Exclusive Horrornews.net Interview: Bruce Wemple (Writer, Producer, Director – Lake Artifact / Altered Hours )
Tell us about Lake Artifact and what inspired that story?
I was on a music video shoot the summer before we shot Lake Artifact with Dylan Grunn and Catharine Daddario (who play Thomas and Grace in Lake Artifact, respectively) and we were at an Airbnb with all of these pictures hanging on the wall. We jokingly spit balled “what if we saw ourselves in one of these photos”. After a few hours, the joke became more and more serious, with us tossing around ideas about what that could mean if we really did discover that photo. Are we in a time loop? Are we dead? Do we have doppelgangers? The directions we could go were really exciting. When I got back home, I started writing, and a few months later we were at a cabin in the Adirondacks filming Lake Artifact.
Next, same question, what inspired the story of Altered Hours?
I’ve always had a love for small, mind-bending sci-fi stories. Whether it be The Twilight Zone or a random late-night Netflix pick, if it’s a cool premise that challenges how we perceive space and time, it usually has me from the get-go. One thing I hadn’t seen a whole lot of was consciousness time travel, especially from a drug. I thought the concept was grounded enough that we could approach it with a small, personal story in the vein of movies like Memento or Primer. I originally wrote a short film based on the idea, and then collaborated with writer/producer Mike Ladue on turning that script into a feature. He brought a lot more personal elements to the story such as the themes of addiction, guilt, regret, and redemption. I thought that connected so well with the initial concept and it became a much more fleshed out story. We finished the script together and then began figuring out a way to make it come to life.
Lake Artifact is labeled as “Horror – Comedy” while Altered Hours is labeled as “Sci-Fi – Thriller”. Does your approach change at all to match the genre?
Altered Hours was approached as a sci-fi mystery, almost like a puzzle. It was also almost entirely from one character’s perspective, a guy who has been through some stuff and now must work through his issues to get to the bottom of what’s going on. With so much going on, we decided we would try to maintain a relative seriousness to the film just to keep the audience “in it” with the main character. We didn’t feel that it was necessary to include a lot of genre tropes or jump scares or anything like that, the mystery was enough.
On the other end of the spectrum, I really dig campy horror movies. I love the tropes, the cabin-in-the-woods setups, it’s all so comforting and fun. I noticed that a lot of the hard-core sci-fi movies that I love tend to take themselves extremely seriously (for good reason) and don’t always leave a lot of room for fun, sometimes making them less accessible than those camp horror movies. I thought it would be interesting to try to combine the genres with my favorite parts of both. That was the approach to Lake Artifact. We decided that again there would be a “time-space-mindfuck” premise, but stylistically it would be approached as a horror-comedy and lean into all of those archetypes we know so well (the clown, the party girl, the alpha, the final girl). The idea was that once the audience was comfortable with the initial premise, we would start to dismantle those tropes and steer the plot in a more mind-bending direction.
What aspect of filmmaking do you enjoy the most – writer – director – producer? why?
I love the whole process, but it has to be directing. I love being on set with the actors and crew and facing challenges head on. There’s never really an “easy day”, especially when you’re working with low budgets, but that’s partly what makes it fun if you’re with the right people. I always think about it like a sports team gearing up for a game. Every member of the team is important, and every day you’re going to have some form of opposition and production obstacles being thrown at you. The better you are at overcoming these moments, adapting, and supporting each other, the better and closer the cast and crew become. As a director, I love facilitating that kind of collaborative atmosphere. To me, when a movie has that level of support, freedom, and fun on set, that magic shows up on screen.
What directors inspire your creativity?
I grew up, like most people, on a healthy diet of Steven Speilberg, George Lucas, and James Cameron, and I think deep down those movies will always have a small bit of influence in my approach to filmmaking. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve become more fascinated by filmmakers that can do a lot with very little, such as someone like Steven Soderberg, who continues to defy conventional wisdom for how a movie “should” be made. On a much larger scale, it’s so great to see someone like Christopher Nolan making these massive, successful, and totally original films. I also have to mention David F. Sandberg (Lights Out, Annabelle: Creation, Shazam), who while being an outstanding and successful horror filmmaker, has been so generous in educating other filmmakers online with his knowledge and experience in the craft.
