Interview: Patrick Rea – Director (Nailbiter)

Film director Patrick Rea has been operating under the radar for a while now. He has been directing features & shorts exclusively in the state of Kansas where he lives. But with the upcoming release of his latest feature “Nailbiter”, He’s not going to be under the radar much longer! Horrornews has described “Nailbiter” as “An independent gem definitely worth checking out” and I think that’s small praise for what was a really exciting film that’s full of unexpected twists & turns which kept the audience I saw it with (At the NYC Horror Film Festival) on the edge of our seats throughout it’s running time. He was kind enough to take some time out of preparing for his next cinematic venture to speak with me about his latest film, his career & what went wrong with a little flick called “The Apparition”….

HN: Thanks so much for taking some time to speak with us Patrick!

PR: No problem!

HN: OK, lets get right to it! You started making short films in 2002, correct?

PR: Yes, that was my last year in college and I was making short films for some of my courses. Actually we started our production company, SenoReality Pictures, in 2002 and we just used whatever resources we had available to us and started making short films. The films we made in 2002 are extremely hard to watch now!

HN: Didn’t one of your shorts win a slot in the first “FANGORIA Blood Drive” DVD?

PR: Yeah! A couple of short films that I made made it onto the first “Blood Drive” DVD. You can definitely see a learning curve between then and now. I was super thrilled because FANGORIA has always been such a big part of my life but with those two films I was just trying to figure out how to make a movie, I was very happy that the people at FANGORIA chose them though! The fact that that happened kept me going because when you get out of college, especially as a film student, you’re kinda like “Jesus…what do I do”? A lot of people move to Los Angeles to find work & sometimes a lot of people can’t get a job in the business so they just quit working in the business altogether. To have those early shorts that we did, as archaic as they seem next to the stuff that we’re doing now, get that sort of recognition from FANGORIA was a real shot in the arm! It told us that we must have been doing something right and it kept us going in the right direction.

HN: Are you what I like to call a “FANGORIA” baby? I basically grew up with the magazine and I own every issue of it and it’s offshoots as well. I call people like myself who are longtime fans as “FANGO” babies because of that. Are you still a fan of the magazine?

PR: I started my FANGORIA love affair as a kid by reading the magazine in the local store when I wasn’t supposed to! I got a subscription in the early 90’s and maintained it all the way up to a few years ago. Now I just pick it up off the shelf every month or so. It’s really been a big part of what I do.

HN: I think the editors will be really glad to hear that. It’s amazing how many established genre directors, actors, writers cite FANGORIA as their inspiration.

PR: I actually got to write an article for the May issue (The “Dark Shadows” issue) about the making of “Nailbiter” and working as a director making movies out here in the mid-west. I was so excited when they asked me to contribute something…I felt like I was on the top of the world!

HN: That’s where I heard of “Nailbiter”! While I was watching your movie I kept thinking that I’d read something about it before…

PR: It was a “Notes From The Underground” article.

HN: OK, so what was it that made you want to make horror films for a living?

PR: I was born in 1980 and as a kid I was raised on “Star Wars”, “Indiana Jones” & “Jaws”. Those were the films that got me into wanting to make movies. But my parents made sure that I understood that horror films were a “No No” for me. Especially in the 80’s when the slasher genre really took off but I would watch them anyway! The USA network would play them in the afternoon and I would watch even though they cut out all of the gore. I became fascinated with them because they were “Forbidden Fruit” so to speak, they became more interesting to me at that point. Had I not watched them I would’ve been making romantic comedies right now. The fact that I wasn’t supposed to be watching them just made me more interested in them as a whole.

HN: Are you going to continue making horror films? Do you plan to remain exclusively in the genre?

PR: I’m doing other types of films as well. I just finished a film called “Rhino” which is a crime drama but horror is my favorite genre and I plan to continue making horror films but I also want to try my hand at other genres as well.

HN: Who came up with the idea for “Nailbiter”?

PR: I came up with the story and I had Kendal Sinn write the first draft, he & I worked on it together. Ironically I was coming back from the NYC Horror Film Festival in 2006 when I had the idea. I got in contact with Kendal and we had the script ready to go in the fall of 2007. We had a couple of false starts with the financing though. Then the economy tanked and it isn’t easy trying to raise money to make a horror film in the mid-west during hard economic times.

HN: What was the final shooting budget for “Nailbiter”?

