It’s about time the world knew more about Prano Bailey Bond, a quiet enigma who’s making big waves in the independent film world. Her latest short NASTY was shot on 16mm film and has just been accepted to its 50th film festival. And there’s still more to come. A sit down with this multi-talented powerhouse was not only a humbling experience, but also a wonderful opportunity to delve into the knowledge and experiences garnered on Prano’s continuing journey to the top of her mountain. Horror writer Kim Newman describes her as a visionary and he’s quite right; her work is surreal and creepy. Yet every single frame is like a painting, beautifully composed, a sumptuous feast for the eyes, perhaps too good to watch!
Whilst NASTY is doing the festival rounds, I was given the chance to meet with Prano and find out the secret of her success and what NASTY is all about.
“NASTY is a 15-minute horror thriller set in the early 80s against the backdrop of the video nasty social hysteria that happened at that time. When VHS was first available in the family home, there was a boom in low budget horror and people were afraid of what this might do to society, like turn everybody into monsters, create a generation of murders and psychopaths, so that was my starting point.”
Embarking on a film journey can be a long and impatient process especially when relying on many people to complete a project. NASTY has done incredibly well so far, but the path to its completion from start to finish took almost three years.
“Initially I was writing a feature and I came up with this idea for a short which was set around the same time but had different characters and a different story. I took the idea to writer Anthony Fletcher who was interested so we started working on it.
“I was then commissioned, amazingly, to make another short film called Man Vs Sand, so we put NASTY on the shelf and obviously focused on the one that had a deadline. Then we went to pick up NASTY again only I got commissioned to make another short film which was The Trip with Soul Rebel Films.”
“The writing was picked up again around 2014 and that’s when we really got down to making it. We crowdfunded and shot in 2014 and then we had about 9 months in post because we didn’t have much money and it was all favours from brilliant companies and individuals. The Quarry’s Flaura Atkinson edited the film and then Edwin Metternich at Framestore colour graded it, whilst Tri Do and his team, also at Framestore, applied the VFX. I was very lucky to get these talents on board. The work was spread over a fair chunk of time and then we were ready just in time for the BFI London Film Festival.”
A lot of people are using short films as a promo to make features; it’s a way of drawing the attentions of financiers and distributors. I asked Prano if this was her initial choice for NASTY
“Yes, NASTY was actually born out of an idea for a feature, which is set at the same time and surrounds the same themes only with different characters. I’m developing that feature now and NASTY has been a key stepping stone in that process, but for me every project is a project in its own right. Creating the short was a way of exploring some of the themes and ideas I have for the longer form project. Something about NASTY really burrowed its way into my mind though, and so many ideas from the short are finding their way into the feature, so it was a great thing to do to develop ideas and film worlds.”
The calibre of short film is very high; you just have to look at the short Mama for example which was made into the full-length movie to see the standard. With ample effort put into planning a short, it’s very easy to feel that perhaps, especially with the insurgence of independent horror, it might be easier just to make a feature.
“I think short form is becoming more popular and relevant with the growth of online content, as well as with music videos and web series.” Prano continues “I actually think there’s huge, growing scope for short form, which is maybe why the standard of shorts is getting so much better. I agree – I’ve seen a load of shorts in the last six months with NASTY being at the festivals and I’ve been so amazed by the standard compared to just a few years ago. I really believe that you need to hone your craft and that’s why short film is important. I think that if you’re going out to make a feature, you want to know you’re going to get it right, so you need to develop your skills with less high pressured projects.”
Prano has made over five short films and numerous music videos. She continues to produce, direct and sometimes edit having made films for Morcheeba, Paloma Faith and Greenpeace to name a few. Prano also works as a freelance directing tutor at Ealing Studios, and is on the Advisory Board for Underwire Festival, the UK’s only film festival celebrating female talent. She’s won 20 awards to date, including 3 for best director, 8 for best film and has a solid portfolio of work. It’s a wonder why she hasn’t made a feature film yet. So I asked Prano her reasons for holding back.
“Sometimes you think – god maybe I should’ve just thrown myself into it and got that out the way almost. I think film is about balancing creativity, practicalities and logistics and I guess I wanted to develop and get more experience.
“I’ve felt completely ready for a while now. But I also think it’s about finding the right project. If you’re going to make a feature, realistically you’re going to be with that project for 3-5 years, unless you’re massively lucky. And you have to consider what kind of budget you’re going to be able to work on.”
It can seem like you have more leverage to work with story when working on a feature film as you have time to flesh out the narrative. Prano elaborates on this
“I see so many benefits as a storyteller when making a feature. Short film is its own art form and requires its own skill in terms of drawing someone into a story where a character is on screen for only so long, and how you get the audience to feel for that character in that short space of time is a different kind of challenge.”
Prano’s film festival experience has given her insight into how shorts and features sit within festival programmes.
