Dare to explore ‘HELP’: Get to know the indie film’s cast and crew
The triller film community is oversaturated with tropey, unoriginal films coming from big studios. For those who want a thrill, you need to turn to the indie film community to find high-quality horror entertainment. Director Blake Ridder is bringing the thrills with his latest film HELP.
Already becoming the talk of the indie festival world, HELP stars Emily Redpath, Sarah Alexandra Marks, and Louis James. “A painful break up prompts Grace (Redpath) to visit her friend Liv (Marks) who is living in the idyllic English countryside with her boyfriend Edward (James) and his dog Polly. The trio start the weekend in high spirits but dark revelations soon cascade the weekend into chaos.”
We spoke with writer/director Blake Ridder & lead actor/producer Louis James about the film and its success so far.
Tell us about your history as a filmmaker. How did you start your journey?
Blake: I wish I had a unique and interesting story to tell you about how my filmmaking journey began, but it’s going to sound as common as man’s black shoes – 3 years ago, I wanted to become an actor first, but then after a year of auditions, I realised I wasn’t good enough to get that dream role, so what did I do?
I bought a cheap camera and started to shoot my own movies with myself in them, first it was just to practice my acting, then I started to realise I actually quite enjoy creating stories and getting that dazzling shot from the ceiling to the floor (it was at the time).
My first ever filmmaking project was a web series called Bloodline, shot in 2 days with 2 other people, and released onto my YouTube channel. It got some good responses considering it was my first one, from then, I was hooked.
I continued on writing and directing more short films. Learning my mistakes from each one, and after about 20 short films later, it was time to make my first feature.
Your new film, HELP is a wildly tense psychological thriller. What was the inspiration behind the premise?
Blake: No matter how hard we try, no one is perfect. We all have our own issues and help that we seek for. Especially in our personal relationships, much like the characters in this film.
For the story itself, I knew I wanted to create a thriller because that’s what I enjoy making and seem to be good at from my short films (so my mum tells me, yea I know!). Collating all of the feedback from my past work and looking at what people enjoyed and tried to put all of that into a story for the feature.
At the same time, I wanted to tell a story that is universal, something that everyone can relate to – manipulation, obsession and love. It also contains a lot of my own experiences from life.
HELP feels indebted to the classic thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock. Were you influenced by any particular films or directors during production?
Blake: To have HELP mentioned in the same sentence as Hitchcock is truly flattering. If I have aroused half of the suspense he creates in his masterpieces then I would feel more than accomplished. A few directors who left an impression on me as we were in pre production were Jordan Peele, Dave Franco and Bong Joon-Ho – with a dash of Tarantino.
I tend to spend hours watching an eclectic mix of films, digests them in my mind and expresses elements through my own style – while others prefer to digest on chocolate croissants.
The characters in HELP feel refreshingly complex; capable of both good and bad. How big a role does ambiguity play in telling an interesting story?
Louis: For me great cinematic storytelling always allows the viewer to put themselves in the shoes of a character and imagine what they would do or could do in the same circumstances. We all have a ‘shadow’ in our psyche that has the capacity to allow us to carry out evil as well as good. Good cinema always teases the viewer with the feeling of ‘what if?’
Allowing themselves to experience a range of emotions through the characters that they rarely get to indulge in their actual lives. This makes all of us question our own morality and helps us to understand one another with a fresh view.
Ambiguity in an interesting story is much like the misdirection of a good magician. The director leads you one way so you can forget yourself momentarily and enter a dreamlike landscape. Good job Blake started out as a magician!
You shot HELP in the midst of the COVID pandemic. What challenges did the pandemic health regulations pose during production?
Louis: We were closely keeping an eye on the government guidelines for filmmakers in the weeks leading up to our planned shoot date. The cast and crew we assembled were communicating with us regularly. Everyone involved treated the situation with the utmost care, updating us on their health and contact status.
People began to isolate before our shoot and we created our own isolation bubble (sorry Tom Cruise we thought of it first) in deep Somerset filming/residing at the location for 12 days. We had a very thorough production coordinator (Hi Jeffrey Louis Salkilld!) who was taking temperatures daily and keeping a record. Any day visitors also had their temperatures taken, had to wear masks and keep a distance when on set.
You have directed several short films (Coronavirus, The Devil Made Me Do It) during the pandemic. Did working on shorts help prepare you for a feature length shoot under these strict conditions?
Blake: Actually, before the pandemic, I wasn’t making short films that frequently, maybe one every few months. When the lockdown came, I had no choice but to film myself, by myself. It got me super productive and creative, that I actually ended up making at least one short film a month since March last year. As a result, I improved my skills a lot faster. Finally, I thought there is no better time to make an indie film than now.
