Tackling the Supernatural: A Conversation with Paul Hyett for the release of HOWL | The Fan Carpet Ltd • The Fan Carpet: The RED Carpet for FANS • The Fan Carpet: Fansites Network • The Fan Carpet: Slate • The Fan Carpet: Theatre Spotlight • The Fan Carpet: Arena • The Fan Carpet: International

Tackling the Supernatural: A Conversation with Paul Hyett for the release of HOWL


A late-night train journey out of London turns into a hellish nightmare when the young guard and his band of commuters are forced into a fight for survival against a dark, malevolent and terrifying creature.

At first glance, JOE appears to be an average, normal guy in his twenties. Mild-mannered and affable, he is, to his own frustration, something of a beta male. After a long day at work, Joe prepares to go home, but before he can get away, his overbearing boss coerces him into working one more shift on the last train of the night.

Drunks, clubbers and late night office workers trudging home: the last train from London puts Joe face to face with humanity at its worst. To make matters worse, bad weather is causing problems on the lines. The only thing that makes the night bearable is the chance to work alongside the feisty and beautiful trolley girl, ELLEN.

At first, it’s just like any other night train journey, when suddenly the train brakes violently, coming to a stop in the deep dark forest of Thornton. The train has hit something on the line and the situation becomes even stranger when the driver, after going outside to check the train, fails to return.

Eventually, the last few remaining passengers start to panic. ADRIAN, the handsome, charismatic investment banker quickly takes charge and convinces everyone to leave the broken-down train and walk the remaining few miles to the next station: Eastborough. Joe thinks it’s a bad idea, but relents in the face of Adrian’s confidence.

Joe leads the passengers up the track, when to his horror he stumbles upon the driver’s blood soaked cap and discovers his mutilated body. Realizing that there’s something dangerous lurking in the forest, Joe screams at everyone to run back to the train, helping a panic stricken young girl, NINA, get back to safety, and risking his own life in the process. As the passengers scramble to get back onboard the train, JENNY, an older lady, is bitten severely on her leg.

Soon the mysterious creature is stalking the crippled train and smashing through their defences, picking them off one by one. First Nina, then PAUL, a drunken football fan. The terrified passengers are taking casualties, but Joe rejects Adrian’s selfish ‘survival of the fittest’ plan and rallies his ‘pack’ of passengers to fight back.

Against the odds, they kill the creature, which is revealed as a hideous mutated fusion of human and wild animal – a werewolf. The celebrations are cut short when they hear more howls coming from the forest. A last ditch attempt to restart the train fails when the even deadlier pack of female werewolves attacks and Jenny, the bitten passenger, horribly transforms into one of them.

Adrian betrays the last survivors to save himself and Joe and Ellen are left running for their lives through the dark forest. To save the girl he loves, Joe must make a courageous sacrifice, unleash his inner beast and finally become the ultimate alpha male…

The Fan Carpet‘s Jay Thomas in association with Acting Hour spoke to Paul Hyett ahead of the release of HOWL…




Maybe we can start with you telling us a little bit about yourself and what people can expect from ‘Howl’.

Yeah, well after my first movie, ‘The Seasoning House’ – which was a very dark, nihilistic, and bleak movie – I wanted to do something much more fun with my second film. You know? Something that was just a good, fun rollercoaster. A tense, scary, funny kind of movie. Then ‘Howl’ came along. The producers had seen ‘The Seasoning House’ at Frightfest, and thought that tension and claustrophobia was something that I handled quite well. So with ‘Howl’, they wanted something that had those elements but was also much more of a fun, retro popcorn kind of creature feature. Since that was something I also wanted to do, ‘Howl’ was a natural fit.


So, was it always your intention to follow-up with something a little more supernatural-orientated or was it simply that script fell in your lap?

Well, I just wanted to do something that was as far apart from ‘The Seasoning House’ as possible and supernatural was always something that was on my mind. I had a few scripts that came my way, and yeah, a lot of it was that ‘Howl’ ticked a lot boxes what I wanted to do.


So, was it all already on the page, or did you work closely with the writers in mapping things out and getting things perfect?