“With a feature you have that bit more space, especially with programming, compared to how a short film fits into a programme of other shorts. There you’re never isolated in that experience with an audience. When you see a feature film that’s all you’re seeing but when I see a short film, the way I feel about that film might be affected by the previous film.
“It’s weird because when I see NASTY in a short film programme, I’ll feel different about it every time. If you’ve just seen 5 really confusing drawn out short films and everyone is like ‘oh I just want this to be over,’ it’s not really a great start for them to watch your film. And I know that programmers tend to fit films together that are in the same genre or theme and sometimes I think it’s quite interesting to put stuff that’s quite different next to each other. I’m looking forward to getting an audience to myself for 90 minutes, so I can really draw them in and give them an exciting experience.”
Although NASTY is a horror film, it does feel like a darker nostalgic version of British crime drama series such as Prime Suspect or other 80s Brit-drama, Prano explains
“When I see NASTY with dramas, I sometimes prefer it than when I watch it with other horrors,” says Prano “I think it’s because of the type of horror it is, it’s not exploding heads with blood and guts everywhere, so if people expect that then they may miss the point.”
Confidence has always been one of the things that has delayed me somewhat, especially when I started working in the film/TV industry. This is because I’ve been surrounded by professionals and therefore feel that my work needs to reflect a certain standard. There’s also the aspect of time, like time is running out and whether I’ll be too old and miss the boat. I ask Prano how she feels about this
“I feel that more as I’ve got older. As you get more experience, you understand more about all the things that can possibly go wrong on a shoot or within the fragile fabrics of storytelling… What if the story doesn’t come across? What if we don’t get the locations? What if the actors aren’t very good on the day? What if something breaks? What if everyone’s late! What if we run out of time? What if I have to cut loads of my shot list? Just hundreds of things that can go wrong! There’s always that feeling of “will it work”? To begin with I just threw myself into it – I don’t really remember feeling inhibited. But with experience you become at once more aware of the things that can go wrong, but also more prepared to prevent those things from happening. It’s really important to listen to your gut as a filmmaker. If something makes you nervous about a shoot, don’t ignore it – address it and work it out before you get on set.”
She continues “Pressure can also affect confidence though. When people start to notice things you’ve done and really like your work, this can be a double edged sword – it’s amazing and for a moment you feel all famous and stuff, but then you want the next thing you do to be as good or better than the last, and if you lose sight in that way it can be a block to creativity. The main thing is to make sure you are always working on projects that inspire and excite you – you’re going to learn something from every film you make, so keep your eyes open and enjoy it.”
So, if you have you have big ideas, can you forget about money? Is it a case of creativity verses quality?
“Technically, it’s easier now to make films, it’s easier now than it’s ever been in terms of equipment and technology and I think I wasted time quite early on pitching ideas to funding bodies and not getting anywhere with it, before I really made anything that anyone noticed.
“They were pretty weird ideas and nobody wanted to give me any money and now I look back, I can see that at the time I was competing with people much more experienced than I was then, and it also depends on the kind of funding you’re going for and whether they’re looking for something of a certain ilk. I think over time, having my weird ideas rejected for funding is what pushed me to become almost like an opportunistic filmmaker, where I’d just find a location and think of an idea for that location and just do stuff with the resources I had. That way I could do whatever weird stuff I wanted and build up my reel so people could actually see that I knew what I was doing.
“If you really want to be a director I think it’s also important to learn another skill, so for me I edit, and because I’m an editor I can edit my own stuff, which means I don’t have to ask someone else to do it. I’ve worked with other editors a few times now and I’ve loved it, but at the time of starting out how would I have attracted a really good editor to one of my projects? I was better off learning to do it really well myself and making sure my work was really well cut, because I was the one who cared about it the most. And I learned so much from doing that.
“You have to be really resourceful to get things off the ground – you need to show people what you can do. If you have a bigger idea maybe it’s about building up to that bigger idea with smaller things, so that you can attract people to your work and gain support moving forwards. Obviously crowdfunding is amazing and you might want to get the support of your friends and people who believe in you. But if you have something to show in the first place, that’s really key in gaining people’s trust.”
“As I’ve moved on and got more professional experience, there’s been times where I’ve had to check myself and go ‘I didn’t enjoy that enough and now I want to do something I really enjoy – to do something for fun and let loose.’
“My first music video Poltergeist was pretty much that. I’d just done a short film and it was brilliant and did really well, but it was one of those shoots where you’ve had very limited time on set. There were things that I felt frustrated about in terms of the logistics of shooting generally and I really wanted to do something where I didn’t have to think about any of that.
“So I made Poltergeist which involved just me and my DOP Annika Summerson being on set (Annika’s shot most of my stuff) and we basically held up in a warehouse for two nights. I played these different characters and we had space within the shoot to play with ideas.”
Having had the pleasure of working with Prano on her latest music video shoot ‘Oxford Blood’ for Autoheart, I was able to see first hand just how she works as a director. She devises the most meticulous shot lists I’ve ever seen. The devil is certainly in the detail and it seems that her shoots albeit ambitious on paper are delivered to spec. If you want a lesson in shooting music videos, Prano is the go-to-girl.