What’s the biggest difference between directing shorts and feature length films?
Blake: Well, a feature film is just 6 to 8 short films added together no? At least that was my mindset before going into production of HELP. Then it hit me, oh boy! The pre-production for a start is a lot more in depth, you can’t just go on set without any prep and expect to finish shooting a film on a limited time scale of two weeks.
We had to plan each day by day, shot by shot, working very closely with my 1st AD to make sure everything is achievable on each day.
The directing itself is also a lot more intense, there’s more eyeballs on me on set (even though it’s still a small crew and cast of 20). But the nice difference about directing a feature is that I didn’t have to do everything myself, because that’s what I was used to from my shorts.
You managed to complete HELP in only 12 days. Are you a director who likes to do lots of takes or do you prefer to shoot quickly?
Blake: I knew which scenes would require lots of takes, and when that day came, there’s plenty of “let’s try that again”, then my 1st AD tells me, “no Blake, we can’t anymore, we have to move on”. But then, there were scenes I was happy to quickly shoot and not require too many takes.
You have acted in several of your own films, including HELP. Is it difficult to direct yourself? Has it gotten easier?
Blake: I learned from my previous short films that when I put myself in too many scenes, it’s never a good idea. Especially on my first feature, I wanted to make sure I get it right. So I made sure when I wrote the screenplay that I’d not give myself too much screen time.
What’s your mission as a storyteller? Name the most important thing you want viewers to experience when watching your projects.
Blake: I watch a lot of films myself, and I know that feeling I get when I’m watching a really good one. That’s the feeling I want to give my viewers, to take them away from their daily life, just for that short moment of the film. But the most important thing I find I enjoy giving from my films is the twist, someone said it’s not a Ridder’s film if there isn’t a Ridder twist. Needless to say, there are plenty of twists in HELP.
The film has an unexpected cameo from Duncan James of the boy band Blue. How did the cameo come about?
Louis: I met Duncan a few years back through a mutual friend and we soon became friends. He’s one of those people who is completely unaffected by his fame, in fact he just gets kinder and more giving – rare. He was thoroughly enjoying the short films Blake and I were making and in passing mentioned he’d be up for a cameo in our next project.
It just so happened to be our feature HELP so we struck up a conversation about it and he came on board. One of our crew members was a huge Blue fan back in the day, she was preparing herself to meet him all morning and then accidentally bumped into him as she was leaving the bathroom on location! I won’t say who it was Carla.. oops! One Love!
You have experience as a writer, actor, director, and even cinematographer. Which part of the filmmaking process do you enjoy the most?
Blake: I also edit all of my own films too. But that’s a hard one, it’s like you’re asking me which one of my kids is my favourite. But I do enjoy being on set directing and getting that scene spot on, the way I envisioned it in my mind when I wrote the script.
Is there an aspect of filmmaking you have yet to try that you want to?
Blake: If budget allows, I definitely want to experiment with some unique camera shots that warrants the story. Apart from the dazzling shot from ceiling to the floor.
Do you find that your acting experience makes you a better director of actors?
Blake: I think so. Although I am still learning as a director, like the way you speak to an actor to help them achieve what I want. I think every actor has their own way of thinking on set, it’s always a learning process for me.
What has been your biggest success?
Blake: I’m a late bloomer coming into this industry, I didn’t know I wanted to be a filmmaker in my 20s, and not even in my early 30s. But finally, I found my passion, something that I love doing day-in, day-out without complaining, and not just sleepwalking through a job that you hate. That’s my biggest success.
What about your biggest failure? What did you learn from it?
Blake: Time management, I’ve been too optimistic with the time it takes to shoot a film, and a lot of times it shows in the result of the film. But when you plan it well, and take your time, the result speaks for itself.
Are there any specific actors you’d like to collaborate with?
Louis: As I type this answer he just so happens to be on my TV screen – Tom Cruise! Blake will read this and say ‘I knew he would say that!’ I admire anyone who works as hard as TC and I try to emulate his positivity and work ethic on set.
You can see me doing my best Cruise run in ‘The English Teacher’. Another dream would be to work with Emily Blunt. She has a subtlety and nuance in her performances that moves an audience in the way I mentioned earlier – an understanding of empathy that is truly unique.
Do you have any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
Blake: I tend to release one short film a month now, so I’m planning on shoot a sci-fi short film this month, and a Valentine’s Day horror the next month. At the same time, I’m writing my second feature, in hope to go into production in the spring.
What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?
Blake: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and be open to receive help and cristim, because without those, your work will never improve.
And an easy one to close: what’s your favorite film?
Blake: You’re joking right? That’s the most difficult question of all. Gosh, it changes all the time. In terms of recent films, it has to be Parasite. But overall, Interstellar still has a special place in my heart.