In 2005, immediately after graduating film school at Full Sail University, Steven C. Miller moved from Florida to Hollywood where he and two close friends raised the money to fund his feature film debut. “Automaton Transfusion” The no-budget cult phenomenon (which Miller also wrote and edited) was shot in 9 days and had a budget of under 30k. In October 2007, “Automaton Transfusion” premiered at the “ScreamFest” horror festival at the famous Mann’s Chinese Theater. It was purchased and distributed by Dimension films. Over the next several years, Steven was attached to several studio films including MGM’s remake of “Motel Hell”, Paramount Vantage’s “Ink” and “Area 52″ that never materialized into actual films. It was during this period that he learned the meaning of “Development Hell.” In 2011, Steven decided to return to his roots and work outside of the studio system. During this time he shot two independent low budget features, one of them called “Under The Bed” (“The Aggression Scale” was the other) which premiered at the 2012 Fantasia Film Festival and played at various festivals all around the globe. July 30th will see the DVD release of “Under The Bed” and Mr. Miller took some time to speak with Horrornews about his film and his career.
Horrornews.net: Let’s get right to it, shall we? Tell us where the genesis of “Under The Bed” began? Where did the story come from?
Steven C. Miller: (Producer) Brad Miska, (Executive Producer) Zac Zeman, (Scriptwriter) Eric Stolze and myself all love movies like “The Gate”, “Little Monsters” and “Ghoulies”, the kind of stuff where kids take on adult issues. This was the idea for a film that I brought to them saying that I really wanted to make because I really love that particular genre and I don’t think they make movies like that anymore. It really just originated with that and from there it became “What is the most basic fear that we, as kids, had?” and how it hadn’t been explored before. It quickly became about a monster under the bed and that’s something that I really gravitated to and Eric did a great job figuring out how to make the story fun. He made it more about the brothers in the film and less about the monster under their bed and that’s what I became really excited about.
HNN: It’s interesting that you mentioned those films and the script focusing more on the kids rather than the monster because your film felt a lot like a Joe Dante film or something that Spielberg might have done early in his career. More of a familial story…something simple but heartfelt with some slam bang effects in the finale. Was this what you were aiming for?
SCM: 100%! I love Dante’s film “Gremlins” and Spielberg was a big influence on me as well. You’re right, with something like this we wanted to take something very simple and have a movie that felt something like an episode of Goosebumps for the first two acts. We didn’t know if it was going to be a PG rated film or not for awhile but I really wanted the third act to be for the hardcore horror fans that I love and have some really nasty stuff happen! It was obviously a big risk to have such a huge tonal shift but I think when you’re making these kinds of movies you have to take these kinds of risks otherwise you’re just making the same thing that you see everyday. For me it was important to try something different and people are either going to like it or not.
HNN: I’d say calling it a “Huge Tonal Shift” is putting it pretty mildly! It really kicked into overdrive during the last 20 minutes or so, what kind of reaction have you gotten from audiences that have seen the film already?
SCM: It’s pretty mixed! It’s one of those things that people either find fascinating and love or they absolutely hate. The ones who hate it would’ve liked it to stay slow, creepy and continue in the tone of the rest of the movie. The ones who love it say that “We needed that”, something that kicked the movie into high gear. All films have something that people are gonna love and hate in them but especially my films because they’re so “50-50″ but there was no way that I was gonna veer away from that on this one. I always have something in my movies where people think “Well, I do/don’t really like that choice” and this is definitely a big one! I guess I thrive on that, I love the idea of possibly losing/not losing half of the audience. I kind of like the idea of just doing what I feel isn’t conventional cinema with the standard three act structure. I’d rather do something slightly different.
HNN: You definitely succeeded! Did you have open auditions for the roles of the two brothers?
SCM: We had open auditions. The great thing about shooting films in L.A. is that there’s a vast talent pool of people to choose from but you want to luck upon new people, new faces. We were just really lucky to have Jonny Weston and Gattlin Griffith come in, they really killed it and when we put them together in the same room they were so good together that it was just impossible to say “No” to either one of them. I had no idea that Gattlin had done so much work beforehand actually, he was Angelina Jolie’s son in “The Changeling”, Kevin Costner’s son in “The New Daughter” and he played young Hal Jordan in “Green Lantern”! I really had no idea that he had appeared in so many films and when he got to the set he was just one of those professional little guys that are so good at what they do. And Jonny is one of those upcoming guys who are still learning their craft and really had a fun time diving into his character, he has a “Old Hollywood” feel to him I think and I like to think that the both of them were really connected to each other right from the beginning.
