Q1. Dean, it’s wonderful to have you with us for this Q&A. Please tell us about your humble beginnings as a writer-director?
Hi there. Thanks a million for the opportunity to talk with you. I’ll be honest, it is quite liberating sitting on this side of the table (so to speak) as I’ve been interviewing a lot of authors myself recently so it’s great to be answering questions rather than asking them!
Where did it all start for me? I guess College. If I remember correctly I hadn’t written anything serious up to that point but one day, after playing football and whilst getting ready to go out for a few drinks, I had a compunction to put pen to paper (or finger to key, I suppose, would be more accurate) and wrote a short story called Weird. I submitted it to the College magazine, the editor accepted it and over the three years I was there I wrote something like thirty stories—all of which were published! These then formed the basis of my first collection which was released not long after I left University by an indie publishing house which is sadly no longer with us. As an aside, I was re-reading the book the other day and at some point in the future I’d like to re-release it, possibly as a ‘redux’ with a couple of new stories thrown in for good measure. And saying that, that first story Weird, I did a reading of it at a friend’s literary/ music festival in London recently and it went down quite well (one of the attendees approached me afterwards saying how inspiring it (and I!) was – which made me smile)—so much so that I did a quick polish and it will soon be appearing in Gruesome Grotesques: Volume 5 The Outer Limits published by Trevor Kennedy’s TK Pulp.
When that first collection came out I was living in a house in West London with a group of friends—we’d all just graduated and instead of returning to our home towns/cities we decided to make a go of it in the ‘big smoke’. I was now a published author, they had to get normal 9-5 jobs, so every day when they left the house to go to work they’d walk past me as I was sitting in a chair in the hallway eating my bacon sandwich and having a cup of tea, literally waiting for ‘Hollywood’ to come knocking at the door. How naïve hey? You won’t be surprised to hear that it didn’t. After a couple of months, having run out of money and with a very sore backside, I had to get myself a temporary job. Cleaning airplanes at Heathrow Airport! That was a serious eye-opener and is probably the main reason I don’t fly anymore. Plenty of inspiration for future works though for sure.
Also at College, a couple of friends and I bagged a camera and some lights and decided to shoot a short film one weekend. Alcohol fuelled us that’s for certain. It was called The Cage and was definitely some esoteric pretentious nonsense but it was a laugh and I caught the bug. I do remember one of my house-mates returning after a few days away to find an actor in a metal cage we’d built for the shoot…she burst into laughter, switched on the television to watch some awards show or something… she hadn’t even realized (or noticed!) the cameras were rolling…she lit up a joint, passed out not long after and so we had to move our set to a different part of the house .Ah, the joys of indie film making. To this day I couldn’t really tell what the story was about (I didn’t write it, don’t worry) but I enjoyed the directing aspect.
After College life took over and it was a little while until I was able to direct again. First came a number of plays (short and full length) we did on the London stage (most of which I wrote, directed AND produced) including Clive Barker’s Frankenstein In Love. Then (and now I suppose) I won’t claim to be the best ‘technical’ director in the world but I love working with actors and the feedback I receive suggests they love working with me (in the main anyway ha ha!).
Because of the plays, I began to have a stable of actors around me and we moved into making a series of (what I will call) experimental shorts. A friend then asked me to direct a short film based on a story she’d written. She also produced and it wasn’t always easy but I and one of the actors re-watched it recently and you know what? It isn’t half bad. Of course it can be improved but there is some intriguing stuff in there.
During that time we got close to making features, very close in fact but there a came a point where I decided to concentrate on my own short stories/books so put the films on the back-burner.
However, I slowly returned to it and won awards for a couple of short scripts I’d written. Through them, in May 2015, I was introduced to a French writer when I was in Cannes at the film festival. From the conversation we had (over Karaoke!) I agreed to move to France and write a movie with him. It was a French historical story and it took us about nine months to write but it also won some awards and is now being developed as a TV series.
