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The ABCs of Death: Lee Hardcastle and Jake West

Screen sat down with Lee Hardcastle and Jake West, two of the directors of horror anthology The ABCs of Death, ahead of its UK premiere during FrightFest at Glasgow Film Festival.

As if epitomising the variation of the ambitious horror anthology The ABCs of Death, UK directors Jake West and Lee Hardcastle both had very different paths onto the ambitious project.

“I got approached by the producers, Tim [League] and Ant [Timpson]. I had my film Doghouse at Fantastic Fest and he [League] approached a lot of filmmakers who had had their films there,” recalls West.

“I was at Cannes that year and they got a meeting of us together and pitched the idea.”

Hardcastle on the other hand - responsible for claymation efforts like the Claycat take on The Raid - won a worldwide online competition to be involved in the film. “I was really keen about the film when I read about it before I knew about the competition as I had seen which directors were involved,” explains Hardcastle.

“As it was essentially a freebie, I couldn’t dedicate too much time to it. I worked really hard just to justify doing the short. I think it took me 14 days but what I do now, I take my time, I don’t kill myself to make a short like I did back then.” (Hardcastle completed his short in August 2011.)

The ABCs of Death saw its filmmakers assigned a letter from which they had to make a four-minute short based around death. Whereas Hardcastle had just the one to utilise (T), West pitched four ideas for different letters yet fortunately ended up with his favoured letter in any case - S.

“There was a first wave of directors who got asked to do it - they didn’t have all 26 directors involved at once - and because I was right at the beginning, I didn’t have any problem getting my letter,” notes West.

“My whole thing was about speed, but there’s also the double meaning. When you watch it, you think ‘oh, they’re going to die in a car crash’ because everyone’s trying to second guess what the death will be.”

While he preferred it when the list of directors and their assigned letters was secret - in the film, the title of each short plays once it’s completed, but the list is readily available online - West still set out to “wrong foot” the audience by adding an American feel to his short.

One other element was also in the director’s mind when creating his short. “I wanted you to be able to watch my segment self-contained,” comments West. “I wanted to do a short that would work as a short.”

And despite their different approaches into the project, both directors are unanimous that they’d do another anthology if asked. Hardcastle even has a concept for taking part in further instalments of another recent horror anthology.

“I spoke to the producers of V/H/S and they asked me if I’d be interested in doing a segment for them. I do have an idea that I’d love to do as a found footage, Cloverfield-style, but instead of a CGI monster, it’d be a claymation monster,” explains Hardcastle.

(Hardcastle’s 16-second short of a similar concept is available on YouTube and has racked up more than 2 million hits to date.)

Tonight will see the two directors in the audience as The ABCs of Death receives its UK premiere as part of the FrightFest strand of Glasgow Film Festival. So are they nervous viewing it in front of a baying genre crowd?

West jokes: “With The ABCs of Death, I’ve felt much calmer about the screenings because I’m only responsible for 1/26th of the film. When it’s just your film, you’re really nervous but with this one, if they don’t like it, at least the whole thing hasn’t been ruined by me.”

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