Director Paul Campion on the Making of Cult Movie The Devil’s Rock

*contains spoilers

Director Paul Campion (1967-) is originally from England. He has directed award winning short films such as Night of the Hell Hamsters (2006) and Eel Girl (2008). He worked on visual effects for the Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001,2002, 2003) as a digital texture painter of characters such as Balrog, Shelob and others. He has worked as a concept artist and matte painter as well as other roles on major movies such as X Men: The Last Stand (2006), Clash of the Titans (2010), Hugo (2011) and Captain America: Civil War (2016) to name just a few. Campion studied technical illustration at college and gained a Master’s degree in computer animation. He began his career illustrating book covers for Wilbur Smith and Ben Elton and directed his first feature The Devil’s Rock (2011) using a script he wrote with Paul Finch and some of his own money.

Director Paul Campion

Did I read somewhere that you mortgaged your house to help get The Devil’s Rock made? Or was the money to make the film easy to come by?

Money to make films is never easy to come by, especially when it’s your first film and you’re an unproven director.  I’d been trying for a few years to raise money to get a various feature film projects off the ground with no success, so I was figured what if I took a gamble and re-mortgaged my house and tried to make a small contained film set in one location with just a couple of actors.  I’d already got the go-ahead from my bank to borrow NZD$150k, and once I came up with the idea for The Devil’s Rock everyone I talked to about it started saying yes, and then it all happened very quickly.   Leanne Saunders the producer then applied to the New Zealand Film Commission to try and raise some more money.  The NZFC are notoriously adverse to funding genre films, and we were all quite surprised when they said yes.  That extra money all went up on screen and really helped raise the production values.  The night before we signed all the contracts I was on the phone to my mum in the UK, worrying about taking this huge financial gamble and risking my house.  She was the one who told me to just go for it, as if I didn’t I’d spend the rest of my life regretting it.    While the film wasn’t financially successful, I did get my money back and I didn’t lose my house.

I love the script you have fashioned with Paul Finch. How did the two of you get acquainted?

I first got to know Paul when I was looking for low budget projects to try and make as my first feature film.  I read his horror novel Cape Wrath and thought it would make a great low budget film.  That project didn’t happen, but we ended up collaborating trying to make Voodoo Dawn, a zombie film written by Paul, that went back to the voodoo origins of the zombie.  It was a really fun script, but unfortunately two other zombie films came out first, Cockneys vs Zombies, and The Horde, both of which had similar elements, and all the sales agents and distributors we were talking to told us there wasn’t room for another zombie film at that time.  So we carried on working together trying to come up with contained horror feature film ideas that could be made on a micro budget until I came up with the idea for The Devil’s Rock.

Paul Finch (left) and Paul Campion standing on the edge of a restored WW2 German gun pit and artillery gun in Guernsey

How in this case did you collaborate together on the script? Was it pass the script? Or did you sit down together?

I came up with the original idea of a lone Allied commando who then discovers the Germans have found a book of black magic and used it to summoned a shape shifting demon, which has then killed almost everyone apart from the last German who’s figured out how to restrain it, and has to try and convince his enemy to help him send it back to hell.

Paul Finch and I then fleshed out the story, then Paul wrote the first three drafts, then I did a couple of drafts, and finally we brought in NZ writer Brett Ihaka to do a polish and tighten it up.

Where did the idea of the demon come from for The Devil’s Rock? I read something about local legends in the Channel Islands but I can’t seem to find anything concrete written about them.

Yes, the Channel Islands do have a history of black magic and witchcraft, but it’s not something that they really advertise!  The Black Books actually exist, they’re known as the Bad Books in Guernsey and there are several copies kept in the the vaults in the two libraries there.  While we were in the early stages of developing the project I went to Guernsey to do some research  and I got to look at the real Black Books which date back to the 1700’s.  Some are quite tame, books of old folk magic remedies such as how to get your chickens to lay more eggs, or give your neighbour the pox, or get a girl to fall in love with you, but then they get creepier and darker, written in old French and Latin, with diagrams of occult sigils and instructions about how to summon demons such as Beelzebub and Lucifer.

