SENSELESS: A Troubled Husband’s Escape From Heartache Becomes A Frightening Escape From Evil
Terror frequently lurks in surroundings that most would consider peaceful, such as the naturally picturesque wilderness. As revealed in the upcoming TrashArts Films, Ltd./HB Films, Ltd. feature film Senseless, the great outdoors becomes a playground for evil when a desperate man (Jason, played by Ryan Carter) escapes from the problems of domestic life and those of his marriage to wife Diane (Ella Palmer) — only to become haunted and hunted by some ghastly inhabitants who now call the woods their home.
Directed by Sam Mason Bell, co-written by Bell and Jackson Batchelor (The Making Of, Right Here Right Now), and with its IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign having raised $2,183 (as of this writing) with 1 week to go in the drive, Senseless is not merely another collaboration for the film’s cast and crew — many of whom have previously joined forces with Bell and Batchelor on other projects for their studio TrashArts Productions.
Provided that conditions remain safe for its production to begin on August 3rd, Senseless will be one of the first feature-length movies to be shot under government-mandated social distancing regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic’s current lull in the United Kingdom.
Of course, that status could change given that the disturbing upward trend of the coronavirus in the United States has rightfully elicited concern among health experts around the world, and because COVID-19 is predicted to come back even worse this winter.
In the meantime, Bell believes that the summer months will offer his team an optimal opportunity to start production of Senseless. Merging the resourcefulness of a low-budget horror film production with the strength of its frightening plotline, Senseless is a movie where the scares are as shocking to the eyes as they are to the mind.
Before audiences will see the finished product at home in 2021, Senseless’ spooky sights and haunting performances will take center stage during the film’s carefully structured shoot.
Assuredly, Bell and Batchelor will stress “safety first” on the set as they encourage cast and crew alike to be at their best while at a distance. Bell recently talked to me about that important element of the project, the path Senseless took from script to screen, and the film’s creepy mix of special effects and elaborate makeup design.
Chris Hadley: What inspired you to make Senseless, and how did you come up with the idea for it?
Sam Mason Bell (director/co-writer/actor, Senseless): We were actually working on a comedy mockumentary for the lockdown, but as the news started to build towards a ‘new normal’ we started to think how could we make a feature horror film that didn’t rely on being a lockdown-based production. I had also always wanted to do a story of one man facing a haunted forest that torments him with his own personal demons. It all came together so quickly. Me and Jackson took a weekend off and wrote the film.
Hadley: Besides the obvious fact of it being a project that Trash Arts will be working on while adhering to social distancing guidelines and undertaking all safety precautions, what sets this film apart from past projects produced by your studio?
Bell: With Senseless, we wanted to make a horror/fantasy (film) mixing elements of surrealism. This film has much more practical effects and ambition than what we have done before, with extensive use of green screen and monsters!
Hadley: Though the production is set to begin in August, what steps are you taking to ensure that the shoot will be safe for the small cast and crew involved?
Bell: I live with Jackson and Ryan Carter, all members of TrashArts, which makes life a lot easier! Ryan is to play the lead whilst Jackson is the (director of photography on Senseless). We also decided to double up playing some of the monsters Ryan sees in the film. This made it a lot easier to not rely heavily on other actors. Although we do have one other role for Ella Palmer, we have restricted it to one-day shooting and have been in constant contact, making sure everyone is comfortable on set.
Our crew from Dazey Hills Productions are one household, and will only do a few days of the shoot. Whatever we can shoot with just us three will be the safer preference. There are no indoor locations in the film which usually would be a bit of a nightmare, but filming in the woods at night seems like a safe bet.
Hadley: How did you find the film’s cast?
Bell: Ryan has been with TrashArts for 10 years or so. He was in my early films The Wasters, EVOL, tHE dRUG Tours, plus The Making of and last year we shot DECLINE. He is a fantastic actor who I’m beyond confident will give the role everything that is needed, plus in my eyes he’s proven he can deliver from the many films we have made. For this particular performance that is very light on dialogue, Ryan has shown he can give all emotions and not force the story forward with his performance.
Ella was in my early features, too. Recently she was to be in a slasher reboot that was set for March but (that film’s production) had to be pushed to 2021. The rest of the cast are myself and Jackson. We wanted to keep (the film’s cast) very small. The film isn’t dialogue-heavy. It’s more following Ryan’s journey and embracing the weirdness.
