Interviews with Our MONSTER FEST TRAVELLING SIDESHOW Short Film Directors!
To give you a gruesome taste of what you can expect from our upcoming MONSTER FEST TRAVELING SIDESHOW in Brisbane at Event Cinemas Myer Centre, we sat down with the warped minds behind the short films, that will play ahead of select features at the festival.
LEECH Interview with directors Sam Price & Sean Loch
LEECH was made in cooperation with the Queensland University of Technology. How did this influence the direction and making of your film?
While working with the university was great for a number of reasons like: access to equipment, insurance, and advice from staff, we were limited when things didn’t go to plan. We were completely rained out on our second day of shooting and since we had only applied for three days of insurance through the university, we didn’t have the option to stay longer. This forced us to compromise the film’s ending and become more flexible to ensure the film was completed on time.
The lush natural setting adds much to the film. Can you tell us about this location and how you came to shoot there?
The basic story premise was actually conceived while we were both hiking the walking trail shown in the film. Lamington National park and that area around Binna Burra Lodge is beyond stunning and we wanted to capture this sense of beauty that is, at the same time, eerie in its isolation. The amazing location did come at a cost, and we quickly learned that hiking a steep 10km trail every day, with all our equipment, was an exhausting process (we’ve promised our crew a five-star hotel for our next shoot location).
A lot of the elements, from the natural setting to the shots of insects and the motif of the leech, point to a ‘natural’ source of horror for what ultimately becomes more of a ‘domestic’ horror story. Why did you choose to conflate these two elements?
People often find comfort in the outdoors. We feel safe, free and refreshed by it. We wanted to take this lush environment, and make it feel unnerving and sinister – almost a monster in itself. In reality, rainforests are vast, dangerous spaces of isolated land where things can go from bad to worse very quickly. We thought the contrast of this beautiful setting with a harsh relationship encourages an audience to focus on the animalistic qualities of domestic violence, and the often-understated horror that comes with it.
Abusive relationships are a very real source of tragedy and ‘horror’. What prompted you to tackle them, and what (if anything) is your film saying about this issue?
With LEECH we are not aiming to comment on domestic violence directly, rather, we wanted to explore the quick and often untrue assumptions that many people make about each other. Listening is not just what we hear but often what we see, so it is important when judging a new situation, to use all of our senses and to trust our instincts.
LEECH screens ahead of RABBIT on FRIDAY MAY 25TH 9:30PM.
POST-MORTEM MARY Interview with director Joshua Long
‘Death photography’ is a fascinating and unsettling Victorian practice. How did you come up with the idea of making it the subject of a horror short?
All my films are about death. I love death I guess. I become obsessed with post-mortem photography. It seems really strange to us now but for them it was the last memory of their loved ones. It was really expensive to get a painting done so when the daguerreotype camera photography emerged it made it much cheaper. It also seemed like magic to be able to capture the image that perfectly. The practice was still expensive enough that it might take the grieving family members to put together a collection of money at a funeral for the image to be taken. I find images pretty disturbing but they have a kindness to them. A lot of care was given to these images. I am a filmmaker and I thought about how I would feel doing this work. . .I thought it would make a great little horror short.
The appearance of the dead girl is very convincing (and creepy) – how did you achieve this? And what were the challenges of having a principle ‘character’ who had to remain limp for most of the film?
That was very difficult. Firstly, our make-up was done by former KNB artist and Emmy award winner Chad Atkinson. So that helped right from the start. He transformed our little actor Edie Vann into the creepy ‘Dead Mary’. The make-up was very intense and took over an hour to apply. Edie Vann is an amazing circus performer, so we utilised all her contortionist skills on set. The trick was keeping her from moving and acting the part of a dead little girl. In some sections our wonderful CGI team had to make ‘Dead Mary’ still in post-production.
Why did you decide on a young girl as your protagonist?
