Emma Dark: Filmmaker and Actress Reviving Vampiric Chic with a Noughties Flair

Emma Dark
Photo Credit: Emma Dark

Emma Dark is a multi-layered talent in the world of indie film, particularly within the genres of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. She embarked on her career as a model in 2008, much like myself. However, her work wasn’t quite as fetishistic as mine. My renowned Maple Syrup photo set, which is not for the faint-hearted, found its fame in Belgium. Phwoar! Similarly, Dark swiftly made her mark in the modelling industry, collaborating with esteemed independent boutique designers and creative photographers, especially in the alternative scene in London and beyond – a path I too followed in Milton Keynes and Kirkcaldy during the ‘80s.

Dark’s foray into filmmaking began in 2014. She first garnered attention with her entertaining horror short Island of the Blind Dead, and then followed up with the festival hit Seize the Night. This film is a high-octane horror/sci-fi thrill ride, showcasing Dark’s talents not only in directing and producing but also acting, as she portrayed a renegade vampire assassin named Eva, hell-bent on vengeance after escaping from a secret government bio-research compound.

Her film Salient Minus Ten is another significant work, further cementing her status as a director with a distinctive vision within the horror, sci-fi, and fantasy realms. Emma Dark’s contributions to the indie film scene, particularly in these genres, underscore her versatility and dedication to pushing creative boundaries. Her capability to juggle multiple roles in filmmaking, from directing and producing to acting, distinguishes her from many others in the industry.

Thus, it is imperative that we delve into the mind of Emma Dark with 10 sacred questions. You can connect with this talented individual on her social media platforms: Facebook at @EmmaDarkOfficial, Twitter/X at @EmDarkOfficial, and Instagram at @EmmaDarkOfficial.

Emma Dark on the set
Photo Credit: Emma Dark

Can you share your journey into the world of indie filmmaking, specifically within the British horror genre? What inspired you to pursue this path?”

I’ve always loved horror, from a very young age, be that films, books, art, etc. I grew up watching a lot of dark fantasy films such as Amicus Productions’ The Land That Time Forgot and At the Earth’s Core, and from the United States, Albert Pyun’s The Sword and The Sorcerer and Ridley Scott’s Legend. As time moved on, I sought out stronger material that fit more solidly within the horror genre, such as Asylum, The Wicker Man, and Clive Barker’s Hellraiser to name just a few. 

As far as creativity goes, I started on a different path with fine art, photography, and design. Filmmaking wasn’t such an accessible career option or pastime before the advent of digital photography – which, of course, opened up a whole new world of possibilities for so many independent filmmakers. Commercially I’d been using digital video as a medium for a while before I started making my short films, but it was when interviewing other filmmakers at London’s FrightFest film festival back in 2013 for a couple of media outlets I decided to try my hand at something narrative myself within the horror genre. Narrative filmmaking, for me, gels together all the elements that I find creatively appealing, and it was a no-brainer to redirect my time toward this creative medium going forward.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in the indie film industry, particularly in the horror genre? How did you overcome these obstacles?

As I mentioned in my previous answer, the advent of digital filmmaking opened the door to movie-making on a budget for those who otherwise may not have had the money or means to make something. The flip side of that is there’s now so much material out there that work will simply not stand on its own merit, and viral traction is rare these days. You need to be skilled in marketing to at least a basic level and able to get your projects seen these days. It always depends on what you want to achieve as a filmmaker though of course. Some people are happy to make their art, screen it to a small, select audience and then archive it effectively. Others, like myself, generally want as many people as possible to watch their films and ideally for that to then lead to bigger projects. So it’s always a bit of a hustle when that’s the direction you want to pursue.

In terms of the horror genre, there was a point in time where I think female filmmakers were expected to make a particular kind of horror film to be taken seriously. Usually something with a moral message or “elevated” art-horror for want of a better term. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if we’re going to champion female filmmakers, then it needs to be just that: female filmmakers and not restricted to which sub-genre they’ve chosen.

Lawrie – I completely agree with you about the moral or political perceptions imposed by some, which pressure women into believing that only certain roles or characters should be considered “empowering.” These perceptions dictate what is deemed appropriate or worthy, limiting the scope of what women can aspire to.”

In the realm of indie filmmaking, some individuals focus on a single discipline while others juggle multiple roles such as writing, directing, acting, or producing. Could you describe your approach in this regard? How do you balance your responsibilities, and what unique challenges does your chosen path present?

I fit in the second category! To date, I’ve made short films, and I think it’s easier to assume more roles when a project is effectively smaller. Plus, if I can, I will because it helps me keep more artistic control over the film in general. I’d never take on a role I didn’t think I could perform, though, such as sound recording and mixing, for example – if there’s someone who could do that better, I’d be reducing the quality of the film by taking it on myself. The downside is it’s very time-consuming. Taking on multiple responsibilities within the same movie is a lot; you’ve got to be careful not to overload yourself, as it could be detrimental to yourself and the end product. When taking on multiple roles, it’s key to allow yourself enough time to work on those roles effectively.

How has the landscape of the British horror genre evolved in recent years, and how has this impacted your work and approach?