I was lucky that in 2017 I returned to directing with a short film called 15. This did the festival circuit and won Best European Film at the Malta International Film Festival. For the same producer (Neil O’Neil/Midas Light) I’m now slated to direct a low-budget comedy feature film. Also, at this year’s Cannes I signed a deal to write/direct a werewolf film which we will be shooting in the Ukraine on an already purpose built set. How amazing is that?
Busy…extremely busy…but happy times.
Q2. You are a filmmaker, author, scriptwriter and editor. How do you manage to balance all these fields?
I have to be honest, it’s not always easy especially now with the added ‘pressure’ of setting up and running my own publishing house DEMAIN. At this moment in time I have a number of commissions on the go whether they are scripts, stories, books or prepping for the next film.
As you can imagine I’m sure, the day has to be extremely structured. I’m currently working seven days a week and probably thirteen hours each day on average. Slowly I’m chipping away at everything though which is great and I know the hard work will be worth it in the end. I noticed though that even having a few hours away from the laptop can set me back several days—can you believe that? It sounds insane but that’s the truth right now.
I’m looking in 2020 to bring someone in to help me even if it’s just covering some of the admin (as there are so many emails I have to read/answer on a daily basis!) and perhaps helping with the updating of social media, etc., as that can take up a huge chunk of the day. As we talk it also looks like I’ve agreed to co-compile/co-edit a YA horror anthology for publication in 2021. If this comes off we will have to be at the top of our game as there could be some massive names attached.
Right now I have three screenplays on the go which I hope to finish over the next month or so. I admit I’m overworked right now BUT in the current climate I don’t think it’s wise to turn work down. I do need a break, I know that, and hopefully I’ll take that in the New Year.
I won’t complain (not too much anyway ha ha) as this is the life I chose and one I feel honoured to live.
Q3. Tell us the story behind your publishing house, Demain Publishing.
Over the years I’ve worked with some cracking indie-publishers and hope to do so again in the future. During that time I’ve been able to build up quite a network of fellow writers who I’ve been able to turn to over and over again (of which I’m incredibly grateful!) and several times I’ve been asked whether I would ever considering setting something up myself. The answer to that was always no mainly because I didn’t have the time and to some extent I didn’t have the inclination either.
But in 2018 a situation arose where I was involved in a sequel to an anthology I had previously contributed to. The same authors were on board but whilst everybody was working on their new stories, the publisher said he now wasn’t able to publish it, which was a shame (and I know he was disappointed too). Instead of letting the project flounder, I stepped in and picked it up.
I worked close with a friend who was able to talk me through the various stages of prepping a rough MS to publication. It took me a little while to get right (though I love learning and trust me, I’ve learned a lot this past year or so) for sure, but we did it!
At the same time I was being sent so many short stories/novellas to read and consider IF I ever set something up so a point came when I thought: okay, okay, I’ll do it. I attended some business courses and around about May 2018, DEMAIN PUBLISHING was established.
DEMAIN to some might be a strange/funny name but I’ll explain it. First it’s a mixture of mine and my French writing partner’s name (DEan and RoMAIN). It is also French for ‘tomorrow’ (our motto is ‘publishing tomorrow’s horror stars today’) and phonetically it sounds like demon—which I’m happy about.
It was a bit of a slow start as the artist I had to do all my covers, etc., had a personal crisis so had to drop out which left me a bit in limbo for a while BUT through Trevor Kennedy I was introduced to the brilliant (and life saver!) Adrian Baldwin and we haven’t looked back. Since March 2019 we have published almost 50 books in the Short Sharp Shocks! Series, a novella (A Quiet Apocalypse) by Dave Jeffery, House Of Wrax by Raven Dane, a Murder! Mystery! Mayhem! novella by Alyson Faye and a stand-alone/non-genre novella Joe by Terry Grimwood.
DEMAIN’s business model is that we publish everything in e-book form first and then move into print. As you can imagine it’s been an exciting but extremely busy time. We’re already reading for releases in 2021 as 2020 is pretty sown up.
