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FROM FAN TO COLLABORATOR: JANINE PIPE TALKS NEIL MARSHALL AND WHY YOU SHOULD MEET YOUR HEROES

BY MO MOSHATY, NOVEMBER 17, 2023

From fan to filmmaker (and a lot of creative things in between) Janine Pipe’s journey has been a winding one, but one of promise, luck, blood, sweat, tears, and of course…more blood. What began as a tribute article on Neil Marshall’s film, DOG SOLDIERS, begat a book, a friendship, and now a writing partnership. Mo Moshaty sits down with Janine to chat about where it started and what we can expect from her next.

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MM: Alright multi-hyphenate friend, what are your titles these days?

 

JP: OK, so I am an author and now a filmmaker, which is pretty scary and amazing and I still have to pinch myself on a regular basis. I still write fiction. I still write for a weekly podcast at the moment but focusing a lot more on nonfiction stuff. So alongside all of the film things, I’ve just started working on The Making of The Descent with Neil, which is our next written project together. I’m definitely moving more into that sort of realm of writing really, which I find extremely enjoyable, then the other thing is the script writing because it's a lot easier. And I’ll be directing my own work. It’s far easier to direct your own because you find yourself writing in a different way.

MM: Ha! Yes, because now you’re writing with budget constraints in mind!

JP: Definitely because that was one of the big things I first started thinking about. I've got this bank of amazing stories that I could honestly adapt into scripts. And I started reading back through some of these fantastical stories that I'd written. And I was like, what? I'm going to need several millions of dollars to make this. So let's put that on the back burner. Now start simple, yeah.

MM: Can relate! I had written a sci-fi script years ago, a sci-fi horror script and I sent it to somebody for notes and they were like, “Just want to let you know that the three killer elephants are gonna be a lot of money.” Never really thought about it before that note.

JP: Maybe just one killer elephant, for now, OK?

MM: Last time we spoke, things were leading up to your film Footsteps. You were crowdfunding, you were getting folks on board, you were casting. And it's just so amazing to see that come to fruition. And like you said, when you write something and now you're writing and directing your own pieces, what kind of side of it being very freeing? Because you know, you've got a great grasp of the story. You know how you want things to look. It's been in your mind for ages. How does that translate into you having that freedom and not having to work under the constraints of, say, somebody else's vision?

 

JP: I think it is just exactly that. You’re not playing with someone else's words. It's all completely your own. And I know that obviously sometimes when people have their book optioned and whatnot, they are signing away their story in a way. But still, I think if you're working from somebody else's vision, it's very much like you're going to be constantly thinking to yourself, is this how they originally wanted it to be or have I put too much of my own spin on it? When it's completely your own, it doesn't mean it won't change along the way. Footsteps is quite different on screen from what was written in 2019. I had to change certain things when it came to the script. You can explain stuff in the text that you can't always portray quite as easily on the screen, so I changed different bits and pieces and added things in to make the story more cohesive and things like that. When you’ve held onto a story since its beginning, these are friends of yours because you know these characters, you know their backstories. Those things are really helpful for an actor to draw on.

 

MM: And backstories are incredibly important! You came from law enforcement, correct? That was your career. Talk to me about that transition to writing full-time.

 

JP: The reason why I left law enforcement was because I became a mum. So when I was on maternity from the police and when I first had Felicity, I made the decision that I didn't want to go back, mainly because of a lot of the cases that I had been working on. When you're pregnant here in the force, you're not allowed to go out on duty, you become station-bound. And you're only allowed to have light duties and do certain things within the police station, as it's not deemed safe to go out on the beat and a lot of the interviews and the things that were coming in happened to be child abuse things and all this kind of stuff. Because that was the kind of interview that needed a lot of time, care and patience. And I was able to give that because I had to stay in the station. But also when you're pregnant and you're dealing with child abuse stuff, it kind of opens up this whole different perspective on things. And I found myself thinking, do you know what? I need to step away from this. And then also when you do things like night shifts and evening shifts, sometimes you don't see your partner for nearly a week. You become kind of like passing ships in the night. That can be hard on a relationship, let alone on, you know, parental responsibility. So I'd very much decided that I wanted to be a stay-at-home mum. So that's what I did for the first four or five years of Felicity's life. I just stayed at home and was basically just a mum, which I loved, but something that I started doing in my spare time or when she was sleeping was writing. The other half of me loves Disney and I had started doing some blogging and whatnot for a company over in the UK that sells Disney tickets and they'd wanted someone just to do a little bit of paid writing on their blog about traveling to Disney World with a baby, just little bits and pieces. I kind of found that I was enjoying doing that and it was something that very much fits in with being a mum at home as well because it's something that you could do around your child. There was no kind of like “right, you must write at 2:00pm.” You could write at any time that you wanted to fit around you. But you couldn’t write anything fictionally based on Disney characters because obviously they’re gonna be straight at you with a cease and desist and all that kind of stuff.

