David- I’m a NYC based filmmaker who’s previously written, directed, edited and produced two acclaimed feature films. 2009’s “…Around” which was funded on 4 credit cards (no, seriously), a semi-autobiographical valentine to NYC and my time at film school, which was released online/VOD by Cinetic Media and on PBS in 2010, and 2012’s “Things I Don’t Understand” which received a large range of glowing reviews, playing at over 45 film festivals, winning 18 Best Feature/Audience awards and a host of writing, directing, and acting honors. I was in the process of raising financing for a 3rd feature when I came across the producer and investor of “…In the Dark” who wanted to make a horror film, and learn the process of producing from the ground up.
I came on board to write and direct the film in late March 2014 and we were shooting in early October 2014. It all happened very quickly, as I wasn’t initially looking to make this film, or a horror film in general, but saw an opportunity to do a film that would help me grow and push me as a storyteller, I had passed on several opportunities to do horror in the past because the scripts were very poor; exploitive, gratuitous, and redundant in concepts that had been “done to death”. No pun intended. With “…In the Dark” I could try my hand at genre filmmaking, but try and elevate it and come up with my own take, and still keep my voice and personality in it.
Have you ever personally experienced any paranormal phenomena’s?
David- I don’t necessarily believe in spirits or ghosts. I can tell you that I had one experience that to this day I can’t really explain. I was staying for two semesters in the George Washington Hotel on Lexington and 23rd, and came back early from Christmas break on December 26th to work a job the next morning. I was alone on that floor of rooms that night, or at least in my corner, when I heard this strange and uncontrollable sobbing—not crying—sobbing, as in fast, repetitious muttering of words and really unsettling.
I checked to make sure it wasn’t anything technical, the radiator, and it definitely, from the sound, should have been coming right outside my door. There was no one there. I continued aggressively for fifteen minutes, and I checked and knocked on all the doors near me. Nothing.
I finally went down to the security desk in the lobby where you had to check in, explaining the situation, and that maybe they should take a look into it. The skeptical security guard asked me what floor, and when I told them “ten”, they both smile and looked at each other. Apparently a young woman had O.D. a few years prior on that floor, and they hadn’t found her until after Thanksgiving break. I heard the sobbing a few months later when everyone was on the floor—same sounds, same location, but no one there. I knocked on my neighbors door, awkwardly asked if she was okay, and she had heard it too, thinking it might have been me with a girl.
I came back into my room, and finally just had a moment, saying out loud “Okay, okay. I don’t believe in ghosts, but if there’s something there… just give any kind of sign, so I know you’re really there. Any sign.” I waited. Nothing. I got maybe four feet forward when a painting I had found a week earlier and hung, came crashing right down behind me. The thing that I can’t explain, outside of the strange coincidental timing, is that the painting was hung crooked on a slanted nail, yet neither the string was broken, or the nail had come out of the wall, so the only way that painting could have come down is if someone had picked it up and slid it off. Again, I’m not a true believer, but it’s one of those weird things I remember with such detail and can’t explain or account for.
You wrote and directed the film. Which one did you find more challenging?
David- I feel like there’s always a struggle to break a story and write a script down, even when inspired. With this film because I was working out of my usual wheelhouse, and really trying to do something different with the genre while still staying to true to it, and, of course, the wishes of the producer of the film and their expectations, I kind of really struggled with how to tell the story.
I had the themes I wanted to explore, and even a few visuals of set pieces, scares, etc; but I basically throughout 50 pages of a completely different script three days before the deadline for the first draft, and wrote for 48 hours straight a whole new draft. Literally, I walked around my tiny East Village studio like a self-flagellating monk, hitting myself with script pages until I could get it out. Directing, even with new challenges like shooting practical effects and tense, thriller sequences, is now something I can do in my sleep. I just am so comfortable on set now, knowing exactly what my job is, and using all my experiences, failures, and successes as a guiding point in how to troubleshoot and get the most out of every moment, scene, and dollar in the budget.
Do you do any type of research for the film?
David- I was still trying to figure out the theme/break the story of what kind of horror film I was going to make. I watched a ton of horror films. Old favorites I hadn’t seen in years, some I’d always heard of/meant to see, and also a lot of bad, newer stuff.
There’s a glut of really terrible indie horror because horror is kind the “p**n of the indie world” in that there’s a market that shows up every Tuesday to buy or check it out regardless of the story, quality, or budget. I instantly knew that what I connected to most was the deep psychological, surreal nightmare moodiness of works like Carpenter, short stories by Stephen King, old episodes of The X-Files and wanted to put that into what I wrote. A very dark and disturbing psychology paper on a “true case of demonic possession” sort of helped give me a jumping off point.
Do you believe it is Science and the skeptics that keep the paranormal going or those who have had or claimed to have experiences?
David- I’m sure it’s a combination of both. It’s just one of those great mysteries and questions that we, as people always have. The yearning to understand the purpose of life, what could possibly be next, even in the context of the growth of technological advancement battling old superstition… in some ways all the information we have and continue to get about the “way the world works” deepens and asks many more questions to everyone that it answers.
