Making Bite Size horror with a Scottish twist

Watch spooky shorts and read new interviews with their creators

If you’re searching for some horror viewing with a Scottish twist this Halloween but don’t know where to start, look no further than a batch of shocking shorts now available on YouTube.

While 30 new films have been created for US streamer Hulu’s Bite Size Halloween season, two of them originated in Glasgow: Eye Exam from director Aislinn Clarke (The Devil’s Doorway) and Special Delivery from director John McPhail (Anna and the Apocalypse).

Ten of the films can be watched on YouTube right now, including the two films with Scottish DNA - scroll down this page to watch them and to read new bite size interviews with Aislinn Clarke, John McPhail and the producer of both shorts (and writer of Eye Exam) Jack Tarling.

Watch Eye Exam

Jack Tarling - writer Eye Exam, producer Eye Exam/Special Delivery

Jonathan Melville: How did you first get involved in the Bite Size Halloween project and end up writing and producing?

Jack Tarling: I’m friends and colleagues with a couple of last years filmmakers so they put me in contact with the team at 20th Digital. I then worked up several ideas of my own and also passed the brief onto some other people that I work with. I then shared a bunch of our scripts with 20th Digital, got a steer on which ones they liked best, and then looked for directors to pitch on them.

What was the brief for writers and how long did it take to come up with the idea for Eye Exam and to write it?

The brief included some suggestions of possible sub-genres to work within as well as examples of a few films which worked well from previous years. And originally they were supposed to be two minutes long but this requirement was relaxed later.

I quite quickly came up with the idea of doing something based on an opticians appointment. I wear glasses and noticed recently how odd it was to go into a windowless room with a complete stranger who would switch the lights off, shine a light in your eyes and then whisper instructions to you! It took a bit longer to come up with what exactly should happen after that, and I had another script based on the same premise, which was also on the shortlist, but has a very different set of plot twists. Maybe we'll get to make that one next time!

How did Aislinn come to the project - did you approach her to direct and had you worked together previously?

I had met Aislinn a couple of times after our films The Devil’s Doorway (hers) and Await Further Instructions (mine) played festivals together in 2018. Once I knew which scripts were potentially of interest to 20th Digital I approached some directors that I was keen to work with and Aislinn chose to pitch this one.

Were there any particular challenges or surprises in the development and production of Special Delivery?

That was a tough shoot with three locations in one night, including child actors, creature effects and moped riding sequences. The surprise was how smoothly it all went! We had a great cast and crew.

Do you have any bite size tips for writers or directors thinking of making their own short film?

The challenge is finding something that works well over such a short time frame. You don’t have the luxury of character development or much scene setting - both of ours revolved around scenarios that would be immediately familiar to most viewers (an eye exam and a moped delivery driver). Then you need to try and find something really surprising or unusual to end on, which feels mostly complete but perhaps with some lingering questions as well to leave you thinking.

Aislinn Clarke - director, Eye Exam

How did you first get involved in the Bite Size Halloween project?

Aislinn: Jack Tarling (the writer and producer) contacted me and asked me to come on board. Given that a feature I was scheduled to make was delayed because of COVID it seemed like a fun thing to do while I wait for things to get back in gear again.

How long was the pre-production process for Eye Exam - were there any changes to Jack’s script during that period?

It was quite quick. I think we pitched to Disney in July and got the green light at the end of August. There were some minor changes, nothing huge. My biggest addition was the idea of the eye scoop and the period setting.

The film has a fantastic retro look to it, how important was that to you and the team?

Although the script was written set in the modern day I always love an opportunity to create a period look and this one screamed 1950s Outer Limits to me, so that’s where I took it. Most of my work in film and in theatre has been period or non specific period. It’s kind of my thing!

What can you tell me about the filming, how long did it take and was it quite straightforward?

We shot it in a day. It was fairly straightforward besides the new addition of COVID restrictions. It was a fun shoot. The cast and crew were all wonderful.

Do you have any bite size tips for writers or directors thinking of making their own short film?

Short films aren’t feature films condensed into a short time frame. Too many new writers make that mistake. Good shorts revolve around a single idea, theme, or image. Less dialogue, fewer characters, fewer locations, less is more. Simple is always best when it comes to shorts.

Watch Special Delivery

John McPhail - director, Special Delivery

What was the relationship like with Special Delivery’s writer Luis Adam Garcia, did you get much chance to discuss the script before filming?

John: I was introduced to Luis via producer Jack Tarling, Jack had sent me over a bunch of scripts that he liked and thought would be good fun for the Bite Size Horror competition and that would suit me. I instantly fell in love with Special Delivery, I’m a big BIG fan of Gremlins and Society and Luis’ script really reminded me of them. I think we had a few drafts of the script before it came to shooting the short, it was mostly the middle section that changed as we wanted it to feel like the delivery driver was being constantly bombarded with messages to open the box. I’m also a big fan of a fun reveal so I had to add in the joke with the shop keeper whispering behind her.

Can you talk a bit about how you chose your cast and Glasgow locations?

The location options I had was London, Newcastle or Glasgow. I’m a Glasgow boy, all the crew I know are here and if I was had to shoot a film in one day with lots of unit moves I know I wanna film somewhere I know, plus I love my city and always want to make things here.

Casting was a lot of fun and I knew right away I wanted to cast Ian Sexon as the shopkeeper, I’ve worked with him on a few different things over the years and I was adamant we cast him. The Delivery driver in the script was a male and I’m never fussed about what sex a character should be (unless it’s something that is specifically for male or females) so I opened up the casting to both men and women and Saskia just smashed it out the park. If I’m honest this is how she got the part:

Me: “I was wondering can you cross your eyes? It’s for the part where the driver falls down.”

Saskia: “Mate! I can cross just one if you want?! It’s like my party trick.”

She then crossed one of her eyes and I laughed so hard I choked, I was like “Yup, that’s my lead!”

You’re no stranger to short films, what is it about them that appeals to you?

I made my first few shorts at the start of my career to help with my development as a director, starting off with minimal characters and minimal locations and each time they would get bigger and bigger. I also wanted them to be my calling cards so folk can see what types of films I want to make. Also making them is a good excuse to get out the house!

Do you have any bite size tips for writers or directors thinking of making their own short film?

Go out and make them, go make mistakes, learn from them and be creative. Remember we are always learning when we make a film so don't be scared to try stuff and push yourself out of your comfort zone and above all have fun.

Watch more of the films on YouTube.