Your new movie Treehouse - in a few words, what is it about?
Treehouse is suspense thriller about two brothers who discover a missing girl
when they stumble upon a treehouse deep within the local Missouri woods.
Completely isolated they learn her attackers are nearby and soon they become
trapped, using the treehouse as their bunker. It is a coming-of-age
story that is probably closer to Stand by Me and It than it is to modern day
How did the project come into being in the first place, and what
drew you to it?
I was pitched the project by Alex Child and Miles
Harrington in a pub back in the UK. I was getting ready to start filming Zombie
Diaries 2 at the time. I wanted to get involved but it was,
unfortunately, the right project at the wrong time. So they
ended up optioning it to a very successful UK producer and I moved on and
went to work on developing a time travel film, Timeless. Alex then
contacted me in 2011 after I had relocated to Missouri and said they
weren't able to get the film made and asked if I was still interested.
So we worked out a deal and I managed to get it financed.
What can you tell us about your writers
Miles Harrington and Alex Child, and what was your collaboration like?
process of writing Treehouse was very different from how it normally
works. With Timeless I had producers approach me, ask to option the
film, tell me how they loved my script, and then learned they actually
loved my concept but wanted me to rewrite the film. This will happen
every time you get a new producer involved. After a ton of rewrites
you find yourself in a spiral of self doubt and do not connect with your
own material anymore.
I was tired of this method and, in general, I am always looking for better
ways to do things. So I told Alex and Miles from the get-go that I
loved the characters and concept in their script but I did not love their
screenplay. I told them I wanted to rewrite it and change the
antagonists. However I told them I would spend a few months doing
this and then at the end of the process if they were not happy they could
walk away and return full control of their script. No legal battles
of options or any of that nonsense. In return I could get the
exclusive rights to rewrite the film for free without paying an option
fee. It worked great and Alex and Miles are very happy with the
process. They are great to work with and we always push one another.
Alex hates cliche and is always trying to find ways to innovatively
tell a story.
The process was as follows: I use a combination of screenwriting
techniques to build a screenplay. The biggest of which is the
SEQUENCES method. So I would write a sequence and then send to Alex
and Miles for feedback. That way I was writing in small 10-15 minute
chunks. Before we knew it we had a 95 page script. It's a
great way of tackling a screenplay, whilst also keeping reviewers involved
(it's easier to sit down with a cup of tea and spend 10 minutes reading
than trying to digest an entire screenplay). I have writers working
for me now on other projects and we use exactly the same technique.
can you tell us about the look and feel of your movie?
film is lensed to look like a 70s/80s movie. It was shot on Red
Epics with old Russian lenses. It is a suspense movie which is
designed to feel incredibly immersive. I do this with a calm pace
that allows the viewer to get to know the characters and the world they
live in. I have always had a problem with the first 15 minutes of
most genre films where we are supposed to like the characters. Wolf
Creek, Frozen and Paranormal Activity stick out as films where the first
sequence was painful to sit through and I hated the characters.
It's almost like filmmakers in the golden era of the 80s knew how to
make first acts and now it has become a forgotten art. I wanted to
make people fall in love with the world and our protagonists so that when
the transition into the second act happens, the audience is dragged into
the darkness with them.
talk about Treehouse's approach to horror for a bit (as in
suspense vs sudden shocks, atmosphere vs all-out gore and the like)!
type of movie has its place and audience. I used to enjoy the gory
stuff like Braindead. I still remember laughing at school when a kid
I knew had been shown a zombie film and thrown up when the zombie rolled
over on a gurney and its stomach fell out onto the floor. But truth
be told I grew up on a different kind of horror. In fact horror is
not even the right term; maybe I should just say I grew up on stuff that
was 'different' from the mainstream and it really shaped my mind. When
I was a kid I used to stay up late with my parents and watch Alfred
Hitchcock Presents, Tales
of the Unexpected and The
Twilight Zone. I
also remember in my early teens being incredibly impressed by the story
telling in George Romero's Martin
and The Vanising (original). When I look back, all of these
had one thing in common: Suspense.
And so my filmmaking instincts, that were shaped all of those years ago,
propelled me into making a film that can be best described as a suspense thriller. A lot of people who are expecting an out-and-out horror
will be disappointed. This movie is about atmosphere and suspense
and I will leave it to others to decide if it is worthy of even being
called a horror. I am not so sure - it's 50/50 for me.
just have to talk about the treehouse-set itself for a bit, and what were
the main challenges filming there?
Tony Noble (Moon),
Jeremy Borg (Treehouse Masters) and I worked together to design a neat
outdoor set that would provide the illusion of being high up in the trees
but also be safe for Cameras. I broke all the rules of low budget
filmmaking and wanted dolly shots galore so we had to have smooth
We found a steep drop in an area of land owned by our Locations Manager,
Richard Michael. Richard was instrumental to the success of Winter's
Debra Granik calls him her "Fixer" - he is a brilliant
problem solver that just makes things happen. He helped construct
the set with some local builders. It had fold up walls and platforms around the sides. So we could get some really
neat dolly shots
as well get the camera into seemingly impossible positions. You
could look right off the edge and see tops of trees.
