In the dystopian realm of independent film, where withered creatures vie for scraps of bread, where life is cheap, and the teeth of your enemies are the sole currency, one finds in the darkest recesses of this world, in its blackest pit, lies the actor — particularly those in the abyss of British Independent film. Maintaining a cheerful demeanor might seem a Herculean task against such a tide of despair and unrelenting hopelessness. Yet, this challenge is effortlessly met by the beautiful Michaela Longden, whose radiant cheerfulness I first encountered at Manchester’s Starburst Film Festival, where Hex Studios screened The Devil’s Machine.
Hailing from Manchester, Longden is recognisable for her winning smile, striking strawberry-blonde hair, and athletic build. She has carved a niche for herself in the horror genre, portraying a wide array of characters. She graced the screen as a creature killer in Stewart Sparke’s Book of Monsters. She played a Heathers-inspired schoolgirl in Liam Regan’s Eating Miss Campbell, a character who would resonate with anyone who might have spent high school afternoons hiding in the chess club.
A regular at horror conventions, Longden engages with fans and showcases her passion for the genre. Her work resonates from Greater Manchester to international audiences, solidifying her status as a recognisable figure and talent in the British indie horror community.
I am thrilled to delve into the film industry’s depths with Michaela Longden through our enlightening 10 questions. Her perspectives are as captivating as her performances. For those enchanted by her talent and charm, following Michaela on social media is a must. You can find her on Instagram.
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 fell into it, in all honesty. I applied for my first-ever feature film when I finished drama school, and it was called The Creature Below. It was Dark Rift Films first feature film. I was soooo unbelievably excited to have landed the role and unbelievably nervous too. Since then, I have been fortunate enough to have landed other roles within the horror genre and even had multiple roles written for me, which feels like an absolute honour. I think the genre has so much to offer for an actor; it is one of the hardest genres, I believe, to work within as the stakes are so high, so you need to give 150% to your imagination and your commitment. If you’re working in independent horror, you only have one or two takes to do this. So I adore working in this genre as I feel it can really stretch me as an actor, and I leave every project with new lessons learned.
Lawrie – Michaela’s words of wisdom about one or two takes for most indie movies are worth looking at again; it’s an important point that might surprise many aspiring actors looking to work in film.
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?
I think holding the emotion for a long time can be very challenging. Most people watching don’t realise how much time goes into changing the lighting or getting a particular shot right, and sometimes that means you are holding a lot of emotion in for a long period of time; the pressure to stay connected and focused feels very real.
On one particular shoot, I was mid-crying and screaming when the dolly, the wheeled cart on which the camera is placed, kept wobbling. I was also gagged, tied to a chair, and soaking wet. It took 25 minutes for the team — who were all working so hard — to sort it out. So as you can imagine, that was fairly difficult, but in the end, you just do it. Everyone is in it together and feeling the strain; if you’re feeling it, you know the director and the crew are too! With that, I just try to stay in the moment, stay in my character, and focus my energy on creating a powerful story for the audience. I was lucky in this scene to be working with a great actress Rebecca-Clare Evans, who also stayed in character with me and kept strong eye contact, which made a massive difference in making sure the tension wasn’t lost.
The physical and emotional challenges of the genre, for both actors and crew, can be hard, but for me, they always pay off. Afterwards, there is a sense of achievement that the whole team did it, you know, and that’s incredible. The horror genre has a great way of bringing people together, unlike any other genre I have worked in.
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 think you have to have fingers in pies in this industry. I mostly focus on acting, but I am also a life coach and an acting coach, which really helps support me and my internal growth, too. I also write, produce, and work as an occasional casting director, and I will be co-directing my first feature film next year if everything goes well. I wrote and produced my own short Asphyxiate. I have just finished writing my first book, An Actor’s Guide to Success, which will be out next year — the book combines acting techniques with creating a powerful mindset. I occasionally do some presenting and voice-overs, and I am in the process of writing my first feature film, which is exciting but also very scary.
You can probably see I am a keen learner and like to stay busy. The industry can be very quiet at times, so it is good to find ways to keep yourself artistically active and financially supported. I also like to learn all the areas; on set, I am constantly watching and asking questions. I did a bit of photography years ago, so I do like to learn about the technical stuff too.
How has the landscape of the British horror genre evolved in recent years, and how has this impacted your work and approach?
