“Imagine Louis Theroux meets the Manson Family…” Conor Boru
With so much blood it’s even gushier than a BAFTA ceremony full of luvvies, serial killer mockumentary When The Screaming Starts has a particularly British sensibility to it, what with its David Brent-like main character, Aidan, who wants to become a mass murderer, the campervan-driving documentary filmmaker Norman and an aggressive goose.
Sadly it was filmed not in Brentian Slough, but leafy Sunbury-on-Thames, though that’s the only sad thing about it (unless you count the families of the growing pile of bodies as Aidan and his own mini-cult “Family” get going).
I spoke to director and co-writer Conor Boru on the origins of his film, serial killer obsessions, and which fictional mass murderer he would like to go out for dinner with… (safety guaranteed, naturally).
Sarah: How did the film come about? Do you have an obsession with serial killers or are you more obsessed with the obsession with them, if that makes sense?
Conor Boru: For me, it was definitely the latter. I was intrigued by the seemingly universal fascination with serial killers. You just have to look on any streaming platform to see just how many films and documentaries are being made on the subject. There’s an insatiable appetite. I am not someone who is obsessed with serial killers by any means – but as soon as a documentary comes on it’s hard to turn away. I think there is certainly a morbid fascination. It makes you question everything you think you know about a civilised society.
Sarah: I dread to ask this, but what was your research process? (I didn’t recognise all of the real-life serial killer names, which may be a good thing.) Are you a true crime aficionado?
Conor: I love a true-crime documentary but I’m certainly not a true crime aficionado. I would say I am more so now having been through the process of directing/researching. I co-wrote with Ed Hartland and he is a lot more knowledgeable when it comes to true-crime/serial killers. We don’t delve too much into the grim details and were not creating anything beholden to historical accuracy so it was just a case of making sure I understood it from Aidan’s point of view.
Ultimately our film is a tale of ambition. Wanting to be significant, to make your mark on the world, even if it’s for all the wrong reasons.
Sarah: You were writing the screenplay with someone else, who also starred in it. How did that work? Did you let your cast improvise, as it’s quite an ensemble piece.
Yes, Ed Hartland. He is a long time collaborator of mine. We trained at drama school together and have worked on so many projects together over the years. We work quite differently from a writing point of view which I think became a strength — combining forces seemed to work well. We certainly had our different opinions during the writing process, but ultimately this made the script stronger. We were both open to cutting/changing anything on set that felt unnecessary or just wasn’t landing the way we wanted it to.
We did also incorporate a decent amount of improvisation. Some scenes more so than others. We’d often stick to the script initially for a few takes and then mix things up and open it up a bit more. Some brilliant moments came out of improvisation.
Sarah: I loved the Tunbridge Wells hotelier who wanted to join the cult, and also the twins who were probably the only true psychopaths in your movie. Who was your favourite character?
Conor: Yes Patrick Button! We’ve known the actor who played Patrick for years (also named Patrick). We wrote the role with him in mind. He did such a brilliant job.Yes the twins certainly freaked some people out – that contradiction between the innocent exterior and their demonic actions. To be honest, I love all the characters in different ways. They all make up part of the whole. I think Micky is a real sweetheart and I always smile when he is on screen.
Sarah: If you were any of the characters in the film who would you be?
Conor: I suppose it would have to be Norman Graysmith as a struggling filmmaker wouldn’t it!
Sarah: I loved Aidan, who is setting up the Manson Family-like cult – he’s like a young David Brent who’s listened to too many true crime podcasts. We’ve seen a lot of British mockumentaries over the years, how do you go about making something that stands out? What appealed to you about the format?
Conor: Love the comparison! Yes the whole genesis of Aidan’s character was someone who had become completely misguided in their quest for significance. Society can inadvertently glamourise serial killers and in Aidan’s warped mind that had become his path to being a somebody. I think that feeling of wanting to make your mark is universal.
In terms of standing out in the mockumentary space — I think we’re very used to the drab, awkward British mockumentaries which I love, but I wanted to take that style and infuse it with something a little more cinematic and stylised.
Sarah: Inevitable COVID question — how was filming? Did the restrictions make it of a close knit set?
Conor: Well the majority was shot in January 2020, just before it all really got out of hand. We did shoot for another week after the first lockdown when everything started to reopen – that was a lot more tricky. We had to keep an already small crew even smaller and work the restrictions into the scenes. It was a challenge but we managed to keep everyone safe and get what we needed.
Sarah: If you could invite one killer from movies or literature for dinner, supernatural or human — and survive! — who would it be?
Conor: Hannibal Lecter for dinner would be nice. He’s a charming guy – what could go wrong.
Sarah: It’s premiering at FrightFest. Tell people in one sentence why they should watch your movie!
Conor: Imagine Louis Theroux meets the Manson family.
Sarah: Do you worry you’ll get complaints about the cat? *
I hadn’t until now!
[*No cat was harmed during the making of this film.]
When The Screaming Starts celebrated its World Premiere at FrightFest 2021 on 28 August 2021 — Signature Entertainment are releasing it on digital platforms on 26 September 2022