EDITORS NOTE: This is part of a series of interviews, conducted via email, profiling first-time feature directors who have films screening at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.

Sex, drugs and beautiful people on board a luxurious yacht in the Mediterranean--not your typical setting for a horror film, but "Donkey Punch" isn't your typical horror film, according to the '08 Sundance Film Festival catalog. Three beautiful women vacation in a Mediterranean beach town and meet three guys eager to show them a good time, and take them to the yachts where they serve as crew. With the owner away and the sexual tensions rising, the group heads out to sea -- and the terror begins... Says Sundance's Trevor Groth, "Blackburn's gut-wrenching, nerve-shredding 'Donkey Punch' stimulates the senses and shatters conventions." Co-writer/director Olly Blackburn's "Donkey Punch" will screen in the upcoming Sundance Film Festival's Park City at Midnight section.

"Donkey Punch"
Director: Olly Blackburn
Screenwriters: Olly Blackburn, David Bloom
Producers: Angus Lamont, Mark Herbert, Robin Gutch
Cinematographer: Nanu Segal
Editor: Kate Evans
Production Designer: Delarey Wagener
Music Supervisor: Phil Canning
Music: Francois-Eudes Chanfrault
Principal Cast: Robert Boulter, Sian Breckin, Tom Burke, Nichola Burley, Julian Morris, Jay Taylor, Jaime Winstone
U.K., 2007, 90 minutes, color, 35mm

Please introduce yourself...

I was born and grew up in London, England. I went to school there and studied history at university where I started doing a lot of journalism and writing. I applied to film schools in the U.K. and didn't get into any so I was going to move on and become a news writer or go for my PHD in history. Then I won a Fulbright scholarship to study in America, got in touch with NYU and was accepted on their graduate film program.

What attracted you personally to filmmaking?

The pure emotion, from a very early age, of seeing a film and feeling it take you over like a high... At first it was all the things I loved as a kid -- James Bond films and Spaghetti Westerns and things like that (which I still love). Then I started discovering the masters and finding out which films spoke to me and when they did -- the total immersion, the experience of being taking to another world for a couple of hours, opening your mind to new things and ideas on such an emotional level. How could you not fall in love with that?

Have you made other films?

I made short films at film school (I'd made some before that) and made lots of mistakes which taught me about things like how it's a really good idea to get coverage and good performances. After film school, I started working in music videos and then commercials in the U.K. and learned a lot more: How a set runs, how crews run, all sorts of technical stuff, working creatively in a completely commercial environment etc. For me the most valuable things have been experience and making mistakes.

What prompted the idea for "Donkey Punch" and how did it evolve?

I'd been struggling to get a couple of films made and decided the best way to do it as a first timer was to write a low budget genre film that could be made cheaply and in a confined location. Great thinking -- I just didn't know what to write. Meanwhile, my friend David Bloom, who was studying screenwriting at the NFTS in London had been on holiday in the south of France during the off season. He called me up to tell me he thought he'd seen something out there that could be the basis for a great story -- the fact that all the incredible yachts there are crewed and maintained by very young crew members while the owners are away for the holiday -- and as soon as he said that, the light bulb just lit up and we got very excited and started putting a story together.

Dave and I are old friends. We'd both met because we'd won Fulbright awards to do post grad work in the U.S. He was at Berkeley, and I was at film school at NYU and we'd shared an apartment in New York for a year and just knew each other, our sensibilities, likes and dislikes. When it came down to writing together, there was a huge pool of shared themes and details and references that we tipped into this story. A few months earlier Dave had been to a stag party where he first heard about a donkey punch. He told me about it at the time and it stuck in our minds -- as something as freakish and weird as that would. There were also lots of stories in the British papers at the time about these parties where superstar footballers were participating in group sex with lots of their mates and just one girl and they'd all comment on the other blokes' performance while they were at it.

"Donkey Punch" director Olly Blackburn. Image courtesy of the Sundance Film Festival.

There'd been charges of rape and assault brought in some of them and that was pretty fascinating in what it said about that kind of bling, macho culture. We also love the drama of manipulation and mind games, people playing with each other -- the work of people like Neil LaBute and Polanski. And we love great character acting -- too many things to mention there -- and wanted to write something where we could really get our teeth into the characters. [We wanted to] write characters like we knew and knew of rather than the stereotypes that seem to populate so many British films. And the last thing was we adore good, smart genre films with things to say -- movies like "Dawn of the Dead," "Straw Dogs," "Rosemary's Baby." That was the territory we wanted to mine.

Elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film.

We just wanted to write something that was realistic and made sense. The biggest influence on us, and the one that mattered the most, was our own lives and what we saw around us. The idea for the story came out of Dave's observations in Antibes [France] and then on top of that we drew from things we'd seen or witnessed around us -- conversations, anecdotes, friends stories, news stories. When we were writing the script and needed to come up with character details, we'd often just talk about things that had happened to us that in some way related to the story. We always tried to thread things back so that we could relate to them -- the characters emotional states and feelings of fear and anger and confusion and all the things that happen in the film.

One of the biggest things about "Donkey Punch" was the research. We did a lot of old fashioned, journalist-style research. We went and spoke to people [including] yacht crews, DJs, and people up in Leeds [England] and down on the South coast. We [also] spoke with a clinical psychiatrist about stress and trauma situations. We went to boat shows. We went out to Mallorca and I went up to Leeds just to see what people looked like and how they dressed and what they were listening to. Everything in this film came out of real life, things we'd seen or heard about directly.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project or making the movie?

We had very good, sorry -- fucking amazing -- producers in WarpX. Once they decided to take the project on, which they did quickly, they motored us through the development process and they made sure that the financiers were onside too. Writing as a team really sped things up. Dave and I had a relay system going where one of us would write new pages while the other one went back over the old ones and that sped things up massively. I've never been involved in anything like it before. The speed and the energy and the attention to quality... I was in preproduction eight months after we'd written the first draft. That's not common.

What are your specific goals for the Sundance Film Festival?

I've worked hard for a few years now for this so I'm really going to enjoy it. And -- horror of horrors -- watch lots of films.

How do you define success as a filmmaker?

Use the medium, have something to say.

Do you have any upcoming projects you'd like to share?

Old ones I'm rewriting [and] new ones I'm starting to write with David. Different genres to "Donkey Punch" but exactly the same principle -- try to come up with intelligent, character based work that uses and manipulates the medium and has the power to surprise people.

Please share your thoughts on the "state of independent film" today.

I've seen too many independent films that are just as formulaic and ham-fisted as any Hollywood dreck. The difference is, the Hollywood stuff is under no illusions whether it's garbage or not. Filmmaking is such a slog -- you really have to want it and you really have to want to use the medium, and be prepared to fight. If you do and you stick to your guns, then you'll make interesting work. If not, an indie film can just as easily be compromised by lazy writing, dumb producers, over-demanding stars, up-your-own-arse directing as any other type of film. The director's job is to fight for what they think is right and original, even if it means, and it does, questioning your own motives and decisions every step of the way.

indieWIRE's coverage of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival is available in iW's special Park City section.