Hadley: In addition to directing the film, you and your co-writer/cinematographer Jackson Batchelor are also supporting cast members in Senseless. Talk about the characters you play, and where they fit into the story.
Bell: (In) the haunted woods he tries to escape from, the main character Jason is visited by demonic doppelgängers of himself and his wife. Along that journey he meets other monsters, and that’s what me and Jack are playing! I don’t want to give too much away but each monster represents his own inner nightmares.
Hadley: Given the restrictions you and your team will be working under, how will you and Jackson prepare for being on camera as part of the cast while also working behind it?
Bell: Fortunately, me and Jackson only appear in two scenes which have been set on separate days. We’ve decided to take over as (directors of photography) for the scenes Jackson appears as the monster, taking that into consideration when planning shots. Luckily this isn’t something alien to us. On many shoots we’ve had to swap roles to make sure the film’s completed, (and) we (have an) understanding (of) each other’s styles. Recently I had the pleasure to (be the director of photography on)Jackson’s feature directing debut Monstrous.
Hadley: Discuss the special effects that will be involved in Senseless’ production.
Bell: There will be a mix of green screen to represent some of the spectral elements, using a mix of masking and double exposure. Katie Johnson, who is a fantastic make-up artist we have worked with for the last 4 years, (has) currently designed some awesome (monsters). One big sequence which we hope to use all sorts of techniques for, mostly with practical effects is our big Evil Dead-esque scene.
Hadley: The entire film will be shot outdoors in August, but you and your team also have contingencies in place should issues arise during the shoot. Discuss those contingencies and how you will ultimately adapt the production to address any problems that may come up.
Bell: Considering the size of our green screen and the more supernatural element (of) the story, we can move some shooting to green screen and getting nature shots to over-impose. Hopefully we don’t need to do that! Fortunately, adaptations happen along the way with (filmmaking) so we’ll adapt however we need to.
Hadley: If the production is successful, and if the film is ready for release before a projected second wave of the coronavirus later this year, do you feel that the system you put in place for making Senseless could be a template for other low-budget productions made by Trash Arts (and possibly the industry as a whole in Britain)?
Bell: It’s a tricky one to say. For outdoor shooting, perhaps, but not everyone lives with creatives so there’s still limitations. We are pushing all indoor production or (productions with) bigger casts to next year. (That’s) simply the only sensible thing to do, and like I said before, this is simply a way to adapt (to the present situation). Luckily we also happen to (have written) something so different for us and that we all adore. With the guidelines put in place for safe filming, it’ll be easier to abide for outdoor shooting, but right now I’m not convinced (that’ll be the case) for indoor filming.
Hadley: As Senseless is a low-budget horror film, what other movies would you compare it to and in what ways is it similar and/or different from those?
Bell: It’s a hard one to answer. I have films that we aspire (to) and borrow for this, like Mandy (for Jason’s falling into a fantasy world), but I suppose Evil Dead 2 comes the closest not because of the possessions but more (because of) Ash’s own nightmare fighting the house and himself. (He’s) the one main (character) slowly losing it (while) trying to be a hero. I like that idea. You relate to the character, the forced hero. It’s just up to you as a filmmaker how cruel you are to the hero!
Hadley: Who do you think would like to watch Senseless, considering the kind of story it tells in the horror genre and the overall style of that storytelling?
Bell: Horror fans who are open to full-on weirdness and those who love a bit of folklore. We’ve slowly built our own mythology with the world we’ve created, just enough to keep people intrigued and potentially wanting more. I have a few sequel ideas stirring. The film is more arthouse horror, but that’s a very subjective term for the viewers to decide.
Hadley: Overall, what are your hopes for the success of Senseless — not just as a creative project, but also as an experiment in pandemic-era filmmaking and as a piece of visual entertainment?
Bell: Like every film we have ever made, we wanna make something great, something that entertains, makes you think and hopefully deeply disturbs you! Before Senseless we put a lot of focus on lockdown filming and its limitations quickly became very evident. Senseless has returned that creative freedom (to us). Sure, we have limitations but it’s about using ingenuity for those limitations. Exploring more surrealist fantasy has been a blast and a great challenge, (which) leaves me (both) nervous and excited as hell!
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