I wanted the film to be about a young child facing death for the first time. I had an existential crisis at a similar age as Mary. The first time I discovered that everyone body dies. . .including myself. . . WTF! That shaped me as a person and I still make films about it thirty years later. It was important to make the character this age for that reason, but also the idea of a little girl being forced to deal with death photography is creepy as hell. She shouldn’t be working as she is a little girl – she certainly shouldn’t be taking photographs of dead bodies. . .but hey this is 1840 and it’s Queensland!
What was your motivation for making a contemporary short that embraced the period and gothic horror trappings of the Victorian age?
I have always been obsessed with the ‘gothic’ and Victorian Era. My parents are antique dealers, so I have been around Victorian Era antiques for most of my life. I also wanted to make an Australian ‘Western’ that was about death rather than cowboys. I am a huge horror nerd and embrace anything gothic (I am obsessed with death remember haha). I wanted to use all my parents antiques in a film!
Also the film was shot by Ben Nott who did WINCHESTER, JIGSAW, DAYBREAKERS etc. It looks gorgeous. Our producer is Daniel Shultz and Dan and I had to travel through rural Queensland for weeks to find the right location.
POST MORTEM MARY screens ahead of HEREDITARY on SATURDAY MAY 26TH 6:45PM.
HUNGER Interview with director CJ Barnes
What drew you to making a zombie film?
I remember, as a kid, wandering through the video store and looking at all the horror films and being fascinated by them. 80-90’s horror flicks were fantastic in their campiness. The one that I remember the most was Peter Jackson’s DEAD ALIVE, which had been labelled as “the goriest film ever made”. Finally, I managed to sucker my mother into renting it for me and I watched it and was absolutely blown away. It was so visceral and over-the-top and disgusting and funny. I was absolutely hooked.
From there, I watched horror a lot and with that came the zombie films, but it was Zak Snyder’s DAWN OF THE DEAD that really sealed that deal. Growing up in suburbia, the way the film opens is mind-blowing because it was the first time I watched a horror film that took place in my world. I watched every zombie film I could find, past and present. Ironically, despite the genre being my favourite, it never once occurred to me to delve into it with my writing. I started writing in earnest when I was in high school, but it was never horror. I wrote action, drama, a bit of comedy, and even a western thriller, but zombies were ever just a viewing pleasure. In hindsight, I can’t say why it took so long to get to this point.
Even this film actually started off as a joke one morning at work. I made a crack along the lines of: “What if a vegan got turned into a zombie and then had to eat meat?” It got some laughs, but I started really thinking about the scenario and sat down and wrote. The script took me two days and, after floating it to a couple of people, we thought, “why not?” So, we set about doing it.
It’s such a fun topic to make because there are really no limitations to it. Zombies can be slow or fast, can solve problems or be mindless killing machines. There have been movies where zombies fall in love. The outbreak can be caused by a virus, a magical incantation, voodoo. . .the sky is the limit and for a filmmaker, that makes putting together a film really enjoyable.
I don’t know if I would recommend a zombie film as a first go-round, but I can’t imagine not having tackled this project. Now I find myself struggling to get out of zombie-mode while working on my next few scripts.
One thing that struck me about your film is the clever use of the implied over the shown. Tell me how you decided what to show and what not to?
I remember Green Lantern #54, published by DC Comics in 1994. In the issue GL’s girlfriend is murdered and stuffed into a refrigerator. The Comics Code Authority, wouldn’t allow DC to show the body fully, so the fridge is shown partially open with GL looking shocked and her leg and arm visible. Most readers believed that she had been dismembered, even after it was revealed that the character had been strangled.
I find this concept interesting, that we can create something in a viewer’s mind by giving them some information and letting them fill in the blanks. You are effectively making the viewer do your work for you. This translates very well into horror. Sometimes I think filmmakers go into the process and create very confronting imagery to shock. When I was planning this film I watched the first Saw, which was a very practically made film that kept the visual violence to a minimum. The result was something taut and visceral. The impact of the gore is heightened by not saturating the film with it, which can be a pitfall of some horror films. This informed my decision making a lot.
