Thursday, April 16, 2009

Interview with Jason Horton, co-writer/co-director of "Edges of Darkness"

Looking back at the history of horror and connecting the dots to where we are now, you have to turn to writers like H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe. If you look at their works, especially their early works, a lot of what they did were intertwined short stories, such as Lovecraft's "Cthulhu Mythos". This style of grouping short stories and poems together led to horror being easily adapted to pulp fiction and, later, comics and graphic novels. As the horror genre grew and spread, horror delved into many different formats and mediums. However, as horror does lend itself well to that short story format, you still see a lot of projects that use it. Think of Clive Barker's "Books of Blood" or Stephen King's "Different Seasons". Further, that same style of writing was adopted into what is now known, in film, as the horror anthology.

As far as film and TV is concerned, the most significant horror anthology films may be 1962's "Tales of Terror" with Vincent Price, 1965's "Dr. Terror's House of Horrors" and, of course, the TV show, "Twilight Zone". In fact, "Twilight Zone" may have been the show that took the horror anthology from camp to mainstream, but, in my opinion, it really took off for horror with "Creepshow" and "Tales From the Crypt". Since then, the idea of the horror anthology has been used over and over again and for various reasons. The first, and easy reason, as discussed above, is that horror lends itself well to the format. The other reason is, it's far easier to create an anthology when you're dealing with a low budget and limited time. Thus, there's been piles of low-budget horror films done in the anthology format.

Jason Horton and Blaine Cade's film, "Edges of Darkness", is one of those films. It uses the backdrop of a zombie breakout, but intertwines three intriguing stories and borrows from various different sub-genres of horror. For me, it was like watching a no-holds-barred "Tales From The Crypt". Really, it's a beautifully crafted anthology that will, not only keep you involved until the end, but will shine new light on some of those old sub-genres. The acting is great, the effects are beyond believable and there's plenty of good gore. As is, it's a massive achievement and a great film, but when you find out about the budget and time constraints, it's all that much more impressive and, because of that, I think it's easily one of the best low-budget horror films of the year, so far.

We talked with Jason Horton and he answers some questions for us, as well as offers some great insight into the making of the film...

First off, tell us a bit about yourself. What are your influences and what got you into indie filmmaking?

My tastes are all over the place, from splatter to more artsy fare.I was in high school when Reservoir Dogs came out. I guess you could say that was my gateway movie. I heard Tarantino talking about Walter Hill, John Woo, Brian Depalma, Peckinpaw and Goddard, just to name a few. While I had already seen many of those films, I hadn't really put one and one together and thought of them as a part of any one director's body of work. But I really think my movie "education" began there.

As far as horror goes, John Carpenter is big influence. He loves him a siege picture and so do I. My first 2 movies were both to different extents siege pictures. I also love Romero's intelligence and Raimi's energy. Early Peter Jackson stuff is great. Meet the Feebles is one of my favorite movies.

Film School: Yes or No?

I did go to film school and consider it valuable. But I learned way more actually working on and watching movies. Rise of the Undead was shot right after I came out of film school. Then, I worked a few years as an Editor and Dp on several features, then did Edges of Darkness. I think the difference shows.

Tell us a bit about “Edges of Darkness”, what’s it about and where did you get the idea?

Edges of Darkness at it's core is about groups of broken people trying to connect or reconnect (in the midst of a zombie apocalypse.)

At a base pragmatic level, I knew I had a very low budget, so I went about creating a movie that I could feasibly shoot. Of course, I always try to push my boundaries both creatively and financially. I'd rather take a risk and have it fall flat, then to just play it safe.

What was the approx budget and how did you secure financing?

This was obviously a microbudget production. We spent right around 10k on production. Then a bit more in post.

I was working as a camera op on a comedy documentary and met Stephen Kayo. He was producing that. We got to talking and he was interested in production another one of my scripts. It was larger budget and we felt we need an intermediate move. So I conceived Edges and he put the funds together.

What did you shoot on and how long was the shoot?

We shot on the Sony Z1U. While I'm happy with the end product, i wouldn't recommend the HDV FORMAT for feature work, especially with HD camera rentals as low as they are now. We had several delivery problems.

The shoot was 8 days of principle. Then we did 2 or three re shoot days a few months later.

The film was almost like a really well done “Tales From The Crypt”, it blended three stories over the common theme of a zombie outbreak. Talk about the screenwriting process and pre-production. How did you prepare to tackle a shoot like this?

My screenwriting process is fairly straight forward. I work out the story in outline form and do quite a bit of character research (creating back stories, ect..) Then I dive in. Edges was written fairly fast. I had a producer interested in the concept and I wanted to finish quickly before he lost interest (as often happens in the Indie world)

Originally the stories were written weren't meant to be intercut. They were written to be stand alone anthology pieces. It was intended to be much more of a Creepshow type movie.

