Nick Cole’s There’s Someone In The Garden sees a wannabe internet famous magician accidentally awaken a demon during the livestream of his latest trick. It’s a short film which caught our eye through its clever embrace of budgetary restraints and special effects wizardry, resulting in a playful update on the demonic resurrection narrative. Twelve Cabins spoke with Cole amidst There’s Someone In The Gardens’s film festival journey to discuss his influences, adapting his ideas to fit his budget, and creating his very own Necronomicon.
How did you come up with the idea of an amateur magician accidentally waking the dead?
I wrote a very different short when I was at university, it was still called There’s Someone in the Garden but it involved four friends who has to defend their house from a serial killer, each character had their own unique trait and one of them was a magic enthusiast, and that’s as far as the magician aspect originally went. A few years ago I revisited the idea and tried to rewrite it into a new film. I took the magician element and the title from the early short as they were my favourite elements from re-reading the script. From there the script went through several iterations with varying characters and grand locations, after writing several drafts I realised it was becoming unrealistic to be able to actually make the film without a big budget. After that realisation I stripped back everything and left the very basic idea, a magician who has a book and accidentally raises a demon, in doing that the film became more feasible. I added the live streaming of his trick as a way for the character to perform the trick without having to have a large crowd and a stage, just needing a laptop and a living room. So it took a lot of rewriting and strategic thinking to get the film that was made.
I was really impressed by the level of production design considering your budget. How did you approach your special effects? Did you have a specific design in mind for your demon?
The majority of the special effects were in the script, so from the base I had a general idea of what shots were going to have effects in them and what we needed to do to achieve them. There were some things that we wanted to do practically such as the ground opening up and the lights flickering then turning red, so having that in mind it we made sure all the lights we had were on dimmers and we had the right gel’s for the different stages, we also had planned lighting cue’s which I called out during the take so we knew exactly when the lights needed to change and for how long, so from the practical side it was careful planning to make sure we had the right tools and getting the timing down. With the VFX side we had specific shots that we knew we wanted so it was making sure there was enough information in the shot so that it could be executed in post with little trouble. For example the scratches disappearing, we shot the book itself then did a plate of a blank page so that we could merge them together. We had the scratches over the words and in post had to remove them. However, I did learn in post-production that it would have been simpler to add the scratches digitally rather than take them away, I learnt a lot of lessons for VFX on this film as it was my first film to use VFX.
The idea for the demon originally was a tall silhouetted figure with long arms and legs that towered over everything, we couldn’t convincingly make the long limbs look natural so we opted to go for a silhouetted figure with long fingers, the idea being that the demon is just a void of darkness with no discernible features. When we got into post-production we came up with the idea that the demon would be surrounded in black smoke as if it’s perpetually burning and the VFX artist did a great job making the texture of the black smoke really stand out. Another great learning experience is that we had the actor in a black suit with the idea to darken it, which actually proved tougher to do than I originally thought, if I were to do it again I would put him in a green suit so we could do more in post.
Could you walk us through the creation and execution of those exterior resurrection shots?
When I wrote the resurrection shot I had a specific idea in mind how I wanted it to look. For reference I used The Evil Dead as there is a part in it where the ground is moving up and down and glowing red. I wanted the ground to open up like a crack in the earth with bright light and thick white smoke emanating from it. From that idea I had meetings with the members of the art department and we talked about what I wanted and how I wanted it to look on camera and from their they made a really simple yet really effective method which was a large cardboard box that had artificial turf layered across the top of it, they then cut a slit in the top and attached fishing wire to either side of the slit. A hole was then cut at the base of the box which fit the opening of the smoke machine so we were able to pump smoke from underneath the box so when it opened the smoke filtered out as if the ground was letting the smoke out. We also placed an LED toplight in the bottom of the box for the lighting effect. It was a really cool way to do something practically and cheaply but still get a great effect in camera.
When it came to shooting we had the camera on a high-hat so the lens was level with the top of the box and we lined the shot up so the artificial turf looked at the same level as the actual garden, we then dressed it with leaves to match the rest of the grass. The fun part was we had two crew members laid down either side of the box and they pulled the fishing wire to open and close the box to my cue’s. The hand coming out of the ground was done in post production by the VFX artist. I filmed my hand rising up against a green screen and It was keyed out and placed into the shot in time with the opening and closing of the ground.
Similarly, how did you set out to create the book? Did you work with a prop designer? Definitely some Evil Dead vibes there!
The book was a really awesome part of making this film. It was a fun homage to the Necronomicon from The Evil Dead, so that was the basis of what I wanted to achieve. I did a lot of research with the art director looking at lots of different books and styles and sizes. The main thing was the size of the book and that the cover would stand out. I went to car boot sales and bought as many old and weathered books in the style and colour I wanted to compare and find the right size. I then made the spell by writing it out in English and then used an amalgamation of languages to create the full spell. Once we had the spell and the right book I left it to my talented art director who freehanded the drawing of the monsters, we also found a style of font we wanted and freehanded their own version of the font to create the full double page that we see. It was a really collaborative effort and I think the end product looked fantastic and it was really cool to create my own Necronomicon.
What is it that attracts you to the horror genre in general?
I love that the horror genre can be so versatile, there are so many different styles, tones, feelings, I find it the most exciting genre. I love being scared and on the edge of my seat and since I started making films, the things I enjoy most are figuring out how the films are made. I’m a big fan of Ari Aster and his movies are powerhouses in the horror genre for me. The way he tells the story is so unique and clever. With Hereditary I love how the film starts as a family tragedy drama and transcends into a full blown supernatural horror. Horror can be anything, it can make you feel scared, nervous, uneasy or straight up mortified and it fascinates me how filmmakers can do this using their talents and very creative and intricate techniques.
Can we expect another horror short from you in the near future?
Yes, I have a draft of a new short written and I am currently in the process of writing a short with a writing partner that we hope to get made in the near future. They are both horror shorts and they are very exciting. I am going to spend the next few months getting the scripts into the best places I can and try and get them made.