Twisted Showcase is an anthology series of short films focusing on supernatural, sci-fi and horror stories. It was recognised as one of the Guardian’s top 25 recommended web series in 2012. Gareth David-Lloyd (Ianto Jones in Torchwood) has been working with Twisted Showcase for several years. But this year, the actor famed for his role in Doctor Who and Torchwood has taken on the role as director, co-writer and lead actor for the first short of this new series.
Blogtor Who had a chance to talk to Gareth about his Twisted Showcase work.
BW: This is Twisted Showcase’s fourth series. Can you tell us how you became involved with the online anthology programme?
GDL: I did the first series, back in 2012, James Moran, one of the writers on Torchwood, asked if he could send me a script. I said, “Yeah, by all means.” When I got it , it was great. It had the right amount of comedy and sort of terror in an episode. I loved the whole concept of a man being contacted through his hand by the ghost of someone beyond the grave and it went on from there.
BW: So you’re back for Series 4 This time you are acting, directing and have a writing credit for Be My Head. What can you tell me about the episode?
GDL: There were a few things that I wanted to raise in the episode. First, Be My Head examines how we store and bury our memories – especially the ones that we’re either not proud of or affect us in a negative way. We try to bury them and to forget them, which is why the garage where the short was filmed was great. I was expecting a sort of an empty room that we could archive all these tapes and memories, but instead, it was still full of junk. A lot of directors would go, “We got one day, and we need to clean all this out.” I quite liked it for a metaphor for a place that had been used to sort of dump memories and dump things that people can’t quite let go, but they’re kept in the dark, kept somewhere else.
BW: Like hidden memories?
GDL: That was one the points, one of the themes running through Be My Head. The other one was if we find a way to disconnect ourselves from our past, then do we become less of who we are. I worry a lot about the use of drugs to help people get over things. I understand that they’re necessary to a certain point but how far are we willing to let that go. Do you we want to sort of throw our memories if we’re not particularly proud of them or they make us feel in a certain way. Is it important that we hold onto those things? Is it just as important, in the make-up of who we are as the positive things?
BW: That’s an interesting point. I was discussing that depression with someone today. We’ve got a lot of drugs to kick people out of depression, and I wonder if we’ve gone too far? Are we masking over real emotions that are appropriate to the situation?
GDL: Yeah. Absolutely. Certainly, people self-medicate as well. People turn to sort of drugs that certainly don’t make them feel any better in the long run, or they use things to mask pain that’s cropped up in their lives. Again, I think the whole … I think Godfrey in my episode personifies that sort of easy way out that’s on hand to mask all those problems and those pains.
BW: So let’s talk about Godfrey and what he’s doing with the memories he’s collection.
GDL: Well Godfrey is keeping them. But he uses them. He’s listening or absorbing other’s pain. He’s building from it. It’s like he uses that as drugs. Lucifer’s pain is Godfrey’s drug. He is someone who found a way to lose his personal pain only to realise how much he needed it. So feeds off the pain of other people, and uses that as a way to make him feel human.
BW: But it’s not a complete wipe. Lucifer still had his memories because he could identify his daughter at the end.
GDL: Yeah, but the whole emotional memory had gone. At first, he felt life this huge weight off was lifted off his shoulders as he forgets how painful it was to lose his family. But that all goes wrong when he suddenly realised he forgot what it was like to love them also.
BW: Robin Bell wrote the original version of this script. You had a chance to pick a script to direct this season, and you changed it a bit. Did I get that right? If so why did this script appeal to you?
GDL: That’s right. He sent me several scripts, and in Be My Mind were things in it that jumped off the page to me. The original version was nowhere near as dark as our final one. The original was more like a quirky character from another dimension that’s come along and said, “I’ll just be your brain for a bit.” Then, they have this brain swapping machine and it was quirky and weird, and it was fun. But I felt there were underlying things in there that could be … that were quite serious, quite dark. There’s plenty of room for thought about them, so I asked him if I could have a go at, you know, writing it and changing it and changing bits and pieces. He very graciously said yes, and then we became co-writers on it. Robin’s episode would have been great. But when I read the script, I recognised it as a chance where I could explore some of the things I was interested in and bring those to the surface.
BW: It’s a common theme, but I thought you did an interesting twist on it. Usually, you see them just becoming blank and carrying on but losing the love, and that’s the standard. But in this one there were more consequences to the memory wipe. The characters still killed themselves and others. I thought that was an interesting twist to it.
GDL: That makes our central character a bit more of a hero than Godfrey to other victims. He recognises the dangers early because, of course, you detach yourself from emotions, what it’s like to lose someone, what’s it like to love someone. Losing all those emotions you associate with physical contact, you become an empty vessel emotionless and unable to empathise or sympathise. A lot of those people then just kill themselves, they kill a lot of other people around them with no sort of … no thought about it. No emotion behind it.
BW: Yes. I thought that was an interesting twist. I thought it was quite clever.
GDL: No problem. The other thing is sad people are still more people than someone who is unable to feel.
BW: Speaking of emotion, you were directing yourself. How did that feel?
GDL: It was. Directing someone for the first time was nerve-wracking enough, but being in it as well — it was … well… I panicked a lot, and I did a lot of story boarding, so I had everything at hand so I didn’t lose where I was from one thing to the next. Robin (Robin Bell series creator) was there. He was a great sort of patriarch for the whole shoot. He hung around, and he was the go-to guy. I know he’s got a lot experience making these things. If he was nodding and smiling, then … yeah, I didn’t get wound up. We also had Leonie. She was our camera operator. I did a bit of camera operating but she was our chief camera operator and she was great. It’s rare that you work on a set with somebody who can sort instantly speak the same creative language. You usually have to go through a period of getting to know you
BW: So how long did it take to film?
GDL: We had a day shoot, and we all turned up. I only met Leonie that morning and she was on it. She was great. We had a huge problem with the garage. I thought it was going to be a void space where we could put all these archives and tapes, but it was … in the end, it worked well.
BW: Where did the idea for the washer come from?
GDL: The contraption was originally some sort of thing that looked a bit like a microwave and that the characters would put their heads into. But we didn’t have something that would match that. I think Robin or Leonie came up with the idea of using an old sort of computer console with cartridges. We found an old cassette, and I thought that is perfect. That is brilliant. That is exactly the type of thing that you’d want to see … you’d want to throw away, but you can’t quite do it because-
BW: Because you spent all that money on it at some time ago.
GDL: Yeah. Absolutely.
BW: You did acting, directing and writing. What did you most enjoy about it?
GDL: Maybe because it was the first one, but I enjoyed watching it back in the end and thinking, you know, we shot that in a day and we didn’t have any money. There’s a pride of being part of the creative process and not being just a character in it. It was great. I’m hoping to do … Well, I am doing more.
BW: You’re going to do your own web series from what I understand. Is that correct?
GDL: That’s right. We’re announcing the kickstart to launch that very soon. It’s a series that’s been ticking in the back of my mind for years. It’s a noir horror story set in the middle of Welsh valleys, and in a village, you can only find if it chooses you. That’s all I’ll say for now.
BW: Well we will look forward to. Thanks for your time.