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An Interview with Gavin Michael Booth, Director of The Scarehouse

by Mike Haberfelner

August 2014

Films directed by Gavin Michael Booth on (re)Search my Trash

 

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Your new movie The Scarehouse - in a few words, what is it about?

 

Well… in a few words it is about the state of union, our foreign policy and how it affects the lower class… just kidding – it’s a terror filled revenge film in which two friends open a Halloween fun house in order to seek revenge on their former sorority sisters and uncover the truth about an incident two years prior. It is often referred to as sort of Mean Girls meets Saw.

 

What were your inspirations when writing The Scarehouse?

 

I like revenge stories. I like stories about underdogs. I also love horror films and thrillers but had only made one short and one horror-themed music video before The Scarehouse. Growing up in a small town, one summer my neighbor Eli and I would rent between three and six horror films every day and just absolutely binge. We did the entire A-Z that The Video Shoppe in Amherstburg, Ontario had to offer. It was inevitable that I would write a “scary movie”.

 

Most of my inspiration for this film comes from real life headlines. Mean kids. Kids hurting kids. Initiations into sororities or fraternities gone too far; horribly wrong. Bullying is out of control. How the media portrays all these stories. That’s the emotional story’s beginning for The Scarehouse.

 

My wife Sarah [Sarah Booth interview - click here] wrote the story with me. It grew out of an organic process of us jogging together when I was first developing the concept/story. I’d bounce ideas off of her and eventually it became clear to me how creative she is and how well we work together to make a story ten times better than I would have done on my own. She calls writing The Scarehouse cathartic; an imaginary return to certain girls that have bullied her in the past and how in a twisted way she could have dealt with them… you know, if there were no laws or societies measures standing in the way!

 

The largest inspiration for the film comes from Scarehouse Windsor, which is an actually Halloween house of horrors attraction. One of my best friends, Shawn Lippert [Shawn Lippert interview - click here], runs it and year after year I’ve hung out behind the scenes while he’s set it up and spent his Octobers scaring people. I thought to myself, this would be the perfect claustrophobic setting for a scary movie. Anyone paying their five bucks to walk through is expecting FUN terror – not actually terror – so in a maze of dark hallways, someone with a sinister plan would hold the high ground. They would have little stopping them from attacking their patrons.

 

What can you tell us about your film's approach to horror (as in suspense vs sudden shocks, atmosphere vs all-out gore and the like)?

 

There is definitely a mix. There are a number of surprise moments but the film is designed more to build mental tension as the torment these poor sorority sisters face increases in stakes. I think we have some really nasty stuff in here, it has left test audiences unsettled. We even had a few actors decline their callback audition after they read the script, just reading the content made their stomachs turn. At the time that made me smile more, knowing that we were doing something right.

 

The gore moments are choice moments versus an overkill of bloody carnage. Sometimes it truly is best to leave some of the menace to the imagination to get the greatest impact. The sound design layered in to enhance the gore – man, it makes me cringe when I watch it back now!  Our sound designer, George Flores and our composer Adrian Ellis have gone above and beyond to make these scenes intense.

 

The atmosphere of the haunted house itself is quite tense and moody – all sorts of tacky Halloween-ish ghouls and moaning sounds to hide the approach of our looming attackers. It should trigger memories of walking through fun houses the audience has attended in the past and bring them right back to knowing how it feels; just waiting for the next thing to jump out at you.

 

Do talk about the film's look and feel for a bit?

 

For the film’s look - the sets (practically every scene takes place inside The Scarehouse itself) we built to look exactly like the tacky haunted house’s we’ve all been through. Now I’m not saying there aren’t some amazing, extravagant haunt locations out there – there definitely are – but the typical small town Halloween thrill spot is cheap garbage bag walls, endless spools of cobwebs, dummies with masks, cheap doors on motors to repeatedly bang – that sort of thing.

 

The film is colourful. The accent lighting in The Scarehouse is an array of colours – it isn’t the common modern horror film palette of heavily desaturation. There is a loose 80’s vibe to the soundtrack and general appeal of the film that demands more colour I feel.

