Nitehawk Shorts Fest Q&A: Ben Aston on “HE TOOK HIS SKIN OFF FOR ME”News Samuel Zimmerman
This week, Brooklyn, New York’s celebrated Nitehawk Cinema—a wonderfully programmed haven for film and food and beverage—opens its second annual Nitehawk Shorts Festival, a five-night celebration of shorts filmmaking and filmmakers. For its 2014 edition, Nitehawk Shorts Fest has introduced a MIDNITE block, highlighting weird, frightening, experimental work across the globe, co-programmed by Nitehawk’s Caryn Coleman and myself. In anticipation of Friday night’s fright block, Fango and Nitehawk’s Hatched Blog will be highlighting the selections and their filmmakers. Today: Ben Aston’s lyrical, body horror fairy tale HE TOOK HIS SKIN OFF FOR ME.
Ben Aston’s HE TOOK HIS SKIN OFF FOR ME is captivating, both in its masterful grotesque SFX work and the poetic tone which holds it within. Based on a short story by Maria Hummer, HE TOOK HIS SKIN… translates to a moving, melancholy piece… about a devoted spouse who quite literally peels away his outer shell.
FANGORIA: How did HE TOOK HIS SKIN OFF come to fruition?
BEN ASTON: This was my graduation film from the London Film School, and the way I figured, it was probably my last chance to truly do something insane. After we knew that this was the story we wanted to tell we turned to Kickstarter to help make it a reality. A whole bunch of wonderful people out there in the world thought it was a good idea too!
FANG: What was your inspiration for this project?
ASTON: Blame Maria Hummer. She wrote an incredible short story that I simply couldn’t get out of my mind! Reading the original HE TOOK HIS SKIN OFF FOR ME for the first time is an experience. The imagery and the language is at once haunting, dark, tragic and beautiful. When I read it I was surprised it didn’t already exist, it sounds familiar yet it’s totally unique. It’s one of those tales that that grabs you by the back of the neck and demands you make sense of it. As a writer Maria is elusive as to a singular interpretation, thus the power of the allegory is how multifaceted it is. Everyone comes out with something important and personal. I did when I read it, and to be honest the only way I could get that out of my head was to share it with the rest of the world. Some ideas you just have to make.
FANG: What’s the best story from your shoot?
ASTON: God there are so many! Well the great miracle of the film happened before cameras even began rolling. We had to achieve a skinless man but never really had any idea exactly how we were going to do it, we just sort-of knew we would. We were in the process of developing the screenplay adaptation and had taken a few meetings with both VFX and SFX houses across London, but weren’t being quoted realistically achievable amounts. Turns out its super expensive to make something impossible.
It was by chance that I heard that Colin Arthur, who was the SFX supervisor for THE NEVERENDING STORY and countless others films, was holding a weekend workshop about prosthetics and practical effects. I attended the class and afterwards had a long chat with Colin and his wife. After some pints and a few great war stories, they were in! His one condition being that we construct our team using people from the class. This was how I met the amazing Jen Cardno, who became our SFX supervisor. She had just dropped out from the Royal College of Art and was at the time a guardian at an abandoned old-folks home, which would become our ramshackle studio!
Colin really wanted to give back and help. He was able to share his years of experience with our young and vibrant team of artists. In the end, we had an FX crew of over 12 people constructing hundreds of individual muscle pieces in a creepy abandoned retirement home! It was amazing, especially considering that no one was really paid (we could only Kickstart the basic costs of materials). This film is a testament to their incredible talent and dedication. What they were able to achieve is genuinely groundbreaking.
FANG: What’s next for you? Do you have anything you’re working on that you’d like to talk about?
ASTON: Right now we’re developing a wonderfully mad feature called JOHN MOVES IN, which I can’t say too much about, other than it’s not too far away from the domestic-fantasy logic of ‘Skin’, just much, much funnier. Basically John and his fiance Rachel move in together, and then the next day John moves in… again… and again. Think BEING JOHN MALKOVICH meets the second half of FIGHT CLUB. Maybe? It’s a weird one.
FANG: What’s your favorite midnite movie experience?
ASTON: Damn. I’ve recently got back from Fantastic Fest, which is, hands down, my favorite festival experience ever. And I saw a bunch of midnite style stuff there. But honestly nothing can beat the semi religious re-watch experience that was AMERICAN NINJA 2: THE CONFRONTATON. Myself and a select group of friends have seen that film… I going to venture almost hundreds of times. It is perfection. Steve James and Michael Dudikoff FOR LIFE.
Nitehawk Shorts Fest runs November 19-23, with its Midnite block screening Friday, November 21 at 12am. For more, including tickets and full lineup, head to Nitehawk Cinema.