Of late I’ve been building relationships with reviewers from all around the world which is really important as well as looking at aspects of marketing and where applicable ‘tie-ins’. There is nothing worse (and I can attest to this) than working damn hard on a book, having an exciting launch and then it dies of death. We’re working extremely hard to make sure the books, once out there, stay visible. What helps is the authors too and I have to say that I’ve been humbled/ honoured/impressed that they’ve stepped up to the plate and got us coverage on the radio, podcasts, interviews, etc.
I’m really happy that DEMAIN itself has been receiving some great comments/reviews. It truly means a lot and the fact that the hard work is paying off. A lot of this is down to the branding (as well as the great stories, which goes without saying) and Adrian’s covers.
We’ve now partnered up with Kendall Reviews which is really exciting. I’d love us to do more podcasts too and are currently looking at audio-books.
The future is extremely promising.
Q4. Which directors/writers have influenced your storytelling the most?
It’s not just directors and writers who have influenced my storytelling. For instance, music plays a massive part of my creative process. Whenever I start something new I go out and buy a bunch of CDs which I download onto my mp3 player and will then listen to continually as I create. This has had the effect that when I look back at a particular piece of work from a couple of years ago I can hear that same music playing in my head. Similarly if I hear a specific song and it’s formed one of my playlists in the past I can immediately recall the story/book/play I was working on at that time.
Before we go any further I must add that my musical taste is quite eclectic (which you will quickly realize if you ever do Karaoke with me) and includes (just to name a few influences): Robbie Robertson, John Mellencamp, Madonna, The Vamps, REM, Kate Nash, Fleetwood Mac, U2, Hanson, Daniel Lanois, Meat Loaf, Bruce Springsteen, Smashing Pumpkins, Johnny Lang, Yungblud, Coldplay, Orelsan, Christine & The Queens, Brendan Murray, James Blake, Moby, Tom Waits, Belly, Falco, Marilyn Manson, B52s, Justin Bieber (you really need to hear my rendition of Baby) and the Throwing Muses—what is cool actually about them is that I wrote a script called Bright Yellow Gun which was named after one of their songs. At that time I spoke quite a bit to Kristin Hersh who allowed me to use the title. It won an award and I hope to actually make it one day soon. Romain and I are quite fond of musicals so whenever we hook up we will belt out a few show tunes. In fact, one time we were in Paris we were singing in a bar (after a few drinks naturally!) and people thought that we were actually performers from the Les Miserables show which was a massive compliment.
In terms of writers again the spectrum of those that have influenced me is pretty colourful: Clive Barker, Umberto Eco, John Fowles, Guy N. Smith, Peter Atkins, William Burroughs, William Sansom, Anne Rice, Lindsay Clarke as well as the French writers, Arthur Rimbaud, Jean Genet, Alexandre Dumas, Michel Houellebecq, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Jean Cocteau.
Finally, directors who I definitely love include Clive Barker (because of Hellraiser) but also Rob Zombie (love his music too!), Laurence Olivier, David Lynch, Quentin Tarantino, Tarsem Singh, Orson Welles, Peter Greenaway, Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick, Kenneth Branagh, Gaspar Noé, Luc Besson, David Fincher, Jacques Audiard—there’s probably a load more but I’m running out time/space.
Q5. Any advice for aspiring filmmakers?
I’ll try and keep this one simple but apologies in advance if I ramble a little as I try to articulate my answer. I never went to film school and was always of the thought that if you have the money to attend those kind of schools why don’t you use that cash to actually make a film? Sure you’re going to make mistakes because nobody is an expert from the get-go. My advice, forget school, get out there, find some like-minded friends, write (or get) a script, a camera, some lights, good sound equipment (and operator) and make a damn film. Get involved with local film clubs or festivals (as you will need somewhere to show them). There is no excuse—you can make films on your phones nowadays for goodness sake!
However, one thing I do believe film school does is introduce you to industry people, to financiers who might give you big-budgets or access to studios. This is invaluable. Networking is so important—even for writers. It’s all well and good sitting in your ‘home office’ (probably the dining room table) banging out amazing scripts week after week but if you don’t know anybody then how are they going to get them made? You have to step out of your comfort zone in this industry because if you don’t, you’ll get swallowed up. Be where producers are. Meet—greet—make a nuisance of yourself. Keep writing, keep talking.
