Youth-Horror: Challenging the Film Production of the Region

Pavel Soukup, twenty five years old film director, and his team are currently finishing horror movie Lesapán / Leshy. The 20 minutes long story is built on Slavic myth about a forest creature “hejkal” (Leshy), guardian of woods. The team managed to get more than 3500 EUR through unique method of crowd-funding. Together with other sources, this allowed them to create professional mask for their horrifying character. The director Pavel Soukup and the production manager Jakub Košťál reveal more about their ambitious project.

How are the preparations of the movie going?

We have finished video-cutting and we are working on post-production now, which should ensure the best colour for the movie. We shall be done by September and show the movie to the fans that supported us financially. The official premier should take place in November.

You covered significant part of the budget by contributions from your fans. How did you make your crowd-funding campaign successful?

The funding of short movies is complicated. Usually, one hears – “you are doing just a short movie, so pay it yourself!” To persuade our donors, not only in crowd-funding, we relied on two arguments. Firstly, we took specific dark character of Czech folklore – Leshy. Today, it appears mostly in fairy tales for kids, but we wanted to show the dark, uncompromising and scary origins of this creature. It is sort of rehabilitation of Leshy. Secondly, we wanted to exploit the visual site of the story and highlight the mask of Leshy. The mask created by SFX makeup artist represents interesting way how to employ practical effects (yes, even today in digital age) that have long tradition in Czech movies.

Lot of people believe that Czech movie production scores only by bitter comedies and it is impossible to make good horror movie here. We explained possible donors that we were going to challenge this opinion by using professional mask and rehabilitating the very regional myth, which would be filmed according to global professional standards. You can see one of our promo videos here. This message was attractive and the “brand” of Leshy also helped as it appeared on several items that our fans could buy to support us.

Pavel, you studied animated production on Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague. Did this influence you in making the appearance and branding of Leshy?

I always enjoyed the animated production. As a university qualification work, I created the horror movie Class of Death. I also loved to animate with puppets. . And using Leshy’s whole-body mask is similar to animating with a big puppet. Its facial expressions are operated by remote control. The actor inside almost cannot hear or see. Therefore he must train every move in advance. It is very demanding for him, as he must wait patiently while his makeup is prepared and then overemphasize every movement so that it is visible and recognizable enough in the mask.

In what other way, except from the character of Leshy, is the story special?

Well, the pace of the story is slower. The excitement rises gradually. It is not Space Alien or Predator put in Czech woods and made to run and kill everybody. Hopefully this will not disappoint action lovers, but we tried to make it more like very dark fairy-tale, no hasty beast killing. The appearance of Leshy is revealed by small parts, so that the audience stays thrilled. We also focused on noises. According to old tales, Leshy is scaring people who trespass through forest at night by releasing sounds of terror. The voice is his most powerful weapon. We got in touch with a professional huntsman who had plenty of records from the night woods. This helped us to understand the environment and make the sound more fitting. We were also incredibly lucky to meet Dominik Ragančík, secondary school graduate, who made miracles with sounds. He spent hours by recording different animals, even in a zoo. As a result, Leshy’s blood-chilling cry is a mixture of man screaming, door creaking, sounds of an elephant, an eagle and a fallow deer.

Despite using Czech myth, you also intend to get the attention of foreign audience?

Yes, we want to introduce the movie on foreign short film festivals as well as offer it as an introductory film before main feature films. There are also stations that broadcast exclusively short movies. Whether they could be interested in Leshy remains to be seen.

Pavel, you already have the experience with foreign audience. You attended an internship at School of Visual Arts in New York. Did you consider staying doing movies there?

Well, who would not like to stay in New York? I enjoyed especially the classes of horror history there. On the other hand, I was glad to come back home. Surprisingly, there are better burgers in the Czech Republic. And you need certain group of people around you who give you constructive feedback and valuable advice. In the US, most feedback just comprised the word “awesome”. Here at home, I get more inspiring reflections.

And what are your arrangements for the future?

Well, we considered taking Leshy as a pilot project, which could be followed by rehabilitation of other typical fairy characters, for example “jeskyňky” (cave witches). I [Pavel] also like a story about Pérák (Springman) – legendary fighter with springs on his feet that allowed him to jump and kill Nazis in the Czech lands during WWII.

Provided that you succeed with Leshy, or other movie, and will start cooperating with a television or a big company – do you fear that you will lose independence and will not be able to do the things as you like?

For example in the US, the production manager is the boss, while the director is just his employee. It makes sense, since the producer pays for everything and carries the risk. The movies are made for the audience, neither for the director nor for the staff. Nobody wants owns movies to be stuck in his or her desk forever. Reflecting the audience and producer is as necessary as natural.

Tomáš Bruner; pictures Ondřej Suchánek (Leshy), Pavel Soukup (2x Initial Proposals of Leshy’s Mask), Martin Krofta (2x Portrait of Pavel Soukup)




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