If we are talking script-to-screen, which movie transitioned better? why do you think?
Although the two movies both deal with elements of time travel, I think they’re hard to compare. Altered Hours was such a puzzle of a movie that there was less room for error in terms of pure logic and timelines. Since we really never leave Will’s point of view, everything at the end of that movie had to add up perfectly, or else the whole thing would fall apart. Lake Artifact had a bigger sandbox to play around in since it takes itself a bit less seriously, there’s more characters to cut around to, and a supernatural element to the whole thing. This led to more freedom to change things on set and in the edit. Because of that I would say Altered Hours is more true to what was on the page than Lake Artifact.
What was the bigger obstacle you faced while making…
Not many people know this, but we shot principle photography of Lake Artifact in just a little over three days. We used mainly available light and we stayed in the cabin that we shot in. The movie very clearly takes place over three days, so we tried to film everything in script order, with some exceptions due to weather. This had its advantages and disadvantages. The fun part was how little time there was to think on set. Everything became so instinctual that there wasn’t really a moment for the actors to become stiff or stale, I think that shows in the performances in the movie. The hard part with doing it this way is that you’re fighting daylight, rain etc. the whole time. Considering the absurd schedule, I think we did alright.
As mentioned earlier, Altered Hours was an extremely tight script, and I think that it wasn’t until we were in production that we realized just how careful we needed to be with everything. We had visual signifiers to clue the character and audience exactly where they were in the timeline, such as the bandage on Will’s arm, or the placement of the picture on the kitchen floor, and since we were jumping around so much, we had to be perfect with everything. We really wanted the movie to hold up with several rewatches and closer inspection to detail. This level of meticulousness became pretty taxing on the shoot and then in the edit, but I think it was well worth it.
What was your favorite scene to direct on…
It’s hard to pick out a scene from either movie. For Lake Artifact I would say that I had the most setting up the pieces in the first act when the group first gets to the cabin. There was so much space for fun and shenanigans, and I think that set the tone for the rest of the movie. There’s a part where Megan (Anna Shields) is trying to explain a drinking game that we actually play. It’s a simple game but tough to explain, and I just think her attempt comes out so authentically confusing and wonderful. I think it’s those small moments that hopefully allow the audience to buy into the chemistry between all the characters.
There’s a sequence late in the movie where some of the more confusing time travel elements begin to pay off for Will (Ryan Munzert). At one point, he’s in the “lab” with Jay (Rick Montgomery Jr.) and it’s that moment where things start to come together. Rick has such a charm about him and that shows in every performance he does, and the way him and Will begin to work things out together was so satisfying to see come together.
What was the greatest decade for horror?
My knee-jerk reaction is to say the 80’s. There’s so much fun stuff from there. Even while rewatching the bad ones, they still seem fresh and you can feel love and sweat poured into them. It set up the platform for so many other movies for the next couple decades, for better or for worse. I would also argue that horror has made a cool mainstream resurgence over this past decade. You’ve seen some high-quality supernatural horror, as well as a couple of the best social-horror-thrillers of all time. It also seems like horror is keeping the theatrical release model alive on its own for non-superhero/event films, pre-COVID obviously. Let’s hope we get back to that!
What is the best lesson that you learned while filmmaking that you would pass on to other filmmakers?
It’s all about the people you work with and the atmosphere you create for them. Everything is a collaboration, and the best idea should always win, not just your own. I think when everyone has a sense of ownership toward their part of the film, it frees them to do their best work.
Throughout the filmmaking process there are so many moments where it feels like the world is working against you, it can get discouraging. You want to surround yourself with people that are ready to face those moments head on and come out with something special.
What other projects can we look forward to seeing from you?
We have a couple monster movies coming out. First is a film called Monstrous, which is a murder-mystery-bigfoot thriller written by and starring Anna Shields (who appears in both Altered Hours and Lake Artifact) and is available now on DVD and most streaming services. The other is The Retreat, a psychological horror movie about two backpackers on a trip into the snowy Adirondack High Peaks, where they become stranded in a fight against the Wendigo. The trailer for The Retreat is out now and comes out on DVD and streaming November 10th, 2020.