The Confessor

The Confessor is a ten-minute psychological horror film.

Its origins lie in a challenge I set myself several years ago – to write a short film with the lowest possible budget in mind; a script that could actually be produced.

Little did I know when I began outlining the first treatment in the summer of 2006 that I would be embarking on a two-and-a-half-year journey that would test me to the extreme.

My hope, as an aspiring writer with a number of on-spec scripts gathering dust on the shelf, was simply to give myself the best chance of getting one of my ideas off the page and onto the screen.

The financial benefits of a story that takes place in a single, confined space with just two characters were obvious. But the subject matter also fascinated and intrigued me, and crucially gave me the chance to explore a number of themes that I found interesting.

Initially I hoped I could achieve my aim by collaborating with a director and submitting a proposal for funding to South West Screen. I approached local filmmaker Kodjo Akesah Tsakpo, who had directed a number of short films I really admired, including a Digital Short, The End, for the agency.

He was keen on the project and I worked with him on the story, drawing on some of his ideas, experiences and sensibilities.

The financial advantages of the script I have already identified were, however, also a potential disadvantage when it came to crafting a film that would engage an audience and hold people’s attention.

Two characters and a static location could easily translate to a dull and inert story and I was determined to avoid that. The script had big faults - it was too dialogue heavy and lacked a meaningful ending - so, following consultation with local producer David Pearson, I made more amendments.

Unfortunately, I faced another challenge soon after - Kodjo had to withdraw from the project several weeks before the South West Screen deadline, due to other commitments.

I immediately set about searching for another local director who would be interested in the project and struck gold in finding Rob James through Gloucestershire Media Group.

During our initial conversations, Rob mooted the idea of trying to produce the film ourselves if we weren’t successful in our proposal to South West Screen. His conviction that we could do a good job on a budget of hundreds rather than thousands persuaded me that it may be an idea worth exploring, and when it just so happened that we did fail in our bid for funding, we agreed to try.

Along with his technical expertise, Rob also had access to filming space at his place of work (Cordial AV studios in Gloucester) and a number of contacts in the business and beyond, including a carpenter who would later prove to be a bit of a godsend.

I agreed to fund the project (although in the end, Rob made a considerable contribution) and set about scouting locations and finding cast and crew who would work for expenses only.

From the moment I started the script I had one actor in mind for the part of Father Ray. Colin Prockter was the perfect age and had the exact world-weary look I was after for the part. He is also a damned fine actor and, crucially, worked part-time in a stationery shop in the town I lived in. I could therefore deliver the script to him personally and try and convince him of its worth.

Alas, he was in the middle of a stage tour when I made my first approach. My only hope was to hand the script and a letter explaining myself to his wife, who, by another stroke of luck, also worked in a local shop. She gave it to her husband and after encouraging email correspondence, Colin agreed to take on the part when his schedule would allow. The first piece of the jigsaw was in place, and I could barely have hoped for a more encouraging start.

By the end of 2007, I had plundered the resources of local filmmaking groups in Bristol and Gloucestershire in search of a second actor and crew. Tim Prior, an actor from Bristol, offered by far the most convincing and disturbing interpretation of the stranger character and proved to be an indomitable support throughout the filming process.

The nature of the project and the fact that the budget dictated I would only be able to pay people expenses meant that many of the agreements were tentative and dependent on paid work not intervening.

Our aim from the beginning was to recruit the most talented people available and convince them to work on the project only if they liked the story and a chance to work with more autonomy than they were perhaps used to. This approach eventually worked, and by March 2008, after several changes to personnel, we had a manageable cast and crew of approximately ten, including a sound recordist, best boy, make-up artist and stills photographer.

The difficult task of securing a location was made much easier thanks to an open-minded and extremely generous priest in Stroud but one major issue dominated everything – the lack of a key prop – the confessional box.

When I wrote the script I had little idea how few confessional boxes remain in churches in England, let alone booths that could be filmed or filmed in. The chances of finding a suitable confessional box in a suitable church were clearly miniscule. The only option was to get a box built for us as cheaply as possible, which is where Rob’s carpenter friend came in.

Jon Lowe worked miracles to finally deliver a flatpacked, sprayed plywood box shortly before the start of shooting. He did an amazing job for cost price and delivered the perfect prop: a fully working, functional confessional box (sans roof admittedly) in line with the story’s requirements but with the added luxury of removable panels that would give us the freedom to film up close and personal.

Finally, on April 25, 2008, everyone gathered for the first of four sessions of filming spread across our church location in Stroud and Cordial studios in Gloucester, where all the interior confessional scenes took place. We finally wrapped in August 2008.

Tortuous post-production followed in which editing, music and a sound mix-down were added but by the end of January 2009, the film was ready for its premiere at the Watershed in Bristol.

The result is now here for everyone to see and I hope reflects the hard work all the cast and crew put in. The film belongs to everyone involved. Compromises were necessary at nearly every turn and while I know there are many things we could have improved on, I am proud of the final result and believe it showcases the immense talent involved.

All on a final budget of approximately £1800.

Thanks to Rob, Tim (Prior and Pellatt), Colin, Simon, Jim, Ken, Nick, Kat, John, Alan, Kodjo, Jon, Vicente and Inma your tremendous contributions along the way. And thanks to everyone else who provided support and advice. It couldn’t have happened without all of you.

You, the audience members, are now the judges.

We would love to hear your thoughts and comments on our film so please email me with them at

Chris Jackson