PR: When it was all said and done the actual shooting budget was about $150,000 but when you factor in post production it was about $300,000.

HN: It looks a LOT more expensive than that!

PR: Yeah I know! That’s from shooting here in Kansas and being able to milk our resources. We’ve got a lot of resources here in Kansas that normally would cost a lot of money somewhere else. We also had a lot of people who were willing to lend us a hand to make the movie so we used all of that to our advantage.

HN: Are you the kind of director that likes to rehearse with his actors before the actual shooting of the film starts?

PR: Yeah, I tend to rehearse things quite a bit before we start. There’s a short film that I think we’re gonna shoot in January and I just had a table read for that. We ended up rehearsing and working out some of the key dialogue as well as some of the action scenes. I like to have everything rehearsed by the time we’re ready to shoot, it just makes things go a lot faster. I typically storyboard everything as well so that the actors and crew can see what shot we’re on as we’re going along. It makes for a lot less confusion on the set.

HN: How much time did you take to rehearse “Nailbiter” before actual shooting began?

PR: Well it took some time to get the four girls in the film cast, then we had them go out and act like a family for awhile. They went shopping together and tried to build up a believable “Family Vibe” between themselves. We primarily rehearsed scenes just before they were shot and we worked out all of the kinks then. Like if there was some dialog that they felt needed to be tweaked or changed we would take care of that on the day we shot that scene.

The shooting of “Nailbiter was actually pretty damn smooth except for the weather (Laughing)! The days I wanted to look stormy were sunny and the days I wanted to look sunny looked stormy. We didn’t have a rain machine so…

HN: Wait…you didn’t have a rain machine?

PR: We had to think on our toes! There were a couple of shots where we just had somebody on the roof of the house with a hose just spraying water into the air and getting it to look like it was rain afterwards. When you’re there and you have all of those people waiting to shoot you have to get creative and use whatever resources are available. There were a couple of days when the deputy was walking around the house and it had to look grey & stormy so we either blocked the sun out or wait till it was on the other side of the house before shooting. You can never be sure what kind of weather you’re gonna get no matter how much money you have so you have to be creative.

HN: How long did it take to complete “Nailbiter”?

PR: Well we started shooting in 2009 and we got about 2/3 of the way through the movie when we had to stop because we were out of money. So then we took an entire year off and came back in December 2010 and shot the rest of it minus the airport scene at the end. I wasn’t super concerned about the airport scene because none of the principal actors were in it so I pushed it towards the end of the schedule. We didn’t shoot the airport scene until May 2011, we spent all of 2011 on post production. Most of the editing was done near Atlanta where my editor (Josh Robison), who ironically worked on one of my “Blood Drive” shorts, did his thing putting the “Nailbiter” footage together. Then we spent the rest of the year doing the sound and I think it was in October 2011 before we showed it to an actual audience. So it took a long time! When you don’t have a lot of money you can make a movie that’s good, fast or cheap but you can only pick two of those things so we decided to make it good and cheap! We decided that fast just wasn’t going to happen!

HN: Well it may have been cheap but it certainly doesn’t look cheap!

PR: Oh no, not at all! It does not look cheap. We wanted to make it look like a project right out of Hollywood and to do that with the money we had meant we had to take some time to light the scenes just right, use lots of dolly shots, etc. We were lucky that we didn’t have anyone looking over our shoulders telling us to hurry up as we were shooting. We basically shot the movie at the pace that it required in order to make it look as good as it did.

HN: You were the producers as well, correct?

PR: We were the producers so the only people we could get angry with were ourselves! I gotta say that the year off really freaked me out because we had already shot 2/3 of the movie in 2009 and I was worried that the actors were gonna change the way they looked or decide they don’t want to come back. I was in a limbo where I really didn’t get much sleep during that period because I had people asking me if the movie was ever going to be finished. I knew we would finish it but sometimes it’s hard to convince other people that it’s going to ever happen. It was a challenge because I was acting as a cheerleader for the movie and trying to keep everybody together at the same time. But that’s part of what being a producer and a director at the same time. If anyone out there is planning to make an independent film you’re acting as the engine that’s keeping everything going. You have to really inspire people in something that may or may not happen.

HN: Correct me if I’m wrong but a lot of the details in “Nailbiter” are left to the imagination, right?

PR: Right.