 

We also have a found footage element to a small number of flashbacks shot through the eyes of the sorority sisters during an initiation ritual that took place a few years prior to the night of the main Scarehouse events. Anyone who knows me knows of my massive love for found footage films that are executed brilliantly. I hope I’ve done these scenes justice. I shot them myself to ensure I had the exact look I was going for. Far too often you see a found footage movie that was clearly lit and shot with big Hollywood filmmaking lights and cameras and it throws off the authentic appeal of what makes a found footage film believable.

 

A few words about your key cast, and why exactly these people?

 

Sarah and Gavin Michael Booth

Katherine Barrell

Our cast is amazing overall. My wife Sarah [Sarah Booth interview - click here] is the lead. There are plenty of jokes of how she * cough cough * secured the role but really I’m not influenced at all to cast friends and family. If anything they are the last people I want on set when things get tense. Sarah and I had made a short film together – the first time we ever worked together as director/actor – called To Hell, With Love. I can say without hesitation, aside from being my soulmate, she is an incredible actress who works her butt off every day and always finds new touches to bring to the character/script.

 

Enough about her! (Right? You were thinking it!) – we have Katherine Barrell [Katherine Barrell interview - click here] as the sorority leader, Jacqueline. She’s vicious and turns in a performance bordering on insanity. You really get to see three sides of a character with what Katherine does with her.

 

The ensemble that makes up the sorority sisters includes many up and coming Canadian actresses – Teagan Vincze [Teagan Vincze interview - click here], Dani Barker, Ivana Stojanovic [Ivana Stojanovic interview - click here], Jennifer Miller, and Emily Alatao. Casting these girls was all about who suited the character the best – no specific look in mind when it was written. We really tried to go for talent as the top factor. We don’t have pretty faces that are sorta-kinda-cardboard on camera, we have pretty faces that can also turn in a performance. In fact we cast a few girls we didn’t expect to after their auditions impressed us so much. The girls have to also all work together as an ensemble. The way the filming was scheduled the girls barely interacted on set in more than a group of three to four at a time. It wasn’t until our last day of filming that scenes with all of them together were shot.

 

If I can be honest – there is always a lurking fear of “did we cast the right person?” up until you roll cameras on them. With each actor on The Scarehouse - after the first take or two - a huge relief came over me knowing that they were going to do the character justice. I expect to hear nothing but great news for these girls’ careers.

 

From what I've read, the location is one of the key factors of The Scarehouse - so what can you tell us about yours, and what were the advantages and challenges filming there?

 

As I mentioned early, we filmed inside a building where an existing Halloween fun house exists. Scarehouse Windsor has some hallways and display rooms that we didn’t have to change at all – simply light and they were ready to shoot! Rather than hire a traditional production design, we employed Shawn Lippert [Shawn Lippert interview - click here] that runs the haunted house to design the rest for us – why not go with the guy that does this for a living, right?

 

The building itself used to be a myriad of things – a Knights of Columbus center, a bingo hall, a bowling alley, a swimming pool, retain stores, a restaurant and office space. It’s a maze of old tile rooms, stairs to dire looking basements, echo chamber concrete rooms… just everything – boiler rooms, big empty spaces. We treated it like our private mini studio in Windsor, Ontario. It was actually bought by the Raindance Film organization. They renovated the front of the building to hold classes and a kid’s film camp, with plans to expand more as they grow. Rhys Trenhaile and Amanda Gellman that run that organization were extremely supportive of us taking over and shooting inside their space.

 

Aesthetically it suited the film perfect – but an old building doesn’t come without its challenges. We were informed the plumbing worked for example and we would be able to get hot water to a kitchen we were planning on using for some of the crew meal prep. Turns out, instead, there was no such ordinance in the building and one of my producing partners Mike Carriere and his brother Brad busted some serious hump (and above the call of duty skills, these are super producer powers on top of the usual fair it takes to make a movie!) to re-plumb everything two days before the shoot started. Also the electrical system in an old building is a mystery game of wires, patches and decades of rigging it this way or that. We would lose power occasionally and even the best of the best electricians called in would leave scratching their heads at how the building is set up.