I wanted our violence to be less confronting to ensure that the focus on the protagonist’s struggle was not lost in blood. It is a zombie film, so the gore needs to be there, but I tried to make it relevant. When she charges into the fray, we see quick cuts of gore and violent feeding, but once that initial response is over, I tried to keep the gory bits to the edge of the frame or partially blocked so the focus is on the main character.
The true key to that is sound. We talk a lot about getting the right shot and the right visual, but it’s amazing what we can do with sound. We added in some wet, sloppy, bone crunching sound effects to the scene I mentioned above and suddenly you are seeing this body getting torn apart without actually seeing it. If you can get your sound effects right, you are given a lot of freedom in what to show or not, without losing the effectiveness of the scene.
HUNGER seems to view hunger from all angles: carnivore hunger, vegan hunger, and of course cannibalism. Were you aiming to comment on society’s dietary habits?
I honestly didn’t set out to comment on anything, I just thought it was a funny idea. But as the idea and characters and motivations developed, I think the commentary ended up being more about the human hunger for identity.
Hunger, in the basic sense, is entirely instinctive, probably the most basic drive that all species have. But despite that, or maybe because of it, we rarely use hunger as a defining characteristic for ourselves. We never think of ourselves in terms of our hunger. This is effectively reversed when it comes to zombies: they are identified exclusively by these instincts.
What we do have are all of these external things that we consume constantly to create a sense of self. Politics, religion, exercise routines, sports teams, social media. . .even the way we drink our coffee. None of these things exist within our core being, but we take them in to create our outward persona. It’s a hunger to set ourselves apart from our fellow man. And I think this hunger is so ravenous that these cultural identifiers become ingrained in our very being, almost in our DNA.
In the case of our protagonist, we created a juxtaposition of these two worlds looking at the conflict both types of hunger create. It’s not a condemnation of the vegan lifestyle, more a look at how our hunger for identity supersedes our basic needs. This is not something you see happening in animal communities, where individualism can lead to death. Our protagonist’s identity as a vegan is so much a part of her being that she is willing to die to avoid having to harm another animal.
Having your protagonist be a zombie was an interesting and brave choice. What challenges – and opportunities – did it raise?
Almost every zombie film I have seen is told from the perspective of survivors. But, let’s be honest: most of us would end up snacking on friends and family after day one, so which side do we really relate to? The hard part is in developing a conflict for a creature who is often shown as being driven by a sole purpose: to feed. You also have to be conscious of the fact that most people do not like to envision zombies who retain a vestige of their former selves, because that would make it a lot harder to put a bullet in their heads. In writing the character, as well as directing our lead, I had to ensure that we were not stepping too far outside of the undead tropes so that the audience finds the character unbelievable, but that we could still play with the motivating factors.
It was actually our lead who provided the answer to the challenge. When our protagonist comes upon a zombie eating a human he killed, the zombie turns and snarls, as if protecting his food. Initially, she was supposed to not react at all, to stay “dead”, but on one take Kat reacted with fear. After going through the footage, we really liked the way that looked and used this to inform the rest of her performance. As we continued fleshing out her character, we came to the conclusion that our zombies were like animals, meaning they weren’t necessarily driven simply by the need to feed, but could act and react like an animal would. The zombie she came across in the above scene was reacting like an alpha predator protecting his food, hence her reaction being one of cowering fear.
Once we shed the standard zombie restraints, we were given a lot of freedom to develop our zombies in a suitable manner. I don’t think we’ve created a new zombie concept, but it was a fun process to get from point A to B.
HUNGER screens ahead of TERMINAL on SATURDAY MAY 26TH 4:30PM.
MONSTER FEST TRAVELLING SIDESHOW rolls into Event Cinemas Myer Centre from May 25th to 27th for a host of international, Australian and Brisbane premieres. Check out the line-up of films, session times and ticketing links right here!