Definitely! Mark [Huckerby] and Nick [Ostler] were great to work with. Originally, when I first read the script, it had a lot more comedy and slapstick sort of humour. The one thing I wanted to do was—I wanted to keep humour in there, I wanted there to be gently dark humour, but I didn’t want it to be a comedy-horror. I didn’t want it to be slapstick. So I worked with them to get it to a point where it was a bit more grounded in reality, and that the comedy came from what the characters were getting themselves into rather than slapstick comedy.

It’s always a hard balance, to have comedy and horror in the same movie…but I think, if it works, it works really well. So, I was pleased to see that at Frightfest, people seemed to really appreciate it and laugh at all the right bits. It was a big relief to me.


Indeed. You walked the tightrope very well, and definitely succeeded in combining those two elements.

Oh, great. Wonderful.


So, what were the biggest challenges in going from something as nihilistic as ‘The Seasoning House’ to something like this?

Yeah, I think the biggest challenges were, firstly, shooting on a long metal tin. For four weeks, we were essentially on a train carriage. It was kind of hard, because usually you have lots of locations and you can do lots of lovely things with the camera. Instead, I had nine actors and only a long, thin, metal tube to shoot on. It was always about trying to be able to block things so that each one was different, and also make sure that it was visually interesting. I didn’t want it to always be the same angles, and the same shots, and the same visuals. I wanted it to always be visually interesting, and shooting on a long metal tin sometimes made it quite hard to do that.

The other challenge was the amount of visual effects. We had tonnes of visual effects. Most of the outside stuff, when they were walking alongside the train was all green-screen. So, I was constantly worrying about that. Then I was constantly inside the carriage, with a crew and a cast, with seven-foot creatures with 3D animated faces and legs, so yeah, lots to manage there. With ‘The Seasoning House’, we had hardly any visual effects, but with ‘Howl’ we had an absolute tonne of them. So, you know, the biggest challenges were by far the visual effects. The logistics and the technical aspects of the visual effects, as well as shooting what was basically a one set movie, definitely made it challenging.

Of course! Given that a majority of the action does take place in such extremely close quarters, what was the atmosphere like on set? Was it strictly an impediment or did it add to tension and fun, especially with the cast?
I think it all helped. We were shooting in the summer of last year, in this dark warehouse, and one of the things I felt was that people were going to get naturally stir-crazy and a bit tense and claustrophobic, just from being in that atmosphere. So, we actually shot it as much as we could in chronological order, and I feel that a lot of that tension and claustrophobia translates to the screen and comes out through their characters. Things kind of worked well in that respect.

Definitely, it worked very well and certainly had an air of realism and believability. The emotional progression of the characters from calm to panic and beyond is very well conveyed.



Speaking of effects… Given an increasing reliance of CGI in horror movies – and movies in general – was it important to you, coming from a background of special effects and prosthetics, to offer a more practical monster?

Yeah, it’s one of those things where I think – and I say this about all movies – it’s all about understanding the balance. You use CG to do the stuff you simply can’t do with practical prosthetics, and you try to do in-camera what you can that will better than CG. CG isn’t great when it comes to physics and hair, and because of my background, I had a good and grounded understanding what was needed to pull off these creatures. You know? I knew I wanted CG faces on the main creature because I wanted to do things with the face that I couldn’t do with prosthetics. But I also knew that I also wanted a practical creature-suit, because I wanted the actors to be able to actually have something to react to. A big CG creature would have just looked too cartoonish, too much like fantasy and taken the audience maybe out of the situation. Practical effects always look cooler, though they are not without their own limitations, especially in terms of lighting. It’s all about trying to work out and discover the right balance. For example, the CG guys found it immensely helpful to have the suits, allowing them to better match the skin textures and make the faces look that much more realistic. Plus, triple-jointed legs would have been impossible to produce through prosthetics. It’s all about using all technology and disciplines available, simultaneously, to fully bring the creatures to life in a realistic way.


Exactly, and, once again, you definitely seem to have mastered that combination of different disciplines to create a wonderfully realised whole.