MM: So pivot to where you can be creative?

JP: Exactly. I wanted to write something fictional. I knew it was going to be horror because that had always been my first love and it just spiraled from there. Submitting to publications and then getting the bug of reading others’ work, which lead to being asked to review others’ work. And I realized it was more expansive than I thought. I thought I could really make big things happen with this. So I kept putting myself out there and I think soon people realized that I was somebody who was very genuine and honest and actually wanted to learn more about all of this. So I wasn't, you know, bombarding into the community being like, “right, it's OK. Here I am. Read my stuff.” I was more like introducing myself by being like, “oh, I think I've got some work here, but I really want to learn more about the community and meet people. So what can I do to help you while I'm trying to integrate myself?”

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MM:  I love the fact that you put yourself out there and I think that you know where I'm going to go with this. Just putting yourself out there, especially to someone like Neil Marshall, like putting yourself out there and saying I am in the world's biggest Dog Soldiers fan. I really love the camaraderie in the film. and how the characters kind of speak to their own existence and what they're collectively going through. Take me through the journey of you reaching out to him and the aftermath.

JP: Well it all started with Fangoria which was never that big in the shops in the UK but huge in the states and for me it was a top place to be if you wanted to be published in the genre. And it was on my bucket list to be a feature writer with them – but I kept that to myself. And I thought, what am I an expert in or could start at serious length and detail with? Now, I do believe that it was fate and serendipity and all that, [because] Dog Soldiers was coming up to its 20th anniversary the following year at the tail-end of 2021. So I reached out to Phil [Nobile Jr.] from Fangoria, and I said I am an obsessed Dog Soldiers fan, and I would very much like to write a celebratory retrospective about it for the magazine, would that be of interest to you. And of course, he said yes, because the original Fangoria team had done a feature on it back in 2002 when it had first come out. So he thought it would be really nice to have, obviously, the 20 year anniversary as well, but with the caveat that I would need to speak to Neil because otherwise, it would just be like a 2000-word love letter kind of thing. Fangoria is very much a visual magazine as well. Obviously, they wanted some photos and things so they said to get in touch with Neil, say what you're doing and that you would like to, you know, obviously get a few words from him and also has he got any photographs? So I was like, OK. I got to speak to Neil Marshall, and that's fine. So managed to do it all properly and appropriately and went through his agent and everything. And his agent came more or less straight back to me within a matter of sort of like minutes almost. And was like, yeah, Neil and I are talking – no big deal.

MM: Fine, it's fine. Everything's fine.

JP:  Yeah, this is this is all completely normal. OK. We'd arranged an interview and the night before the interview sent me a friend request on Facebook, and I remember staring at my phone. I think I screenshot it and then just like stared at it for about an hour before, like, actually pressingaccept.

MM: You can't be too eager, right?

JP:  But I finally pressed accept and then it was the day of the interview. The very first thing I said to him, apart from thanking him for talking to interviewers was, “I really think you're amazing. I'm really nervous about talking to you,” and he comes back with “It's just a phone call. We're just, you know, we're talking about Dog Soldiers. We'll have a bit of fun. It's absolutely fine.” And within, like, 5 minutes, it was like talking to an old friend. He's just got this way about him where he is so down to Earth. And he's so knowledgeable and he's so calming and everything that it was just it really put me at ease while we were talking and then at the end, he was like, “umm, would it be helpful if you speak with Sean Pertwee as well? Because I can put you in touch with him” and I was like…

MM: Play it cool, Pipe. Play it cool.

JP: I cleared my throat so I wouldn’t scream and said, “That would be nice, yeah.” And I was like Kevin from Home Alone, just running back and forth about the house. And that was the start of it. So I did speak with Sean and I spoke with Darren Morfitt as well, who played Spoon. And Neil had some amazing photos that he sent in and we did the article in Fangoria and it was brilliant. But it was a 2000-word feature because obviously, that's what it could be. There seemed to be so much more that we could talk about. So I actually spoke to Neil and proposed the idea of maybe something like a biography where we could talk about everything that he's done so far. And it was actually Neil that said to me, “I like the idea of that, you know, every filmmaker wants someone to write about them. They would be flattered. But what about if you were to write The Making of Dog Soldiers, I've always quite fancied somebody writing a book about it. How would you fancy doing that?” I can't remember what my response was. I just don't know. It's one of those moments that’s blurred in history.

