Your new movie Blessed
are the Children - in a few words, what is it about?
It's about a young woman who's just lost her father, fled from an abusive
finance, and is in a dead end "friends with benefits" relationship
with a narcissistic med student who discovers that she's pregnant. She decides
to get an abortion and that's when these creepy anti-abortion protestors
decide to follow her home and make life hell for her and her friends.
are the Children being (among other things) about abortion - your
personal thoughts on the subject and the controversy?
was an idea I'd had since I started attending a Catholic school back in my
7th grade year. I don't even think I'd heard about abortion until that
point. I'd seen the protestors outside the clinic when I was driving past
with my mom one day and I asked her what they were doing. She seemed to
think it was in bad taste to display signs with dead babies on it and
such, but that was really all I knew about it. Once I got to this school,
it was ALL about abortion. There was even a special pro-life assembly
every year in January or February. They seemed to take it so seriously and
I kept thinking "what if one of these people took it a little too
far?" That was the basic genesis of the project, but I kinda put it
on hold until last year when I started hearing all this anti-abortion
rhetoric in the news from people like Carly Fiorina and then there were
the shootings at the clinics themselves. It seemed like the perfect time
to finally make this film. Personally, I'm pretty pro-choice. It's really
none of my business if a woman wants to have an abortion, nor do I think
it should be the government's business.
sources of inspiration when writing Blessed
are the Children?
I'm a big fan of moody, old
school horror, so I'd say films like Alice Sweet
Alice, The Redeemer,
Carnival of Souls, Halloween, etc. were my biggest influences. I love
creating an atmosphere. There's even a little Italian horror references in
there, too. A little Deep
A Blade in the Dark, etc. I even
threw in some DePalma for good measure. There's a few dollops of lesser
known films like Deadly Blessing and Curtains in there.
are the Children being a slasher movie of sorts, is this a genre
especially dear to you, and some of your genre favourites - and what do
you think makes your movie stick out of the crowd?
a huge slasher fan. Ever since I was a kid, I made a point of tracking
down the most obscure slashers I could find. Websites like Hysteria-Lives
and The Terror Trap helped me tremendously when I was starting out. I'd
track films down based on their recommendations. Some of my favorites are
Hell Night, Happy Birthday To
Me, Silent Scream, The Redeemer, Prom Night,
Sleepaway Camp, Hospital Massacre, He Knows You're
Alone, Alone in the Dark, Curtains, Silent Night Deadly
Night, The Last Horror Film, Night School, Final
Exam, The Initiation, and The House on Sorority Row. I feel
like all of these have a little something extra going on than just a body
count. I think a slasher film can be so much more than just "a
handful of teens go into the woods and face a killer." I swear, every
time I'm on Bloody-Disgusting or one of those horror news sites, I see
some new film trying to get funded and that's all the description says. I
think "why would I want to help you finance a film that sounds like
50 others that were made last year?" I think that's what makes Blessed
are the Children so different. It's very character-driven and a
little more mature. We don't just open with carnage and the characters
aren't made of cardboard. It's a bit of a slow burn. It also, hopefully,
has legit suspense and scares that work. I think a lot of slasher films
focus only on the money shots and the effects and stuff, but I was always
more interested in building tension.
You just have to talk about
the baby masks of your killers for a bit!
creepy? I had the idea that they'd wear these baby masks from the get-go.
That and the recording of a baby crying that they'd play to lure their
victims outside to kill them. I'd read a story somewhere about a real life
killer who did that. I can't remember if it was a recording of a baby or
not, but I think it might have been. That always stuck with me as really
scary, so I decided to use that, too.
are the Children does feature some rather gruesome murders - so do
talk about those for a bit, and how were they achieved?
they were all fairly low-tech. There's one nasty bit with a tongue that,
on set, made us laugh so hard that we were crying, but on film, it's
really disturbing. I think the tongue was made out of some sort of really
stretchy material and it would just keep stretching and stretching until
it looked like someone yanking a string of bubble gum out of their mouth.
The rest of the effects were all normal prosthetics and blood gags. We had
wigs and fake heads and hands and other various body parts. There were two
death scenes that were totally re-shot after a test screening - one that
was simplified a good deal and moved to earlier in the film and the other
was slightly expanded to make it even more horrific and cover up an effect
with a fake hand that didn't work the first time. I think the death scenes
certainly deliver. I never wanted to make them the centerpieces of the
film, but when they happen, they're pretty nasty.
can you tell us about your overall directorial approach to your story at
I wanted classic suspense. There's lot of wide shots
with things moving in the background while our characters in the
foreground have no idea. I love stuff like that. I think it builds tension
and mood incredibly well. It allows the audience to shout out "behind
you" without thinking that the characters are absolute idiots. It
gets them invested. I wanted the film to feel, at times, like it could
just be an episode of Sex and the City or something. I want to lull
everyone into forgetting that it's a horror film and just focus on the
characters. There's a lot of humor in the film that you don't usually see
in films of this sort and I'm proud of that.
