I was more than impressed with everything concerning The Truth Will Out (review). The Portsmouth based Trash Arts is becoming a prolific producer of low-budget, yet high quality films of the supernatural and horror genres. Low-key, intense and relying on skilled acting and filmmaking techniques rather than jump scares, the team of Sam Mason-Bell and Jessica Hunt give us subtle movies which true horror fans will cherish. Both came up through the ranks of local theater and cinema production and I wonder why the two of them are not worldwide movie icons.
Eric Karell: First of all, my sincere congratulations on The Truth Will Out. I felt the work was impressive in all possible ways. Trash Arts seems to have planted itself firmly in the horror genre. Any specific reason you chose this genre?
Sam Mason-Bell: Personally, I love horror! I have always felt horror is the perfect genre that can look into issues that affect society and create a conversation. Horror also to me works on our most primal instincts, fear will never leave society, being horrified is a universal feeling and that’s so much fun to explore in horror.
Jessica Hunt: I have always loved horror, the genre is a playground with so much to explore.
Eric: Hi Jessica. your character, Kate, captured just about every nuance possible in your performance and never sank into caricature or compromise. How did you accomplish this, with a minimum of effects or explosive action sequences?
Jessica: Kate is based on Hecate, the dark goddess of magic. She is capable of both good and evil, giving her a multifaceted personality. When playing Kate I kept in mind that she plays many roles. She is a protective sister, a rebellious daughter, and most importantly she is a young, powerful witch on a mission! To come out of hiding and own her power.
Eric: What were your greatest influences in film growing up Sam; films, actors and directors in particular?
Sam: I always loved monsters and that instantly drew me to horror films in my teens; particularly A Nightmare on Elm Street. As I got more into horror, I started to get more interested in films that could push social boundaries and truly disturb an audience; such as David Cronenberg’s Crash (1996) and Naked Lunch (1991), Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream (2000), and Michael Haneke’s Piano Teacher (2001).
I was probably too young to fully understand them but they left a deep impact leading me to throw myself into more arthouse nastiness and a deeper interest in psychology. This eventually led me back into my obsessive love for horror, with George A. Romero, John Carpenter, Roman Polanksi, and David Lynch’s work being hugely influential to me. I also have to say Robert Rodriguez is a massive influence, it was never so much his films but his 10 Minute Film School extras, and his book Rebel Without a Crew, that really lit a fuse for aspirations!
Eric: So far, your films have been modestly budgeted, yet technically and acted perfectly. Have you been approached by any “big money” producers or studios who want to work with you on a future project?
Sam: We are very lucky to have worked with a few indie film production companies, HB Films in particular, and have built a strong relationship with Darkside Releasing since 2018. We hope to keep working with other indies and maybe one day the big studios could come calling. I’ve always got my fingers crossed! We are working on scripts with an intention towards a bigger budget and bigger interest, but for now, we’ll keep making small indies and developing Trash Arts further, not just for us but for new filmmakers who join us in the future.
Jessica: We are always talking to amazingly skilled creatives that help bring about future projects.
Eric: Were there any actors you admired Jessica, that helped develop your skills? Do you prefer acting on stage, TV or film?
Jessica: Not for this role, but I researched stories and myths around Hecate’s archetype and then merged that with modern witches that exist today and how they behave in the 21st century.
Eric: Do you prefer acting on stage, TV or film?
Jessica: The stage has its charm as an actor because you rehearse and perform in a very different way. It is wonderful… However, I intend on always working with the camera because you can produce something tangible.
Eric: You both have spent an extraordinary time behind the camera, in multiple roles. Was this by necessity or design and how did you both become a “jack of all trades”?
Sam: It might sound really obvious, but I think the only way to learn to make films is by making films. So to me, a jack of all trades can only help. I started with only wanting to be a director and I didn’t learn anything, jumping into my first feature at 18, and making all the mistakes possible. Mistakes to me are so important in progression and learning. I am glad I have made some terrible first films, as you can only grow from there!
When we started Trash Arts in 2007 we had to take on so many skills simply to learn and build that confidence. I had always been nervous of the fact that I wasn’t a technical filmmaker, and I didn’t want to go to University after college. I just wanted to make films. I wouldn’t do any camera work till 2015 for a 48 hour film challenge, and again I had no choice, no one else was free, and I was terrified! But I learnt that knowing all the technical terms doesn’t matter! It’s just about getting used to the camera, exploring the different settings, and my confidence only got stronger when I won “best cinematography” for that competition.
Now I try to decide what is the best creative approach to each film. I love bringing in other artists and seeing their spin on the work, but for some projects, like our recent film production Acting, I wanted to DOP, edit and direct instead of working with my usual DOP Jackson Batchelor. So now it is down to the design of what works best for each film, that could only happen if we didn’t force ourselves to learn other areas of film making, as much as possible.
Jessica: I’m just a creative storyteller with an idea, so what my role is, depends on the idea driving me. If the story calls for something, you learn how to make it happen.
Eric: I saw The Truth Will Out as a firm pro-woman film. How much of that sentiment drives the narrative or was it secondary to the overall story?
Sam: Haha, oh yes I completely agree with you! For me, it was something that was very important to come across in mine and Jackson’s characters as the film crew. I wanted to show their lack of care and disregard for the victim and being more interested in documenting the scandal to boost there career. Jess wrote these incredibly strong women based within wiccan-lore that contrasted nicely with these weak, power-hungry men.
Jessica: The #MeToo movement heavily inspired this story. Women were taking their power back and we saw many untouchables fall. It is not so much PRO women, as it is a reminder of how heads will roll when the power swings in their favour.
Eric: The dialogue seemed so natural and flowed easily. How much of the film was scripted and how much was improvised?
Sam: Trash Arts tends to work mostly within improvisation, so we write bullet points and then spend time with the actors developing the characters. Improvisation allows a huge amount of collaboration with all the artists involved, so you not restricted by rigid scripted dialogue. Not to say we don’t write or work with screenplays, we just seem to float more naturally to improv. I always like to compare it to how Larry David writes Curb Your Enthusiasm!
Jessica: We worked with a loose script. Some scenes need more rehearsing than others depending on the amount of dialogue required.
Eric: What aspect of filmmaking do you find more challenging: the actual shoot or the post-production process?
Sam: Haha, oh always the production! The production has to be a challenge, otherwise, it’s an utter nightmare in post-production. Last year we shot two films during [UK Covid-19] lockdown: the first, Senseless, was woodland based, which created a lot of new challenges for us, especially with a limited crew and working only nights. In the other film, Home IS Where I Lay, we had an opportunity to shoot in one location, with a cast of two and a crew of 3, but mostly a crew of just
myself haha! It was exhausting, but again I had designed the shots, I had worked with the actors, I knew that I was going to be editing, and those sort of challenges force you to think quickly.
Despite being most of the crew myself, it was still a collaborative project and our minds were only on making the best film possible. I think we learnt a lot of that mentality from constant years of film festival challenges such as the DV Mission 48 Hour Film Challenge that takes place every year in my hometown of Portsmouth. Now that’s some good film education!