Indie Spotlight - Never Have I Ever - An Interview with Damon Rickard

Friday 13 October 2023

Plot: An incident from Sam’s youth resurfaces in ways he couldn’t imagine and starts a series of events that send his life spiralling out of control.

Full synopsis: Sam is having a bad day. He is battling an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, he is late on a deadline for a writing gig and risks having to pay back an advance he can’t afford to when a series of strange things start happening to him. A chance encounter whilst drowning his sorrows sends his already bad day spinning in directions he couldn’t possibly have seen coming. All roads lead back to an incident from his youth and a butterfly effect which sees him embroiled in a continually escalating game of never have I ever.

Today on The Northern Film Blog I am shining the spotlight on a project currently in production from award winning writer / director Damon Rickard. 

Never Have I Ever will be a character driven thriller/horror that will keep the audience guessing as to where its going right up to the shocking end. More information about the project can be found on Kickstarter here
I had the opportunity to interview Damon about this upcoming project and about his journey in the world of filmmaking in general -I hope you enjoy our chat! 

1. How did Never Have I Ever come about? 
So, it started a year ago at FrightFest 2022 from a semi drunken conversation in The Phoenix Arts Club which is where we go for post film drinks. That day we’d seen two films which both featured the Never Have I Ever game and we talked about something which had an escalating version of that. A bit like the film Cheap Thrills (which if you haven’t seen yet then I highly recommend you do). 

So, I really liked the thought behind it but didn’t feel the idea would hold a full feature film but this thought of it being incorporated into a more complex storyline just wouldn’t let go. So, following the festival I went home and wrote the first draft in about a week. Normally I like to let things sit and then come back to them, so I did that with this. But I did get in touch with Beatrice Fletcher who liked the draft and so has been on attached since the beginning. Then earlier this year I revisited it and started on some re-writes. Put it away again and thought I’d come back to it at some point as there is another script which I’ve been working on for some time that I really want to get made but it’s a much higher budget. Anyway, at FrightFest this year I was watching a friend’s film called Lore and saw Andrew Lee Potts and it just hit me square in the face that he was the one for the lead in Never Have I Ever. So, I thought I’ll contact him after the festival get a Kickstarter set up as it was doable on a low budget and get it made in the new year sometime. 

So, Andrew agreed to read the script and really liked it. But he only had availability at the beginning of December as he was embarking on directing his own film. With more than a little good fortune my director of photography Jack Ayers was also available at the same time, so I said alright let’s put this together in 3 months! And here we are!! 

Sorry, that was a really long winded way to answer that. Should have gone with; Got drunk, had a chat, wrote a script then foolishly decided to make it in a really short space of time!

2. What are the main benefits and challenges to making a film on a small budget?
Ooh this is tough but great question. The challenges are pretty much standard. You don’t have the funds to get all the toys kit wise so have to rely on what you already have with renting a few other bits. You have to have a limited crew, cant be quite as picky over locations, you even have to think long and hard about how to feed everyone. Plus, you can’t pay everyone what they would normally earn or what they deserve. So you do need people to drop their fees a little but no one is being asked to do this for “exposure”. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have lots of good people around me who want to help make this and I am so thankful for that. 

But the biggest thing you have to sacrifice is time. Every day you shoot is a huge drain of money. So, with limited money comes limited shoot days. Means you don’t get as many takes as you might like; you can’t spend time getting coverage - basically covering a scene from various angles to make sure you have edit points or even just getting cut aways as when you come to put it together it doesn’t always edit as you had planned. 

The biggest benefit for me is that you are doing it independently. Which means you get final say, its entirely in your control. And you live and die by your sword. I have also worked with crews from 25 people down to 5. And I prefer having less people as it feels more intimate and like you’re creating something with some great mates. So, less money forces you to have less crew. It also makes you work creatively to try and overcome obstacles and I’m very used to having had to do that with my short films – something always rears its head to say, “hey I’m gonna try and mess this all up”. 

3. Why should people back your Kickstarter
Because I feel like I’ve got a really good script sitting there waiting to be put on the screen. One of the casts called it “gripping” and another said when they read scripts normally, they get a few pages in and put it down and read it over a few days but they read this in one go. And I’ve had fans of my short films asking when I’m going to get a feature out. The biggest problem has been money and so the two worlds collide. And I think there’s some good rewards on there too. Not least we have a poster and a Blu-Ray which will have artwork limited to Kickstarter backers being done by the legendary Graham Humphreys (who did the original Nightmare On Elm Street poster). There’ll be different artwork for any official releases. 

4. What was the last film you saw at the cinema?
Last film I saw was Saw X. Which as far as Saw films go was one of the better ones in the franchise. But the one I really want to see is The Creator. 

