Horror Short in Chiswick
September 2018 Shiona Penrake shot this 3-minute horror short film with her friend Melodie Shirazi. Here’s a short account of what inspired her and how she went about making it.
Shiona Penrake: “I got the idea for making a horror film in Gunnersbury Triangle from having made an Easter Hunt vlog with my friend Melodie Shirazi. It was nothing more than Melodie walking through a small area of woodland near Chiswick Park to drop off an Easter prize on a grass island in the middle of a shallow, murky pond. Melodie filmed it all by herself on her iPhone without my knowledge. When she showed it me I thought that might be something more we could do with it...
Friends and family said they liked the creepy atmosphere of the park and the nervous energy that Melodie gave off in her phone footage and suggested we make a horror short film in a similar vein. So that’s what we did.
The basic idea for the film was that Melodie was to walk through the woods talking into her camera telling us she was worried about her friend (me) who had called her earlier, sounding worried that a guy was following her after a weird date she’d been on and she wanted Melodie to come and find her.
I wrote a brief outline of the actions and the kinds of things Melodie should say to camera as she walked through the woods and cut the script into sections to make it easy for her to move through the different takes in a way that enabled me to create a one-take feel to it all.
Day v. Night
We shot version one on a lovely day at the end of summer. This turned out to be a mistake, because with so much light in the picture, the park didn’t look all that scary.
Also, Melodie’s delivery was a bit rambling that first time and didn't focus enough on her fear about what had happened to her friend. She didn’t look all that scared, either, as we got to the creepier scenes. The only really useful thing we got out of the first shoot was Melodie’s horrified screams at the end of the film.
I edited the first draft just to show something to family and friends. Then we went back at the end of the afternoon to try again, with clearer directions for Melodie.
As we began filming, there was enough sunlight to reveal the layout of the park in the background. Over time, the park got increasingly dark, so much so that Melodie had to use the flash on her phone to film the rest of it. This time – partly because the park really was creepy at night – Melodie really got into her role. I was enjoying every second of it.
On our first take, Melodie stepped on my phone and cracked it. Shit! On the other hand it looked great for the film!
Glitchy video effects etc.
Once I’d got a cut I was happy with, I put it through Davinci Resolve to improve the look and inserted glitchy video effects on Premier using a video preset called Impact VHS Damage. The other glitch effects came from a preset created by a YouTuber called 'tutvid'. These effects made the transitions from one take to the next seem almost seamless. I also duplicated a few frames of audio to make the footage look as if it had got stuck for a few seconds.
Finally, I made the small list of credits in After Effects. I took some sound design that Paul Arnold and Andrew Barnabas had written for a project for another short film that we hadn’t used because it had been too scary – here it was perfect, though – and then I thought about the titles.
Nic Penrake suggested I make more of the triangle shape and fades on the words to create an eerie effect. So I chose a serif font with a capital A that could easily be replaced with a triangle and I masked out sections of the title and names to isolate sinister words like ‘bury’ (from Gunnersbury) and ‘die’ (from Melodie). Each credit appeared with a VHS glitch effect from FilmImpact. And that was it. Total budget of the film: the cost of a new screen for my iPhone!”