 

You also get to deal with Southern Ontario humidity while filming in this old building – no windows, no A/C, lots of film lights… you just sweat. I feel very much for the actors and the hair and make-up team that had to upkeep everything in those conditions! However, it’s the price you gladly pay in indie filmmaking to not have to find the budget to recreate the building’s look on a soundstage somewhere.

 

Do talk about the shoot as such for a bit, and the on-set atmosphere?

 

Honestly it was the most difficult shoot I’ve encountered. I’ve directed four films prior to this and dozens of music videos and can’t say there is anything like shooting The Scarehouse. This is the largest budgeted film I’ve worked on (and that’s saying something because it was still low!) and I have to say that Notorious B.I.G. had it right when he rapped “Mo money, mo problems”!  I mean, I’ve faced all of the situations The Scarehouse had – but individually – as in one or two minor problems per each production – but never has it all rained down on one set day after day. If I was a biblical man I would say this might have been the powers of the universe issuing me a forty day in the dessert kinda challenge. Every single day had hurdles. There were personalities butting heads, issues with the building and challenges of every nature.

 

I won’t single anyone out but to say that dealing with drunk members of a film crew makes getting the task at hand accomplished difficult – or dealing with a building that floods one of your sets isn’t always easy to schedule around – or when an actor and the director don’t see eye to eye constantly; cue the fireworks while everyone else awkwardly finds a spot on the ground to look away to.

 

That however is all water under the bridge. I believe it is overcoming adversity that will drive an artist forward. We all have stories from the trenches of how we fought a battle and (hopefully) won in the form of a finished film we can be proud of. I have that in The Scarehouse.

 

That also isn’t to say every day was a complete nightmare because that would be lying. The one thing I truly love about filmmaking is that I get to work with some of my best friends each time. You see people pursuing their respective passion in each department and that energy inspires me to do my best; to do what I can to elevate their work on the film. It is that pressure that I love – how to outdo myself and live up to what is expected of the director. There are crew members from this film I don’t want to make my next films without. I’ll bring them kicking and screaming if I have to because I believe in their ability to work under pressure and excel at their craft.

We shot in 23 days just under a year ago.

 

The $64-question of course, when and where will the film be released onto the general public?

 

October 18th for Canada and the United States. There is a theatrical run before it comes to VOD/iTunes everywhere shortly after that.

We’ll be doing a hometown screening in Windsor, Ontario to let everyone who donated blood, sweat and tears to the film be the first to see it.

 

Any future projects you'd like to share?

 

Can I talk about the sequel yet?  I’m not sure if I’m supposed to so I won’t say any more on that, I don’t want to find myself lured into The Scarehouse as I speak out of line!  Beyond that – it isn’t a matter of secrecy but more about not wanting to get into specifics before the projects become “real” (aka financed). I’m developing a war thriller, another horror film and a musical comedy. I’m an executive producer on the upcoming horror anthology Late Night Double Feature which will see a release soon.

 

I also have a highly controversial school shooting film I’ve come oh-so-close to making several times in the past that I hope to revisit once again. If anyone reading out there is a film investor with serious balls and wants to get involved please reach out!  It has been a bittersweet ride with this film – it scares people right out of the investments they already committed to!  That sort of fear of the material makes me KNOW I have to make it some day soon.

 

Other than that I will be shooting more music videos this fall, including a few from the (in my not so humble opinion) wickedly awesome Scarehouse original soundtrack.

 

What got you into filmmaking to begin with, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?

 

No formal training at all. Everything I know I learned from making films. The obsession started for me when I was in high school and hasn’t gone away. I started making videos for every class project, skipping school to make short films and have worked in video and film production for myself since finishing high school. I had a teacher, Keith Harrick, who was my Robin Williams. Carpe Diem! He pushed me to pursue my talents and not get caught up in worrying about grades in the traditional math and science. It really was the Dead Poet’s Society effect. Then I saw Clerks when I was young and read about Kevin Smith making a tiny film – after that I saw Rodriguez’s first film and I thought – forget film school – I can raise 10-20k and make a film. That was my path – learning by failing, by doing, working towards improving a little each time out.

 

My first film like many would be using my father’s 8mm film camera as a kid making stop-motion lego and Star Wars action figure films. Not much has changed from there – I get my excitable friends together for each project and we just push forward until it happens.

