Ian Sandwell takes a look at how the forthcoming horror anthology The ABCs Of Death came together.
Announced at last year’s Cannes, The ABCs Of Death is set to be one of the most ambitious anthology projects ever attempted.
It set 26 genre filmmakers from across the globe – including the likes of Ben Wheatley, Xavier Gens, Adrian Garcia Bogliano and Srdjan Spasojevic – a challenge: make a four-minute short based around death, all from one letter of the alphabet each.
“The directors all had a budget, an indication of what the time constraints should be and a window of time when we’d like to see the film delivered. We didn’t know what we were going to get back,” says Laird Adamson, Head of International Sales at Magnolia Pictures, who handle international sales on the project.
“Every director had a letter of the alphabet and they were free to pick a word around which they would build a story about death. We didn’t know what they were going to pick, all we knew was that there was no crossover with the letters… but after that, they were given free reign to let themselves go creatively.”
The two producers responsible for corralling the project were Ant Timpson and Tim League, both of whom had worked with a number of the directors before through their various roles in the industry. Magnolia were no strangers to the directors involved either with their acquisitions team having worked with some in the past, including Jason Eisener, Nacho Vigalondo and Ti West.
One such director was Simon Rumley, whose credits include Little Deaths – a horror anthology with three tales – and Red, White & Blue, who was given the letter P. Rumley decided his word would be Paramaribo – the other words directors chose are being kept under wraps – and while he worked with his usual team, including cinematographer Milton Kam (who was born in Suriname, of which Paramaribo is the capital) and editor Robert Hall, everything else about creating his short was a new experience.
“We didn’t have a production manager; we didn’t have any crew when we went out there and didn’t have any locations, so we were literally starting from scratch. It wasn’t like when I’ve done it in London when you’re making phone calls for a month and spend a week doing it kind of thing; it really required that from scratch ethos,” explains Rumley.
P Is For Paramaribo revolves around a poverty-stricken woman with three children who wants to buy one of them a present for their upcoming birthday but doesn’t have the money. Rumley and his crew shot last August, an experience he describes as a “working holiday”, using around 12-13 locations with two weeks prep time and two-and-a-half days of shooting.
It was a lot of hard work fitting everything in according to the director, but he is excited to be involved in such a project. “I think it’s going to be a no holds barred kind of film; I’m really excited to see the whole finished thing and see how it works,” adds Rumley.
Alongside the established genre names, a contest was also ran online in a worldwide search for the next directing talent. A total of over 170 submissions were whittled down to 13 finalists, with fans being able to vote for their favourite online. The eventual winner was the UK’s Lee Hardcastle for his claymation T Is For Toilet, which will now be included in the anthology alongside the other shorts, which will also include one animated short.
Magnolia will release The ABCs Of Death – which is currently in post-production with some shorts still to be delivered – in the US, through their genre arm Magnet Pictures, and are aiming for October, an auspicious window for genre films.
“Obviously there might be some movement on dates based on post-production but it’s really a very extraordinary endeavour. The production spans 15 countries with 26 directors, one of whom came from the contest we did online. It’s all come together surprisingly smoothly. The shorts have created a truly one-off experience, more than just an anthology.” Adamson notes.
The ABCs Of Death has already sold to the likes of Russia, Germany and Taiwan, and Adamson expects deals to be closed on English speaking territories and other major territories in Cannes this year.
“Interest from distributors has been vigorous to say the least. There is something there to shock, scare and amuse everyone. The film will be an epic cinematic journey through the most exciting minds in genre cinema today.”