Here at A Place to Hang Your Cape, we recently had a chance to chat with Thom Burgess (of Captcha Studios and ‘Great British Ghosts’) about his current project Ghoster; a film and graphic novel adventure concept.
A Place to Hang Your Cape: Hi Thom, to get things going, can you tell us all a little more about the Ghoster project?
Thom Burgess: Hi AP2HYC! In short Ghoster is based around the story of James who at the age of 21 suddenly inherits the mantle of ‘Ghoster of the Realm’ from his recently deceased grandfather. In doing so he finds a terrifying world of murderous spectres intent on unleashing their rage on the blood-stained shores of the British Isles. Accompanied by an age-old organisation whose protection of the monarchy and diplomats from these horrors borders on the insane. The whole concept came from the an initial question I posed upon hearing some particularly blood-thirsty ghost stories in my childhood which was that if ghosts are such an issue why isn’t someone dealing with them? In much the same way as a Victorian rat-catcher (or ‘ratter’) would with vermin. From there the whole concept just unfolded.
AP2HYC: Who do you think the main audience for this project will be?
Thom: I would say there’s always been a huge audience interested in the supernatural and ghost stories. Certainly we’ve seen a resurgence of that of late with films such as The Conjuring, Insidious 2, When the Lights Went Out. As well as a range of TV shows such as Paranormal Witness which concentrate more on the darker and everyday hauntings out there. It’s a subject that’s long been of interest to me. Especially living in the county of Kent, arguably the most haunted area in the UK.
AP2HYC: Can you talk about your personal working process for an idea like this – how do you take it from concept to finished piece?
Thom: I’m ashamed to say it’s been a pretty long haul of a project. I’d initially messed around with the idea whilst I was undertaking long snowy commutes to London in my early 20’s. Where I imagined a dark supernatural figure slowly making his way through the blizzard. So it’s all stemmed from there. It’s taken around decade of picking the project up from time to time whilst juggling graphic design, music production and animation projects before really deciding to press ahead with it. I’m pleased to say in the process the story really has developed into something else entirely and it’s been worth giving it the extra time to grow.
As I’m quite a visual person I wanted everything in the project to be visualised first. Which meant a lot of mood boards! Primarily gathering character faces, clothing, locations, lighting to really assert a tone to the project.
This culminated with storyboarding and creating my one and a half-minute trailer last year. I decided this was the best gauge to test if there might be potential public interest out there or if not then to shelve the whole project.
I’m very pleased to say the response so far has been overwhelming and I’m honoured to have had such support from the likes of Lloyd Kaufman at Troma, Haunt Jaunts, This-Funktional, Cinelinx, Horror Bid and The End of Summer blogs in particular (not to mention yours). Along with some local press. It really was the catalyst to push it.
AP2HYC: What has been the most difficult part of the project so far? And how about the easiest?
Thom: By far actually dedicating time to the project! As a freelance designer and running my own creative agency (Captcha studios) it’s by far the easiest the thing in the world to say ‘oh i ll just finish this first’. Life always get’s in the way. I’ve been privileged enough with meeting with some other very talented writers such as Benedict Lewis who’s currently working on his debut graphic novel Aviatrix. Along with of course another friend who has a zombie comedy called Rented to the Dead. It’s inspirational to see others looking to push their own work. I now make sure I dedicate at least an hour to working on the project every day. In the great scheme of things it’s not a huge amount of time to find, and whatever happens throughout the day then at least progress is being made.
In terms of the easiest part, I would happily say that’s been researching content for the novel. As a huge supernatural movie geek and ghost enthusiast (I also run www.greatbritishghosts.com) it gives me an indulgent opportunity to really seek out some juicy and particularly nasty ghost stories to hopefully incorporate into the narrative. In putting the project together I made myself go through a range of horror and supernatural films/TV shows, books magazines to really get some images that I found particularly unnerving. That really has been enjoyable.
AP2HYC: Ghoster sounds like a fantastic mix of film noir, Gothic style and paranormal thriller. What were your greatest influences? Are these themes particular favourites of yours?
Thom: Thanks! That’s always been my intention as such to present a new ghost story with an old fashioned feel to it. Alongside a real twist in the tale. There’s been a fair few horror movies and TV shows over the years that have tried to be ‘ghostly’ and fallen flat as their interpretation of a haunting is either glowing spectres or zombie-like ghosts. None of which really stand the test of time. With Ghoster narratively and visually I’ve tried to do something different and present (hopefully) a thrilling story to really draw the reader in.
There’s a fair few influences in the piece as such. I’ve long held a fascination with ghost stories and myths and legend, in particular from the UK. It’s such a fantastically unique country where quite often our very modern lives sit alongside incredibly ancient buildings or ruins. There’s a lot of tales around Kent and London too which have been a big inspiration as it’s such an old part of the UK. All of the characters in the piece are in some way inspired by a ghost story. Most notably at the heart of it, number 50 Berkeley Square, which I’ve always found incredibly intriguing.
In terms of writing inspiration, M R James is and always will be at the forefront of the ghost story genre. He’s the master. With a thoroughly genuinely chilling selection of timeless stories. Along with which Lawrence Gordon Clarke’s direction of his Ghost Stories for Christmas which were done so creepily well in the 70s have been visually a big inspiration. Alongside director Guillermo Del Toro’s excellent supernatural movies and Takashi Shimizu’s fantastic Grudge movies. Susan Hill of course with the dreaded Woman in Black and various supernatural horror novels. All of which conjure a real sense of dread – something I really wanted to explore. Also in the same vein; the 80’s TV supernatural horror Ghostwatch, which really left most kids of my era in a state of shock!
Most recently I’ve been a big fan of Mark Gatiss’s work as a director and writer for a while now especially with his take on ghost stories. His TV series, Crooked House was such a breath of fresh air. Alongside his recent revival of A Ghost Story For Christmas with the Tractate Middoth (Something the BBC should’ve done years ago!) Alongside him I have to also say Andy Nyman (who appeared in Crooked House) has been a huge influence too with his and Jeremy Dyson’s excellent Ghost Stories which they wrote for the West End stage. I personally thought that far more unnerving than the Woman in Black.
Music is also a huge part of the process and Bristol based outfit Hybrid have always acted as a soundtrack to the workflow. Their epic and stunning soundscapes have really helped me conjure a tone to Ghoster, which is why I used them in the project’s trailer.
In terms of graphic novels I’m a huge Alan Moore fan. I’ve always loved Watchmen and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. He creates these huge lush environments with words that just draw you in. On top of which I’m a huge admirer of Mark Millar and Frank Miller. Most recently too of Benjamin Read and Chris Wildgoose of Porcelain fame. If Ghoster can be a patch on any of their work then I’d be more than happy.
AP2HYC: What are the next steps for the Ghoster project? Will you be having a Kickstarter campaign?
Thom: Well at the moment the novel is around half way through draft completion. The whole layout is written so it’s just a case of detailing each scene. From there I’ll be looking at reviewing the script and layout before looking to crowd fund the project (hopefully) in the spring. I’ve seen a vast amount of success with Kickstarter, which I think is a fantastic concept for people looking to push their concepts to a bigger audience and helping them become a reality. So it’s likely I’ll take that route. Which will be great to get a direct response from the contributors. Early days, but crossed fingers.