Fresh Meat: Rough Cut Set Visit
In a forest in the Lake District a giant lactating worm has enslaved a town and is eating hitchhiking teenagers. Trickster Jamie Shovlin lets us see behind the scenes of his latest meta mind-fuck Rough Cut, a documentary about a film that never was
‘DANGER,’ reads the sign outside an abandoned quarry in the Lake District, ‘KEEP OUT.’ It’s good advice, for inside that mine dwells a giant lactating worm with a taste for human flesh. But the warning’s not been heeded by a young couple, who are scrambling their way through its labyrinth of rock trying to find a safe path into daylight. They emerge out of the cave running through dust and falling debris. They’re bruised and battered. The girl is blond and beautiful, wearing cut-off denims and a plaid shirt tied at her midriff. The boy, in denim flares and purple T-shirt, is handsome and tanned, and is supporting himself on her arm. Then he slips, and a friendly cameraman throws him a hand. CUT!
This is scene 71, slate four of Rough Cut, the latest film from Cornerhouse Artist Film, an innovative project based at the Manchester art-house that supports in the producing, distributing and exhibiting of artists’ feature films. On the warm June day The Skinny visits the set, the film’s small crew are bleary-eyed. The night before, they were shooting an after-dark pursuit of the film’s heroine through woodland in the surrounding Grizedale Forest. It wasn’t the late night that made the shoot so arduous, though, it was the swarms of midges; the crew’s blotchy necks and faces are evidence of the insects’ handiwork. Luckily, today the copious amount of SFX fog spewing from a smoke machine to add horror movie atmosphere seems to be keeping them at bay.
The calm centre of this hustle and bustle is director Jamie Shovlin. The London-based artist, dressed all in black, cuts a rakish figure among his utilitarian crew, who move fast in wrapping up the scene, which turns out to be the final escape sequence. “It’s the first time I’ve done anything like this,” says Shovlin, during the lunch break at a nearby visitor centre. “That’s one of the challenges and the attractions of doing it, it’s entirely new territory – working with up to 30 people who need to understand what you want, and more often than not don’t.”
It’s easy to understand why the crew are struggling to wrap their heads around his vision. The concept behind Rough Cut is multilayered and as slippery as an eel. The film’s genesis goes back to 2005, to a project between Shovlin and writer Mike Harte called Hiker Meat, which itself grew out of another installation, Shovlin’s notorious Lustfaust: A Folk Anthology 1976-1981, an exhibition celebrating the German group of the title. Why was this lovingly assembled collection of memorabilia relating to a krautrock band so notorious? Because it was about as genuine as a politician’s apology. Lustfaust, who Shovlin and Harte had exhaustedly documented, were fake.
Hiker Meat is the 70s horror movie for which Lustfaust supposedly supplied the score. Harte, who named the film (it’s an anagram of his own name), outlined a 300-word plot, which concerns a group of horny campers gathered at a remote town, who are being picked off one-by-one by minions of the aforementioned lactating worm. At that point Shovlin and Harte actually considered making Hiker Meat as a way of adding more credence to the tissue of lies that was the Lustfaust project. Shovlin’s musician friend, Euan Rodger would provide a Goblin-esque score. “Hiker Meat would become this thing that Lustfaust could do as a performing entity,” recalls Shovlin as he spears a piece of lemon cake with his fork. “So it was set up along those lines, but then we thought, What do we do with this film? Do we make an intentionally shit horror? The consensus was that we probably don’t, no one sets out to make a bad film, they just do it by accident.”
They still needed Rodger to create a soundtrack, however; and he would need something with which to set his score. Shovlin’s solution was to piece together a “rough cut” of found footage. “I watched 400 to 500 exploitation films from, roughly, 1968 to 1988, which is kind of the ballpark that this film is pitched within, and collected scenes relating to these activities,” Shovlin reveals. Such is the derivative nature of horror, it was relatively easy to piece together an approximation of a narrative based on Harte’s initial story. “It’s a collection of clichés, or trademarks of the genre,” he explains. “You take a scene, say ‘girl walks into woods’ or ‘boy enters cellar,’ and you’ll find hundreds of films with the same scene.”
Shovlin’s horror-clip rough cut, though, was never intended to be seen by the public. “It was always this thing that was a means to an end, and functioned in this transitory way between Mike and Euan.” The central idea of the project, as with Lustfaust, was that there was “this hole in the centre of it, a hole that was filled by Hiker Meat, which was a thing that never existed but did exist in a kind of transitory form.” And, like Lustfaust, the existence of Hiker Meat was supported by secondary material relating to the film: a poster, props, costumes, etc.
“It’s all about the absence of film” – Jamie Shovlin
It was when the artist was in discussion with Cornerhouse about turning Hiker Meat into an installation that the idea of making a feature was raised. “Initially it seemed to me really illogical to submit this process to filmic form,” he says, “because it’s entirely about film but it’s all about the absence of film.” Slowly he came around, though. Shovlin realised that a documentary – or “metamentary” as he cutely describes it – about the making of a film that never existed would be the perfect form to describe Hiker Meat’s development. “We’d use this film as a kind of means by which to present almost an archaeology of knowledge and information as it transits through the first point we see it, the second point where Mike develops it, the point where I try and make a film from it, and all of the kind of limitations that entailed.”
Shovlin’s finished product does many things. As well as documenting the journey of the Hiker Meat project, it also acts as a witty deconstruction of horror. Like the opening to François Truffaut’s quintessential film about filmmaking Day for Night, Rough Cut pulls back the curtain on the filming process and shows how ridiculous it can be. “If you’re asking a girl, in a nightie, to run through the woods, at midnight, when it’s wet, and it’s covered in tics, and you’re just off camera watching it” – as Shovlin had done on the previous night’s shoot – “you become really aware of the absurdity of the act,” he explains. “That’s one of the things that just keeps jumping out at me: all you need to do to dispel this horror is show the points just before action and just after cut and it all falls down.”
While the behind-the-scenes footage of crew members larking around while they lube up the film’s latex monster takes the piss out of the genre, the film-within-the-film acts as loving homage. From the scenes Shovlin assembled on his original collage of horror clips, which incorporated classics of the genre, like Evil Dead and Friday the 13th, and less well remembered titles like Death Screams and The Deadly Spawn, his team have made convincing facsimiles. The 35-year-old clearly has affection for the halcyon days of the exploitation movie. “By and large, the subject matter in many of those films is awful,” he admits, “but there’s something in the collective endeavour – the kind of will of some strange guy in Tennessee who wants to make a film about a giant worm that lives in the Nevada desert and just finding a way of making it happen.
“And I think that’s kind of more what this is about,” Shovlin continues, “that kind of nod towards that essence of working with people and taking on board everything good and bad that comes with that process.” Would Shovlin, then, like to see some sort of exploitation film renaissance? “It’s not that more people should be making films about giant lactating worms that live in mines,” he laughs. “I’m not sure if they should, but this idea of it not really mattering that you have much money, it not really mattering that you have very limited means to express things to the fullest potential; it’s the fact that you do anyway, and you do it well, and you incorporate all of the mistakes and necessary pratfalls. It seems like a much more humanistic way of making a... I won’t say a film, it could be any kind of collective project.”
Rough Cut is released 6 Dec, and Jamie Shovlin's Hiker Meat exhibition opens at Cornerhouse, Manchester on 17 Janhttp://www.cornerhouse.org