Your new movie The
Cabining - in a few words, what is it about?
Cabining is a horror-comedy about two hack screenwriters who dodge
writer's block and dead bodies at a remote artist's retreat.
inspired you to write The
Cabining, and how did the project get off the ground?
Cabining was an idea born at the DC Shorts Film Festival. I had
just attended a seminar by Kelley Baker about low-budget filmmaking - a
subject near-and-dear to my heart. Yet, I had spent a decade proudly
wearing the low-budget badge of honor, and I was ready to kiss it goodbye.
While it’s often glamorized, low-budget usually resulted in delays and
pain. But Kelley Baker’s workshop and personal energy slowly won me
over. Perhaps low-budget was not always a dead-end.
After the workshop, my brother Mike and I were pretty inspired at the
possibilities of whipping together a low-budget feature, specifically
something in the horror realm. This was a big jump for us because most of
our prior experience was in character-driven comedy.
I had attempted horror writing in the past. But I could never take the
story past the first few scenes. It always devolved into something
predictable. The solution to this dilemma was to write a story that played
to our comic strengths. In essence, I wrote a comedy… that just happens
to involve horrific events. And the writing and ideas came quickly.
the movie is at least in some way a slasher movie - a genre at all dear to
you, and some of your genre favourites?
Steve: I grew up in the 80s, and I can still remember
the palpable excitement when Nightmare on Elm Street came out. It's
perhaps a bit difficult to comprehend now, but these movies were massive
events, especially for kids. I was way too young to see it in the theater,
but I remember my friend, Pat, renting it (on VHS of course) probably
around 1985 or 1986. It scared the crap out of us, and we were sorta
hooked for the next few years.
But as the movies grew in number and frequency, my excitement waned. I
saw - yes I paid money for it - Jason Goes to Hell in 1993.
Besides in general sorta sucking, that final shot of Freddy's glove taking
Jason's hockey mask into hell resulted in a massive groan from the
audience. That was a low-point.
But Scream revived the genre and my interest too, especially
because it included the element of humor.
Mike: I love The Shining, Rosemary's
Baby, and Friday the 13th.
Mike, what can
you tell us about your character, and what did you draw upon to bring him
Mike: Todd is a very frustrated writer,
who's struggling to make it in Hollywood. And, um, for the last
several years, I've been a frustrated actor, struggling to make it in
Hollywood! So frustrated, in fact, that I had to resort to casting
myself in my own damn movie!!! It was quite easy for me to play
Todd, to tap into those frustrations, and playing the straight man to Bo
Keister's "Bruce", all I had to do was stifle laughing at his
one liners, which I'm fairly good at.
To turn this question on its head and ask the
both of you: To what extent can you find yourselves as filmmakers in your
two lead characters, the bumbling writers?
Steve: I remember seeing an interview with Tim Robbins.
He was asked about his method of writing. Tim's response was something
like, "For me, writing is a mostly staring at a blank computer
screen." I could definitely relate. The bouts of *inspiration* are
few and far between. 99% of the time, writing is laborious, slow work. So
it's tough to motivate. I think Todd is the responsible side of my brain
that feels a drive to work, and Bruce is the devilish side that just wants
to kick back and play online poker.
Mike: I definitely
see myself in Todd, at least in the charming way he seduces Mindy.
Er, um...he does seduce HER, right?
would you describe your directorial approach to your subject at hand?
Steve: I wanted it to mimic the classic horror stories.
So most scenes have slow, moving camera, and then a handful of jarring
smash cuts to hammer home the frights. The music also played to this. Our
composer, Steve Sholtes, mentioned Psycho and The Shining
With the actors, we didn't have much time for rehearsal. The entire
thing was shot in 15 days. So prior to production, I had discussions with
each lead actor about his or her character. We chatted about the
characters' back-story and what they would want to achieve at the artist's
retreat. The cast really made my job easy. They came prepared every night
and meshed well. And, because they were so prepared, it was natural to let
the actors (especially Bo Keister [Bo
Keister interview - click here]) improvise and add their personal humor
to each scene.
movie gets quite violent in a few instances - so what can you tell us
about your gore effects, and was there ever a line you refused to cross?
Steve: I wanted the characters to die in bizarre,
non-standard ways. Troy Holbrook, our FX guru, and I had a few discussions
on how to make these bizarre deaths seem somehow plausible.
