Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: You recently released your debut film, The Doxey Boggart, which is part documentary, part sound art, and part horror film. For our readers who may be unfamiliar, what can you tell us about the premise of the film?
John E. Smoke: Firstly, thank you for taking an interest in my film. To explain the premise, I will give you a little background as to how I came to make the film in the first place. Primarily, I am a sound artist and musician, with my primary project being the UK electro punk band, Flesh Eating Foundation. I have always embraced the experimental side of sound creation, and I am a little known for doing pop up gigs in remote and interesting locations, abandoned buildings, landmarks, and so on. About a year ago, I was performing some improv noise at a festival. Between sets I was walking my guide dog and I took a tumble and quite badly broke my right shoulder. In the aftermath of this, I couldn't play guitar, carry gear, or perform as I usually do. I also had a lot of sleepless nights due to pain and during one of these sleepless nights, the concept for The Doxey Boggart just fell very quickly into place in my mind.
I have always had a deep-seated love of local folklore and have investigated the history of the area where I live. Another fascination of mine is the concept of tulpas, or thought forms - entities that are called into being through ritual or belief. The basic principle could be used to explain many supernatural phenomena. The Doxey Boggart combines the two and allows me to have a little fun with my noise, too. In a nutshell, the film follows me and some of my associates investigating a local boggart legend. We recite a poem about the legend where it was said to have resided and following this as some strange things happen. The film follows these events and our efforts to deal with the entity we believe we may have summoned.
BD: In addition, you also released an original soundtrack that accompanies the film. What can you share about your approach to the musical compilation?
JS: There are two aspects to the soundtrack. There are three "real" recordings of improvised sounds and rhythms over which the folk poem about the boggart are recited. These are live and raw, recorded on location as seen in the film. The rest of the soundtrack comprises tracks specially composed and recorded for me by other musicians and artists. I've been a performing artist, journalist, and DJ for decades, so I have made a few friends along the way. I basically invited some of these friends to contribute and they pretty much all said yes. I showed them some rough footage taken on Doxey Marshes to give them an idea of what I was aiming for. I am so thrilled with the results. It is a heavyweight compilation of experimental and dark ambient artists that I think sounds amazing in its own right.
BD: What can you tell us about the process of working with the creative team of the film and soundtrack and the contributions of these individuals?
JS: Really, it was just a case of roping in friends when I needed them, when I needed someone to hold the camera, or when I needed extra people for filming to help me tell the story. The plot was in my mind. Luckily, I have friends who know what I do and how I work, so they were happy to go with the flow and be taken along for the ride. There was no script; I just led the various conversations and interactions and the others were happy to take the journey with me. I did all the visual and sound editing myself, hence the very straightforward, no frills approach. It was pretty much a one-man show. Really, though, that said, I wouldn't have done it without the arms, legs, eyes, and minds of those around me.
BD: What do you hope that viewers will take away from The Doxey Boggart?
JS: I hope people start to look into the history and lore of their own cities, towns, and villages. There are always fascinating folk tales and superstitions to be found. All too often these are being lost in time as the older generations pass away. I think a knowledge of these sort of things can give you a deeper connection with the place that you live in. I also hope that the viewers see that the film was made in an earnest and unpretentious way. The places and lore are (mostly) real. If you were to visit me, I would be able to take you to these places and tell you these stories and more. My passion for these things drove the film, and I hope that shows. I guess there is a little punk spirit in it, too. If a deaf/blind forty-something bloke like me can make a watchable film, then anyone can.
BD: Are there any other projects on which you are currently working?
JS: I've got the bug (or the boggart) now. In the autumn I begin filming a documentary recording the paranormal experiences of people in an area local to me called Cannock Chase (working title Chase). It is a forest that is a hotbed of UFO activity, ghost tales, stories of werewolves, and other strange beasts, conspiracy theories, and so much more. I want to capture the mysterious air of the Chase and take people back to the locations where they had their experiences. It should result in quite an atmospheric and eerie film. Next summer I intend to film another feature called Fauld set at the site of a huge explosion in a munitions dump that took place around the time of the second world war. Many lives were lost; it even shook my granddad out of bed many miles away. There is still a huge crater there, and I have scripted a survival horror-type story that I won't say much more about at the moment.
In among all of this, I hope to work on scoring other films. I scored the soundtrack to a new film by John Williams, a film director from Stoke on Trent called Crispy's Curse. I really enjoyed that and I want to do more.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about The Doxey Boggart?
JS: Whether we will hear more about The Doxey Boggart in particular, only time will tell. That story has been told; however, even in the months following the first screening of the film, I have found fragments of other boggart stories in the area. The term "boggart" can be seen as a catch-all for a range of spirits, faeries, and strange beasts. There is very likely a boggart like entity written about in your own local history, though it might be called a "bug," "shuck," or "bogeyman." That story might be on the verge of being forgotten. If you find such a story and begin a new telling, new life might be breathed into your own boggart...