A few weeks back I got a flat tire on my way home from an event. Knowing it'd take a good amount of time to get my hot rod back in shape, I grabbed my headphones and headed for the shop. I typically don't look forward to a wasted day, but it had been a while since I had some actual time to kill. I dropped my keys off and sat back as the large, plastic chair absorbed me.
Recent Facebook tags included the usual affair, cat videos and Kanye memes. Then, to my surprise, I encountered a music video unlike any other. The song was great, and the visuals were even better. What was that video you ask? Tech Noir by an obscure band called GUNSHIP. I watched it again. Then again. It wasn't long until the video was synced up in my car for the ride home. Windows down. Shades up.
I obsessed over the video for the next few days. It was at this time that I decided to see who the mind behind the project really was. Lee Hardcastle? Who the hell is that? I clicked the videos on the sidebar. I've seen this. I've seen this too! So this is what ABC's of Death people do during the off-season? Crazy! Apparently, I was a Lee Hardcastle fan, and I didn't even know it! It was settled. I was to reach out to Lee, see what he had to say for himself and we'd be friends forever. Right? Right! I had questions, not just about the video, but other stuff too. Lucky for me, Lee is a pretty nice guy, quick on the keyboard as well.
Jessie Hobson: What were your favorite films growing up?
Lee Hardcastle: Very young, I loved stuff like Ghostbusters 2, Honey I shrunk the Kids and Home Alone. Later I quickly developed an obsession with horror movies and some of my favorites were The Thing, Aliens, Jaws and Evil Dead 2.
JH: Did you always want to be a filmmaker?
LH: I remember I always wanted to tell stories, very early in life I was sure I was gonna be a cartoonist of some sort. But I do remember the very moment I realized I wanted to be a film maker, I had a lens off of a pair of binoculars and I started playing with my toys (it was a lego car chase) while looking through the lens and realizing at that very moment that I wanted to make a movie.
JH: Who do you admire within the field?
LH: Too many to list, I mean I have the answer almost on auto-response and I can roll off a whole bunch of usual suspect names which would be kinda boring. I admire anyone who has vision and executes their ideas and can pull together people to make that happen. Above it all though, I admire Quentin Tarantino the most and his life story and his passion for cinema.
JH: Would you recommend all aspiring filmmakers attend film school?
LH: I think it's a great way to start and learn, I definitely learned a lot through attending film school, but I guess you don't necessarily have to attend film school to get the same education and experience. You can make up your own film school by pulling some money, crew and cast together, make a movie and learn from that but I guess a film school establishment gives you more comfort/resources to learn and make mistakes.
JH: Most people respond positively to your work, but have you ever gotten any angry messages from parents?
LH: I haven't had any angry messages. I've had a lot of e-mails from parents telling me how much I've inspired their children and how grateful they are for that, that's cool. I had one e-mail once that was a bit scary, it was from a parent whose kid had seen one of my videos and as a result hadn't slept for two days because it upset them so much so they asked me to write them a message why I make the videos I do. Which I did.
JH: Where do you find inspiration?
LH: From everything, everyone, everyplace. I find it everywhere. Music drives me the most, music helps me forge stories from real life experiences and people and such.
JH: Have you had any legal issues with the originators of the work you've parodied?
LH: I've had a couple of instances, most notably Pingu's The Thing where the IP holders took action against my video and got it removed from YouTube.
JH: How do you think YouTube has helped elevate your career?
LH: Without YouTube I don't think I would have a career. Before Youtube I would submit films to festivals, the old fashioned way of getting your work in front of audiences. The problem with that was you never got any solid feedback but simply a rejection letter and it was quite mysterious whether or not your film got rejected because it was "THAT bad" or because they weren't looking for that type of thing. With YouTube you got this community who will say "oh yeah, this is good, I will share it" or "this is bad, you need to sort out the sound for a start because my ears are bleeding" and these comments really help shape what sort of videos I choose to make. And that's just the start of this conversation, there's the fact that my videos are getting seen by an audience of millions which is incredible.
