The screen scream queen
3rd February 2020
Filmmaker Prano Bailey-Bond has a talent for unsettling her audiences
Prano Bailey-Bond remembers feeling “really happy” the first time she heard a scream at a screening of one of her movies.
“I want to unsettle people and make them think about darker things,” says the award winning 36-year-old filmmaker whose work taps into the deepest human fears. “It’s nice when someone responds to that whether it’s laughing, gasping or screaming.”
Prano developed a taste for dark, unsettling movies at a young age. Growing up in an isolated community in Wales her weekly treat was staying up to watch Twin Peaks with her parents and older siblings.
“I remember watching The Exorcist and finding it really funny,” she says. “But Twin Peaks was scary, especially the dwarf who speaks backwards. It was the first thing I remember having a nightmare about.”
She made her first film while studying performing arts at a sixth form college in Aberystwyth. Sinister Shadows was a rudimentary film noir – she used the headlights of her mother’s car to illuminate the action – but it suggested the direction she was set to travel.
After studying film and video at the London College of Communication, Prano made a series of acclaimed short films including the ghost story Short Lease and Nasty, a 12-year-old boy’s trip into the “lurid world of VHS horror”.
Another disturbing short, The House of Virgins, was shot in rural Wales in the house she grew up in. “It was empty by then and the landlord said ‘do whatever you want, just get the rubble out of the living room’,” she recalls. “It looks really horrible in the film.”
Prano is well advanced on her first feature film, Censor. It is set in 1984 when a swathe of violent, low-budget movies distributed on VHS cassettes – ‘video nasties’ as they were dubbed – were banned under new laws imposing a stricter code of censorship on videos than cinema releases. The film’s protagonist Enid is a film censor investigating her sister’s disappearance.
The British Film Institute (BFI), an organisation that invests National Lottery money in supporting the film industry with a focus on filmmakers in their early careers, is providing some of the funding for Censor. Since The National Lottery’s first draw took place on 19 November 1994, more than £40 billion has been raised for good causes in the areas of arts, sport, heritage and community.
Prano, who has been working on the Censor script for 2.5 years with co-writer Anthony Fletcher, says she is delighted the organisation is backing her.
“Having the BFI onboard for me is exactly what you’re aiming for because the filmmakers that I admire like Lynne Ramsay (the acclaimed Scottish director of films such as Morvern Callar, We Need to Talk About Kevin and You Were Never Really Here) have come up through the BFI,” says Prano. “It puts you in the best position to go on and do more work.
She says the BFI is able to offer filmmakers a greater degree of autonomy than big commercial film studios. “It’s not that the BFI don’t get involved creatively – they’re very involved - but it’s more support and guidance rather than dictating.”
Prano has also benefitted from a BFI professional development programme that takes place each year at the BFI London Film Festival (LFF). She was one of 15 participants chosen for the 2017 edition of BFI NETWORK@LFF, a five-day annual programme designed to foster the careers of which that year sought out “disruptors and iconoclasts”.
“It was a brilliant experience,” she says. “We had panel discussions with filmmakers who were showing work at the LFF (such as Luca Guadagnino, Call Me By Your Name, Andrew Haigh, Lean On Pete Faye Ward, Stan & Ollie
and Rungano Nyoni, I Am Not a Witch) as well as time with people on the commercial side like agents and sales people. Because it’s a small group of people the discussions are much more intimate and there’s a lot more room to ask questions.”
One of the contacts Prano made during BFI NETWORK@LFF is Mary Burke, a Senior Production and Development Executive at the BFI Film Fund. Recognising a kindred spirit – “I looked at her credits and realised they were all films I loved” – Prano wanted to work with Burke who encouraged her to apply to the BFI for funding and now Burke is an Executive Producer on her debut feature Censor.
What does the future hold? “I just want to keep working on projects that excite me and I’m proud of,” she says. A filmmaker once said, ‘you either make a film to explore an idea or communicate an idea’. I definitely make films to explore ideas and delve deep into a character.”