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An Interview with Matthew Sconce, Director of Altar

by Mike Haberfelner

July 2017

Films directed by Matthew Sconce on (re)Search my Trash


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


On the surface, Altar is about a group of people who get lost in the woods and stumble upon something terrifying, disturb it, and then have to survive. At its core though, it is a movie about a sister and brother's relationship and how real people would react in scary


What were your sources of inspiration when writing Altar?


I wanted to make a found footage film that stayed true to its namesake and brought back the reasons for the genre's popularity in the first place. My inspiration was The Blair Witch, and Willow Creek.


Why did you choose the found footage approach for Altar, and what are the main challenges making a movie that way?


Foundfootage has always interested me and has been a genre I wanted to explore. I wanted a platform where amazing actors had freedom to exist as the characters for days on end and organically create real moments while filming. This was my first time filming or directing in the found footage style and it is not easy. The main challenge for me was that each moment the camera was on, where it was pointing, etc, had to be motivated by Bo's emotions and reasoning. I could not have a helicopter shot or the like. The movie had to be told through the individual lens of somebody's perspective. That was challenging and one of my favorite parts of filming.


Do talk about Altar's approach to horror for a bit!


Altar is not your typical horror film. This gets high praise or open hostility from people depending on what type of scary movies they love. It is not a mindless slasher or ghost film where you don't care about the characters. It is not a gorefest focusing on the most crazy death scenes. It is actually ALL about the characters and what they would realistically do in this situation. Altar starts out with a bang and then spends a lot of time getting to know the people in the movie (with a few jump scares and creepiness along the way), culminating in a crazy ending.


What can you tell us about Altar's cast, and why exactly these people?


The actors were my favorite thing about Altar. In the audition process we had over 1000 submissions for the lead roles in the movie. We invited 50 of them to audition in person and threw intense improvisational scenes their way. We looked for people who could realistically create moments without breaking character. Each actor we cast brought something unique to the role and I believe we not only found some of the best actors in the world for this movie but also some of the best human beings. I would work with them again in a heartbeat.


You of course also have to talk about your locations, and how did you find them and what was it like filming there?


Our main location was 7000 feet high in the Sierra Nevada mountains in Beasore Meadows, away from civilization, cell phone reception, and bathrooms. We were on a large piece of private property that was not usually filled with humans. We realized this when we were stalked by a mountain lion, paced by a bear, had a pack of coyotes run through our camp, and had a bobcat try to cut its way into our tent to eat our little Pekingese dog. It was absolutely beautiful there and absolutely wild. The first day we were there, we were hit by a surprise thunder storm (You can see scenes in the movie we filmed during it). Filming there in the deep snow was another adventure as well.

Along with other amazing locations, we also filmed in a beautiful hotel called the Tenaya Lodge near Yosemite National Park's South Gate. I highly recommend visiting it if you are in the area.


A few words about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?


The shoot was a whirlwind of intensity and I could not have done it without my producers James Schumacher, Tina Johnson, Nicole Spate, Nicole Osborne and Gabriel Francisco. We were the entire crew and, along with my rockstar cast, we shot the movie in 7 days. 

The atmosphere on set was professional and focused. We shot linearly (in order of events in the movie as they occurred). The actors stayed in character as much as possible and, long after the shoot, still had trouble not calling each other by their character names.


Anything you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Altar?


The most common thing I hear after people watch Altar is that they loved the movie and the characters. We have won 22 awards across the film festival circuit. Some of these awards are very unusual for a horror film. We have won many best actor/actress/ensemble awards, many best film awards, an audience choice award, and two best director awards. I think this is because we focused on the characters in the movie and tried to tell an organic story.

Some things my team and I have been told by critics is that Altar has some of the best acting they have ever seen, the best found footage cinematography and sound, and could be the found footage film of the year. They also add that, even if they were not fans of horror movies,  they would still enjoy it. One of my favorite quotes recently was that Altar brought back some of the magic from the original Blair Witch and the early movement of the genre.


Any future projects you'd like to share?


I have several irons in the fire for the future but currently am focusing on promoting Altar and getting it out there for people to enjoy.


What got you into filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?


in 2004, my wife Heather and I won a national American Idol music video contest. We won a car, were in a music video with the idols, and were flown to the finale of the show and at the after party with the judges and idols. That was my first attempt at seriously making some sort of movie. After that, I shot short films for contests on the website DVXuser, receiving feedback as I honed my craft. The process of creating, learning from my mistakes, and growing through those early years was my film school. 11 short films later, I shot my first feature, Stricken, in 2010. I have produced 7 feature films since then and directed 3. I also just published my first novel, Stormbreaker. I love telling stories in any medium but making movies is my favorite way to do so.


How would you describe yourself as a director?


I love and respect my actors as the words on the pages of the story I am trying to tell. I try to empower them and give them freedom. I am always focused on the edit and not wasting time getting footage that won't be used. I know what I want and build teams of very efficient and kind people who share that vision. We shoot quickly and have an amazing time doing it.


Filmmakers who inspire you?


I am inspired by filmmakers in the indie trenches who are fighting to not only get their stories heard but (with their film festivals) give others the platform to do the same. James Christopher [James Christopher interview - click here], Fernando A Mico, Del Weston, Marisa Ferrell and Damon Blalack are some of them. Some indie filmmakers who inspire me are Troy Ruff, Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing, George Ohan, Alan Autry, Stan Harrington, Mark Maness, Marcus Spencer, Orlando Gomez, Drew Hall, Hoyt Richards, and the entire cast and crew of the amazing indie film Bad Frank.


Your favourite movies?


Before Guardians of the Galaxy, James Gunn made the movie Super. I absolutely loved it. Favorite super hero movie ever. I loved Gravity, The Matrix, Wonder Woman, The Shawshank Redemption, Oblivion, Unbreakable, Signs, The Sixth Sense, Equilibrium, Get Out, Don't Breathe, Ip Man, August Rush, The Book Thief, The Karate Kid, Braveheart, Despicable Me 2, Star Wars (all of them), Lord of the Rings trilogy, Harry Potter (all of them), Room, John Wick, The Equalizer, my list could go on and on.


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


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I despise The Mist. I do not like The Happening or The Last Airbender either. I also despise movies where people are just imprisoned and tortured the whole time.


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


Thank you for the interview! 


Thanks for the interview!


© 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


A Killer Conversation

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

out now on DVD



Stell Dir vor, Deine Lieblingsseifenoper birgt eine tiefere Wahrheit ...
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... und dann triffst Du auch noch die Frau Deiner (feuchten) Träume ...


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