The most important thing is that it was an outdoor set so our actors had
cold breath to maintain that element of realism. It was a little
grueling at times but the team never complained about the cold. We
soldiered on because we knew on camera it would look incredible. Jeremy
Borg spent a month in the freezing cold meticulously laying aged barn wood
around the stable wooden frame so that the thing sold on camera. Then
when J. Christopher Campbell (DP from The Signal) showed up, he punched a
few extra holes in to allow the light to filter in nicely and we had a
finished set. A lot of the incredible look of the film is down to
Chris and Jeremy. Their work combined perfectly and I am very lucky
to have had them be part of this movie.
Do talk about your
key cast for a bit, and why exactly these people?
I saw 600
people nationwide for Elizabeth and Crawford each and 300 for Killian. Then another open casting in Springfield, Missouri of 300. I
used Heather Laird (Winter's Bone) to cast the movie but unlike a lot of
directors, I did a lot of the casting director's job. Normally they
whittle down the list for you. I am a bit of a control freak so
Heather kindly let me look at every submission myself. And I did. J.
Michael was the first person I looked at for Killian and I fell in
love with him instantly. So did Alex and Miles. I kept those
guys involved at every stage of the movie making process. Daniel
Fredrick was the first person I saw for Crawford. Again, no-one else
came close; I had to have those actors come Hell or High Water. Then
we find out that due to their schedules we only had them both at the same
time for one week. So we rewrote the entire schedule so I could have
In the case of Elizabeth it worked differently. There were a number of
very good actresses who came close, including one local girl from open
auditions and two actresses from Missouri. But the competition was
fierce and the LA girls had the edge. For me it was a big struggle
to choose between the final three, which involved interviewing them with
their managers. Interviews that, again, Alex and Miles attended.
However my wife, who knows me better than I know myself, claims that
she could see in my face that I cast Dana Melanie the moment I laid eyes
on her first audition. I don't believe this to be true but my wife
is rarely wrong.
can you tell us about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
shoot was very cold and a nasty flu bug took down almost everyone at some
point, losing us days, but there was a real sense of camaraderie about the
team. I had two friends who paid their own flights so they could
come out and volunteer on the movie from the UK. That is how much
people enjoy working on my films. I have a pretty good sense of
character - I can read people normally within the first 30 seconds of
meeting them and, as such, I rarely end up in situations where someone
needs to be fired.
Campbell and I developed a sixth sense that was eerily similar to the bond
I have with Kevin Gates [Kevin
Gates interview - click here], my long time collaborator. I combined an
experienced team from Atlanta with young, hungry people from Missouri who
wanted to prove themselves. For the reshoots I used an entire
Missouri crew headed up by Sarah Kessinger (Production Co-ordinator on Winter's
Bone) who is probably the best Missouri-based producer I know of.
For me the shoot was very tough as I was working a full-time job at the
same time. So I had no time off. I would work 2 days a week on
my day job, then 5 days on the movie. I started having strange
hallucinations at night where I would sit up in bed while dreaming and
start complaining to my wife that a shot was not framed correctly and
asking where Chris (the DP) was. It was also incredibly emotional
for me as I didn't feel that I was just making a film. Ryan
Fitzpatrick (costume designer) told me Treehouse was like a place he felt
he went on vacation to, and then when it was finished he needed time to
readjust to 'life back in the real world'. And that sums it up
perfectly. It took me about a month to reintegrate and stop dreaming
about making the film every night. When everyone left to go home (I
had one hotel and one large house full of crew) I remember feeling pretty
emotional as I had made a lot of good friends and now some of those people
I may not see for a few years or more.
As the leader of this
shoot I tried to be generous and put people first, but it is impossible to
direct and produce a film at the same time. So I had to delegate to
others. I have had a lot of crew come back and say how much
they enjoyed the movie. So overall it was a very positive and
character building experience.
$64-question of course, when and where will the film be released?
just had some offers for distribution at Cannes and will probably complete
sales at AFM. Our sales agent, Imagination Worldwide, normally can
close out most territories within 12 months, so I am hoping the film will
be out in 2015 on DVD.
future projects you'd like to share?
I am going to rewrite Timeless
for Boundless Pictures this summer. Other than that I plan
to take a year off to spend time with family and while this happens I have
three projects in development that I am managing. If one of them
kicks we can shoot the next one in late 2015.
What got you into
filmmaking in the first place, and what can you tell us about your
education on the subject?
I was just a regular guy who
wanted to make movies with no clue how to get into the business. So
I blogged my journey on
MakingTheFilm.com which still stands as the
world's longest running movie director blog.
