Screen chats to make up and special effects designer Paul Hyett about his directorial debut The Seasoning House, which opens FrightFest on Thursday (23).

If you’ve seen the likes of The Descent, Hunger, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll or Attack The Block, you’ll already be familiar with Paul Hyett’s work. A mainstay of the British genre scene, make up and special effects guru Hyett has now taken up directorial duties for his feature debut The Seasoning House.

Receiving its world premiere as the opening film of Film4 FrightFest on Thursday, The Seasoning House takes place in a Balkan brothel where a deaf-mute girl Angel (played by Rosie Day in her first feature role), who cares for the inmates, plans to make her escape after the arrival of the men responsible for slaughtering her family. For Hyett, it was the culmination of a long-gestating dream.

“I’ve worked with a lot of really good directors and a lot of bad ones, been attached to a lot of projects where I thought a really good script was wasted. It just got to a point where I thought I really have to direct now,” explains Hyett. “For me, I want to tell my stories rather than supplement other peoples’. I kept watching directors who didn’t have a vision making average films. I just really wanted to make the film that I had in my head and make it how I visualised it.”

The Seasoning House wasn’t originally going to be that film. Hyett and producer Michael Riley were set to make psychological thriller The Black Site (which Hyett hopes to work on next), but the budget grew to £2.5m and they decided to switch to something lower budget for Hyett’s debut.

With the script written in two to three months, the casting of Angel proved to be an early challenge. “We saw 150 girls and we casted for quite a while. Funnily enough, Rosie was in the last ten we saw and we did think ‘oh my God, we’ve got to find Angel’ and when she came in, I instantly thought she looks perfect.

“Then she started doing the performance and I thought ‘yeah, she’s the one’. We auditioned her and she was great. It was an absolute pleasure to find her and I think she’s done an absolutely great job.”

The Seasoning House

Rosie Day as Angel

And Hyett’s 20 years on film sets proved invaluable when it came to creating The Seasoning House. Having worked with heads of departments working out sequences numerous times, Hyett knew the one main thing that would make his debut run smoothly: be prepared.

“A lot of it is just understanding the logistics of how a film works; a lot of directors these days come along and make it up on the day, which is when you really turn out a very average film. I understood with The Seasoning House [that] I had to be absolutely prepped on how I was going to make this,” recalls Hyett. “Being on a film set, you notice where films slow down and it all comes down to one thing: there’s not enough prep work.”

Hyett was also keen to ensure that everyone knew his vision for the film. “You give them creative freedom, but when they ask you stuff, you need to be able to tell them ‘this is what I want’ and a reference of how I want that done.

“I didn’t want to be one of those directors where when a head of department asks ‘is this OK?’, the worst thing I think a director can say is ‘I don’t know, I hadn’t thought of that’ or ‘I’m not sure’, because it makes that department’s work really hard.”

Yet for all the preparation, Hyett is clear that The Seasoning House – completed just a week before its FrightFest premiere – could only exist because of one thing. “I had a really hard working cast and crew and I couldn’t have done it without them. They were absolutely fantastic.”