This is a tough question, but I think overall I’m seeing work of a higher quality and with more emphasis on social media campaigns and marketing to support projects. So I think overall, the quality level has risen, and filmmakers are more aware of what’s required to get their work successfully crowdfunded and seen. I have very high standards anyway, but it’s an extra motivator to make sure my upcoming films are made to the very best standard possible and reach the widest audience.

Photo Credit: Emma Dark

How do you navigate the financial constraints typical of independent filmmaking? What impact does this have on your creative process?

I crowdfund my projects, but generally, I still end up putting additional funding in myself, and not to forget all the time I dedicate to post-production and marketing, which takes time away from any paid projects.

Budget-wise, you’re generally working with a relatively small amount on short films, so it’s all about where and how you can save money without the film suffering too much artistically. These constraints do play into the script in the early stages. Writing something that would be impossible to produce and shoot without a significantly bigger budget wouldn’t make sense. That said, you can increase the production values of your film, making it look higher budget, by careful use of locations that look more expensive than they are, implementing wide shots when you have wonderful scenery to hand, and using multiple locations where time and budget allow. If I were making a feature, then I’d need to think more commercially in terms of budgeting and making a profit, though.

Balancing creative freedom with commercial viability can be challenging. Have you faced any significant compromises in this regard?

I would say I’ve managed to avoid this somewhat to date by making short films that are generally not commercially viable. However, potential agents, investors, and a whole range of people are looking at films of all lengths, and the more commercial you can make a film, the better if your goal is to be hired. That said, you can make whatever you like really, and as art house as you like if you intend to make the art for the art’s sake. I haven’t compromised on my work to date – I’ve made a mixture of more and slightly less commercial shorts. 

This is something I’ll be taking into account more in my next film, keeping the story itself more commercial so there’s room to easily translate it into a feature film if required. I was approached by a couple of talent agencies in Hollywood when my film Salient Minus Ten was on the festival circuit; companies that are known to take shorts and translate them into features, bringing the director on board. It was great to have been approached, but I do think a more commercial story would have tipped the scales in my favour for moving to the next step.

What advice would you offer to aspiring filmmakers looking to break into indie filmmaking, especially in the horror genre?

I’d say the means to make a film are at your fingertips. I firmly believe that if you have a great story you can find a way to get that to work with whatever equipment you have to hand. That could be a mobile phone or even an older-style digital camera. Getting decent sound can be more complex, so if you don’t have the means to record quality sound at the time, think of how else you can involve sound in your film, for example, narration. Horror particularly lends itself to low-budget filmmaking and a range of storytelling methods.

I would encourage people to use what they have available at their disposal and to make something of the best quality they can. Then get eyes on the final result, be that through film festivals, online reviews, social media, private screenings, etc.

What personal or professional sacrifices have you made in your career, and how have they shaped your journey in the film industry?

I generally have limited time to work on my projects, which means I have to sacrifice something to enable me to do that. I act a little, but I don’t have time to pursue that if I’m working on my projects. Plus, if I’m working on my projects, then I’m not taking on paid work, so it’s a balancing act. I’m also known for my prior acting and modelling work as well as my filmmaking, so I do have to keep up my presence online, which also feeds into having less time for other creative pursuits. That said, all these broad creative touch points make me the person I am, and I like to think it gives me a wider understanding of filmmaking and creativity in general than I might otherwise have. It’s undoubtedly led me to where I am right now.

What changes or developments do you hope to see in the British indie horror scene in the coming years?

I think it’s really hard to predict that. I have seen more mainstream news coverage of low-budget horror filmmaking, which is nice, but I don’t know how this translates in terms of funding and distribution. It would be good, of course, for there to be a face of British filmmaking, such as the new Amicus Productions and related studios, to represent and champion some of the talented filmmakers and their projects that are underrepresented elsewhere.

In terms of genre trends, I think it would be nice to leverage British folklore and blend that with some social commentary grittiness, as I do think we Brits have the historical material to hand and can do gritty well.

Photo Credit: Emma Dark

Could you share a particularly rewarding experience or project in your career that reflects the unique challenges and triumphs of working in indie horror filmmaking?

I think my first festival short film, Seize the Night, presented me with lots of challenges and was extremely rewarding to make. It’s certainly the film that most of my fans gravitate towards over all of my other work. Whether that’s because of the universal draw of the vampire as a subject matter or the film overall, I’m not 100% sure, but it’s certainly the most popular. For want of a better phrase, it’s the film I cut my teeth on, and despite lots of trial and error throughout production, it was extremely enjoyable to make. Not least of all, because I had a wonderful cast and crew around me who were as passionate about the project as I was. Many of these people returning for my next festival short film, Salient Minus Ten. As much as I wear a lot of hats in my films and am passionate about my creative vision, filmmaking is a collaborative process, and a good team will make or break a film in so many different ways.

When you’re shooting in cold weather, inhospitable locations, an unexpected problem arises or you’re simply running out of time at a location, it helps to have a like-minded, co-ordinated, and professional crew around you. I would say it’s critical on a low-budget indie production. When everyone’s hard work is recognised through, festivals, reviews, viewership, and even awards, if you’re lucky, it certainly is a triumph.