There was no line we refused to cross. In fact, because our movie has
only a handful of horror elements, I wanted the gore to stand out as much
as possible. Troy and his team worked their butts off and totally
Mike: One of my favorite days on set was the second day of
shooting, when we had Alice Sherman impaled on a tree stump. Troy
Holbrook used mashed bananas for her brains and the effects REALLY brought
the scene to life. I think I posted a picture of the impaled Alice
later that day to Facebook, super-proud of the film we were creating.
talk about your cast for a bit, and why exactly these people?
Mike: We ended up casting Angela Relucio and Melissa Mars pretty late
in the game (like two-three weeks before we actually started
shooting), so the process was a bit rushed, and we got EXTREMELY
lucky. Angela is an old friend of mine, but I hadn't even
thought about her for the role until she submitted for it via Actors
Access (a tool for actors out here in LA to submit to projects).
She came in and read for the role, and immediately, I felt a
connection. Steve, who was able to sit in on some of the
auditions via Skype (since he was in Michigan) also really enjoyed
her portrayal of the nerdy Mindy. Originally, we were hoping
to just cast a really good actress, who could play "nerdy"
and "awkward," and the only drawback to Angela was that
she was too good-looking! Well, it didn't take long for fellow
producer Ian Michaels to convince me that having multiple beautiful
women in my film wouldn't be a bad thing, so we hired her, and she
absolutely nailed the role.
Melissa Mars submitted for the role of "Celeste," along with
about 1,000 other young women, and she was one of the TWENTY that we
chose to see. When I sent her an e-mail requesting that she come
in to read for the role, she responded saying that she was in France!
So... we let her send in a videotaped recording of the audition, in which
she read the lines opposite her mother. She nailed it. It
was a bit complicated hiring a non-American for the role, and we were a
bit hesitant to do so, but we could tell how much Melissa wanted to be a
part of the film, and how perfect she was for the role
("Celeste" is actually French in the script!), so we hired
her, and things worked out perfectly.
Mark Rademacher (center)
Both Luce Rains and Chuck Saale came to us as referrals from Ian
Michaels, who had worked with them both before. I had originally
thought that we'd just cast MI locals for their roles, but, when they
expressed interest, how could I turn them down? Luce was in 3:10 to
Yuma, for crying out loud! And Chuck is just... hilarious!
Mark Rademacher came on board only TWO days before we needed him in Northern Michigan. The original actor who was to play Monroe got
stuck on Scary Movie 5 and had to bow out last minute, so I
called up Mark (who I knew from my days of doing regional theatre in
metro Detroit, and who had recently been in The Five Year
Engagement) and pitched the project to him. He cleared it
with his wife and work, and promptly drove up north. He was
of course also have to talk about your location!
Steve: Mike and I had our eyes on Boyne City, Michigan
for many years. It's such a beautiful area, especially in the fall. Our
cast flew-in from all around the country, and yet they all commented on
the picturesque location. (Here's a photo
taken by our actress, Melissa Mars, while she was staying up there.)
Still, the location had to provide something that resembled an artist's
retreat, and, more importantly, it had to be available for rent! That
search was quite an ordeal. I looked all over northern Michigan, hoping to
find some place within driving distance of my parents' house in Boyne
City. I visited four or five potential "Shangri Las", but
nothing met both our budget and the script requirements (on a lake,
As the deadline to production drew nearer, my brother, Matt, suggested
we ask my uncle, Mike Shell, who lives in Boyne City year-round. He's
dialed-in and may know of a house for sale that could fit the bill. Mike
instantly suggested a house that was a mere 15-minute walk from my
parent's place. The owner, Brian, was extremely easy to deal with, and we
locked up that house as soon as possible. The only hitch was that it was
completely empty. So our production designer, Elyse Shapiro, had to
furnish that entire space on our limited budget. It was an enormous task,
but she delivered.
can you tell us about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
Steve: We got lucky. We didn't have the budget to
provide hotel rooms for the cast/crew, so we had to make due with some
pretty tight living quarters. Yet, that seemed to cement the bond. The
cast and crew meshed so well, despite the incredibly long hours. We had
one day off during the marathon two weeks in Boyne City, and the cast and
crew spent that one day off hanging out together. It was pretty special.
Before we wrapped, Bo asked me to write a sequel just so we could get
the band back together. It just might happen too.
$64-question of course: When and where will The
Cabining be released onto the general public?
Good question. We're in talks right now with many distributors and
sales agents, in preparation for AFM in November (where we hope to sell it
to some foreign territories). At the earliest, we're looking at a
VOD release date of around March.
We're submitting to festivals, though, as well, with some occurring before
then, and many happening in April... Follow us on Facebook, or check
for the most up-to-date info.
future projects you'd like to talk about?
