Production has wrapped on Sky’s The Puppet Asylum, a cinematic horror short from writer and director Otto Baxter, and production is underway on feature documentary Otto Baxter: Not A F***ing Horror Story.

The companion pieces are the first original commissions of this scale, written and directed by a person with Down Syndrome, to be ordered by a major British broadcaster.

The Puppet Asylum, a 30-minute short film set in Victorian London, is an allegorical horror biopic written and directed by Otto Baxter as a reimagining of his own life, from birth to becoming his own master. It charts Otto’s birth as a horned baby in a blood-splattered morgue, through his wayward teens, to his years in captivity in the ‘Puppet Asylum’. Fusing horror, dark comedy, an evocative soundtrack and a foul-mouthed ventriloquist’s dummy, The Puppet Asylum is a macabre story of a misunderstood child on a path to controlling their own life. The film’s stars include Paul Kaye, Rebecca Callard, Myanna Buring, with Dexter Fletcher and Adeel Akhtar, and score by Ed Harcourt.

Otto Baxter: Not A F***ing Horror Story is a feature length documentary following 35 year old Otto through a year of change, as he makes his film. The film blends his own archive with drama and present day footage to tell the story of Otto and his family, placing it in the context of the UK’s evolving attitudes to disability over his lifetime.

The Sky Original joint project has been commissioned for Sky Documentaries by Poppy Dixon, Director of Documentaries and Factual and Hayley Reynolds, Commissioning Editor. The Puppet Asylum is written and directed by Otto Baxter and produced by Peter Beard, Bruce Fletcher and Daisy Allsop. Sally Phillips serves as executive producer. Otto Baxter: Not A Fuck***g Horror Story is directed by BAFTA winners Bruce Fletcher and Peter Beard and produced by Daisy Allsop. David Nath is the executive producer. Produced by All3Media backed Story Films, in association with Sky Studios and Archface Films, and developed with the support of the BFI awarding National Lottery funding. The Puppet Asylum and Otto Baxter: Not A F***ing Horror Story will air on Sky Documentaries and streaming service NOW in 2023, following a theatrical window. NBCUniversal Global Distribution handle international sales of Otto Baxter: Not A F***ing Horror Story on behalf of Sky Studios.

Dan Edge of C Talent at Whalar, a talent agency and consulting company representing high-profile Deaf and Disabled talent, is attached as Disability Consultant and Access Coordinator.

Drama writer and director, Otto Baxter said: ‘I am the first writer and director with Down Syndrome commissioned by a British Broadcaster to make a film like this, but hopefully not the last. Making my vision come to life has been totally mind blowing. Without exception the whole team has made me feel welcomed, listened to, included and respected as a fellow artist. Having Down Syndrome has meant I have often been excluded from teams so it has been wonderful to have the experience of being at the centre of such an inclusive and professional project. I hope this will become standard working practice and help with the fight for inclusion and equality in the industry and beyond. I would like to thank all the people at Sky for believing in me enabling me to share my story.’

Poppy Dixon, Director of Factual and Documentaries at Sky said: ‘We are incredibly excited to welcome such a powerful and innovative dual project to Sky Documentaries. It is a privilege to share Otto’s deeply personal narrative of growing up with Down Syndrome in the UK, and his journey towards reclaiming and redefining his life, on his own brilliant terms. Both are utterly unique projects, told with an unflinching creative voice; The Puppet Asylum and Otto Baxter: A Horror Story (w/t) will sit at home amongst a wealth of compelling, bold factual content on the channel.’

Documentary directors, Peter Beard and Bruce Fletcher at Story Films said:”We’ve been mates with Otto for 15 years and thought we knew him really well, but joining him on his film making journey has offered incredible insights into how he sees the world. Otto is a true creative and a director with a singular vision. Sometimes, during the writing process, he’d suggest ideas we thought would never work. They generally turned out to be the stand out moments of the film. This is a story and a world that could only have come from the mind of Otto Baxter, and through this process Otto has found the vocabulary to unpack how he really feels about his past, and his future.’

Jon Creamer

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