HN: Don’t misunderstand me! I really dig that in a movie. A lot of “Nailbiter” wasn’t really explained at all. There wasn’t much of a buildup either, the movie just sorta happens! I couldn’t settle down while I was watching it because I didn’t know in which direction it was headed so I was kept on the edge of my seat. I still don’t really know what the creatures actually were or why they even existed although you do toss in a few tidbits to give the audience an idea of what they might be.

PR: I didn’t want to have somebody coming in near the end of the movie explaining what was going on all of a sudden. I love “Jeepers Creepers” right up until the psychic arrives and explains everything that’s happening. It’s like they suddenly realized that they couldn’t explain who or what the creeper was so they wrote in a character who knew all about it. I didn’t want to do that with this movie, the audience is smarter than you think and while you can’t be so vague that no one has a clue and nothing is explained you can throw out some little details and if/when we make the sequel we can build on those little clues. We want people to want more when this movie is over and demand a sequel to it so we saved some stuff for the sequel.

HN: You nailed it when you said that! One of my biggest beefs with a lot of movies is that there’s nearly always someone who comes along 3/4 of the way through a movie explaining what I’ve just watched as if I’m too stupid to figure it out on my own or they suddenly realized that their movie isn’t making a whole lot of sense. It just kills me when that happens!

PR: When that happens it’s because somebody tells them that their script doesn’t make a lot of sense and then they have to write in a new character to explain what their story.

HN: Which is one of the reasons why I enjoyed your film so much! When it was over all I thought about was a sequel and how badly I want to see it but at the same time I had so many questions about what just happened as well! There was a real sense of mystery to a lot of the proceedings in “Nailbiter” that really helps make it stand out. The title is more a description of what the audience will be doing as they watch the movie and less about what it’s actually about.

PR: I have the script ready for the second movie, it’s just gonna cost a lot more money. The goal was to make people want to see more and a lot of the time movies are too long or have multiple endings that just serve to drag things out. People get bored after too much of that and although I have been guilty of “Padding” some of my films to get them to feature length you start to learn over time how to stop that. Sometimes I fall in love with some of my shots & I don’t want to see them cut out but if they’re slowing the film down then nobody is gonna give a shit about how great the shot looks anyway so cut it out! It’s a hard thing to get past from a directing standpoint but eventually you learn that if they aren’t serving to move things along they should be edited out.

HN: I was really impressed with how professional & sleek all of your shorts looked. Do you use the same crew each and every time out?

PR: (Pause) Yeeeah….(Laughing)

HN: (Laughing) Don’t sound so sad over it!

PR: I use the same DP and I’ll storyboard shots out the way I want them framed and then he and I will go to the location early and he can figure out where the camera is going to go so there’s a kind of workflow to it. For me storyboarding is like having the movie pre-edited so that when I hand the footage over to my editor I give him my storyboards and he follows them in editing and he can get a good first assembly out of it. Then we start rearranging it, tweaking it and trying to get the pace right. A lot of the shorts you’ve seen were done while “Nailbiter” was on hiatus so that we could keep working. I wanted everyone to know what I was thinking and I wanted to know what they were thinking at all times so there wasn’t a lot of sitting around, arguing about where the camera was going to go or something like that. It seems to work really well. There’s always going to be something you can’t predict while making a film like an actor getting sick or a piece of equipment breaking down unexpectedly so you should have as much planned out ahead of time that you can. Having the same crew really makes that easier and at this point we can practically read each other’s minds at this point. We’ve made three short films this year, “Wrong Number”, “Split The Check” & one called “The Hourglass Figure” which I just saw the first full cut of it yesterday. All of them used the same crew and everybody gets along…we’re definitely a family now!

HN: Speaking of your short films, “Get Off Of My Porch” (A story of a man beset by two girl scouts selling cookies that WILL NOT take no for an answer) would make a great feature film don’t you think?

PR: That seems to be everyone’s favorite! It’s on FearNet right now and it’s done really well on the festival circuit also. I think it’s just the right blend of humor and horror, I like to think of it as my tribute to Joe Dante…it has that kind of feel to it.

HN: That’s amazing! I actually had that thought as I watched it. It felt like something Dante would’ve directed.

PR: I was a boy scout and I had to do things like ask people for money as well so I wanted to do something along those lines but make it really creepy and scary while staying humorous. We ended up shooting during a really cold Kansas winter which made it even creepier because why would these little girls be selling cookies when there is snow on the ground?