It was during post, I began to discover strong thematic througlines running through all three stories and made the decision to inter cut them. Plus I had never seen an anthology cut together in this manner, so the though of doing something fresh was exciting too.

There were two things that pulled the whole movie together for me. The first was the actors. You did a great job on casting and they all gave very believable performances… talk about both the casting process and your directing style.

You hear this over and over from directors, but I was really lucky with the cast. It's rare to find actors with such charisma and strong work in micros.

To me the biggest thing that separates micro budget movies from large productions is the acting (well, acting and sound.) So I think that's really important to put the extra effort into finding proper actors and then working on those performances.

We did one large "cattle call" audition and then 1 round of call backs. In the cattle, I first just see what they're going to do with no input from me. Then after the 1st read, I give them an adjustment to see how they adapt. Then based on that, I make decisions for call backs.

In production, although I have definite opinions, I give the actors quite a bit of freedom in the choices that they make, as long as they jibe with the overall vision. But I am a bit of a stickler for sticking to the script. It's not that I'm against improv. But on a movie like this with a very limited schedule, there just isn't the time to explore that on set. We do a bit in rehearsal though.

The other thing was the effects… most of them were simple, yet effective. Who did them and tell us about how some of your favorite effects in the film were accomplished.

I worked with Tom Devlin's 1313 FX on some other stuff and just love his work. I think our zombies stand head and shoulders above other low budget zombie movies. That's my favorite aspect of the practical effects. I also, really like the bowling ball through the zombie's head. It was a little cheesy, but oh so fun. Tom simply attached a cut out foam piece on the back of the zombie's head. Then we use frame by frame photoshop to create the ball coming through the front of her mouth.

The whole film took place, essentially, in one apartment building. First off, was that on purpose? As in, did you purposefully write the script, knowing that you were going to film it all there? Talk about the issues of filming in one location…

That was totally 100% planned from the get. Before I even broke the character or story elements I knew I was going to write something in a single apartment complex. The main issue was sound. We scouted the warehouse where we built our apartment set during the week. And it was dead quiet. We got out there on the weekend to shoot and it was chaos. There was a car wash next door with a constant compressor and shooting water. Sometimes music.

Other than that, I have no complaints. Shooting all in one place frees you up to work more on the performances and camera. We able to move pretty seamlessly through set ups.

Tell us about some of the hurdles you overcame to get the film done. What advice can you pass on to other indie filmmakers who are just setting out to make a film?

If you want to make your own movies, start working on other people's money. Do whatever you can do. Be personable and nice to everyone you meet. You never know who's going to help you in future. We're all in it together. It's not a competition.

When you're doing a real independent the only real hurdle is money. But that can be overcome with a little thought and preparation. My advice is to write around what you have. I had a friend with access to a warehouse that we could use for a set. He was also a amateur carpenter, so I knew I could build minor sets. I had an fx artist that owed me a big favor, so I knew I could write some fairly complex make up stuff. But if I didn't have that, I would have tackled the script differently.

Do as many favors for other movie makers as you can. I worked for two years in LA on other people's stuff for little or no money. And I was able to call in those favors on Edges.

Did you enter “Edges of Darkness” into any festivals? If so, how did it do and is the festival circuit something that every indie horror filmmaker should consider doing?

I didn't. I had started doing press on Edges before it even wrapped. I sent preview clips and an early trailer to every horror site I could find. A few distributors stumbled upon this press and where asking me about the movie before it was even finished.

Talk about the process of finding distribution, what would you tell filmmakers who’ve recently finished a film and are looking for distribution?

1st and foremost you have to have something sellable. I'd like to just hide behind artistic integrity. But if you're film isn't sellable, no body's going to buy it. I won't mince words, I feel my 1st movie was pretty bad, but it was a sellable concept.

Also, from the beginning you need to think about how your going to sell your movie. What's the trailer? What's the one sheet going to look like? Are these things that make people want to see your movie?

I've been extremely lucky. With my 1st movie I just sent screener to a dozen or so distributors and got 3 offers. On Edges it was even easier.

Where can people find out more about “Edges of Darkness” or, better yet, buy a copy?

I keep our myspace page updated regularly.
Shoreline Entertainment is making the market rounds now. Next up is Cannes. We've already been released in the UK. I expect a US DVD release date to follow Cannes.

Talk about the indie horror scene and indie horror filmmaking. Where do you feel it is now and where do you see it going?

Horror is the best genre for an indie filmmaker. You don't need a name or money. Just some ingenuity and a sellable concept. I expect that Internet and self distribution will become more prevalent in the future.

What’s next for you? Do you have any projects in the works?

I got a bunch of scripts. The next one to go into production is TRAP. It's a kidnapping thriller about a middle aged man who falls in love with his 14 year old victim.

I'm also developing three horror movies. They're not related, but would all three be shot at the same time.

Then there's Feud, which is a larger budget item. I'm still looking for the funding.

I just try to stay working.

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