Twelve years ago, I read an article in a magazine about satanic ritual abuse. I cut it out and put it in a file; the file I keep story ideas in. A few months later I read a related article. The subject was horrific but somehow it had a hold on me. Over the next eight years I kept reading articles that lead me to do more research. A story started to take shape, one that brought together my biblio-manical love of knowledge, in particular neo-paganism, anthropology, history, theosophy (I’ve read all of Thomas Aquinas for pleasure!) and the world of modern day Satanism.

As the story took shape in my mind, there was a competition for the best horror film 25 word pitch at the UK Film Council. I entered a pitch. From over three thousand submissions, I was shortlisted for the final ten. The pitch was “Magda, a female anthropologist, is kidnapped by Urban Satanists. Can she gain her freedom by convincing them of her conversion to the one true faith?” They asked for a treatment. I wrote one for them. That put me in to the last three. They wanted the first ten pages. I wrote them but was only runner up.

By that time my head was swimming with the characters and what would happen next. I went to the south of Spain for two weeks to write. Marc Warren was there with me. In the day time I wrote, many times with floods of tears dripping onto the keyboard whilst Marc ran, slept, meditated and looked at me strangely out of the corner of his eye. At night we played poker.

That trip yielded a very first pass, half way to a first draft. Over subsequent trips I got the script to a second draft. I then started working with Richard Cantillon, my favourite script doctor to perfect the work. I also started a seemingly endless amount of research to fill in my knowledge gaps. At the end of that process I sent it to Neil Peplow, a producer that I’d worked with before on my ill fated project “Raving Beauties.” When we spoke he was disturbed. He said it was the darkest script he had ever read! He said he couldn’t make the film as he wouldn’t be able to look his priest in the eye if he did! I didn’t even know he was religious! He ended with the line “I’ve locked it in a draw in case my cleaner accidentally reads a page of it”.

Realising I needed someone to work with who was firstly not a Christian, and secondly had an open mind. I sent the script to Mark Forstater, someone I’ve known for 15 years, who immediately understood the film and responded to it. We agreed to make the film together.

About this time in 2007, I was in pre-production of “Do Elephants Pray?” and was by chance, with Jeremy Zimmerman doing a lecture on screen acting. In the audience was a woman with blue hair. She put up her hand and asked a question, then another one, then another one. She had an amazing vitality and individuality. The rest of the room was anonymous. Afterwards I spoke to her. When she’d first put her hand up I’d had had a mental flash of her playing the part of “Sark” in that film and thus arranged to meet her.

She wanted to meet in South London, a place I would never normally venture too. She also asked precociously to see all my projects. I gave her DEP and two others. As I gave the other two to her, it occurred to met that she was “Magda”. We talked that day about a lot of things but one of which was religion. She knew a lot.

Grace played “Sark” in DEP and over the next few years we continued to talk about the part of “Magda”. She did a 9 month Anthropology course to learn what she needed. I then gave her a long long long list of books to read, starting at the birth of written language right up to the present day. At the same time Mark and I tried to raise the money for the film. It was hard. We had much good will and bated breath for a finished film, but never enough money to close the equation. We changed the shooting location and finance structure endlessly. We had to consider unpalatable casting requirements. It was like Sisyphus. The interest, though, was certainly there. The market wanted it!

In 2010 I won the Marbella Film Festival. I met people there who wanted to invest in my next film irrespective of its content or story. They believed in me. That started a process that only reached a conclusion three weeks ago when we finally got the green light. Over that time I continued to talk to and prepare Grace. At one point she said she wanted to be chloroformed for real. For once in my life I had to talk an actor out of doing something!

The pre-production has been tough thus far because of the delayed green light but we have a truly great cast and wonderfully enthusiastic crew. It will be my fourth feature with Roger Bonnici and my second will Daniel Nussbaumer.

Paul Hills

London, 29th August 2011

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