Steve: Mike told me to write an action script. We
haven't done anything like that before, so I thought it could be a great
opportunity to stretch the creative muscles. While the composer was
working on The
Cabining's music, I wrote a post-apocalyptic story with a
female protagonist, which I've jokingly dubbed Mad Maxine.
My Friend Peter
Oh, future projects--so many in development, but none that are yet
financed! Steve mentioned Mad Maxine, which we'd love to
shoot in the next couple years. I have an awesome found footage
script called Abduct3d, basically Blair Witch but
with aliens. And there are a few more in the works, including a
biopic about my high school football coach and my passion project - a
musical comedy with puppets called My Friend Peter.
What got you
into the filmworld to begin with?
Steve: It began with my dad's camcorder. I was
infatuated with it and, like a lot of filmmakers, made movies with my
friends as actors. The infatuation continues today. No doubt filmmaking is
a tough, competitive racket. There's a lot of work for often little
reward, so it's the love of actually doing it that keeps us in the game.
I've just been following Steve this whole time... :-)
Do talk about your
filmwork prior to The Cabining
for a bit?
Steve: The majority of our work was character-driven
comedies. I directed a quirky musical dramedy called Starlight &
Superfish - http://starlightandsuperfish.com/
- in 2010. Then Mike and I collaborated on My
Friend Peter - http://myfriendpeter.com/
- later that same year. It was on the festival run for My Friend Peter
that I met many of the crew members that helped us with The Cabining,
notably the cinematographer, Jeffery T. Schultz.
My biggest accomplishment was writing, producing and starring in the short
film My Friend Peter, which had an extensive festival run
(over 25 int'l fests, that basically took me through all of 2011). I
learned from My Friend Peter how much I enjoy producing (as well as acting), and what
a good producing/directing team Steve and I make--we both revel in what
the other dislikes, so I think we balance each other out.
How would you describe yourself as a director
and an actor, respectively?
Steve: I'm an actor's director. I love chatting with
actor's about the scene, specific beats, and all that arty stuff. I take
very seriously the ability to communicate effectively with an actor, so
that you both are happy with the final product. When an actor isn't
hitting the right note, I think many director's fall prey to giving the
line-reads or nebulous direction like "say it fast". This tends
to kill an actor's confidence. I've found that actor's respond better if
you paint a picture and let him/her invent within that picture. Yes, I
know that sounds like big, high-falutin' talk, but I know there are actors
out there nodding their heads in agreement.
I also give actor's a ton of freedom. Despite being the writer of The
Cabining, I wasn't married to the words. I let the actors tinker
with their lines. Many of Bo Keister's one-liners were completely
Keister interview - click here].
Mike: As an actor, I'm subtly comic, tragically sensitive, and
Actors, writers, filmmakers
who inspire you?
Steve: I love David Fincher's movies. He's delivered
quality work in so many different ways. I can even sorta enjoy Aliens 3
now. From a DIY/indie perspective, Robert Rodriguez is an excellent role
model. I always pay attention to the work of the Alfonso Cuarón,
the Coens, Guillermo Del Toro, and Tarantino too.
The Coen brothers definitely, as well as the Duplass brothers - in fact, I
really only watch films that were made by brothers. No, just
kidding. My favorite actor is Liam Neeson. I find myself
inspired mostly by independent filmmakers, and even by actors like Matt
Damon and Ben Affleck, who went about making Good Will Hunting
to showcase themselves, and found that creating a film with heart, with a
good story and great acting, won them praise and set them on very
successful paths. If you can make something good, people will
notice! And good scripts get made!
Your favourite movies?
Steve: As I mentioned, I'm a child of the 80s. So,
yeah, I love Star Wars, Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and all the great popcorn flicks of
that era. Some less obvious favorites are Children of Men and Pan's
Mike: It's a Wonderful Life.
and of course, films you really deplored?
Steve: Crash. Hated it.
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
Er... Re-Animator? Though, that was mostly my wife who
was complaining about it the whole time.
movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?
Official website: www.thecabining.com
Official Facebook: facebook.com/TheCabining
you are dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
Steve: Your fans should also check out House
of Good and Evil -
-, written by Blu De Golyer [Blu
De Golyer interview - click here]. Blu served as one of our consulting
producers, and this movie has definitely made some waves. It's had a great
festival run and is now available on-demand.
think that was a VERY thorough interview, Michael! :-) Thank
you! Look forward to bringing you our next film
for the interview!