“I prepare thoroughly, it’s all about preparation for me as a director. Making sure that, even if you change it on the day, even if you can’t exactly do what you plan or you see a better way of doing it, you’ve thought through why you’re doing everything before you get there. You’ve absolutely rehearsed everything in your mind, you’ve discussed everything and planned with all your cast and HOD’s. So when you get there you’re not wasting time, and are able to make the right decisions, and swiftly.”
In my own experience, I’ve found myself climbing up the walls because my ideas are really ambitious and can sometimes be seen as quite “out there.” Whilst this is a positive thing, I’ve found my confidence issues and ambitions at loggerheads. Having been making films for years, Prano is able to share some advice.
“I think you should just throw yourself into it. Try to ignore the fear. The more you do it, the easier it’ll become. The other thing that’s really important is finding good people to work with, surround yourself with people that are more experienced than you within their roles or people you work with really well who understand you. I work with the same people often. They’re my friends and are the people I love making films with. It’s nice to have a kind of short hand in understanding each other, and to know that person is going to meet your expectations. So much stress is removed when you find those people.
“You also have to be ready to make mistakes. Everyone makes them and that’s how you learn. If you’ve got a crazy, imaginative mind and you want to make stuff that’s really out there, then you can either try to balance those ideas with a more traditional narrative structure, which I think is really fun to do, or you just go crazy with your ideas – just put them out there. Maybe people will love it, maybe it won’t make sense, but you’ll learn so much from creating your story and seeing how it’s received.”
Watching Prano direct is a special experience, she’s passionate, driven and really gets involved with her actors. Her technical know-how in terms of style, the movement of the camera, lighting and her love for performance radiates through her work. When you see Prano highlight something you’ve done on your own shoot, it’s almost like ‘Wow, phew I’m heading in the right direction and doing it right then,’ because this horror queen bee is the standard all up and coming directors should be working towards. As one of her sparks said “It’s another Prano Bailey-Bond Shoot!” after wrapping. It seemed like the sign of yet another very successful shoot.
The horror fan’s journey usually starts from childhood whether it’s comics, movies, paranormal experiences or imaginary friends. Prano reveals her story.
“I watched the whole of Twin Peaks when I was still in primary school. My sister had a T-shirt that said ‘I killed Laura Palmer,’ and I remember borrowing it to wear to school, and the other kids being like, ‘why have you got a T-shirt saying that you’ve killed some random girl!?’ I would roll my eyes all like ‘Oh my god don’t you know who Laura Palmer is!?’
“I used to sit and watch films and TV series repeatedly, and draw pictures. I think it was my first way of learning how to make films, how to put moving pictures together. I was obsessed with Red Dwarf – I knew knew every line from each episode! I watched a lot of things I probably shouldn’t have watched at that age, but it really fascinated me – I was rarely scared, and if I was it was kind of exciting because I knew it wasn’t ‘real’ fear.”
The horror world is an intriguing one as we get to meet, network and socialise with people working within the genre. Despite her love for the genre, I wonder if Prano had set out to be horror director in the first place.
“I think people like labels and in many ways they’re quite helpful things because if you’re recognised for something then people remember you. I didn’t really go into it thinking I was going to be a horror director, I was just telling the stories I wanted to tell and it was someone who approached me saying ‘oh you’re a horror director, do you want to work on this film?’
“It made me think maybe I am a horror director and I hadn’t really realised that – in my mind I was just doing ‘dark stuff’. I reckon that’s a fresh way to approach the genre though – not going into it with a set of ideas of what ‘horror’ is and perhaps just employing bits of horror to work within your ideas, which is what I do – steal bits from horror, and explore horror, and if people want to call that horror then that’s fine.”
NASTY’s journey isn’t over yet as it propels from festival to festival. The success of the film has opened more doors with ample opportunity to take on new directions.
“The feature that I was writing before NASTY just got development funding from Ffilm Cymru Wales. The film is being produced by Silver Salt Films.” Prano continues “I wouldn’t say no to other shorts, but right now it’s features I need to be concentrating on and I’m very excited about this particular film I’m brewing!”
I ask Prano whether the festivals pay for travel “Usually festivals don’t pay although a couple have offered. I was at Mecal in Barcelona recently and I’m off to Italy for FMK International Short Film Festival in a couple of weeks.” She laughs, “It’s the jet set life-style that we all seek after!”
Prano Bailey Bond is certainly my favourite Brit-horror leading lady, she’s a grounded, warm, affectionate and supporting individual. She serves as an advisory for other aspiring directors. Her films are thoroughly enjoyable to watch, as is her passion for performing in them where you can see her directing herself!
Thank you for your words of advice and support. After this interview Prano even spent the time giving me directorial script notes on my next film project From Me To You. Although stupendously busy, she always finds time to give back and for that, we love her even more.