5. To go with the previous question, what was the last indie project you saw? 
So, the last one was How To Kill Monsters at Dead Northern, but I did also see it at FrightFest. It’s a really good fun gore fest. Totally over the top and nuts. But super enjoyable. So, in terms of one I hadn’t seen before then it was also at Dead Northern and was Haunted Ulster Live. I had no expectations of it but they smashed it. It’s funny, creepy, clever and really replicates that 90’s TV show feel. It’s inspired by Ghostwatch and it could have just been a fan service film which missed an opportunity but instead it was one that really grabbed that opportunity by the horns and not only gave you the fan service but also made it very much its own thing. 

6. Outside of filmmaking what are you passionate about?
Three main things. Music, cooking and football. Whilst I grew up in the 80’s so have a massive affection for all that music (and 80’s horror of course), my go to genre is definitely the rock / metal side. And am an avid Download attendee. My cooking is home cook fine dining and I’ve even spent a day cooking in a Michelin restaurant. And then there’s football and I’m an Everton supporter for my sins so I think the less spoken about them at the moment the better. 

7. What inspired you to get into filmmaking? 
So, my dad got my passion for films burning from a very young age. He sat me down in front of the likes of Jaws, Creepshow and Texas Chainsaw Massacre when I was 7. But it was The Thing which I saw when I was 10 that really ignited my interest in the process. The FX in that film blew me away and it was then I started reading Fangoria and Gorezone to read about how they are made. Back then it wasn’t exactly cheap to get hold of a video camera, so I’d rent one every now and then and make really rubbish short films. Did one with some friends when we were supposed to be studying for our GCSE’s called Evil Twin. It’ll never see the light of day as its truly awful. But then as got older, life got in the way but the passion for it never died. The advent of the digital age really opened up filmmaking to everyone and so I then started writing some scripts. Always wrote things I’d never be able to make as their scale was just too big. But one day 10 years ago, my friend Alex who I met working in a video store when I was 19, gave me this script he’d written called The Tour. He was working as a trailer’s director for channel 4 at the time so had access to great crew plus the knowledge of everything, we needed to not just make a film but make it look like a big production. He asked if I wanted to direct it with him and I jumped at it. Went off and booked two actresses from America to give our film a bit of immediate presence there and so gave us no choice but to get it all put together. 

8. What advice would you give to any budding directors looking to break into the world of filmmaking? 
Write something that is possible to make. Looking for projects or writing grand ideas just makes it harder to get started. Keep it simple but effective. So, find your hook, find your characters and build from there. Filmmaking is expensive but a script is free. If you don’t have any access to money then as you’re writing thing about what costs – locations, actors, crew, time. And try and limit those costs as much as you can. But more than that, surround yourself with good people. A director has a vision, but he needs a talented cast and crew to bring that vision to life. If you need to start small, then you can get students to work on it. They’ll love the opportunity and they’ll be hungry to make a name for themselves. You don’t need to pick the first one you see – get a sense of their abilities. The one to be most careful about is the sound. Make sure you get the right sound person. You can get away with a film looking less than shiny and perfect, there are loads of successful examples of that. But you can’t get away with it sounding bad.

 9. What has been the highlight (or one of the highlights) of your career so far? 
So I think the main highlight was the first short The Tour. It was one of the best weekends I’ve had. We landed an incredible location and the shoot was just a blast. We also got accepted into FrightFest which was the dream. But the film just grew from there – I got to go to Screamfest in LA and play at the Chinese Theatre on a huge screen, made some lifelong friends through the shoot and the festival circuit. 

But then recently I was asked to make the Turn Off Your Phone idents for FrightFest which is a short funny film that plays at the beginning of the festival as a way to remind people to keep their phones silenced. Someone who doesn’t do that always gets killed in the ident. And it plays on the IMAX screen in Leicester Square. It's hard to say how amazing it is to see your work on that screen! 

10. Either the easiest or hardest question of all; What is your favourite film? 
So, there’s sort of two answers to this. My favourite film is True Romance – I just adore it. Went to a friend’s wedding as Clarence, where the dress code was fancy dress as a film character. I can remember so clearly seeing that at the cinema – where like so many great films, it was a flop at the time. It was in central London; I was with my girlfriend at the time and there was us and one other person in the screen. And there were scenes in it that just me goosebumps of enjoyment. I smiled the whole way through. 

Then there’s the second answer. My obsession with this one, most people would probably say it’s weird I don’t call it my favourite. I’ve got 12 limited steel book versions of it, various other 4K and Blu-Ray versions, posters, tattoos, socks, hoodies, my phone cover, stickers, mouse mats and about 20 t-shirts of it plus more. Honestly, it’s hard to move around in my house without bumping into something related to the film. Which is The Thing. As I’m answering this, I even question myself why I don’t feel it’s my favourite. Its head and shoulders my favourite horror film. But I think it’s the impact it had on my life overall. Firmly getting me into the horror genre, getting my excited to learn about the process and really you could say it shaped a lot of what came next for me up to this very day. And that gives it something indescribably special to me that, and this will sound super pretentious, transcends it being simply my favourite film. It’s my most important film. 

Thank you again to Damon for reaching out and I hope you all check out more about Never Have I Ever and consider backing this exciting new project. 

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