in a good time for strong female leads but at the same time not a lot of ass-kicking female leads. Horror has been the one genre that always had them. You go back to 1979 with Alien and then progress to the slasher genre with the final girl. Alice from A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master was certainly an influence on Taryn in this movie. She was the most badass heroine I have ever seen in a slasher film.
It’s a weird one because at one spectrum horror has always had a female lead. However, being the final girl doesn’t always mean she’s strong willed. I would love to see more mainstream horror films have strong female protagonists kicking monster ass, yes but then maybe I just want Taryn Barker on the job!
Action Horror like Resident Evil and Underworld are the two modern heroine franchises that come to mind and I feel we do need a lot more of them. Those franchises have come to an end and Horror cinema is currently in its paranormal fad stage right now.
DecayMag; As a female filmmaker, in your opinion what are some tough areas to take on when making a horror film? Please elaborate.
Zoe Kavanagh; Nothing is impossible and everything is doable. However, I recently made a short film called ‘Wounded Ella’ which deals with a transgender character that goes through discrimination in a poor environment which eventually leads to a sexual assault on her with a blunt weapon and an eventual suicide.
I believe real life horror can be harder to make than fantasy horror especially when it’s subject matter that is relevant to issues we are currently dealing with.
Filming that sequence was really tough making. You’re balancing a fine line but you also need to put the audience there. Immerse them in horror no matter how disturbing it will get.
DecayMag; What other Horror-related works do you have coming in the future?
Zoe Kavanagh; I have a script for a horror feature called INEXORABLE in development at the moment. It’s like a cross between A ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ & ‘Hellraiser’ if it was set in ‘Silent Hill’. The story focuses on a character setup for murder who goes on the run after being tormented by receiving ‘The Fool’ tarot card. Suddenly all her friends have a specific card which aligns into their archetype in the narrative structure of the film and they need to be one step ahead of the film’s plot to survive.
DecayMag; Demon Hunter does not yet have an official release date. Can we expect a public release soon?
Zoe Kavanagh; In UK & Ireland the film is expected to hit a limited cinema release on June 6th followed by a wide DVD & VOD release on June 12th through Left films.
A US release is planned in late summer through Wild Eye Releasing. A date has yet to be announced.