I’ve always been drawn, despite this being my first horror film or outright supernatural story, towards the spiritual side and the mystery of faith in my work. Much like my last film “Things I Don’t Understand”, which dealt in many ways with our fascination and fear of death, all of my work centers more on the human experience of it, the relationships we build and our attachments here, than in finding any solid answers to the mysteries. It’s going on our own personal journeys.
Where would you like to see the film go and what are the expectations for the film?
David- For me it’s always about doing great work and telling a solid, entertaining story with the hopes that however it is distributed it’s received well by as many audiences as can see it. We’re currently awaiting our official premiere at a festival this Fall, and hope to have a nice festival run. I’m excited to see the film play in dark theaters with many audiences in different places because of its genre, but also the fantastic work involved. Gus Sacks, our DP, and his team, along with the fantastic performances in the cast really take the film to another level, but for me, the incredible work on the post production end to bring it all to life is what I’m most looking forward to. Carlos “Storm” Martinez and I have collaborated several times before, but his sound design work on this film is just taking it to another level, coupled with a beautiful and haunting score from composer Fritz Myers, and chilling visual effects and titles by Tony Hudson.
IN THE DARK feels refreshing compared to other “paranormal” films? What do you personally think makes this film different?
David- I really made a concerted effort, as I do in all my projects, to create a unique, and original story with strong characters that stayed true to my voice. Inside this film and its usual tropes is a character piece of about the struggles of a family to overcome its past and “demons”, metaphorical and literal. Every character in this film has their own history and struggles that are completely their own, yet they all converge together to face this evil that in turn makes them confront that shadows they’ve been carrying around.
I wanted that kind of reality and attachment to help connect you the characters, so when they’re put through Hell and in harm’s way, it’s that much more harrowing and unnerving. Having four strong yet flawed female leads that aren’t running around in their underwear, being brutally murdered, raped, punished for sexual activity or making terrible decisions is definitely a departure from a lot of the weaker horror projects that are floating around out there. They aren’t meat for the grinder, but real people with a real journey you go along with. I also definitely think it has a lot in common with the more dark, psychological and unnerving horror films of the 70’s then any more modern gore shows or “boo!” fests.
How did you decide on the cast and what was it like working with Fiona Horrigan, Grace Folson, Catherine Cobb Ryan and Lynn Justinger?
David- I’d worked in a larger capacity with Grace Folsom on “Things I Don’t Understand” who just continually blows me away with her work, growth, and strength. She was to me, not to take away anything from the rest of the ensemble cast, just the all-star of that film, and the core of why it really worked. I knew if I was going to pull off what I wanted to with this film I’d need her strength and ability to make it work. Lynn Justinger is another fantastic actress who I worked with on “Things” in a much smaller capacity, but is just “glue”.
She’s so strong and natural, there’s a real ability to express humanity and warmth while at the same time something very stoic and guarded about her that I really wanted to use in this film as a counterbalance to the other characters. She reminds me a lot of Gillian Anderson, and not just because in this film she’s playing “the Scully”. Catherine and Fiona are two tremendous actresses that I was lucky to meet while doing workshops at One on One in NYC and some other facilities, and literally wrote the roles with them in mind, and asked them to audition for the producer. Catherine is just such a wealth of emotion, and Fiona is fascinating in the layers and gravitas she can add to a role. My favorite scenes is when two or more of them are all playing off each other in the film.
What would you say to fellow directors and actors as advice?
David- I was always a believer in just going out and finding a way to tell your story and make your art. If it comes down to shooting it on a cell phone or cutting up some construction paper with a crayon assist—do that. Just express yourself, find your voice. Now I try to urge any film students or people who come to me for advice, or embarking on their own endeavor to not just get it done… to always push yourself, create a challenge and a vision, and don’t settle with just getting it done or letting it fall into place.
Surround yourself with a solid team, be a leader, always try to give 110% and don’t stop pushing and fighting until you’ve created really great work. The one thing I’ve noticed more than anything else seeing dozens of shorts and features on the festival circuit, is that any piece of art… whether it fails, succeeds; whatever it is… you can always tell something that has heart, blood and soul in it against something that was just produced. The budget, the cast, the trimmings. All of that can be missing, and yet there’s this pure love and passion in the project that helps it rise above. At the same time you can have all the technology, budget, and grand things, and it’s just hollow and empty. It’s “produced”. Find your voice, fight hard for it, build a good team, and do the work.
Could you discuss the next project you are working on?
David – I’m going back to a few projects I’ve had in development for a while “Wake Up in New York” is a romantic comedy/drama with a sci-fi twist that was going to be my “final NYC valentine” to close out what started with my first two films “…Around”(2009) and “Things I Don’t Understand”(2012). I’m currently working on an adaptation of Steven L. Peck’s gothic existential horror novel “A Short Stay in Hell”, and a limited TV series “Welcome to Hockey Town”. Two new projects on the slate are an action dark comedy set in the world of the CIA called “Spooked” and a completely original and out there science fiction film “Relics” which might be an idea I’ve been the most excited about ever.
When can we expect to see the film in theatres and on DVD/blu-ray?
David- We’ll hopefully have our premiere in the fall, a solid festival run, and then be widely available in multiple platforms in 2016.