Making Polterheist, an Interview with Dave Gilbank

17 Feb

Director Dave Gilbank.jpgBy Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

  • Extended cut and reprinted from
    Absolute Underground Magazine with permission.
  • Movie Available on Amazon UK

How can anyone go wrong with a crime heist type film with supernatural elements mixed in? When the budget is tight, and you are dealing with a possession scenario, it has all the makings of going either way. In what I found when watching this indie work is a huge respect and perfect use of the tropes commonly found in a ghost story.

Quite often, it is not about the scares that can take place. Instead, it’s with how unfinished business gets resolved, especially by those whose life gets cut short. In this hilarious mashup of drama and comedy, I was certainly hooked. This mini-review serves as my intro to Dave Gilbank, the writer-director of Polterheist. He’s been making independent works for about 15 years, and is now based in the UK–the place to experience many a classic haunt due to its millennia-old history–and I had to ask how this story came about.

DG: I’ve always loved gangster and horror films. [On this list includes,] the Michael Caine Version of Get Carter, the Sopranos and The Godfather, The Exorcist and The Omen. I also love all those kitchen sink films from the 50s and 60s like This Sporting Life. I like doing things differently and thought the idea of a gang leader possessing the body of someone who was their exact opposite (a hippy female) was intriguing.

My writing partner Paul Renhard and I wrote a few versions of the short version, but at the time we realised we didn’t have the acting talent at our disposal to do justice to the idea. A few years later (2016), we came across a few great actors and dusted off the script. The short went on to win a stack of awards at film festivals all over the world. Buoyed by this success we decided to turn it into a feature film.

ES: Since the film credits three writers, how much of the work was a collaborative effort?

DG: We workshopped it with a few actors to develop a few key scenes and one of these actors Gemma Head. We were so impressed with her input and so; we decided to ask her to write a few new scenes. She came back to us with some fantastic stuff. She played Frank’s chain-smoking wife, Tracey in the film.

Unfortunately, she passed October of last year after a long battle with cancer. She was struggling with illness even when we were shooting, and I’m so grateful that we were able to work with her. She came to the premiere and died a few weeks later. The film won the best screenplay award in November which we presented to her husband. She was an amazing talent.

ES: When casting, did you have any specific actors in mind, or was it mostly open-ended?

DG: Casting was a difficult process and we had a few challenges. Particularly with the roles of Uday and Alice. We auditioned several actors to try for Uday, the psychotic gang boss but none had the necessary craziness. I wouldn’t settle for second-best and was worried that we wouldn’t get our man. When Pushpinder Chani came into our offices, we were blown away! He was frightening.

We were originally going to cast the actress from the original short, but she wasn’t able to commit. We had a week to get the most important role; Fortunately, we met Jo Mousley a few days later and we knew right away she was the one. I know from experience the effectiveness of your film depends on script quality and the actors you get.

ES: At what point, after showing the short, did you decide to turn it into a feature-length work?

DG: The short was always designed to be a shop window for our writing skills and filmmaking abilities. As soon as we completed the short, we began the process of making a feature. It took a year and a half to get there. We had to raise the money. We made Polterheist for £150 000 ($193 000 USD).

ES: Was it tough to incorporate the paranormal elements into this film?

DG: In the end, no. While the film has elements of horror, I wouldn’t classify it as a horror film. It’s a gangster black comedy with some supernatural evil bits. The hardest part was the séance scene which needed a few special effects. We did ok. We got wet.

There were all kinds of spooky bits we discarded, but not because of budget or if was achievable–every decision was based on whether it moved the story along.

ES: Do you believe in ghosts yourself?

DG: Yes. We are surrounded by the paranormal and dimensions that we haven’t got the senses to receive. It’s a matter of belief. God is paranormal and there are spirits of karma everywhere.

ES: What do you think happens when one dies by the bullet or “accidentally?” Can they move on or are they stuck on earth until someone can help?

I think our lives on earth are pretty inconsequential and that there is no heaven and hell. I believe when we expire, and no matter how we go, our spirits all become one and rejoin the vast loving consciousness that makes up the universe. I believe we suddenly realise that life is a dream and the real adventure starts in the next life. I once met a guy who walked on the moon. His name was Edgar Mitchell and I’ll never forget how he described his feelings when he looked up at the Earth. He said he got the overwhelming feeling that we are all one, and that life is a miracle. That the universe if magical.

ES: What’s the official street date for the video release and will there be any differences between this pressing and the one you can buy directly from Tribal film?

DG: It’s being released digitally in the UK on Amazon in early February and a few months later in the Americas.

At the moment, the DVD only includes a directors commentary and screenwriters commentary. But later this year, we’re going to offer a blu-ray with all the bells and whistles. A documentary, behind the scenes, auditions, interviews and presented in Dolby Surround sound.

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