Do talk about your cast, and why exactly these
I'm madly in love with my cast. We had an open
call, which was where a good handful of the cast came from. I remember it
being very difficult to find Traci, because everyone that read for the
part either oversold the drama or oversold the comedy or even worse, came
with a horribly affected "theatre student accent". There was no
happy medium and then Kaley Ball came in after being recommended by a friend
and blew me away. She was perfect for it and just the right amount of
quirky that I wanted. I'd written the part of Mandy with Keni Bounds in mind from
the start and she was the first one to sign on. She has that perfect mix
of bawdy humor and motherly nurturing. I'd worked with Arian Thigpen before on a
production of Stephen Sondheim's Company (where I also met Jennifer
plays Tina, the bitchy girl in the restroom) and she came in to read for
Erin and she had the part right then and there. Erin is a role close to my
heart, because she's very much based on me. Arian just nailed it. I'd
worked with Cheryl Abernathy, Wayne Thomas, and Eric Riggs many times before in a group called
The Detectives, which is also where I met Keni, so casting them was super
easy. Jordan Boyd, who plays Ben, was also a part of that troupe, so it kinda
all goes back to The Detectives. Casting John was tricky, too, because
he's not-so-loosely based on someone I knew in my life. David Moncrief came in to
read and made the choice super simple. He had the right look and managed
to be incredibly funny while saying some of the most awful things. I
believe Michael Kinslow was the 2nd person I cast after Keni. We'd done
Rocky Horror together and I had written the part with him in mind. I was
thrilled when he read the script and said "yes."
A few words about the shoot as such, and the
I wish I could say it was filled with
drama, but it was a pretty relaxed shoot. I remember the only really scary
time was when we'd planned a big chase scene for one character and things
just wouldn't work out for one reason or another. That was the only time I
remember feeling incredibly stressed, because we had to literally rethink
the entire death scene on the spot. That's never fun, but I think what we
ended up settling on was far more horrifying, unexpected, and brutal than
we could have imagined. There was a little drama before the shoot, because
Keni thought she wasn't going to be able to juggle the film and a stage
production that she was directing, but we moved the start date up by a
week and managed to get all of her big scenes shot within that week.
Everyone seemed to have a great time and were super game for anything. I'd
work with all of them again in a heartbeat.
The $64-question of course, when and
where will your movie be released onto the general public?
of now, we've been talking to distributors, but the film is making the
film festival rounds, so we're not settling on anyone at the moment. I'm
hoping the film just plays really well on the festival circuit and that
people like it. Who knows, maybe some distributor will see it there and
scoop it up. I'd certainly love that.
you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Blessed
are the Children yet?
It's been pretty astounding.
I wasn't expecting people to love it so much. The majority of the reviews
have been extremely positive and we just had the official premiere about
10 days ago in the town where it was shot and people were loving it -
laughing, screaming, gasping, shouting. It was wild. I always felt like we
made a great movie, but to have people come up to me, especially
non-horror fans, and say how much they loved it and liked the characters
really means a lot to me.
Any future projects you'd
like to share?
There are a few in the pipeline. I'm hoping
to start a new one in the late spring if all goes well. It's a mood piece
along the lines of Carnival of Souls or
Let's Scare Jessica To Death.
There's a fairly strange project I started back in 2003 that might finally
be getting released in the next year or so entitled The House of Covered
Mirrors, which stars genre faves Lynn Lowry and Debbie Rochon [Debbie
Rochon interview - click here]. It's a very
bizarre David Lynch meets Dario Argento kind of horror film. It's sort of
like the Boyhood of horror films since the production spans so long. You
get to see a lot of the actors, myself included, age over 10 years within
the course of the film. I can't speak for the finished product as I
haven't seen it, but it should be a pretty neat movie.
Lynn Lowry in The House of Covered Mirrors
What got you into filmmaking in the first place,
and did you receive any formal education on the subject?
think it all dates back to my Grammie. Going to her house was always an
education in film, especially the classic era of the 30's-60's. Besides
that, I was a video store brat and I owe my film vocabulary to a place
called Video Library in Jackson, MS. I was probably the only 9 year old
renting Argento and Fulci films [Lucio
Fulci bio - click here]. I think the employees thought I was funny
and would always give me great recommendations. I can't tell you how much
that place shaped me. Every time I pass the spot where it used to be,
there's a little tug at my heart strings. I attended The University of
North Carolina School of the Arts for college and I studied filmmaking
there. I learned a lot of the fundamentals about everything there, but I'd
already been making films for a while before then, so I'd almost have to
say I learned more from those early trial and error days of just borrowing
my family's camcorder and making films with my friends. Film school taught
the surface filmmaking skills, but they never taught troubleshooting the
way a no-budget film shoot can. I remember some of my fellow film students
freaking out and not being able to deal if, say, a location canceled or it
started raining on an exterior day. They'd sit there, cry, and feel like
it was the end of the world. After you've been on a few no-budget film
sets, stuff like that is a piece of cake. You can always rewrite on the
day and, sometimes, you get something even better than you'd planned. I
feel like every filmmaker should take an improv class to learn how to
think on their feet. It's such an important skill to have.
can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Blessed
are the Children?
