It’s Halloween and therefore the perfect occasion to tune into those bangs in the middle of the night, the hairs on the back of your neck standing up without reason and that disconcerting sense of being watched even when you’re alone. While all these uncanny experiences may have the majority of us calling for an exorcist, for filmmaker Ben S. Hyland and friend and co-writer Mark Brennan, the recounting of a late night disturbance for the latter led the pair into a back and forth dissection of the origins of the encounter, which soon developed into the beginnings of snappy creepy comedy short Bleep. The story of a couple who find their relationship pushed to the brink as they investigate a strange noise that’s woken them in the night, like all good horror we soon discover that things aren’t quite what they seem… A film which was part of a concerted effort by Hyland to pursue comedy projects over drama, the witty writing and thought out use of camera angles, gear and techniques to build the eerie tension in its domestic setting confirms that it was a shift in focus well worth making. We’re overjoyed to be premiering Bleep on the spookiest of all days alongside a conversation with Hyland where we talk about developing the characters of his bickering couple to fully serve the story, completing the short at a breakneck pace and the subtle role that lighting and colour play in immerse the audience into this spooky late night mystery.
Finding the right writing partner can be a tricky thing. How did you and Mark Brennan approach the script together and what did the writing process look like?
In my experience, the best writing partnerships develop organically. Almost as though there was no real plan to write together at all. You just become friends, share similar interests, find the same things funny and then one day it just feels like the right thing to do. This is very much the case with Bleep. We were writing the story without even realising it. Mark couldn’t sleep one night because he could hear an electronic bleep in his house. He told me the next morning very anecdotally and we spent a few days trying to make each other laugh on WhatsApp speculating on what it could be so we’d accidentally already plotted it out by the time we realised it was a short film. In many ways, it was a film written on WhatsApp. Once we’d decided to write it as a short I took the first draft and Mark took the second and we continued to ping scripts back and forth at a rapid rate. I believe around draft ten we took notes from trusted readers which helped trim the fat. On draft nineteen we landed on a script that we were happy with but all in all the process was very quick.
I used to write quite serious dramas and they were fine but since making the switch to comedy I’ve been making better films and I’ve been happier throughout the entire process.
I have watched Bleep multiple times over now and laugh more every time. You have so many little tropes, hidden Easter eggs and straight up great writing. Does comedy come naturally to you?
Yeah, I’m always looking for the joke, always trying to make people laugh. I used to write quite serious dramas and they were fine but since making the switch to comedy I’ve been making better films and I’ve been happier throughout the entire process. I’m glad you’re seeing more on multiple watches. We spent a lot of time laying elements in and ensuring that it felt like a real story with developed characters and not just a sketch with a punchline at the end.
Correct me if I’m wrong but Beetlejuice immediately came to mind. What did your research look like for this film and were there any other significant influences?
Interesting, Beetlejuice is a fun comparison that I haven’t considered, but perhaps it’s subconscious because I love that film. I’d recently rewatched Poltergeist, I hadn’t seen it for years and I’d forgotten just how funny it was. I also spend time studying the visuals, colour palettes and set pieces, especially the kitchen stuff. We made the film for under £1000 so I’m not sure how much of that comes across but I was certainly an influence.
All of this film language used at the front end hopefully helps land the humour when I eventually pull the rug.
I love the way you play with camera angles and shot placements, the whole film feels much larger than it is. How meticulous were you in the planning of the shoot to give us that grander feeling?
I suppose there are a couple of things to consider. 90% of the film happens in one space so it was about working out how to keep it fresh and interesting. There was also this idea that, at least initially, I wanted to shoot it as a horror/supernatural film so choosing a wide Dutch angle to establish the eerie kitchen space and having a slow track creeping along the countertop were very deliberate choices that were important. We shot on a RED Gemini which Cal Thomson (DP) owned as part of his production company Dead Pixel. He managed to secure all the kit from ProMotion as he had a good relationship with them from commercial work. All of this film language used at the front end hopefully helps land the humour when I eventually pull the rug. There’s a poignant moment in this film that has to land with the audience, everything up until that point is misdirection.
How difficult was it to achieve the right look and tone for the dual aspects of this comedy horror?
This is a hard one without giving spoilers so consider this a SPOILER ALERT. If you haven’t watched the film by this point, go and give it a watch and come back. I had the main conversation about the lighting with Cal which was about the distinction between the two worlds, the world of the living and the world of the dead. I always wanted this to be subtle and more about one feeling slightly warmer and one feeling slightly cooler because I didn’t want anything too jarring. This had to still be the same space, just at a different time and place. This is where I was sharing lots of Poltergeist references with him. Again we were fighting budgets so we pushed it as far as we could but Cal did a fantastic job.
There’s a poignant moment in this film that has to land with the audience, everything up until that point is misdirection.
As you mentioned Bleep was made on practically no budget and at a tremendous speed, how did you pull that off?
The initial drive would have been frustration having not shot anything since before lockdown. Just feeling creative is a great motivator to move things forward. Mark knew actor/stand-up Paul F. Taylor who plays Jason and we got the script to him and he loved it. This made it easy to get the script to Rebecca Shorrocks, playing Clara, since they’re actually in a relationship. Then they’re pals with Toby Williams. So before we did anything else we cast it and, whether you like it or not, at that point you’re on a moving train.
We spoke to Rebekah Renford, who produced the film and I spoke to DP Cal who was keen to do more narrative shorts. Completely randomly we found the location through Bernadette Flynn, whom I’d met on Twitter and after that point the crew were quite easy to come by and this was all thrown together within a few short weeks. Sometimes you can have months and months in preproduction and spend hours meticulously planning every minor detail and other times you have to put faith in having a funny script, great comic actors and crew that are up for spending a couple of days making something weird. The post was a real miracle. I wanted to hit the Frightfest Deadline so the whole thing was cut, graded and mixed within 3 weeks of wrapping. I’m not quite sure how we managed that. But we hit the deadline and had our Frightfest premiere.
So, is comedy now your official genre of choice and what are you up to next?
Yes, I’ll continue to knock out comedies as long as I’m able. I have a short that’s just hit the festival circuit. It’s a comedy called The Snip and it’s about a couple deciding on getting a vasectomy. It’s kind of weird but I like it. In addition to that I’ve just sold an option for a sitcom so looking to develop that further. Finally, I’ve just finished development on a comedy/horror feature film called My Dog Made Me Do It and the plan is to shoot in early 2024.