I always wanted to make movies and seeing Jacob's Ladder during the summer
of 1994 with my friend, Mark Wright, back in Walderslade (Kent, UK) was
probably a great life affirming moments. I wrote and called every
production company I could but nobody wanted to let me help out, even for
free. This is one reason I try and help every young person who asks
me for experience now because I know how it feels to be shut out from an
opportunity to learn. So I put the dream aside. I then saw Jeeper's
Creepers in 2001 and it was that incredible moment where you say
to yourself: "I could do better than this." And the rest
I started my journey in November 2001 and shot my
first short in 2003 (Mnemosyne) and my first feature in 2005 (Zombie
Diaries). I am completely self-taught and I honestly think the best
way to learn to make movies is just to go out there and do it. You
can obviously read interviews and books by experts and people have trodden
the path before you. But no education rivals making your own movie.
And also a lot of the good instincts that make a good director I
feel come from watching a lot of movies at an impressionable age. I
feel all film directors are *film directors* before they get to the age of
10, they just don't realize it ... but in a way they always know it's in
their blood and finally admit the truth to themselves when they get older.
A young girl named Capri e-mailed me after I finished day 1 of my open
casting on Treehouse in Springfield, MO which was featured on the local
news. She said she wanted to make movies and learn the business and
asked if I could help her. So I invited her for day 2. I gave
her a job, a camera and put her to work. She then worked as an
assistant to the unit production manager and has since worked on a ton of
other productions. I am absolutely dedicated to helping young people
who want to work hard and learn have that opportunity. In fact I
have never turned anyone away who was serious about learning.
What can you tell us about
your filmwork prior to Treehouse?
co-created The Zombie Diaries franchise for The Weinstein Company with
Kevin Gates [Kevin Gates
interview - click here]. We then shot a part-reality, part-fiction film titled
The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill shortly before I left the UK. That was
probably the funnest film I ever made. I love old school, slow burn
horror and that film, which spent 3 years in the edit, was the perfect
blend of that genre with a documentary. It was inspired by the BBC
can't help but notice that most of your films are of the horror variety -
a genre at all dear to you, and why (not)?
frankly, the easiest way into the industry. It's also a great way to
find innovative ways to tell stories and let your imagination run
wild. I've gone off it a little, lately, though. I
rarely see a horror film these days I think is any good. I heard Occulus
is great and will check that out. Before that the last
horror I enjoyed was State of Emergency, a super low budget film where the
characters work together rather than bicker. Before that, The Conjuring
- a very well made film that was fun, but not scary at all.
It looks like the industry is returning to the more slow-burn route
now. We are seeing more thoughtful, suspenseful movies coming out (one of the good things I hear about
Occolus) and less mindless gore. So maybe I will start to enjoy more movies in the genre. We'll
see. I'd like to see more stuff like Prisoners and Se7en being made.
How would you
describe yourself as a director?
I know exactly what I
want. That was the biggest compliment I had from a very experienced
Atlanta team who said countless directors are not focussed and keep
changing their minds. I am also very open and anybody on my set is
free to speak their mind. I keep finding that with movies, in
general, characters keep making stupid decisions or
crazy things happen because the writers have written themselves into a
corner (like someone forgetting they have a cell phone - I think that was Eden
Lake, but I can't remember, it definitely happened in a film,
though). So for this movie I hired two guys who had no experience of
filmmaking. They were just two angry guys who were fed up with the
usual nonsense decision making in modern films. The kind of guys who
sigh loudly in the cinema and then bitch about the film the next day on
Facebook. I figured that maybe all of us in the industry get into
closed, clichéed ways of thinking. And I think I was right. Their
no-holds-barred feedback on the script was brilliant. I have
had feedback on my scripts from some well known producers, the head of
Sony Stage 6 and the person who founded Paramount Vantage. And I
will tell you right now - these two guys gave me the best feedback I have
ever had. It was real. It's a bit like a test screening to
your target audience, except you are doing it at the script stage.
Filmmakers who inspire
Kubrick is my idol. I love the way he used the
camera to tell stories. Shane Carruth I think is a monster talent.
His movie, Upstream Color, told a story through emotion rather than
conventional narrative means. I don't think I've ever seen anything
quite like that. It was beautiful although I completely understand
why some people did not like it. I like "old school
Spielberg" and "old school Carpenter". Absolutely
adore Jaws, Duel, The Thing, Halloween. I love Aronofsky
just pretend The Fountain
never happened). Noah is my favorite movie
of the year so far. Incredible story telling.
Your favourite movies?
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
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The links below
will take you
Swimmer. My favorite movie of all time. Burt Lancaster is so
great in that movie. It's the godfather of that breed of WTF movies
that Memento, Vanilla Sky, Donnie Darko and
Mulholland Drive made popular
Other than that I would say: Psycho,
No Country for Old Men,
Jacob's Ladder, Full Metal Jacket, Duel, Assault
on Precinct 13.
... and of
course, films you really deplore?
In Bruges. I just
hate that fucking movie. Six Shooter as well.
website, Facebook, whatever else?
E-mail: via my manager, JP Henraux: firstname.lastname@example.org
Facebook: Bleeding Edge Films
for the interview!