Yeah, even the blood effects had CGI help. When one character gets bitten on the neck, we shot all that blood separately on green and put it in afterwards. Similarly, when another character’s leg was bleeding, that was a practical prosthetic, but we also had CGI blood. The CGI blood, however, only followed the real blood. CGI is there to enhance what’s already there, especially gore. If you rely heavily on it for gore and the like, then usually it looks too obviously manufactured.




Exactly! Speaking of other films, did you draw much inspiration from previous explorations into the genre of werewolves, or did you strictly want to offer your own original take?

Yeah, I felt that I wanted to be original and much more than a werewolf film. I didn’t really take anything from werewolf films that came before. I wanted to be completely clean of that, and bring up my own mythology. No full moons. No silver bullets. You know? I wanted it to be about people that get bitten, and the subsequent, inevitable transformation, even if it might take thirty years to transform. It was all about nasty, feral creatures that live in the forest, that are constantly transforming, their bones breaking and muscles stretching. I wanted to create a feeling of a retro creature-feature, mixed in with some contemporary elements. In terms of influence, it was more John Carpenter and ‘The Thing’. There were little influences, but nothing that I watched and thought, “Okay, I’ll take from this from this and that from that”.

That was one of the most interesting elements, actually. That is was presented more like a disease than anything else, which added to the grounded nature of the film you mentioned earlier.

Yes, thank you. That is exactly what I was going for.


Well, it came across perfectly. Moving on to the more human elements of the film, I think it’s safe to say that the characters on-board the train were just as well-realised as the threats that loomed outside. What was the casting process like, trying to find the right actors to bring such well-drawn characters to life?

Yeah. To be honest with you, it’s always about the characters. Everything is about the characters. I mean, if you don’t like these characters, then you are never going to care about them and what happens to them. I was kind of lucky, actually, that a lot of people that I wanted – like Rosie Day, Sean Pertwee, Shauna MacDonald, and Elliot Cowen – were all people that I’ve worked with before. Thankfully I was able to seek them out quickly and bring them on-board. Even Amit Shah and Calvin Dean I worked with previously, so it was really about sitting down with the producers and making sure that the characters were kind of likeable and had personalities, that they weren’t just generic. As for Joe, played by Ed Speelers, we talked a lot about his character, and tried to make it that he wasn’t simply a one-note deadbeat but that he had a good and meaningful character arc.

I did a lot of extra writing with the writers to really make sure that there was a firm backstory, so that the moments of calm when they talk about their lives and their family, that it really resonates. When I become attached, I really wanted to pursue that. You never want to overdo their history and overdo their characters, so that you take away from the excitement and tension. But I’m always aware that if you don’t give them enough backstory and personality, it doesn’t really work. We were lucky to have amazing actors – like Ania Marson, who plays Jenny. She was so enthusiastic, even with the prosthetic make-up and contact lenses. She was amazing. Every day she would come on and she was just an absolute delight, such non-stop energy, even at sixty-five years old.

Even someone like Rosie [Day] and Shauna [Macdonald], they always arrive on-set having thought so much about their characters and how they would deal with what they are going through. A lot of it was letting them flourish. You know? You’d be on-set and they’d all have their ideas about how they would react to the situation and how they shouldn’t react. There was a lot of discussion about where their characters were at, and I really felt blessed. On both ‘The Seasoning House’ and now ‘Howl’, I was lucky to have great actors that were equally great collaborators. When you are in that sort of environment, you have to be a little free and easy about letting actors do their thing. You can plan out every single thing out in your head to begin with, but when you are on that thin metal tube and you’re under threat, when creatures are smashing at the windows and everybody is panicking, everybody reacts to it a little differently. They all brought that to their characters, they all reacted a little bit differently. As a director, it was lovely to have them bring that on-board.

Hmm. A collaborative approach is always a good thing in filmmaking.

Absolutely! This was a huge collaboration. Even more so than on ‘The Seasoning House’. This was much more a collaborative effort with the actors. It felt more natural, to let them react in the ways that they wanted to react.

Well, it definitely seems to have paid off and benefitted the feel of the film greatly.