Paul Campion holds one of the original Black Books of black magic which are kept in a vault in Guernsey

I already knew Hitler was interested in the occult, and the Germans occupied the Channel Islands during World War 2, so I thought what if some of the Germans stationed there found one of these books and messed around with it and accidentally summoned a demon.   I’m also a huge fan of the Hellblazer comics, so there was some subconscious inspiration from those as well.

Are you a fan of the stories of the Nazi occult? They seem to stem back to the low budgeter Shock Waves from the mid- 1970s and then there’s Raiders of the Lost Ark which is less grim…

I knew a little about Hitler’s obsession with the occult but as far as movies I hadn’t really seen anything beyond Raiders of the Lost Ark and Hellboy, both of which we reference in the film.  We also reference the Spear of Destiny as well, which is a nod to Constantine which I worked on as a visual effects artist for the Hell sequence.

Did your original idea stem from building a film around the World War Two fortress in New Zealand? How did you discover this fortress? And where is it exactly?  From what I gather it was used in the NZ film Death Warmed Up in the early 1980s…

The original idea came from a visit to a friend who lives in Guernsey  who took me to see some a the German WW2 fortifications on the island called MP3, which is a tall round tower.  It was so imposing and straight away I thought they would make a great setting for a horror film.  

Paul Campion stands outside the original WW2 fortress called MP3 which inspired the film

Finding the WW2 fortress in New Zealand was just pure luck.  I told a writer friend in Wellington about the idea for the film and setting it in one of these WW2 German fortresses, and he said I should go and check out Wright’s Hill Fortress nearby as a possible location.  It’s privately owned, so I contacted the owners and was amazed to find a semi-restored fortress complete with hundreds of meters of very creepy tunnels and a real gun pit almost on my doorstep.  That really made the film happen as we knew we could pull off a relatively authentic WW2 film on a very low budget.

Filming inside the tunnels at Wrights Hill Fortress, Wellington. Jonathan King (director of Black Sheep) in a cameo as the German soldier who’s committed suicide.
Prepping Karlos Drinkwater for a shot inside the gun pit at Wrights Hill Fortress

When I looked at the real fortress in Guernsey, I thought it was a matte painting – it was so beautiful as a piece of architecture… The Nazis were evil but they had a sense of style…

MP4, which is the name of the German range finding tower in Guernsey that we used as reference is an incredible bit of architecture, very Bauhaus.  The German fortresses on Alderney and Jersey are also equally impressive and each of them is different.   MP4 is actually tiny inside, but there is a restored fortress called MP3 on Guernsey which we used as reference for the two rooms.

Actor Matt Sunderland and Paul Finch outside fortress MP4

Are you a gore movie fan yourself? Do you have favourite films and directors in this genre?

I grew up in the 80’s and I was a huge fan of the original Friday 13th movies, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,  Sam Raimi’s original Evil Dead, Rob Bottin’s incredible makeup in John Carpenter’s The Thing,  Ridley Scott’s Alien, George Romero’s Dawn and Day of the Dead, and anything with Tom Savini’s makeup effects in them (I still have an original copy of his book Grande Illusions), and originally I wanted to be a special effects makeup artist.   I still enjoy a good bit of gore in a horror movie, but these days I’m less interested in people hacking up people, but I’m more than happy to watch monsters or aliens ripping people apart as it’s all a bit more silly and fun.

Paul Campion during pre-production of The Devil’s Rock (2011) dresses the set with blood

I heard that a large proportion of the budget was spent on the gore in The Devil’s Rock itself…

Yes, I originally wanted the interior of the main bunker set to be completely covered in blood, with body parts embedded in the walls and ceiling, a bit like those subliminal images of hell in Event Horizon, but we didn’t have the budget.   We ran out of blood for the set dressing, so without telling the producer I gave the production designer Mary Pike some more of my own money to buy more tins of the wood varnish that she used as a base to make more blood to dress the set.

The ‘gunthroat’ soldier. This was a homage to Cannibal Ferox. The guy playing the unfortunate German is Hadyn Green, who co-wrote Campion’s first short film Night of the Hell Hamsters.
One of the fake bodies created by Sean Foot

The floor of the studio was wood, and although we painted it to look like concrete, by the end of the shoot there was so much fake blood on the floor that it soaked through the paint and into the wood.  After the shoot when they had to repaint the studio floor back to it’s original colour the fake blood kept staining up through the paint.  If you take a look at the time-lapse of the studio here at the end you can just see them trying to repeatedly paint over the blood stains.