 

My first “professional” break came from making a fake A Channel news station ID and sneaking into a Third Eye Blind concert in Detroit. I convinced the band’s security and management I was there to interview them and they let me!  I filmed some of the show that night and started chatting with the band back stage which led to their bass player scoring parts of my first feature and me doing a ton of video work for the band and leading to shooting documentaries and other video projects for some of the top entertainers in the business. It was a definitive lesson in the fact that anything is possible and if you just take the risk, take the chance… you can carve your own path with some ease.

 

What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to The Scarehouse?

 

I started with action-dramas and straight out indie drama films. The Scarehouse is a real left turn for me. However, I’m a fan of many genres of films and hope to work in all of them before my time here on earth is up.

I worked a lot in the music industry, had the chance to work with some of the bands I loved growing up – that will always be cherished memories for me. I love music as much as I love film so the ability to jump between films and telling stories in music videos makes me a very, very happy little filmmaker.

If anyone wants to see previous work http://www.youtube.com/mimeticonline has playlists for different areas of music videos and such. They can also look up the short film To Hell, With Love on YouTube. 

 

Besides movies, you have also directed quite a few music videos - care to talk about those for a bit, and how does directing a music video compare to making a movie?

 

It is only a few days on set compared to weeks or months so exhaustion rarely sets in!  You also don’t have to record sound so you can jump around and directed in a much more energetic fashion which suits me.

 

I love it for the ability to tell stories and try out concepts I don’t always get to direct in narrative films. I get to work with new actors I haven’t before – collaborate with different cinematographers – really it is the ideal way to sample a bit of everything. I’m a big fan of single take videos and try to get artists to undertake those out when they let me.

 

I hope to always bounce back and forth between music videos and films.

 

How would you describe yourself as a director?

 

Hmm – tough. I’m tough. I love collaborating but ultimately I know what I want and what I’m there to make and have no problem spelling that out. I can be a very blunt person so that comes off snappy on a set sometimes. I don’t have a filter to deal otherwise. In terms of the artistic approach – it is strange because typically I’ve written the script and been a producer getting the film to the point we are finally shooting so I’m fortunate with all that time to live with the film in my head and imagine it completely.

 

When I get on set I like to see what the actors bring. I like to let each department give me their spin on how they see it before I lay out my specific vision day to day – I find it helps a freedom in creating new ideas or ways of looking at any given scene or shot. They won’t cater answers to what I’ve just said and often it brings up fantastic new ideas I wouldn’t have had. That is the beauty of collaborating with talented people – the discovery.

 

I also edit my own work so I feel as a director I’m good in a jam – I can see in my head how I can edit what we’ve shot to get around an issue or when we are running out of time I can cut the shot list according to what I know I can make happen in the edit.

 

Filmmakers who inspire you?

 

Richard Linklater. His diversity over his body of work is fantastic. Huge fan of all his films. Can’t wait to see Boyhood. Who shoots a film over 12 years?  That’s interesting me. A new approach. Something that hasn’t been done. Also with Before Midnight he’s done what few film series have accomplished – a third film worthy of the first two. That is a huge high-five.

 

Lucas. He might be the Lucas he is now – but back in the day he fought hard to get what he wanted. I respect that. In this day in age, too many of us filmmakers are willing to bend over and take it just to get a movie made. Chances are the films facing the most adversity in getting made end up being the most interesting ones. If you have a story to tell that is bold and “out there”, don’t compromise! There is no point in making that movie when it gets molded into something more generic. Lucas fought back against that and we have Star Wars for it.

 

Here in the local scene I’m in awe of Chad Archibald and the Black Fawn guys. I don’t know him or the team very well but they represent the work ethic it takes to build a long lasting career in this industry. I watch from a distance and have a great respect for their constant output of new material, starting a distribution company and pushing in all directions. There should be a bigger spotlight on their efforts.

 

Your favourite movies?

 

The Shawshank Redemption, Star Wars: Episode IV, Stand By Me, Run Lola Run, Good Will Hunting, The Blair Witch Project and Braveheart. I could watch those films on an endless loop. Shawshank is my desert island film; if I had to live with only one film to watch this would be it.