For me, horror is still such a versatile genre. Many of the production companies I have worked with are influenced by movies from their childhood; some films are inspired by ’70s creature movies(Book of Monsters/How to Kill Monsters)and don’t take themselves too seriously. Other horrors really have pushed the boundaries with what is accepted in horror films whilst challenging the world and the society that we live in (Eating Miss Campbell, Barren, and Cara). Then you have your ghost horrors (The Ghost Within), which was set in some unreal period houses that I am certain were actually haunted — that was an experience. This brings me to my most recent experience with Gothic-style horror, which I love — period horrors are my favourite. Baby In the Basket is about a bunch of nuns and, of course, a baby. Who knew? The locations and outfits just look so, so beautiful. As an actor, you have to be flexible; some horrors will use practical effects, others CGI, others green screens. But most will be filmed in HD, so the performance needs to be real now more than ever.
Horror is still bringing forth to the table the modern anxieties of a troubled culture. I love the range and scope it provides to its audiences, and whilst the horror landscape changes constantly, it is so rich in soil, with new stories always coming to the surface.
How do you navigate the financial constraints typical of independent filmmaking? What impact does this have on your creative process?
I am so lucky that I am supported by my other work. I knew that quiet times would come, and after years of being a skint actor, I had to create a life that gave me that financial stability so that I could take the Independent film roles that offered me so much in terms of experience, growth, passion and just mass amounts of joy. Coming from a really poverty-stricken background, it was important I found a way to regulate my income with other avenues that I also adore. By doing this, I can be more picky with the work I take on, and I can also make sure that bills are paid.
Lawrie – Again, heartfelt and important points made by Michaela regarding the challenging economics of pursuing acting and the importance of learning how to regulate modest incomes in order to sustain a career in the creative arts.
Balancing creative freedom with commercial viability can be challenging. Have you faced any significant compromises in this regard?
Not in terms of acting. I think with acting, this isn’t too much of a conflict. I do, however, see many filmmakers struggling with this. The battle between making money and being creative is tough for filmmakers. However, actors can do both. You can still do the commercial stuff without it interfering with your acting. They don’t seem to get in the way of each other. You have to remember your brand, though. So it is always important that you pay attention to what your brand is saying, and that also means reflecting on the quality of work you’re getting involved in, and also the brands you are working with commercially.
What advice would you offer to aspiring filmmakers looking to break into indie filmmaking, especially in the horror genre?
Look at people who have done it and ask them a lot of questions. Dive in. Expect the unexpected.
What personal or professional sacrifices have you made in your career, and how have they shaped your journey in the film industry?
I’m 34 and haven’t had children. This is the biggest one for me, and for female actors, this is often their internal conflict. What do you prioritise? Having a child is expensive and will require time out; how flexible can you be post-baby? Lots of questions, and I guess you just have to focus on your priorities and desires.
I am not sure about plans for the future; the next two years will dictate that, and I am lucky to have a partner who supports that. Holidays and events are often also missed for filming. I’m often scared to book anything in case a role gets confirmed. I am waiting on two roles right now, which means booking a holiday is becoming difficult. Two roles often land at the same time — it is ridiculous how often this happens, and you can often feel a bit “all over” with no base and a lot of unpredictability. However, this is also what I love. I know what the industry is, and I accept it. I don’t have to; I just feel lucky to be part of it. This career has made me a lot more flexible, adaptable, and resilient. It has its pros and cons, but in one day, an actor’s life can change, and that is an extremely exciting prospect.
What changes or developments do you hope to see in the British indie horror scene in the coming years?
AI will certainly be used more, and perhaps virtual reality too. I think psychological horrors will always be popular — I also love these! Horrors will likely continue to look at the world around us and focus on our current issues and social fears as they always have — but I couldn’t tell you how. Probably fewer fairytale adaptations, I would imagine.
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?
This sounds utter shite, but all of my experiences have been massive learning curves, both rewarding and challenging. I couldn’t pick just one. The biggest triumphs for me are always about the people and the friendships I have made. There are too many to mention here, but the teams behind Dark Rift, RO Pictures, Fowler Media, Shepka Productions, DCE Films, and Black Octopus I hold dear in my heart, amongst many others. I made some beautiful friendships along the way; I attended their weddings and have even been on holidays with them. For me, it is always about the people. I have met co-actors that will be friends for life. The rewards of my career come slowly as I watch my acting craft and my experiences grow, and every role I get offered provides that opportunity. I let the universe decide what the future has in store for me, but as long as I am learning, I am happy. The challenges change on every set, and every set brings its own rewards. I reiterate it would be too difficult to choose just one.