Time-lapse on the set of The Devil’s Rock showing blood stains

And the make-up of the demon was great… Was it costly and time-consuming to produce?

People seem to either love or hate the makeup (like the rest of the film!).  I created some concept art of Gina Varela as the demon, then Sean Foot at Weta Workshop ran with that and sculpted the makeup. I didn’t want a traditional ugly looking demon, especially as she was a succubus.  I was influenced by the illustrations of comic artist John Bolton who creates sensual female monsters, and some of the designs of female demons from the Hellblazer comics.

Paul Campion at Weta Workshop working on the demon make-up design with special make-up fx artist Sean Foot (right)
Head casting Gina Varela at Weta Workshop for The Devil’s Rock (2011)

We were on a very tight deadline to get the film into production because Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit movies were due to start pre-production around the same time, and Weta Workshop were going to be fully booked up. Because of the amount of time Weta needed to create our demon prosthetics, we had to take a gamble and I had to pay for the makeup build months before we had even confirmed The Devil’s Rock shoot was definitely happening. 

Shooting Gina Varela in her full demon make-up
Gina Varela and Matt Sunderland in The Devil’s Rock (2011)

It took about 4 or 5 hours for makeup artists Sean Foot and Davina Lamont to apply the prosthetics onto Gina and body paint her, so they had to start at about 4am to get her ready to shoot.  Then we only had a limited number of hours we could shoot her as it took several hours for them to take the makeup off.  The prosthetics were destroyed each time they were removed, and we could only afford enough for 3 days shooting with Gina in the makeup.

Sunderland was great as Colonel Meyer. Did you cast him practically without an audition? He must have been hard for others to beat…

Matt Sunderland was recommended by the producer Leanne Saunders who was a friend of Matt’s.  I was nervous about meeting Matt as I’d only made two short films at that point, and I didn’t have that much experience directing seasoned actors, and Matt had a well earned reputation as a very talented actor after playing David Gray, one of New Zealand’s worst mass murderers in the film Out of the Blue.   But we really lucked out with all our actors, Matt, Craig Hall, Gina Varela and Karlos Drinkwater, they were all so good. I didn’t really have to do that much other than tell them where to stand and let them loose and play off against each other. 

Matt Sunderland is so good as Colonel Meyer in The Devil’s Rock (2011)

The Devil’s Rock has an intimate feeling, almost as if the viewer is watching intimate live theatre… Was that deliberate? It’s more than just buckets of blood…

That was really just down to the budget.   We could only afford 4 actors (and even Karlos’ character was killed off early to keep the budget down) and we only had 15 days to shoot the film.  It’s much faster shooting on a set than it is out on multiple locations, and we didn’t have any money for any complex action sequences, so we made a conscious decision to try and have as much of the story take place in just those two rooms. 

Craig Hall (left) and Matt Sunderland in The Devil’s Rock
Yes, it’s all contained in one of the Black Books locked in a Guernsey vault!

Do you have plans to direct horror again? The Devil’s Rock is so good, I was hoping there’d be some sort of follow-up…

I was hoping there would be too…  Paul Finch and I have got a fully fleshed out sequel, which takes place right after where the first film finished.  But it’s a bigger budget which involves more demons, Matt Sunderland as Lucifer, a gateway to hell and a battle with a horde of Nazi zombies, and unfortunately the first one wasn’t financially successful enough to make Hollywood sit up and give us the money we’d need to make it.   I did came close to getting an adaptation of US horror author Brian Keene’s novel Dark Hollow into production, and I was attached for a while to direct a really good script from Paul Finch about English medieval knights defending a French castle against werewolves.   But I haven’t given up, and I have a couple of short films I’m going to be making, and I’m currently working with Paul Finch, trying to get his horror thriller called The Freeze into production, and with Brian Keene on a feature adaptation of his sci-fi horror novella The Cage,  so fingers crossed one or both of them will get made one day!

PRESS HERE for an interview with The Devil’s Rock screenwriter Paul Finch.

For the article about The Devil’s Rock PRESS HERE.

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