Comedy entertainment is just up my street and with this particular film, the subject matter hit home too, therefore, a great opportunity for me to delve deeper into the making and inspiration behind Staten Cousins Roe’s latest production.
A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life is a frenetic road trip movie guaranteed to satisfy the self-help generation and the modern human’s blood lust.
Lou Farnt is a hopeless self-help addict who wants nothing more than to escape her overly controlling mother and the dead-end seaside town where she grew up. So when strange and strikingly confident new life coach Val suddenly arrives on the scene and invites her on a road trip of alternative therapies, Lou finds the perfect opportunity to leave, and the perfect person to become. Unfortunately for Lou, Val’s a serial killer and she unwittingly finds herself on a killing spree with her unhinged new life coach.
An insight from the Director Staten Cousins Roe.
A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life is a jet-black comedy-thriller poking a darkly comic finger at the billion-dollar world of ‘Self-Help’ and our addiction to it. It came about as an idea when I was thinking about how to turn my black comedy short This Way Out, about a struggling euthanasia centre, into a feature film. I was keen to write something again that had really strong, interesting female leads and a darkly comic tone.
Having personally been through a long process of talking therapy – and hugely benefitting from it, mental health has always been important to me. I was aware of the allure of quick-fix self-help books; courses, webinars – and those they were being consumed in almost epidemic proportions. It struck me that many of these people peddling these miracle cures are themselves as lost as the people they purport to help. It was ripe for a satirical, filmic take, with dark comedy and violence similar to my short. A kind of Dr Strangelove warning, but this time about the dangers of self- help quick fixes, positive thinking and what happens to a totally inward-focused population – rather than a warning about nuclear winter.
I produced the film with my production partner, and wife, Poppy Roe through our company Forward Motion Pictures. We raised the finance we needed quickly through Kickstarter – people really connected to the concept, and we added the rest from our savings, along with industry support, such as gaining sponsorship from Sony at Pinewood for the camera equipment – we used the fantastic Sony F55 camera (used on The Crown). All this whilst juggling childcare for our 2-year-old.
And then we shot the film over two crazy, short weeks in April…
It was a brilliant, slightly mad shoot – with 28 locations it meant the company moved everyday, sometimes twice, or three times. The journey Val and Lou go on in the film is so all-consuming, so manic, I really wanted that energy to seep into the production and vice versa – and it did.
My key influences on the film’s style included Radio On, Badlands, Thelma & Louise, Natural Born Killers, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and Kubrick’s use of single-point perspective.
We also set an important goal: to have at least a 50% female cast, and 50% female crew – achieving this simple goal meant the whole shoot benefitted from a gender-balanced team, who were all so passionate about the project.
I really hope the audience of A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life are entertained, provoked and empowered by watching the film. Questioning their own belief systems and inward focus, whilst also being taken on a fast-paced, funny, frightening and oddball journey with Val and Lou.
10 frequently asked questions of Staten Cousins Roe during the making of A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life:
1. What’s it really about?
On a story level, it’s an original, fun road-trip movie with laughs, dark twists and brilliantly performed characters. On another level, it’s about true self-empowerment – escaping the mundane and finding out who you really are, inside.
2. How did you do it?
During a cold January, the ambitiously small budget for A Serial Killer’s Guide To Life was crowdfunded by myself and my production partner Poppy Roe, with wonderful help from Katie Brayben (Lou) – we raised the money to start shooting with a team of loyal backers encouraging us onwards, and went about gathering the best cast and crew, planning the schedule and developing the script ready to shoot the film: which we did in 28 locations around Brighton and along the Sussex coast, ultimately shooting the entire film in only two weeks.
3. Did you and your wife (Poppy Roe) argue horribly, working so closely together for so long?
We had our more heated moments – including Poppy punching a bag of lettuce – actually going to the fridge, getting the bag out and then punching it, which I thought was very considered…but these moments were nicely balanced with supporting each other when we needed to. In all honesty, knowing each other so well meant we actually have a great working relationship – and shorthand in understanding each other. Plus we know when to work in separate rooms.
4. How did the film come about?
I’d been writing a different script, just after my daughter was born, which I planned to be my first feature – and I’d been having some meetings with great companies – when I had this new idea for the A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life script – I then had the crazy quixotic notion that we’d make it completely ourselves. Every stage. I wrote it in a few months and then we started a Kickstarter and threw in a bunch of our savings to float the shoot. I don’t have any lengthy formal training, but it was a feeling that we should step outside the system and make this first feature ourselves, to say hello industry, this is what we can do as producers, and this what I can do as a director, with not very much at all.
5. Did you really edit it in your bedroom?
Yes, in fact in the loft room with not much headspace – it was either freezing cold or boiling hot. I head-butted the ceiling at least 100 times while cutting this film. We’ve moved now.
6. Did you actually organise the schedule around childcare?
We had a two and a half-year-old at the time and we knew we couldn’t afford the cost of professional childcare while we were shooting the film, so we organised to stay for the two weeks of the shoot at my in-law’s in Sussex – and also used their house as one of the 28 locations. We organised all the other locations geographically around them, so they could look after our daughter – sometimes bringing her on set. We used a rented RV as our make-up and costume base and the cast and crew quickly got used to travelling around South Sussex on a schedule planned and constantly revised by us.