I started really early. I used my
family's camcorder to make a sort of Scream fan film called Killer when I
was in 5th grade. I knew nothing about editing, so I'd just have my mom
press stop on the wide shot, move in close, and press record again for the
close up. It was very primitive. I didn't know how to get music in the
film, so I'd have my mom over in the corner with a boom box pressing play
when I needed a film score. It was ridiculous. I'd say my first
"official" film was called North Woods, which morphed into
House of Covered Mirrors. That was a nearly decade long obsession. I'd
film for a few months, edit, test screen, go have reshoots, recut, test
screen, go have more reshoots, etc. It was never perfect. I think that one
taught me a lot about going in with a clear idea of exactly what you want.
It saves everyone's time and sanity. I made two features my senior year of
high school, Lock In, which was a truly awful slasher throwback for my
school's film society, and Perversion, a super dark and gritty film about
sexual violence and repression. All of those films are super lo-fi and
mostly shot on camcorders. Weirdly enough, I feel like my film
school years were my least productive. I just didn't feel very creative
while I was there. I did a few comedy shorts with a college friend of
mine, which grew into a web series called The American Dream, which grew
into a feature called A Star is Stillborn. It's a dark comedy which was
sort of like a gender swapped version of the musical Gypsy with a crazed
stage dad trying to make his untalented children into stars so that he can
live vicariously through them. It's a lot of fun. Blessed
are the Children is my first
horror film in a while and, I gotta tell you, it was great to be back.
How would you describe yourself as a
I have my quirks, but I'm always looking for the
realism in a scene. I think it comes from my acting background. I've been
coached by directors before who just want a lot of business to make a
scene look real, so they'll have you move to the couch for no reason or
pick up a cup for no reason. That's bullshit to me. I like to work with
the actors and see where they feel like their character would go during
the scene. I love when actors give me ideas. I love trying anything I can
get my hands on. It's always worth a shot. If it doesn't work, it doesn't
have to be in the final cut. I really believe that 98% of a director's job
is to get a good script and a great cast. If you have those two, the rest
will usually fall into place. If you don't have either of those, you
better be an amazing visual stylist, because that film is going to blow.
I'm also a little strange when I direct certain suspense or scare scenes.
I've kinda pre-cut the film in my head to see how the scare will work
best, so I'll tell the actors to wait 30 seconds before making it to end
of the hall or turning the door knob. They'll always be like "why 30
seconds?" and I'll have to say "just trust me." It's an odd
way to work sometimes, but it doesn't usually fail me. You have to be
almost like a musician when you do these scenes. It's all about tempo and
Filmmakers who inspire you?
George A. Romero, John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Brian De Palma, David
Cronenberg, Dario Argento, Mario Bava [Mario
Bava bio - click here], Hitchcock... there's something
special about all of them. I especially love Romero and Craven's seamless
blending of real social issues into horror stories. It's never preachy and
it's super subtle, but it gets the message across and I love it.
If we're talking non-horror: Terms of
Endearment, Serial Mom, Ordinary People, Drop Dead
Gorgeous, Young Adult,
Singing in the Rain, Meet Me in St. Louis, Matilda, Death Becomes
to 5, Mrs. Doubtfire, Look Who's Talking, The Witches (although, that can
totally count as horror), and this really odd version of Snow White that
starred Diana Rigg. If we're talking horror: Psycho,
of Souls, Carrie, A Nightmare on Elm
Street, Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II, Night of the Living Dead (original),
Alice Sweet Alice,
The Stepford Wives, Tenebrae,
Deep Red, Dead and
Buried, Opera, Hellraiser,
House on Haunted Hill (original),
The Redeemer, Lady in White,
Night of the Creeps, Friday the
13th, Candyman, The Fly ('86),
Black Christmas, Sole Survivor, Scream, Rosemary's
Baby, Dressed to Kill,
and Repulsion. I never tire of any of these films.
... and of course, films you really
I'm usually the kind of guy who tries to find
something interesting or admirable in every movie I see, but I can't stand
films that have no heart. Even with a really bad film made in someone's
basement in Detroit, there's always a feeling of fun and wonderment. The
acting might be terrible, the picture maybe be way too grimy looking, and
the script might make zero sense, but there's this joyful quality to it
that I can admire. The worst ones are the soulless studio films that feel
so cynical. They look and sound like a few million bucks, but you can tell
everyone - from the writers to the actors - are just cashing a
paycheck. That's my idea of a horrible film. The remakes of The Fog,
The Stepfather, and Prom Night all come to mind. You just know no one behind
the scenes of these films was feeling it at all.
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
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merely forgotten to ask?
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film and follow us on Facebook for updates. I can't wait for everyone to
see the film.
Thanks for the interview!