Making A Gothic Short Film – An Interview With Govind Chandran And Kelsey CookE

Vampires, ballrooms, feminine rage and more!

SCARLET is written by Govind Chandran & Kelsey Cooke. Kelsey also stars as the titular character, a vampire held captive by a dogmatic hunter, while Govind takes on the role of the films director.

So let’s start at the beginning: How did Scarlet come to be?

Govind: My version of the story is – I had a concept I tried to pass to other creatives but Kelsey bullied me into doing this! In all seriousness though I essentially posted about having a Gothic themed idea on Instagram and Kelsey replied and we ended up in a pretty long conversation that was just so creatively compelling that by the end we were both in a “Well we’re doing this right?” sort of place.

There were a lot of other key people who then joined the journey and made it possible of course.

Kelsey: Pretty much what Gov said. We had worked briefly together on a proof-of-concept project, that was how we knew each other, and I saw him post on his story if anyone knew how to write screenplays specifically for Gothic. So, I replied that I had no idea how to write a screenplay but if he was talking Gothic then I absolutely pretty please had to be involved. There was basically a process of back-and-forth emails discussing what we wanted to say with the film and what themes we really wanted to highlight going forwards. Gov was a true master at taking my gibberish ramblings and forming them into this incredible screenplay that we then finessed together.

Official Film Poster

What is it that drew the both of you to the gothic genre?

Govind: Can I say Guillermo del Toro? I have always found Vampires fascinating. Ive been hugely influenced by Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Anne Rice and watch most vampire related content but the idea of taking the overall gothic aesthetic was something that I never really considered till I started watching Del Toro’s work and his approach to filmmaking.

I’ve always been fascinated by the literature but probably wouldn’t have taken this deep dive if not for Kelsey Cooke coming on board and bringing her sizeable expertise to the process.

Kelsey Cooke as Scarlet

Kelsey: I think what kick started it for me was when I first read Jane Eyre in my teens. From there it was Frankenstein, Shakespeare, Wuthering Heights Shirley Jackson. Aesthetically, I love Gothic. Huge manors, dark misty nights, giant candle lit libraries, indulgent gowns, skulls, glass bottles of dubious substances etc. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t fantasised about running down a grandiose staircase in the dead of night in a long flowing gown with only a candle to light the way. The drama.

Underneath the more superficial love of how it looks I’ve always thought it’s such a perfect genre for exploring the extremes of human experience. Our grittiest, most intense feelings and emotions absolutely shine in Gothic – rage, lust, fear, despair… they’re all feelings that the genre absolutely devours and that I always seem to gravitate towards in films and literature. Feminine rage also really shines in Gothic and I’m pretty much a moth to a flame with feminine rage.

Govind: I like her answer that sounds way smarter than mine. Can I use that?

Can you tell us about the casting process and putting together a team for this?

Govind: Obviously Kelsey was involved from the get go with us writing together. We auditioned quite a few people for the role of Robert but Niall Murphy was a very easy choice as he just instant brought an incredible screen presence and sense of conviction to the role.

Niall Murphy as Robert

The production team itself is largely past collaborators of mine including our cinematographer Jamie Laxton and composer Benjamin Doherty. Emily Kontu who designed and made all our main costumes was an incredible find and one of the major reasons the project was able to be done at this budget level without compromising on the required aesthetic.

Kelsey: When it came to Fran [St. Clair] and Niall, I tried to stay a little more on the side line and I definitely wanted to give Gov the final say, so as to not influence the casting with any personal bias. However, I secretly knew as soon as they both said they would like to tape that they were going to get the roles with or without my influence because they’re simply that bloody talented.

Emily Cosaitis as Amber

As for Emily Cosaitis who played Amber, I remember as soon as we saw her tape it was a done deal. Although Amber doesn’t have any spoken lines, her role was so important to get right as her character is essentially the catalyst for the rest of the film. She did such a beautiful job bringing that grounded innocence that Amber needed and was such a trooper on the night shoot. No spoilers. But she was a trooper.

What were your individual on-set challenges?

Govind: Other than Kelsey? Of course, I am joking! The main challenge for me was the logistics of shooting on location – middle of a forest at night. That instantly places a tonne of limitations and considerations for a low budget film but the team were incredible and everyone really worked hard to overcome any of that while – for my part anyway – still having a good time!

Kelsey: Working with Gov. That was the true trial. Kidding… Or am I? No, I am. He’s the best. 

For me I always get worried about night shoots from an acting perspective, it’s really a lesson in maintaining your energy and not wasting it all in the first two hours of the shoot! Especially with knowing the level of intensity we wanted the scenes to have. But everyone was so great, the atmosphere on set was wonderful. I definitely felt like we were a team hauling each other through.

What was your favourite on set moment?

Govind: We filmed a ballroom scene and there was just a great vibe – but also some fantastic individual moments like every actor, dancer and crew member rushing over to watch some great playback.

Kelsey: This may seem like a cop out but truly the whole experience was too amazing to have any singular favourite moment. I was on such a high the whole time from the mere fact that this thing that Gov and I had written was actually coming to life in front of us. However, one moment that does stand out to me was at about 3am on one of the nights when I turned around to see Niall flat on his back having a quick nap on a large rock in between takes.

What do you hope the audience will feel or take away from the film?

Govind: Good question. For my part there’s a lot of things I put into the film but I’ll just say, I’m happy if audiences engage with the film. If they feel any emotional connection or resonance with the character or themes then that’s a success for me. If they’re entertained along the way, great!

Fran St. Clair as Violet

Kelsey: I hope they take to the streets in a vampiric rage. In seriousness though, I would love for them to feel absolutely eaten up by the story and our characters for that 12-15 minutes and whatever conversations may stem from it.

Govind: Once again, I would like to copy Kelsey’s answer. What she said.

What is the future of Scarlet?

Govind: The film festival circuit! Getting it out there to an audience and if people feel as passionately about it as we do then we are also exploring the possibility of a feature version.

Kelsey: I would just love as many people to see it as possible! From there, any opportunities that might arise I think both Gov and I would be very open and excited to explore.

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