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Posted 08.02.18

Visit ‘The Most Haunted House In England’ in animated documentary Borley Rectory

By Phillip Buchan

Ashley Thorpe, director of the award-winning ‘Borley Rectory’, recently visited the college for a guest lecture and screening of his spine-chilling animated horror documentary about the most-haunted house in England.

Open to all students of the college, but of particular interest to BA (Hons) Digital Media Production and BA (Hons) Animation students, Ashley’s guest lecture covered everything from the inception of ‘Borley Rectory’ to how the director cast Reece Shearsmith (‘League of Gentlemen’, ‘Inside No 9’), how the animated short became a feature and how the film was originally going to be scored by Siouxsie and the Banshees’ Steven Severin.

Director Ashley Thorpe with BA (Hons) Digital Media Production Joint Programme Leader Christopher Bailey

“As a child I used to read and re-read the ‘Usborne Book of Ghosts’ in the 1970s and always remember being fascinated by the stories about ‘Borley Rectory’, which was known as the most haunted house in England,” Ashley said in his guest lecture to students. “Hauntings were recorded at the site from 1860 to 1945. As I got older I wondered why nobody had made a film about it. Eventually I tried to develop it into a short film, but there was so much fascinating material to cover and so many interesting people got involved with the project that it grew and grew, until it became feature-length.”

“The main thing I want to impress upon students of the college is that ‘Borley Rectory’ was a film animated almost exclusively by night, beside a baby monitor after the birth of my daughter, in evenings and weekends."

"All of the actors were shot on green screen and there were no sets. Every background that you see in the film was a worked on photograph, many of them authentic period photos from the late 1800s to early 1920s. Everything in the film was based directly on diaries and letters from the time, including some news reports that we recreated verbatim.”

“When I first started ‘Borley Rectory’, there was an initial crowdfunder to raise the money needed to get started. Somehow on Twitter the first campaign got the attention of Reece Shearsmith, who retweeted it and said that he’d been fascinated by Borley Rectory since he was a child. I asked him if he’d be interested in being part of the project and he agreed, it was that simple. Then with Reece onboard, this attracted other actors and actresses, eventually leading to a cast that included Jonathan Rigby, Richard Strange, Claire Louise Amias, Sally Mortemore, Steve Furst, Sabrina Dickens, as well as narration by Julian Sands.”

"‘Borley Rectory’ was a film created entirely without any bureaucracy or intervention. It was a film animated at home on a Mac in the evenings."

– Director Ashley Thorpe

“Once we started filming, it became clear that this wasn’t going to be half an hour long. At first we tried going through traditional funding routes but got nowhere, because I didn’t have enough time to make any footage to show potential backers. That was when we realised that the only way to make ‘Borley Rectory’ would be to make it ourselves, and we started the first Indiegogo."

"That first crowdfunder raised enough money to hire the green-screens and allowed us to shoot as much footage as possible with Reece. I spent about a year animating it after that, so that then we were able to show people 4 or 5 minutes of completed film, and run a second Indiegogo essentially saying that we want to finish this film, it has this actor in and it’s going to look like this.”

“For a long time, the film was going to be scored by Steven Severin from Siouxsie and the Banshees’, but he ran into health problems about halfway through production and sadly because of deadlines wasn’t able to complete the project. Luckily, my long-time collaborator Mick Grierson stepped in at the last minute and composed and performed the soundtrack for me in a fortnight. He did a great job on it, and after that it was ready to ship off to festivals. The last one it was screened at was Buffalo Dreams in New York , where it won Best Animated Feature.”

Director Ashley Thorpe with BA (Hons) Digital Media Production Joint Programme Leader Christopher Bailey

“Regardless of how much you enjoy the end product, ‘Borley Rectory’ was a film created entirely without any bureaucracy or intervention. It was a film animated at home on a Mac in the evenings. The possibilities of what you can create now are unlimited, if you set your heart on it. You don’t need a massive budget, or a big crewe. On set, there was me, my producer/cinematographer, an electrician, and the cast, plus one person doing hair, makeup and costumes."

"If you arrive on every film set and ask ‘what needs doing?’ then you’ll be able to learn as much as you can about every discipline, which will make you work very economically when you’re the one in charge. You really can make things economically that the industry will take notice of. And from ‘Borley Rectory’, I was contacted by the director Neil Marshall (‘Game of Thrones’, ‘The Descent’) and asked to pitch animated titles for his Hollywood horror film. Doing things yourself will open doors.”

Ashley Thorpe is just one of many industry professionals visiting the college this year to give guest lectures for students. Other recent guest lecturers have included film director Ben Wheatley ('High Rise', 'Down Terrace'), longtime Stanley Kubrick producer, Jan Harlan ('The Shining'), and award-winning animation director, Barry Purves ('Mars Attacks').