Matthew J. Lawrence – Writer/Director of Coven of Evil

Q: First up, how about a little bit of background on the man behind Macabre Pictures, how did you get into the industry?
I’ve always been into films for as long as I can remember, particularly horror. As a kid I wanted to grow up to be a special effects artist as I loved the practical effects and monsters but I wasn’t very good at making things so that probably wouldn’t have worked out. Also, Hollywood and the movie industry seemed very far away, so as I got older I never really thought of it as a career path.

I didn’t study filmmaking at Uni, but I did hang out with people who did and I helped out on a bunch of student films. But it wasn’t until much later when filmmaking equipment became more affordable in the mid naughties that I started really considering making my own films. I co-founded Macabre Pictures with Screenwriter David Ross, who is a good friend of mine.  

Q: You produced a couple of films before your Directorial debut in 2012, how did they come about?
Some of my early credits were producing roles for a friend of mine, Jemshaid Ashraf who I’d met whilst on a work experience placement at the BBC. These were extremely low budget and we were just learning really. But we were able to get them released and I’m very proud of that.

Q: You’re first Directing gig was Tied in Blood, how did that come about?
David Ross and I had made a few short films together which we didn’t put on IMDb or promote very much as they were just to cut our teeth. Tied in Blood actually started out as a short film but quickly became something bigger. We brought in another production company, Rotunda Films to handle finance, production and distribution. As a first time Director, I was glad to have Rotunda’s support and I learned a lot from them.

Q: You then made a few shorts, what were the main differences for you from the feature?
For me, the main difference is that it is much harder to get a feature film off the ground, particularly in terms of raising the money. After Tied in Blood I took some time off filmmaking to start a family and when I returned I wasn’t really in a position to start making a feature straight away so I started making shorts instead and I was fortunate enough to have some great experiences doing so.

Q: More recently you’ve moved back to features, how did the newer ones happen?
Coven of Evil marked my return to feature films. The inspiration came from Executive Producer Warren Croyle who gave me the title “Coven of Evil” and asked me to pitch a logline for it. I decided to reverse engineer the film, building a story around the actors, locations and resources that I had access to. I was fortunate enough to grow up in the glorious Yorkshire moors so this became the backdrop for Coven of Evil.

Q: What have been the main challenges for you as an independent Horror producer trying to make films in the UK?
I imagine the challenges I face as an independent filmmaker in the UK are similar to anyone working outside the Hollywood system: raising finance and securing distribution is difficult and there’s a smaller pool of local cast and crew to collaborate with. However, on the plus side, you can retain more creative control and the local community can be very supportive. 

Q: Your latest film is Coven of Evil, on Amazon Prime… how did you arrange that distribution?
Coven of Evil was funded through pre-sale financing. We raised the money to make the film by selling the distribution rights in advance. This kind of thing is very rare nowadays. I was only able to do it because I had a pre-existing relationship with the distributor who released my first film “Tied in Blood”. It’s a risky thing for distributors to give an advance to a film that hasn’t been made yet and the budget was kept really low to mitigate this risk.

Q: You used a variety of writers, how and where have you found them/their scripts?
A number of the scripts were written by David Ross, my co-founder at Macabre Pictures. I’ve always enjoyed working with David. We bounce ideas of one another really well and each of us is able to challenge the other to get the best out of him. The other writers I have worked with were people I met on various filmmaking networks such as Mandy and Shooting People.

Q: You’re also credited as Writer on the last couple of films, what prompted adding this new string to your bow?
I think that one of the reasons my collaborations with David Ross worked so well is that he’s always been able to write around locations and resources that we have access to, which makes it a lot easier to get the script made. Unfortunately, David has hung up his boots, at least for now while his kids are young, although we are still good friends. After a few failed collaborations with other writers, I decided to try developing my own scripts sticking to the principle of writing around my resources. I’ve very much enjoyed it but I certainly don’t rule out working with other writers in the future.

Q: Out of your multiple hats, which do you prefer?
My favourite role is Directing, with Screenwriting as a close second. As with a lot of indie filmmakers, I wear the other hats out of necessity. One area where I’d like to have more support going forward is on the producing side. Producing yourself is fine in the early stages of pre-production but once you start shooting, it’s really difficult to wear both the Producer’s hat and the Director’s hat at the same time.

Q: What’s next on the slate?
I’m in development on a short horror film called “Look Deeper” which is about a man who is spending the night with a married woman and then her husband comes home. It’s a dark and twisted tale and doesn’t resolve in the way that you’d expect. We’re intending to give the film a very stylised look and we are drawing influence from some of the Giallo films, particularly some of Mario Bava’s work (like Blood and Black Lace). It should be a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to it.

I’m also working on the concept for a feature film, but I can’t say too much about that yet. It’s something I’m very excited about, but it’s quite ambitious so there’s no guarantees it’ll get greenlit.

Q: And what changes have you seen in the industry since you started?
Improvements in technology have made it easier for very low budget films to achieve better production values as well creating more opportunities for distribution through streaming. However, this has also brought about a lot more competition so it’s harder than ever before to get your film seen and to make money. Still, on balance, I think it’s a better time to be a filmmaker now then when I first got started.

Okay, now for some getting to know Joey questions…

Q: Fave movie?
That’s a difficult one, I’m going to go with The Exorcist but if you asked me on a different day, you might get a different answer.

Q: Fave script?
The Sixth Sense

Q: Best and worst filmmaking advice you’ve had/heard
I can’t recall being given any really bad advice. I’ve certainly made my fair share of mistakes, but I don’t think these came from taking bad advice so I suppose I’ve been lucky in that regard. 

I’ve been given plenty of good advice over the years:

  • For very low budget films, craft the film around the resources you have access to. 
  • Make sure to surround yourself with collaborators who are not only talented but are passionate about and committed to the film you are making.
  • Remember Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Keep calm and try to keep going.
  • From a technical standpoint, make sure you record clean sound. Audiences (and distributors) are more forgiving when it comes to picture quality than they are with sound. Try and find a sound recordist who knows his or her stuff! This goes for both production sound and post (including ADR). 
  • You’re likely to get some criticism and negative reviews, particularly for your early films, so don’t let these discourage you. Learn from the constructive criticism and disregard the rest. Don’t worry about the opinions of people who you would never seek advice from!

Q: Fave food?
Steak (medium rare)

Q: Fave drink?
If it’s with my steak, then a nice glass of red wine. Otherwise, I’m happy with a beer or whiskey (single malt).

Q: Fave sport and team if applicable?
I love football and I’m a Crystal Palace fan.

Q: Fave thing to do outside of film related stuff?
I’m a family man and enjoy spending time with my wife and two young daughters.

Q: Any final words of advice to the aspiring writers and filmmakers out there?
I think the best way to approach independent films is to try and find a sweet spot between the kind of films you love to watch and what you can realistically get made (and hopefully sold) with the resources available to you. Also, as long as you are doing your best, don’t be too hard on yourself because making films is tough!

Q: Where can people find you online?

Thanks for the interview Matthew, Coven of Evil can be found on Amazon Prime!

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