MM: Your soul left your body. And look where it came to, writing Sausages: The Making of Dog Soldiers really shoulder to shoulder with Neil. I absolutely love that book because it's so lived within you, and you can tell that just in your wording and how much it shaped your life and how much you love it. I feel like you've created almost a shared experience within the film and how the camaraderie is there even after the film has wrapped like they're still available to speak, they're still reminiscing about. The film stills that have been shown in the book, they're sharing memories. It was a whole experience and I think that's absolutely lovely. So your work with Neil continues, yes, now with The Making of the Descent in addition to him being an executive producer on your film, Footsteps. How has it been for you and Neil to have to work in tandem?

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JP: So originally when I asked him to be an EP, he was just heading off to Malta to shoot his latest film, Compulsion, and I knew he was going to be over there for a couple of months. I was like, “Neil, do you fancy being an EP on my short film? It only has to be in name if that's all that you can do;” I know with any crowdfunding, the more prominent names you have on it the better, and he got that as well. Then he was on set for a couple of months and we sort of texted here and there to see how things were going. But he had his things going on. I was doing the crowdfunding and everything else. And it just kind of like that was that. And then a couple of months afterward, he sent me a message, he said, “you know, that film I’m EPing of yours. I suppose I should read the script shouldn't I?” I was like, “yeah, yeah, you probably should.” So he read it and then he gave a couple of things about sort of like, you know, “have you cast it yet? Have you done this, have you done that?” So I would fill him in on little bits and pieces, but again, he was now moving into post on Compulsion and still working on Duchess. And there's always that fine line, especially when you're friends as well. I didn't want to push anything. You know, I was totally having his name attached to it. It would have been enough for me because it's kind of like his endorsement and his support. And from that moment, he was kind of like, almost like my AD. He was giving me advice, we had conversations about shot lists and stuff. We talked about different things to do with, like, the actual creature and things where he went through the entire script, and we made some changes and bits and pieces, and everything that he would kind of suggest he'd be like, “now, you don't have to do this. But I just wondered if we did this, it might make it that little bit more cohesive” and I'd go, “oh yeah.” It would be like that head slap moment. “Oh my God, why didn't I think of that? Yes, that's it. More cohesive.” It was very much like having a teacher go through your work. Because I would never be conceited enough to think to myself, "Oh my God, I know better.", but also on the flip side, he would never be arrogant enough to think "Oh I know better, therefore I'm going to tell you what to do." It was all very much suggested. And if I turned around and said “actually no, I know what you're saying, but I want to keep it that way,” then he’d just be like, “fair enough, it’s your film.” It was always just helpful little bits, which made it better. And then when he came down onto set, there was to start with, there was a little tiny bit of me that was nervous. I mean, everyone was nervous because, you know, it's Neil Marshall coming onto set. And although they've all made films before, you know, and they've all worked on sets and things but nothing really of his kind of level of stuff. So they were a bit in awe and a bit nervous about him being there. And I wondered what it was going to be like having this person that you know has been your kind of hero for a while, and now a friend and everything. And would I be nervous about him being there? Would I be thinking, “should I do this because, like my favorite director is watching me direct?” But it actually gave me confidence. Having him there was weird rather than kind of second-guessing anything that I was doing knowing that he was there gave me that boost to think, he believed in me. He's read through the script, seen my shot list and all of this, he knows exactly what I'm doing and he thinks that it's gonna work. So I should think that it works. And it was really good. And a couple of times, as always happens on sets, you know, there were a few incidents, little bits and pieces that happened. Unfortunately, a couple of days before we went to shoot, my AD had a family emergency, so I ended up not having one. So there were a few little bits and pieces that probably wouldn't have been something that I would have had to deal with if I'd had an AD, but you have to. You can't just ignore these things.

MM: I think that that's such a wonderful story too, especially how everything that’s materialized has been so kismet for you, but I think that that confidence of being like, “you trust me, we have now developed a relationship where we trust each other in this game, in this industry.” I imagine that made you feel like you can do anything great. You know, you trust each other's input, and especially being able to look at each other's work like, “hey, can you look at this script? Hey, Neil, do you mind being an EP,” that type of relationship really thrives well within the horror community.

With the material for Footsteps, the story it’s based on was nominated for the 2021 Splatterpunk Awards, correct?

 

JP: Yes, in 2021, yes.

MM: So I want to talk about it because this was posed to me the other day and I was, like, kind of grimacing inside. It was like a podcast. I didn't see anybody, but I was trying not to furrow my brow. But it was a question about women writing extreme horror. Or things like splatter ghosts. And it's so frustrating for me because I am not a splatterpunk author, but I have written some very gruesome scenes, especially in my debut novella “Love The Sinner”, which just came out in the summer, but I had almost explained those scenes away and I’m glad that I didn’t. What has been your experience with people’s feedback on your work in extreme horror?

