‘In Jersey, you just go for a few pints with someone and, that’s it, you’ve got your location’
When independent film maker Coz Greenop saw Corbière Lighthouse, he thought it was the perfect setting for his new feature-length horror-thriller. He tells Tom Ogg why the Island is such a good place to make movies.
Beautiful scenery, sun-kissed beaches, unspoiled countryside – yes, it’s safe to say Jersey doesn’t seem the ideal location to shoot a horror movie.
Independent filmmaker Coz Greenop would likely claim otherwise, however, as the 31-year-old writer-director recently shot his second feature-length film right here in the Island.
Titled Dark Beacon, the psychological horror-thriller centres on Amy (Skins star April Pearson), a jilted lover who tracks her former partner, Beth (Lynne Anne Rodger), to a remote lighthouse. Once there, Amy finds herself fighting to rescue Beth’s mute pre-teen daughter, Maya (an impressive Kendra Mei), from both the spiteful spirit of her deceased father and the increasingly deranged Beth.
‘It was almost like a nice little holiday,’ says Coz of the film’s month-long shoot. ‘We spent just over four weeks in Jersey, with three weeks of principle photography and then a week of shooting. It was quite weird because obviously making a film can be quite a long, drawn-out process and we’d told everyone to prepare for shooting in some cold, dingy location. Instead, we ended up in Jersey in the middle of summer, eating delicious seafood and slapping on the suntan lotion.’
Born in Yorkshire but resident in London for the last four years, Coz – who is also the founder of independent production company Green 13 Films – had initially intended to shoot Dark Beacon in a lighthouse situated in the remote Scottish Highlands.
‘I like travelling a lot and I often get my inspiration from the locations I visit,’ says Coz. ‘The idea for Dark Beacon came about when I visited Neist Point in the Isle of Skye and immediately fell in love with it. I knew it would look fantastic on screen. So I contacted the Highland Commission and asked if we could film in the lighthouse, and they said: “Yes, of course – it’ll be £7,000 a day”. Well, we’re a low-budget independent film and we obviously couldn’t afford that, so I started researching other lighthouses in the UK, but it was always the same story.’
It seemed the lights were set to go out on Dark Beacon, but then Lee Apsey – Coz’s close friend and the co-writer and producer of Dark Beacon – visited his parents in Jersey over the 2015 Christmas holidays.
‘Lee saw Corbière Lighthouse and immediately called to tell me about it,’ recalls Coz. ‘I flew over to Jersey the next month and I was just blown away. It was perfect, and the lighthouse just looked so atmospheric, with this long, foreboding causeway and incredible surroundings.’
Thankfully, obtaining permission to shoot in Corbière Lighthouse and other locations in Jersey proved altogether easier – and cheaper – than shooting in the UK.
‘In Jersey, you just go for a few pints with someone and, that’s it, you’ve got your location,’ laughs Coz. ‘There was a local garage that I thought would be perfect for a scene in the film, and when I asked the owner if we could film there, he just said: “Yeah, sure, come back in the morning and shoot”. He gave us the full range of it, free of charge. Trust me, this is something that never, ever happens in the UK. Over there, everyone wants money, but in Jersey no one ever asked for anything.’
The shoot took place during the summer of 2016, with the stunning views and summery weather proving something of a contrast to the drab and dingy setting of Coz and Lee’s screenplay.
‘The film is a horror but everything looks so pretty, which definitely wasn’t in the script. But it ended up playing to our advantage because the beautiful scenery tied in with the film’s themes of love and loss, guilt and grief.
‘April did an interview for Comic-Con recently and the first thing she said was that Jersey was one of the most stunningly beautiful locations she’d ever worked.’
In fact, such was the good time enjoyed by all involved with Dark Beacon that Coz was left wondering why more filmmakers don’t take advantage of the Channel Islands’ picturesque setting.
‘It is a) beautiful and b) cheap. Honestly, the flights from London to Jersey were cheaper than it is for me to get a cab from my house to Oxford Circus.