One of the girls was wearing a leg brace the whole time and you can’t tell because I shot her from the waist up and when you see her skipping I used the other little girl. She had blown out her kneecap the week we were starting the shoot! She called me and told me that there was a little problem and when I heard what it was all I could say was (Laughing) “OH SHIT”! But that just goes back to what I was saying earlier about unexpected things and how all the pre-planning in the world can’t help sometimes. I remember on the first shot of the day for that shoot our camera broke! We spent the first few hours of the first day of shooting looking for a replacement camera in Kansas City, luckily it was a camera that a lot of people had. I almost worry more when something like that doesn’t happen!

HN: What’s the film making community like in Kansas? Do you plan on working there for your entire career?

PR: You know…I’m going to go where the wind blows me. Right now I have a really good group of people working with me & the film making community is really great as well. A lot of the people that I work with are the same people I went to college with and it’s cool to see all of us evolve as film makers as time goes by, but it all depends. For instance, we shot “Nailbiter” here in Kansas City and it’s been playing in the same festivals that people who made their movies in L.A. are playing at. The way technology is today you can make your movie anywhere and they look just as good as films shot in Hollywood. I’ve heard that there’s a lot less shooting going on in L.A. right now because a lot of people are filming in Atlanta or in Louisiana. But if somebody calls me from L.A. and says they have a project for me and the script looks good and ready to shoot then I’ll go.

HN: Fair enough. I want to ask you about distribution for a minute or two. You participated in a panel discussion at this year’s NYC Horror Film Festival (With Bill Lustig, Dennis Paoli, Joshua Turi & Alan Rowe Kelly) where film distribution was the topic. I’m not too sure if it’s been released anywhere as of yet or if it’s going to be released directly to video but how has distribution for “Nailbiter” gone so far?

PR: We signed with Grindstone Entertainment which is a subdivision of Lions Gate so it’ll be branded through Lions Gate Home Entertainment which is great! I’m still going through deliverables right now and that’s a long process…

HN: Wait a minute, explain what “deliverables” are to me.

PR: Going through deliverables includes getting all of the paperwork in, getting them all the hard materials like the version of the movie that they’ll be distributing in different aspect ratios which meant that I had to go to a post production house to get all of them made. They put the movie through a quality control process as well and they check EVERYTHING! Doing all of this independently is tough because I’m in Kansas City & I have to do a lot of this over the phone or via e-mail and there is a lot of red tape to go through. I last spoke with them in October and they think it’s going to be a Spring release. They’re trying to position it for a time when there’s not a lot of horror releases for it to compete with. If it was released in Oct/Nov it would’ve been swamped over by all of the other horror films being released at the same time. Spring is tornado season so I guess it’s appropriate! It’s been picked up in some foreign countries as well. I saw the Japanese DVD artwork for it and it looked like a Roland (2012, Godzilla) Emmerich movie! It featured a giant tornado with monsters coming out of it chasing four girls who aren’t even the girls in our movie! It was decidedly interesting to say the least..

It’s been a really interesting learning experience in terms of the process and when I get to the next feature film I’ll be way more prepared for all of this. Lions Gate is a really big company and they have to go through a lot of checks to make sure the movie is up to snuff in terms of quality control. It’s gone through so many different layers of checks that I swear if something is wrong with the movie at this point I don’t know how it happened (Laughs)! There’s a point where you feel like you don’t have control of your movie anymore, kind of like sending your kid off to college.

HN: Is that how it worked for you? Did Lions Gate cut you a check and say “Now “Nailbiter” belongs to us?

PR: The way we worked it out is that we’re getting some money upfront but we haven’t seen it yet because it’s still going through the delivery process and every piece of paperwork has to be received and approved before we see that first payment. Lions Gate & Grindstone have a partnership under which several other movies are going to be released. One of them stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and another one stars John Cusack. Obviously those movies take priority over our film so there’s a lot of downtime while they review everything. I have to wait two months before I hear back from them. I’m just thankful that we made it to this part of the process unscathed and I’m taking notes for the next one because it’s gonna be a lot different, I’m gonna have a lot of this stuff ready in advance next time out. What’s interesting is that depending on the size of the company the process is completely different. I’ve talked to some people who had their films distributed through smaller companies and they didn’t have to go through any of this stuff.

HN: Well you did the right thing by going with Lions Gate in my opinion. They seem to be THE people when it comes to distributing horror right now.

