A Chat With George Popov, Director of Hex
Film Daddy had the opportunity to speak with George Popov, director and writer of historical horror thriller Hex.
I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me, as expressed in my review of Hex: I really enjoyed the film.
Thank you, I read the review and I agree with pretty much everything that you said. It's good that you’re into that kind of stuff to begin with but I hope there was some stuff in there that also surprised you.
There definitely was and like I said, there are always pitfalls low budget films can fall into, so I was waiting for it. And when it that didn’t happen, I thought “Well that’s good! I’m happy.”
If I must be honest, that’s the trick we tried to play! You’ve got to have a certain expectation of what you think you’re going to have in a low budget horror film, and there are certain tropes that everybody likes to repeat. I tried to put on hints that maybe this is not going to be the case with this one.
At some points, the audience might expect the witch to come out and “RAWR” [Laughs] or that kind of stuff, so and it was pretty fun playing with that expectation. There was a desire to pull the rug from under you and be like, “Well that’s not really what the story is about”.
How did Hex come about, and how did the journey of the film start?
It’s an interesting story because [getting it started] wasn’t the usual way of how we do our things in with scripts and trying to get productions done. We had a project going on for a couple of years when we wrote the script and we wanted to get started, but it it was down to us to sell it and try to direct look for funding and source different avenues when money is involved.
It was taking way too long and time was passing, but it was a story I wanted to tell. At some point we just asked, “What do we have to do? Make a film we want to make ourselves and create our own company?”
We wanted to try and do it that way and see where we go. We wanted to show what we can do, and we wanted the film earlier rather than later.
So where did the story come from?
I’ve always been interested in the whole idea of the English Civil War because I was born in Bulgaria, not the UK, but I think that gave me a bit more of a different perspective of things. [The war] was a very interesting and weird period in English history [in terms of] the government and the law. It was a brother-kills-brother type of war, and full of misunderstandings. It was just a very clear example of how people love to create differences between each other, even when they are not really there.
It wasn’t just a bunch of skirmishes either –– it was incredibly bloody and horrible. Maybe if these people got together and talked about it a little, they would have seen they had way more in common than they had things to separate them. I liked that as an idea for a film but unfortunately, the more and more I looked into it, and the more things they had in common, there were big negatives as well; and that’s where the aspect of Hex comes into it. That was a period where there were strong superstitions, and the religion that united everybody. Anybody considered different was possibly considered a Devil worshipper or witch.
The idea of Hex is to present two soldiers from both sides who try to put away their differences and come together to overcome a circumstance. To me, it was like they are trying to achieve a goal in a very interesting way, and the thing that brings them together is also something negative and born of hatred. I know it’s bleak, but I think in a lot of cases this was common and still is today as well.
That’s a pretty good metaphor to use, as we want to see them succeed and become friends all the way up until the ending scenes of the film –– that’s when you really see what it means. That was the main artistic choice behind it and also, it was things we had access to, and it was a way to tell this story without making it like other low-budget horror movies.
How did you choose the location of the film?
We used a variety of locations all around the Staffordshire and Lincolnshire area, but that was for a couple of reasons. The things that we had access to like costumes, set design, and [other period pieces] was because we worked with these great guys called the Shield Noble, who gave us the access to all the right armor and weapons and tents.
We had great consultants that helped us work and it was all around that area because Johnathan, the producer who also co-wrote the film with me, grew up around there, so he knew places like Cannock Chase. He said, “Let's head everything around that area and see what we have”.
How were the specific set locations chosen –– like the old church, for example?
We started it in the old-school way and went on Google Maps, looked at pictures on the internet, and from there chose ten or twenty places we liked.
We wrote the script having main locations in mind and tried to find similar things; for example, there are two big scenes that take place in a ruined church. We had a few examples of similar churches that were quite different, but the one we chose was secluded, kind of creepy, but also peaceful. It was completely historic and just happened to be burned down by Oliver Cromwell, around when our film takes place.
After that, we did a long location scout to a couple of sets. I really love location scouting as it helps me visualize the film later. I don’t just check locations and say “That looks nice!” –– I walk the scene in my mind, figuring out where the cameras are going to be, more than a storyboard and shot list. Being there and seeing the atmosphere is a bit of a unique approach towards finding locations; or in our case, where I just look for places.
When you finished the film and it was released, how was it received by people?
It came out on Amazon Prime and was interesting, because pretty much all the critics gave it a warm reception. I think they really got what we were trying to do and there were some great reviews –– notably, Kim Newman (who is a critic that I respect a lot) from Empire Magazine. [Newman] gave it a glowing review and we put it on the Blu-ray, because it's impressive that he really got what we were trying to say in the film.
People who know a lot about cinema tend to understand films more, but I think certain parts of the audience were a little bit more split. There were more people that liked it and got what we were doing, but then there were others that I think it went above their head, in a way. But I’m completely fine with that, because I’m doing it as a bit of a trick. You may expect one thing to happen but it doesn’t, and if you’re going for the type of horror film where you know what you’re going to get, then you might be a little disappointed.
I imagine that type of audience saying “I didn’t expect a slower film with atmosphere”. I’m not saying that’s a bad way to think, but I figure if you’re not in the right mood to watch something like Hex, I can see why you would be expecting to see a fight with the Witch at the end. I completely accept that, but the people who really got what we were trying to do embraced that atmosphere –– and it was all positive.
Speaking of great reviews for Hex, has the positive reception opened any new avenues for future films or projects?
Absolutely. I think it's funny as those doors do open, but you’re not always looking at it, and they’ll open behind your back. For example, I am always kind of surprised people were impressed by it. You see how hard it is to make a feature film and I know some directors with great skills, but they haven’t done their first film yet.
I know it took a long time and it was a lot of hard work but at some point I have to stop and appreciate what we have achieved. The distribution company we worked with was very happy with Hex and they want to do the next film as well, so that was a good relationship formed.
Your new film, The Droving, is currently in post-production. Could you tell us anything about it?
It’s about a man named Martin who returns from the military to search for his sister that went missing in the Lake District, during the time of a strange traditional festival in the area called The Droving. Again, it starts off as a plot we might have heard before, but like Hex you are going to see a lot of things you didn’t expect.
Where we filmed there is still a lot of interesting Pagan imagery left, and I felt that was a great setting for a missing person story. And on top of that, it’s even more of a character study than Hex.
It sounds like it’s got a bit of a Wickerman feel about it.
I would say that’s an inspiration for it: the local mystical things and what they mean. We tried to establish a little lore about the festivals that take place. I love the legends and stories –– I’m a big fantasy guy, so I love incorporating those elements into the real world.
It doesn’t matter if its historical or modern day, the lore we have incorporated is made to fit the film.
What plans do you have on the horizon for future projects?
I have a few projects as a director working with other people, because that’s a great avenue to explore and something I’m pushing for.
I want to keep myself fresh instead of doing my own stuff –– you can end up in your own ass sometimes.