Ah, brilliant. Thank you.


No problem. As you mentioned, eagle-eyed fans of your work will no doubt recognise more than a few familiar faces from ‘The Seasoning House’ and other previous films.



Be honest now, was it fun to bring them back and basically put them through the wringer as it were?

Always! Absolutely! I mean, I love bringing Rosie in and trying to think of different ways to put her through the mill. My first question is always, “What can I do to her this time?” When I first got the script, I phoned her up and told her that I think she’d be great in it. She said, “Do I speak this time?” I said, “Yeah!” She then asked what character would she be playing and I said, “The annoying teenager!” She immediately said, “Perfect! I can do that!” She pretty much said yes before she even read it. You know? Just on that, she was on-board. She trusted in me and knew it was going to be great.

As for Sean Pertwee, I just love killing him. I couldn’t wait to kill him again in this and I can’t wait to kill him again in the future. You know? When he’s finished on Gotham, I’ll get him in something else and kill him again. It’s just really nice, because they come on-board and, the whole time, I’m just thinking about what I can do to them. It’s like Sam Raimi and the way he constantly abuses Bruce Campbell, it’s always so much fun. It’s gotten to the point that they always expect it now. Their first question is always, “What are you going to do to me this time?”

All fun aside, however, but it’s also nice to work with people you know are going to turn up and be full of ideas. It’s just a nice feeling, as a director, because it can be quite a lonely process. You’ve got all these areas and departments requiring your attention and demanding your time. It’s like being the conductor of an orchestra, and when the actors come in prepared, with really well thought out ideas, it really helps.


Indeed. Speaking of fun, what was your favourite scene to shoot?

Oh, god. Wow. My favourite scene to shoot? Hmm. I haven’t actually been asked that one. One scene I really like is probably the one where Joe (Ed Speelers) is trying to convince the passengers to stay on the train. There is a lot of really nice POV stuff during that scene, with everyone arguing. It had kind of a really nice build-up. It’s one of those scenes where you get so much of the characterisation conveyed in a short space of time. It’s really hard to say which, because there are certain ones I enjoyed and there were some that were so technically difficult – so many visual effects, so many wire stunts, so much to keep track of. Plus, there are so many interactions and moments that stand-out – such as the character-building exchange between Shauna’s character and Elliot’s, and when all the characters are sat around merely discussing and debating the nature of the creature. The latter was especially fun to do, because it was a little bit of a throwback to John Carpenter and ‘The Thing’. The way that I framed it was kind of like everybody in the same shot. So, yeah, there were lots of fun ones and many that proved logistically challenging.

Yeah, everybody seemed to have their moment to shine, in both the dramatic and comedic sense. Not to mention enjoying their fair share of action and poignancy. It seemed like a very good succession of dramatic and funny and heartfelt moments.

Absolutely! Also, I had Rosie Day stuck upside-down a lot, which, again, was a lot of fun, as well as difficult. It was really difficult. I didn’t realise it would be, having someone pulled from a train and hung from a tree, but it was a hard thing to shoot and cut together. We had a stunt-double. We had harnesses. We had all this stuff, which made it technically very difficult.


I can imagine…. So what’s next for you then? Is ‘Howl’ something that could see a sequel in the future, or will you again be moving on to something else entirely?

I don’t know if there will be a sequel to ‘Howl’. [Laughs] We joked about ‘Howl 2’ would maybe be set on the Eurostar…

Aw, That would be amazing.

…Yeah. The thing with sequels, though, is you always see how the first one goes and whether there is a demand for it. Other than that I have a few scripts that I am developing and working on. There is a possibility that I may be announcing something in the near future, so be sure to keep an eye out for that.

Oh wow. That is definitely something to look forward to, along with discovering just how Sean Pertwee will die next.

[Laughs] Definitely.


Well, thank you again for talking to us. Before we wrap up though, when and where can the movie-going public go to feast their eyes on ‘Howl’?

The film comes out on the 16th of October, and there is a special director’s Q&A screening on the 18th at the Prince Charles Cinema.


And then it comes out on DVD on the 26th.




Howl Film Page


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