Your new movie In
Memory Of - in a few words, what is it about?
Memory Of is about a young woman named Amber Sheridan who is the
only surviving subject of a clandestine medical experiment gone horribly
wrong. She flees for her life, missing her most precious memories of
childhood, suffering terrifying hallucinations, and pursued by those who
stand to profit from her damaged brain. She finds herself on a
cross-country road trip to track down a mysterious stranger - the one man
who can end her madness, and restore the memories that have been stolen
were your sources of inspiration when writing In
Cinematically, the jumping off point was the road trip aspect of the
film. I looked to classic road trip films for inspiration, like Vanishing
Point (1971), Two-Lane Backtop (1971), and Badlands (1973).
Then we started layering on the weirdness, allowing ourselves to be
inspired by David Lynch's more surreal output, Alejandro Jodorowsky films,
and from the horror genre, Carnival
of Souls (1962), A
Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Jacob's Ladder (1990), and Dust
Devil (1992). As In
Memory Of is a blend of genres, David Cronenberg's combo horror /
sci-fi films were a big inspiration as well. One of my all time
favorite films, Apocalypse Now (1979) was an influence too. The
journey in that film, a trek up a river mirroring the character's journey
into his own darkness, is not unlike an existential road trip film, or the
road trip Amber takes in In
Memory Of. Just replace the river with a road.
On a personal level, my co-writer Jason Christ and I had both witnessed close family
members succumb to severe memory deterioration in old age. My
grandmother could not remember anything past five minutes ago. Jason
and I discussed whether or not a person suffering from such a thing was
the same person they used to be. My grandmother sure seemed like she
was the same person. Same personality. Same wit. But how
could you be the same person if you lose access to all the good and bad
experiences you've had, and all the good and bad decisions you've made?
As you live your life, these experiences form who you are. One would
think that being cut off from these memories would turn you into a
different human being. Jason and I did not want to address this
philosophical contemplation directly in the screenplay, but our
discussions on this topic certainly colored the writing process.
To what extent could you actually
identify with Amber - or with her chief puppeteer Simon?
Unless you are supremely lucky and privileged, you have felt helpless
at times. I think Amber's helplessness, and her ability to keep up
the fight despite feeling helpless, is what I identified with.
Simon I did not identify with so much. He feels like a
personification of the trials life throws at you. There is likely no
purely evil bad guy trying to do you in each day in real life. But
you can be thrown into tough times and subjected to loss and hardship by a
variety of types who make questionable decisions, or people with good
intentions who still act destructively, or people who work for their own
gain without considering the negative impact their activities will have on
others. To me, Simon feels like an intermingling of all those kinds
of people and the damaging results of their actions.
Memory Of is very labyrinthine in structure and doesn't always
follow a traditional narrative continuity - so what were the ideas behind
this, and how easy or hard was it to (literally) not lose the plot telling
a story that way?
That wasn't difficult because, when we
first started developing the story, it began with the Amber character and
the basic plot. We nailed that down before we started throwing in
all the curveballs, all the madness - all the surreal stuff. Because
we did it in that order, it was not hard to stay on the rails in terms of
telling the story. Conjuring the abstract, surreal stuff was more
difficult. We'd have a theme or an aspect of Amber's psychosis we
wanted to touch on, and then we'd have to find a cinematic way of
presenting it. Sometimes that came easily and sometimes we really
You've written In
Memory Of together with your leads Jason Christ and Jackie Kelly [Jackie
Kelly interview - click here] -
so what was your collaboration like when conceiving the script?
Jason wrote the initial treatment - it was maybe ten pages long.
Then I expanded it to twenty pages or so. Jackie, Jason and I would
then discuss the story treatment, fine tune it, and get it where we wanted
it to be. Then I literally drew lines across the pages of the
treatment, chopping it into thirty segments. I assigned ten of these
segments to Jason, ten to Jackie, and I took ten. We all went away
and wrote on our own, turning our segments into pages of the screenplay.
Jason and Jackie would email me their segments - now in screenplay form -
and I would stitch them together with mine.
Once it was all together, I gave it a first-to-last-page pass to smooth
out all the rough edges so that it had a singular voice and maintained the
proper tone, beginning to end.
Then came numerous meetings where Jackie, Jason, and I discussed what
was in the screenplay and how it could be improved. I'd do a new
revision after each of these meetings. It was a very odd way to
write a screenplay - but it worked for us. The whole process went
very smoothly and was incredibly enjoyable.
would you describe In Memory
Of's approach to horror?
I wanted the horror in In
Memory Of to be about keeping the audience uneasy, on unstable
ground, and feeling like anything could happen at any time. It's not
about jump scares, gothic horror, monsters, or masked killers - though
there is nothing wrong with any of that stuff. For this film, I
wanted a fever dream soaked in anxiety.
What can you tell us
about your overall directorial approach to your story at hand?
It was similar to the way we began the writing process, establishing
the main character and the basic plot before we got into the abstract,
surreal stuff. On set, the actors came first, and I was determined
to get the performances I needed before moving on to the next crazy camera
move or surreal image.
Collaboration was also a key element. I may or may not implement
a suggestion from an actor, but I always want to hear it. I want to
keep the discussion open, keep the creativity flowing, keep fresh ideas
brewing. The movie will always be better when the whole team has
input, and it's not just the product of a director who won't budge and who
blocks everyone else out.