PR: The guys that we’re working with at Grindstone are really cool too so I’m happy with it so far. So now when you’re a independent film maker you’re probably the producer, director and the person who does all of the paperwork! At least until you can afford to hire someone to do the paperwork anyway.

HN: Now “Nailbiter 2″ isn’t the next thing you’re going to work on right?

PR: No, I’ve got several things that I’m working on right now. One of them is a horror comedy dealing with energy drinks! I really want to work on that one next because I think the topic is relevant right now with all of the different energy drinks on the market and the recent spate of deaths that are being connected to them. What I’m putting together right now is a three movie package that will allow an investor to spread his investment through three separate films, not just one. And we set it up through a fiscal sponsorship where someone can donate and then write it off on their taxes, So you can either donate or invest.

So there’s the energy drink movie and there’s a film called “Enclosure” which I’ve written with my writing partner, Michelle Davidson, she’s the pregnant woman in “Nailbiter”. And after those two there’s “Nailbiter 2″. I want to shoot all three of them in Missouri, I’ve budgeted each of them separately and I tried to keep their budgets pretty low. That way if someone wants to invest they are spreading their money through three movies, not one. Now we just need to find people to pitch it to!

HN: And you keep your budgets so low that they shouldn’t have to much trouble being profitable. A lot of horror movies were made with budgets bigger than yours but were still considered low budget by Hollywood standards and they were really successful. Movies like “The Last Exorcism”, “The Devil Inside”, “Insidious”, “Paranormal Activity 1-4″ & “Sinister” cleaned up at the box office.

PR: “Insidious” cost less than one million and it made over $50 million at the box office. The sequel is gonna end up costing $10 million just because everyone is going to want more money to make it!

HN: It also had the advantage of having some really good actors in it who gave their all onscreen.

PR: I watched a movie called “The Apparition” a couple of nights ago…

HN: Ohhh boy…!

PR: Jeez…what the hell happened there? There’s a perfect example of a movie that someone cut to shreds.

HN: I interviewed the director of that movie (Todd Lincoln) a few days before it opened and he spoke of how scary it was and how he wanted to make a horror movie for horror movie fans, etc… So I went to see it a few days after it opened but damn! You know he had a publicist in the room with him as we spoke and after I saw the movie I thought that maybe he had to say what he said because she was in the room with him. There’s no way he could’ve believed what he was saying if he was talking about “The Apparition”.

PR: Yeah, it’s arguable that there’s even a movie there. I checked on IMDB after I saw it and the reported budget was $17 million dollars for that movie! That’s like a career killer right there! Where did the money go?

HN: I read that it was actually on the shelf for a few years before it was released. I wonder why…?

PR: It was. It was on the shelf for two years. Todd has been connected to so many movies over the last few years. He was supposed to direct the “Hack/Slash” movie & he was connected to a remake of “The Fly” for awhile. He’s from Oklahoma and I’ve kind of known about him for a little while. But after watching “The Apparition” all I could say was “Where did the money go”? That’s a LOT of money!

HN: Exactly! How many movies, how many GOOD movies could you make with $17 million dollars?

PR: Yeah! Exactly!!

HN: “Nailbiter” is 17 million times better than “Apparition”!

PR: It had some pretty interesting ideas in it but it felt like they cut out all of the character development and left nothing but the minimum footage needed to call it a feature.

HN: It didn’t even open well enough to recoup it’s money on it’s opening weekend. I’m pretty sure that was all the studio was hoping for at that point. I think it set a record for the lowest weekend gross on a film that opened in over 1000 theaters.

PR: Did you see “The Possesion”?

HN: Yes! I liked that movie a lot actually.

PR: The man who produced that, Stan Wertlieb, is the man who bought “Nailbiter”.

HN: Oh really?

PR: Yeah he’s the man I’ve been dealing with the whole time! I was really rooting for “The Possession” but I was scared for it because it opened the week after “The Apparition” and I thought people might get the names confused but it did really well. That was another reason why I wanted to get involved with that group of people (Lions Gate) because they also make theatrical releases that are really good.

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About The Black Saint

Those of you who don't know of The Black Saint & have yet to commit yourselves to him body, mind & soul will find yourselves in a most uncomfortable position when my army of acolytes is complete & ready to wreak havok upon this pitiful blue ball we live on. Oh, I really like horror movies as well & will take on all comers in a horror trivia contest. Bring it on!
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