‘I think maybe one of the reasons that filmmakers don’t shoot in the Channel Islands is because you don’t qualify for BFI tax breaks. In the UK, we would typically get a 25 per cent tax break, but not in Jersey, and I can imagine that might be off-putting for filmmakers with bigger budgets. But for us, as a low-budget production, money isn’t the be all and end all.’
An avid film fan since childhood, Coz attended the Northern Film School in Leeds and then completed a master’s degree in scriptwriting at the University of Salford. It was shortly after graduating that Coz co-wrote and directed his first film, which was initially called Wandering Rose.
‘Unfortunately, the distributors didn’t like the name, and so they changed it to the slightly less subtle Demon Baby. We had a few critics and IMDB comments pointing out that there is neither a demon nor a baby in the film, so why is it called Demon Baby?’
Despite its misleading title, Demon Baby proved enough of a success at the Cannes Film Festival to enable Coz to obtain financing for Dark Beacon, and as a result he is now one of a growing number of successful independent directors working in the UK.
Asked to name his filmmaking idols, Coz immediately cites Stanley Kubrick, the legendary American director behind Paths of Glory, Lolita, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Barry Lyndon and The Shining.
‘Kubrick told stories through his characters. His films were always about what humans are capable of, not what the supernatural can do. I would say The Shining is my very favourite film. The distributors described Dark Beacon as ‘The Shining in a lighthouse’ and, well, if my film becomes even a fraction as beloved as The Shining then I’ll be a very happy lad.’
As Coz acknowledges, the horror genre has often suffered something of a poor reputation among film critics, with horror movies rarely receiving nominations come the annual awards season.
‘I think the reputation of horror is improving, slowly but surely,’ says Coz. ‘Last year, [director Jordan Peele’s horror film] Get Out was nominated for Oscars, and won Best Screenplay. Personally, I like horror because, to me, a film should be like a pebble in your shoe – it should play on your mind and make you constantly think about it. You know, you can go and watch a rom-com or a thriller, and it will maybe make you laugh or give you a bit of an adrenaline rush, but you’ll have forgotten all about it by the time you get home. With horror, however, it’s when you’re back home in bed with the lights off that you really start to think about it. And that primal thing, that fear, is something that you only get with horror.
‘Of course, there are a lot of terrible horror films out there, as there are in any genre, but when done well, horror is very powerful, and more and more people are getting into it.’
Not one to rest on his laurels, Coz has already co-written and filmed his third feature, House Red, with Canadian actress Natasha Henstridge (Species, John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars) appearing in a lead role.
‘We shot House Red over six weeks in Tuscany last year,’ says Coz. ‘It’s now in post-production and we’ll be taking it to Cannes later in the year.’
The film also gave Coz the opportunity to work with one of his heroes, Douglas Milsome, the British cinematographer behind such films as The Guns of Navarone, Highlander and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and the director of photography for Kubrick on such classics as A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket and – oh yes! – The Shining.
‘It was amazing to work with Doug,’ says Coz. ‘I first met him at a film première and I immediately recognised him because, being a Kubrick freak, I’d watched all of the making-of and behind-the-scenes documentaries. I walked over to him and I was, like, “Can I shake your hand, or just smell you a little bit?” Anyway, we had a chat and I told him I was preparing my next film and he asked me to send him the script, which I did. Forty-eight hours later and he’s got in touch to say: “OK, let’s go to Italy and shoot”.
‘Throughout the shoot, I was constantly saying: “Tell me everything!” For me, working with Doug was a schoolboy dream. I was fanboy-ed out.’
In between post-production duties on House Red, Coz continues to tour Dark Beacon around the UK, although the film has yet to be screened in Jersey.
‘I would love to show Dark Beacon in Jersey,’ he says. ‘It would be great for everyone in the Island who helped on the film to see it on the big screen.’
- Dark Beacon was released in cinemas on 22 March and is out now on iTunes, while the trailer is available on YouTube. For more information on Coz, visit green13films.com