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North East director gets his teeth into movie industry with horror film debut

Northumberland-set vampire horror movie Bloodlust is picked up by US company and UK distributor for DVD release in February

Richard Johnstone, directing, on the set of Bloodlust which was shot in Northumberland in just four weeks
Richard Johnstone, directing, on the set of Bloodlust which was shot in Northumberland in just four weeks

A horror film made on a micro budget in Northumberland in just four weeks will be released on DVD next month after being picked up by a Canadian company and a UK distributor.

Bloodlust sees North Tyneside director Richard Johnstone make his feature film debut with a labour of love he has been working on for years, during which he married, celebrated the birth of two children and moved house three times.

Getting his vampire flick off the ground to reach that fast-and-furious filming stage was hard enough then the 41-year-old, accompanied by producer Steve O’Brien, 51, braved some of the toughest competition when they pitched it at Cannes Film Festival in 2013.

But touting it around, trying to drum up financial interest, is what set the ball rolling for the pair, both former Newcastle College students, who run Newcastle-based company 24:25 Films.

A scene from Bloodlust, which was made in Northumberland on a micro budget, which is being released on DVD in February
A scene from Bloodlust, which was made in Northumberland on a micro budget, which is being released on DVD in February
 

Richard said: “Part of the battle is raising money - making the film is the easy part even though that’s still a struggle - and the remaining battle is to get it out there.

“There are even big-budget Hollywood dramas that don’t get released or finished and are left on the shelf so to have this out is a great achievement especially in a market over-run with horror products.”

Bloodlust, shot at Featherstone Castle in Haltwhistle with a cast including local talents and actors from as far afield as Australia and Syria, centres around 10 couples who sign up to undergo medical testing for a month but fall victim to vampires.

It was financed purely through fund-raising and private investors but the filmmakers did not reveal its micro budget while doing the rounds at Cannes. The quality result, thanks to painstaking care over digital effects, was taken to cost far more than it did.

“Most low-budget horrors are shot on handheld cameras and look shaky, not slick and professional,” said Richard who lives in Whitley Bay with wife Andrea, also 41; five-year-old daughter Neve and son Charlie, three.

Director Richard Johnstone and producer Steve O'Brien at the Cannes Film Festival promoting their film
Director Richard Johnstone and producer Steve O'Brien at the Cannes Film Festival promoting their film
 

Their DVD deal came on the back of Cannes as the two filmmakers, who also pursue individual projects, followed up on interest, accepting the offer of money up-front from Cinemavault - a Canadian picture sales company specialising in distinctive independent feature films - which took on the role of intermediary to sell on the film.

Re-named from its original title Bloodless - “Cinemavault thought Bloodlust a stronger horror title and I thought ‘if they’re going to sell it I don’t care what they call it’,” said Richard - it was given a platform at the Berlin film festival market but did not find a distributor.

“At that time of the year distributors tend to hang on to their wallets; they want to see what else is out there,” said Richard.

There followed a return to Cannes then the American Film Market before a deal was struck with UK distributor 101 Films, finally bringing the good news of a DVD release date of February 9.

After years of making well-received shorts and collaborating with Steve on dramas, corporate videos and adverts, Richard is delighted to be finally making his feature film debut.

It’s taken six years in total,” he said. “My wife has been very patient and supportive throughout the whole process and supported me in my career - which is just as well considering the timescales!

“I was frustrated by the amount of time it took but I had the belief we would get it out there - I just didn’t know when.

A scene from Bloodlust, which was made in Northumberland on a micro budget, which is being released on DVD in February
A scene from Bloodlust, which was made in Northumberland on a micro budget, which is being released on DVD in February
 

“But then Ghandi took Richard Attenborough 25 years to make!”

Bloodlust has now a film festival premiere in Portugal, where the filmmakers held a question and answer session and sat anxiously as it was watched by a room of strangers. “It went down really well,” said Richard who added of its appeal: “A lot of people like horror films and the genre hasn’t quite reached saturation point - and ours is done differently.”

The DVD, which is available to pre-order on Amazon, is slightly shorter than Richard’s original so he’d like a chance to show his director’s cut on home turf.

“We have a good relationship with Tyneside Cinema. It would be nice if they would show it for a week’s run.”

Next it will be full focus on his second feature ShortFellas, another project long in the pipeline which has famous face Warwick Davies, 3ft 6in star of the Harry Potter film franchise, on board in the tale of a group of dwarfs planning a diamond heist.

Its trailer was taken along to Cannes at the same time as Bloodlust and immediately caught the attention as Richard and Steve unwittingly pitched it at the festival hours after a real-life heist when £1m of jewels destined to be worn by film stars on the red carpet were stolen from a hotel safe.

A scene from 24:25 Films' Shortfellas, acomedy drama about five dwarfs who pull off a diamond theft, starring Warwick Davis, second from right
A scene from 24:25 Films' Shortfellas, acomedy drama about five dwarfs who pull off a diamond theft, starring Warwick Davis, second from right
 

Davies is signed up as both executive producer and star of the comedy-drama which sees the dwarfs turn to crime to pay for a lifesaving operation for a young girl.

“Initially ShortFellas was going to be my debut feature but investors get nervous if you haven’t done a feature film before,” said Richard who is now also exploring TV possibilities for it.

“Warwick is currently to arrange a meeting with ITV to see if it can be a one-off 90-minute drama.

“We’ve been trying so long I just want to get it made and out there. And some films made for TV still go on general release - like The Full Monty which was a one-off TV movie that then got picked up.

“If we have no luck with the TV route then maybe we can try the Kickstarter campaign. A few films get made that way and Warwick will do everything he can to help.

“So there are a couple of options and we’ll try to push it hard and make it this year.”

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