Relating to the genre of horror- I’m a massive fan of the Nightmare on Elm Street films – particularly the original. I can’t say that The Scarehouse resembles it but as a kid I would watch it over and over and loved the idea of sound and images being able to scare me so much. It may have been the first instance (other than the obligatory John Williams cassettes) of a movie soundtrack I wanted to buy. I emphasize constantly how important music is to a film.

 

... and of course, films you really deplore?

 

This is a great question!  I actually think I don’t hate any film. A few friends and I used to host a “Worst Movie Sunday” club - we’d go to the video store and rent what we felt would be the worst movie, then poke fun of it. I’ve found watching bad movies there are as many valuable lessons in filmmaking as great films. The lessons in what not to do and what went wrong for any particular film.

 

I’ve also recently discovered Mystery Science Theater 3000 on Netflix and have to say that without bad movies we wouldn’t have that gem. It’s just about the funniest thing I’ve seen, not sure how I missed it twenty years ago.

If I had to pick a few, they would probably be lazy sequels – sequels that could have been great but the scripts just left massive plot holes in them. Plot holes that I feel when hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on the films that someone, somewhere through the making of the film must have caught, and I imagine a studio head looking at the poster and the internet buzz for it and just shrugging, extending is bottom lip in a “meh” sort of grin. The equivalent of “fuck it!”.  So – Transformers 3 is on my shit list. Really?  They found that new Transformer when man first went to the moon in the 60’s?  Well that’s great – what a cool introduction to the film, right? Well it undoes how humanity first learned of Transformers on Mars with the Mars Rover in the original film. A simple line of “Sir, this has been kept top secret… even from the rest of the government” would have solved the error but nope.

 

Terminator: Salvation is on my list too, I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to walk out of a film more. Skynet – with zero way of knowing – ZERO –, knows that it should hold Kyle Reese hostage in their camp in order to lure John Connor in so they can kill the future leader of the resistance. WTF? This is chicken before the egg. I know all time travel movies have a paradox and each one of them has a few nitpicky things to discuss (like even Terminator 2 we’re supposed to buy that Edward Furlong is nine or ten given the timeline since the original film!), but Salvation shit the bed. It’s a horrible oversight that could have been fixed again with ease – the Marcus robot could have overheard John Connor listening to his mother’s old tapes and heard a key piece of information that leads Skynet to the discovery – but nope – screw you audience!  We don’t care – look at the CG Arnold!  Look at the cool explosions!

 

Ok, that’s my rant – but again, there are valuable screenwriting lessons to pull from those.

 

Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?

 

http://www.scarehousemovie.com

http://www.youtube.com/mimeticonline (for music videos)

https://www.facebook.com/TheScareHouse

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Gavin-Michael-Booth/104148993891

http://www.twitter.com/scarehousemovie

http://www.twitter.com/gavinbooth

Also, listen to a track from The Scarehouse's soundtrack: https://soundcloud.com/scarehousemovie/face-your-fears-the-scarehouse-original-score 

 

Anything else you are dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?

 

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I think that covers it for now. I don’t really know what else… pondering… pondering… actually, I’m still a relatively new fish to living and working in the Toronto film scene. I have to say that the scene here is incredibly welcoming and supportive. So much love and promotion between film camps – it is unlike anything I have experienced before in other cities. You have warm hearted heroes like Warren Sonoda hosting dinners to introduce filmmakers to one another; fantastic events at The Royal Cinema constantly… it is just a great city for people helping each other get projects made. I love it. There’s a frenzy here I haven’t experienced before.

 

So in short – to everyone here in Toronto doing what they do in film – keep it up! Much respected. If I can give back to anyone out there, I’m happy to do so, it is the least I can do. I very much look forward to getting to know more of the film community here as I continue to plant roots.

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

Anytime! These questions were great. I love having to think. Keep it coming.

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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Thanks for watching !!!



 

 

On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide
WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
starring
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD

 

 

Stell Dir vor, Deine Lieblingsseifenoper birgt eine tiefere Wahrheit ...
... und stell Dir vor, der Penner von der U-Bahnstation hat doch recht ...
... und dann triffst Du auch noch die Frau Deiner (feuchten) Träume ...

 

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