JH: What was your initial reaction to being selected for ABC's of Death?
LH: It was amazing, at that point in my life I wasn't making any money but just starting out. I kept getting little bits of success from each little production I made and put on YouTube, it was like the whole thing snow balled. All these little successes were just adding up and the ABC's of Death one was not only a dream come true but a huge relief because I REALLY wanted to be apart of the project, it's a cool idea for a film and I gave it everything I had to make a kick ass entry for it, so when I got selected it verified that I wasn't too crazy delusional about the fact that I'm making stuff that people like.
JH: You could have gone with any T word, yet you picked toilet. Why toilet?
LH: I sat down and did the whole thing of running through loads of words beginning with T. When I came across toilet'I knew I wanted to use that word, I think it's a beautiful word and also I knew I could create a whole story in one location like that which would help with the production side of it.
JH: Did you have a fear of toilets as a child?
LH: Not really, I love the bathroom, I feel more safe in a bathroom than I do in any other room. When you're in there, you can be alone and people really respect that you're in there doing your thing. The only fear I had as a child was waking up in the middle of the night and having to walk through a dark quiet house to get to the toilet.
JH: We now have T is for Toilet and the sequel, Ghost Burger. Would it be safe to say that a third installment is on the way?
LH: Nah, there's no plans. Not even any solid ideas. I really like the kid from T is for Toilet and the family. If anything I would like to do a series that takes place before T is for Toilet.
JH: Did GUNSHIP approach you to work on their video, Tech Noir?
LH: Yeah, they e-mailed me asking if I would be interested and I said, Sure!
JH: Was it a joint effort as far as the concept or was that something you came up with? Walk us through that process.
LH: It was a lot different to what I'm used to, that's for sure. It was definitely a joint effort. They had a criteria of what they wanted in the video and the color palette of it all, basically a big fight between loads of characters from the 80s. They gave me this passionate speech over the phone about what GUNSHIP was and stood for. So after thinking about it, I wrote a first treatment and wrote into the story a VHS shop that the baddies are trying to over run. Then it got a little intense about all the stuff they wanted in the video and I almost walked because I told them I couldn't do it in the time frame/budget.
So, they took my story and stripped it down, I took a look at it and saw how it could work, so I gave it another re-write and it was like that - back and forth until we got the final thing nailed. I remember that they wanted the guy to use VHS tapes like hand grenades where the characters would spawn from, I persuaded them to let the hero transform into all these characters and stuff like that. It was actually a very cool process, they empathized with me as a film-maker and at the same time pushed my limits.
JH: How long did it take to shoot and edit that particular video?
LH: It took about 30 days, then there was a lingering period after that where we worked on the VFX and grading over another 30 days on and off.
JH: It's pretty obvious you're a John Carpenter fan, was it a dream come true having him narrate?
LH: Hah, yeah, completely. I couldn't believe it that the band got JC on board. I had nothing to do with it but it's rad to have your name on the opening credits of a music video with your childhood hero, sure.
JH: Has JC has seen any of your stuff? If so, what'd he think?
LH: I know he's seen my The Thing parodies, he's shared them on social media so I reckon he appreciates them!
JH: Maybe I'm overlooking it, but if not, why no Terminator nod? After all, the song is called Tech Noir.
LH: I think it's because we wanted to cover as much of the 80s culture spectrum as possible and Terminator gets covered by the song title.
JH: With all the nostalgic 80s characters available, why choose a Care Bear?
LH: That was a gag the band REALLY wanted in there. They were like, the guy selects a tape and inside is the wrong tape and it's the Care Bears and it'll be really funny. I thought it was funny so I tried my best to include that gag in there and make it work because the band were so hot about it.
JH: I'm assuming he's a friend, but who is Jordan Ramoth? I've noticed him in a handful of videos.