Also, I think on any movie, at any budget level, but especially on this
film, thinking on your feet and taking advantage of opportunities as they
present themselves was extremely important. I plan way ahead, and I
know going into each scene the coverage I need - I've got it all
meticulously planned out in advance. But I know to embrace
opportunities that are not on my shot list. On every day of
shooting, there was at least one interesting or useful thing to point the
camera at that I was unaware of until right then and there. Many of
my favorite moments in In
Memory Of were captured by maintaining enough wiggle room to take
advantage of these opportunities that presented themselves on the day.
talk about your key cast, and why exactly these people?
Especially at this budget level, I think it's ideal to mix familiar
faces - actors I've worked with before - with new people who I have not
worked with before. I have a trust and shorthand with the actors from past movies of mine, and the new people
bring a much welcomed fresh energy to the shoot. We wrote the
screenplay knowing Jason would play Simon. We wrote a lot of the
characters with specific actors in mind - some of them I'd worked with
before, and some of them I had not. Familiar faces or newcomers, we
wrote these characters with actors in mind because I simply wanted to work
with them and I knew they would bring something special to the project.
At the beginning of the writing process, we did not have Jackie in mind
to play the lead role of Amber. Jackie had risen through the ranks
to become a co-producer and co-writer on the film - but she was not part
of the cast. The three of us started to work on the screenplay with
no actor in mind to play Amber.
However, I knew Jackie had been acting for years, and I had seen her
performance in a short film that clearly showed me she was very skilled.
Still, I didn't know how Amber would evolve in the writing process, so I
did not immediately visualize Jackie in that part. Later on in the
writing, after the three of us had better zoned in on what kind of
character Amber was, Jackie seemed perfect for the part. I discussed
it privately with Jason and producer Jeremy Wallace, and they both
enthusiastically agreed we should ask her if she'd be interested in
I offered Jackie the part, and understanding the level of commitment
and pressure the role represented, she wisely thought it over for a week
or two - then said yes. Casting her was absolutely one of the best
decisions I made on this film.
few words about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
It was a long and very difficult shoot. Forty-six days of
shooting, and most of those days were fifteen to eighteen hours long.
We pushed ourselves hard. But the on-set atmosphere was remarkably
cheerful. Lots of smiles and laughter.
It seems odd, given how dark the movie is - but I think the darker the
subject matter was, the more upbeat and jovial cast and crew were while we
were shooting it. Overall, despite how exhausting and grueling the
shoot was, the experience was a blast, and I was sad when it was over.
you can tell us about audience and critical reception of In
I don't follow trends or take the path of what's hot in horror. I
don't look at what's getting attention on the indie film scene or what's
making bank at the movie theaters and say, "That is what's selling
right now, so let's make something like it." Instead, I make
the movie I want to see and that I believe will give me the filmmaking
experience I want to have at that time. So I go into every project assuming the
finished movie will not have any level of widespread appeal - and I am
100% comfortable with that. However, the overall response to In
Memory Of has been amazing. The film has won more awards than any of
my past films. The reviews have been incredibly good. And the
response from the fan base has been wonderful. So I am again
Any future projects you'd like to
We're in the early stages of writing the next
project I'll direct, but I'm not ready to divulge details about that yet.
In the meantime, I encourage everyone to keep their eyes peeled for a
couple of projects that I did not direct, but have great enthusiasm for. Tennessee
is a feature film from director Jeff Wedding (A Measure of
the Sin) that is in the final stages of post-production. I was
the director of photography on Tennessee
Gothic, Jackie Kelly [Jackie
Kelly interview - click here] plays a lead
role, and two other In
Memory Of stars, Jason Christ and Jim Ousley, play
supporting roles in it. Also be on the lookout for The Man in Room 6, a feature film currently in production, directed by Trevor Juenger
Juenger interview - click here]. Jackie Kelly is the lead in this one as well, and Jason
Christ and I play small roles in the film.
Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever
Current happenings can always be found on our official websites
Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/eric_stanze
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Anything else you're dying to mention and I have
merely forgotten to ask?
Sure! Making In
Memory Of was a unique and wonderful filmmaking experience - the
best experience I've had in my quarter-century of making movies. The
production of the movie was an amazing adventure. If you like the
finished film, and if it resonates with you in any way - or if you simply
want to peek inside the machine that created In
Memory Of from a very low budget but with a passionate and
dedicated cast and crew - I recommend picking up the two-disc Blu-ray.
The second disc of this release contains an in-depth feature-length making-of documentary directed by
Trevor Williams. The doc addresses a lot of what I've touched on in
this interview and digs much deeper. The documentary is exclusive to
the two-disc Blu-ray release - ya can't catch it anywhere else. You
can find the Blu here: https://wickedpixel.com/films/in-memory-of/
Also, in my opinion, a huge part of what makes In
Memory Of work is the original music score by Gus Stevenson and
Rocky Gray. Gus created the music score for my previous film, Ratline,
and he also did the score for a cool zombie apocalypse movie called Sound
of Nothing. And Rocky Gray is a two-time Grammy award-winner and
the former drummer for the multi-platinum band Evanescence. I think
these two guys knocked it out of the park. In
Memory Of would be a different movie without their music. To
put your ears to their In
Memory Of original score, scroll down to the soundtracks section
Thanks for the interview!
My pleasure! Thank you sincerely for your interest in our film!