HNN: It was really nice to see Musetta Vander in the film as well! I haven’t seen her in a film in a long while actually…
SCM: Musetta came in during the open auditions. We saw a lot of actresses while auditioning for the role of mom and Musetta just had a very unique vibe, she wasn’t the typical housewife either, she had a particular flavor going on that was a little bit different. She brought something innocent to it, we didn’t want the typical “Hard Stepmother” that you’re so used to seeing. We wanted to try to do something a little bit different to the role this time around and she brought that to the role very well and she’s really great to be around on set also, it was really fun to have her.
HNN: I think the father got extremely manic towards the end of the film. Especially in the scene where he finally sees the monster face to face. He just stares at it for what feels like an eternity before turning around to the boys and screaming “RUN!” at the top of his lungs. It felt to me like this particular scene was ad-libbed, was any of the film ad-libbed at all?
SCM: I’m a huge fan of ad-libbing and letting actors just go with the flow of things and that was one of those moments. I think the original idea was for the father to just grab the kids and run but Peter (Holden) came to me beforehand and said the father needed to have one moment in which he realizes that this shit is really happening and his kids weren’t crazy. That’s why the music just dropped out at that point as well, he needed that one moment where he realizes that everything his kids have been telling him was absolutely true and any music in that scene would’ve been a distraction. It was all ad-libbed and it works because Peter made it work. It feels like a very 80’s moment in the film to me and I love films of the 80’s so I really enjoyed the whole scene.
HNN: How much input did you have in the final design of the creature?
SCM: It was me and Constantine Sekeris who came up with the creature design and he also designed it. I went to him with an outline of what I wanted and he came back with something much grander than what we see on screen. His design was so great and then we had to come in with Jonny and the effects team and try to create something as close to his design as we could using practical effects because that was really important to me. Ultimately we couldn’t get exactly what I had originally envisioned in my head but it was the closest that we could get considering the time and money we had. Vincent (Guastini) did a fantastic job with it and it’s still really unique and crazy looking plus it’s a man in a suit which is extremely cool! I think that the horror fans will really appreciate and enjoy about the film as well, all of the makeup effects were achieved through practical effect work. That’s something about films of the 80’s that I really enjoy and respect.
HNN: What was it about your original ideas for the creature that couldn’t be achieved for the final design?
SCM: In the final design the creature’s mouth stayed open and his arms were kind of on the short side. I originally had an idea of making it’s arms really long like Freddy Krueger’s arms in the original “Nightmare On Elm Street” and his mouth being a bit more obscure but at the end of the day we didn’t have the time to make that happen so we had make him a bit more human-esque where I had originally envisioned him as being more demonic looking.
HNN: I didn’t realize until just before this interview that you directed “Automaton Transfusion” and I have to ask…where’s the sequel?
SCM: Man…the sequel is trying to go! It’s something that people are definitely asking for, it’s crazy how many people are asking for a sequel to it! I don’t own the rights to it anymore and trying to get them back has been hectic to say the least but it’s definitely a conversation that I’m open to. It’s just trying to find the right number where we can make it and trying to find some time in my schedule to fit it in, but it’s definitely on my plate. Funnily enough, the sequel is supposed to pick up about 7-8 years after the events in the original film and if we can do it in the next year or two it’ll be exactly about that much time since the last one. We’ll see what happens but it’s definitely a conversation that’s in the works.
HNN: So if a sequel to “Automaton Transfusion” isn’t coming for awhile what’s next for you?
SCM: I’m working on a really cool thriller in the vein of “Buried” in which some kids get trapped in a limo underwater.
HNN: You’re doing it with kids again? Is working with kids something you enjoy doing?
SCM: I love working with kids!
HNN: Do you see yourself as a Spielberg for this era? By that I mean someone who works a lot with kids in his films albeit in the horror genre?
SCM: I guess. I think I can identify with them a little bit because I am just a big kid myself. I’d love to be in that world one day and make films like Spielberg or Robert Zemeckis made at the beginning of their careers!
Interview: Steven C. Miller – Director (Under The Bed)