LH: He's an old friend from high school, we were in a band together at one point called "Shit the Bed" and he's always been up for acting in my stuff. We're really good friends so he's really easy to work with and very enthusiastic and valued as a collaborator.
JH: Not sure that he minds, but if he does, you might want to mention to him that his LinkedIn is far from hidden. It was the first thing that came up when googling his name.
LH: Hah! That's a good thing, right? He's not really in the acting game, he just does it for who every asks him. He's currently figuring out career paths, he's a very talented illustrator so he's been making t-shirts and prints and stuff like that recently.
JH: It's listed as in production, but any news on Mega Evil Motherfuckers?
LH: I know absolutely nothing about it, I read half a script for it a couple of years ago but it was just that, half a script with all these ideas. I've no clue what Ben's planning or if I'm involved any more but it's a really fun thing what he's attempting. It'll be great if it got made.
JH: Let's jump to what's supposed to be your soon-to-be first feature, Spook Train. Where does that project stand?
LH: It's funny because I'm making this on the side, it has no priority what-so-ever. When ever I get a free moment when there's no jobs or work, then I look at Spook Train and do some work on it. So far I have a near polished seven minutes of it complete and it's fucking great. It's completely mental, it's like the stuff I make that you're used to seeing but more cinematic. I'm having a lot of fun with it but I can't say how long until it's complete, at this rate I reckon in about 5 years? However long it takes, just know that it's definitely being made... because, I'm making it! I have this anxiety that I might die before completing the production of it.
JH: How'd you manage to regroup after not making your crowdfunding goal?
LH: I didn't, I mean, I 100% think the idea for the film is perfect. Not to blow my own trumpet but it's true, I think it's fucking rad and I get really excited everything I think about it. I have a CD on in my car that has a track on it which I want to use for the opening credits and every time it plays, I pre-visualise sitting in the cinema and watching this crazy clay animated movie. But yeah, it's a passion project or dare I say hobby? Rather than a real funded production that I can't commit to all the time because I'm a business and I need bread on the table.
JH: So, you think there is a place for your brand of claymation on the big screen?
LH: Nah, it's bollocks. No one wants to see clay on the big screen but me.
JH: What one project are you most proud of? Why?
LH: T is for Toilet, which I've already explained a little about so if I was to pick another. I would say, Love Automatic's Nightmare. That's a music video that I made for very little money, I had just the materials I had at that time to make it and I pulled it together and made a really fun video that I personally love. It's a great little set up and love the style of it and all the silly characters and weird violence, I think it's just great what you can do as a film maker when your heart is in it and your hungry to make stuff. I amaze myself.
JH: Any advice for aspiring filmmakers?
LH: Keep making stuff, shoot/edit/create anything and everything. Wedding videos, music videos, commercials, tv stings, anything that involves a camera - get creative and don't stop. You learn so much by doing it and also I would say, have the courage to continue doing it no matter what.
JH: Any final thoughts? Any future projects I might not have mentioned that'd you like to discuss?
LH: I'm currently working on a crazy music video in London at Clapham Road studios where they've been an animation house for 30 years and worked on Mr Fox, Frankenweenie and the DP on this video I'm doing worked on Corpse Bride. It's an amazing place and I've been hired as a clay animator under someone else's direction, I've never done this before but it is so much fun. The band we're doing it for is called Radkey and it's for their song Glore. The director is Nicos Livesey, represented by Blink Ink.
So there you have it, the man behind the clay. I'd like to once again thank Lee for taking the time to answer my questions. I strongly urge you to subscribe to his YouTube channel HERE. Do me a favor though, and tell him that CineDump sent you. I mentioned that I'd be more than willing to fly across the pond to be featured in a video or two, and he laughed. But maybe, just maybe, if enough of you guys come through, Lee will humor me. Either way, make sure you check him out, he's a fresh, cinematic voice, and his creativity deserves to be appreciated.