Something else worth trying is seeing if you can get some work on a movie shooting near you. Work as a runner, a production assistant, start from the bottom, see how a set works. Recently I worked as 1st AD on a low-budget movie. Never did it before (never even thought of it before) but I learned so much. Stuff I appreciate will stand me in good stead on the next production. You have to think of your body too! Making a short (one day, a couple of days) is one thing but a feature—that could be three/four weeks standing on your feet doing nothing quite a lot of the time. Do you have the patience for that? Be honest with yourself.
Of course, I would say that it is a privilege to actually work on a film so if you get that chance, don’t waste it, DON’T stand around doing nothing on the down-time, speak to people, ask questions, offer to help other departments, make friends with Heads of Departments (as you might be employed by them on another shoot or hell YOU might be able to employ THEM on a future production), get your hands dirty, get involved. You’ll go far if you do. I would say that even if you went to film school, DON’T walk onto a set thinking you know everything—you don’t. You’ll be respected if you play nicely. People will like you and more importantly perhaps, want to work with you (or FOR you) again!
Q6. What are your hobbies?
Currently none. I don’t have time. If I’m honest with myself (and I am, brutally) I don’t even have a life. With all the hours I put in, right now, it’s just work, work, work. Since the beginning of the year I’ve only had a handful of days when I haven’t worked and even then I’ve had to send emails or approve covers, read (and accept/reject) stories. As I said previously though, I shouldn’t complain as I chose this life. I wanted to be a full-time writer. I wanted to work in cinema. I wanted to publish. And now I do all three. I’ve made sacrifices and continue to do so but I appreciate it’s not sustainable and it’s certainly not living. I will be bringing people into help with DEMAIN as soon as I can. I am looking forward to some proper down-time next year though it has to be said.
I suppose for some balance, I do love sports. I support Tottenham Hotspur and when I’m in the UK I try to get to as many games as I can. I also support the Dallas Cowboys. I also love a bit of rugby. I don’t mind a bit of Netflix too—can’t wait for season two of DC’s Titans. I’m sure you’ve seen it but Curran Walters is a phenomenon as Jason Todd—I’d love to work with him in the future…
Q7. Tell us about your upcoming projects.
Well, I’m actually writing something for Curran ha ha. I think he’d be perfect in one of the features I’m currently working on, so once the script is done I think I’ll badger and badger him until he says yes (this is the one I mentioned previously where we have a purpose built set and producers already on board hurrah!).
I’m also trying to raise the funds for a historical short which if we are successful can then lead into a feature set in the same period.
I’m trying to tie my love of history/horror with a film set at the Battle of Waterloo with Napoleon himself as the protagonist. That would be a fun one for sure.
I was approached recently by an acting buddy of mine to revive some characters we used to perform on stage and so I’ve drafted out a script which would be amazing to shoot—they were great characters and the scenario I’ve come up is pretty damn cool and I’m buzzing about that.
On the book side I’m compiling/editing a small anthology for Trevor’s TK Pulp, a ‘homage’ to Dante’s Inferno. I’m also writing a couple of stories for other people’s books—one of which is heavily influenced by Rob Zombie and I make no apology for that. I want to write a longer piece too so will see if I can fit that in—a novel called The Keeper Of The Bees.
DEMAIN will go from strength to strength and we’ve already got a great line up going into 2020 and 2021. The horror and crime/thriller side of the business is pretty tied up…but we want to look at more sci-fi/fantasy titles too.
I want to attend a few more conventions, particularly around Europe. Want (and need!) to get out there and meet our readers.
Finally, I’ve been approached by several writer and film-maker friends of mine about producing. I haven’t even set up a company but already I’ve been given a number of scripts to direct/produce. There are a couple I’m actively following up as we speak so I’m hoping that, probably in the latter half of 2020, DEMAIN FILMS will be established.
I’m sure at some point I will get some sleep.
I’ll let you know.
Visit Dean M Drinkel’s website here.
Check out Demain Publishing’s website here.