JP: Thankfully, the feedback which I've had from people has been thank God, there's another woman doing this kind of thing because it is so male-dominated. I've actually had a couple of stories in a UK-based splatterpunk magazine as well because again they were like oh, you're a splatterpunk writer and you're a woman, brilliant, and that was one of the most messed up, horrific, disgusting, depraved stories I've ever written, and I loved it. But I think the first time I ever wrote something that was then labeled splatterpunk, it never occurred to me in the slightest that people would equate it with something other than just horror. And then I realized that it's, you know, something that had been extremely male-dominated. And I really don't know why. I suppose because in some ways sometimes splatterpunk and extreme genres tend to have rape scenes and veer into the non-consensual and it’s this notion that “women don't tend to write about that kind of thing.” Some women do. I can write whatever I want. I just don’t understand why there are there rules? You’re a woman – go write a ghost story or vampires and have women with heaving bosoms and all that kind of stuff, haha!

MM: I’m passing out on the fainting chair, there’s a haunting the children’s room, someone fetch the governess!

 

JP: Sorry, Dickens. We've moved on a bit from that. And it's frustrating because it's very pigeonholing and it's very patriarchal to be like, oh, a woman shouldn't think that way.

MM: We shouldn't be thinking of things that could be violent or a story that could have this gruesome section in it, it's very pearl-clutching, and archaic.

JP: Just incredibly ridiculous.

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MM: From that, with as rich as your journey has been, is there any advice you can give for folks out there? I feel like a lot of your success has just not being afraid to put yourself out there and really know what you're after and have a real plan of execution. So if somebody is out there that's just starting off and being like, “I want to write and direct” or “I want to do a serialized book on a TV series that I really, really loved.” What would be advice for you to help them either get started or get over an anxiety hump?

JP: Do it.

MM: You heard it here first, folks.

JP: It's literally my advice, just do it. The reason why I started was because I remember listening to an episode of The Movie Crypt with Adam Green and Joe Lynch, who I absolutely adore, and Adam said something about when he was thinking about making Hatchet all those years ago, it was very much like, will somebody ever ask me to direct a film or should I just put myself out there and do?

And that is the exact advice. Not all of us are lucky to have our work commissioned, sold or have Hollywood come knocking - it’s so rare.  So what I decided to do was make it myself. The only way, whether you're writing, whether you're trying to get into film or TV or anything like that, the only way to do it is to just do the thing, the learning and mastering will come. You can only practice filmmaking by making a film. If you want to be a writer, make sure you read as well, read everything. If you want to write horror, brilliant. But read outside of horror as well. Watch as many horror films as you can. Read all the good books but read all the bad books as well. Get yourself on a film set if you can. You know, there's bound to be in your city or somewhere, there will be indie filmmakers that are absolutely dying for someone to come and be a runner on set, you know, somebody to come and someone to come and hold the boom, someone to come and make the tea. So if you want to learn stuff, you need to go out and do it.

I’ve learned it takes a village to make a film, it really does. And that very much when you're a director, you are the boss of that set. You are in charge and everybody there will look to you if they want advice on something and they'll expect you to know. And now there's nothing wrong with not knowing and being able to, you know, say “I'm not quite sure. What would you advise that kind of thing?” But if you already know something about how the sound works, if you already know something about the camera, if you already know what's happening down the line, then it not only does it make you feel confident in yourself, but it gives everybody else confidence in what you're doing as well, and it makes you all come together a lot better.

MM: Do you have any future projects on the horizon?

JP: Well, Neil and I are working on a film together now, which we're going to be Co-writing.

MM: Oh, I love it.

JP:  All I can say so far is it will be a ghost story, isn’t that amazing?

MM: Match made in heaven creatively. Yeah, I love that. And I'm so excited that you got to do that panel at MCM [Comic Con], talking about your journey.  It's so important for people to hear those journeys, because they can be done, they can be. I mean, a lot of it is blood, sweat, and tears. But I think you can't be really indie without expending at least one of those. It's just been a very big joy to know you for myself. And I'm so excited for everything that you're doing.

JP: Thank you for letting me waffle about it.

Follow Janine’s Blog.

Janine Pipe is an author, film critic, producer, and director from Swindon. Her recent literary success, Sausages: The Making of Dog Soldiers can be found here and information on her incredible monster short, Footsteps can be found here!

The Making of the Descent (2025) is Janine’s most recent collaborative work with Neil Marshall in addition to a yet untitled supernatural feature film.

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