2. jul. 2015

Horror-Unrated Retrospekt #11: Et interview med instruktøren bag horrorfilmene Malevolence og Bereavement; Stevan Mena.

Efter 4 år har vi valgt at lukke og slukke for Horror Unrated. Med tiden fik vi hevet en hel del spændende og dybdegående interviews i hus, fra de store kendte horror stjerner til ukendte independent filmskabere. Af forskellige årsager valgte vi at lukke for Horror Unrated d. 12. november 2013, og da undertegnede tidligere har været skribent for denne fantastiske blog, Sørensen Exploitation Cinema Proudly presents, valgte jeg og bloggens ejer at flytte de mange interviews over på bloggen så de kunne få nyt liv, og forhåbentlig blive læst og nydt af nye læsere. Skrevet af Claus Reinhold.

HORROR UNRATED: Hi Stevan and welcome to Horror Unrated. Your two films, Malevolence and Bereavement is our main topic today, but to start off with I would like to hear a bit about your background and the story of how and why you wanted to become a film maker?
Well, I became interested in film very early on, but my original desire was to be a film composer. Then in my teens I became obsessed with filmmaking and it has simply been my driving passion ever since.
HORROR UNRATED: Since this is a horror webzine, I have to ask if you’re a horror fan yourself?
I’m a huge horror fan. My favorites include early John Carpenter, David Fincher, and especially Ridley Scott.
HORROR UNRATED: That’s some pretty good names you mention there. Bereavement is a prequel to your first feature film, Malevolence from 2004. Tell me, how did you come up with the story of Malevolence and how did it originate?
Malevolence was the middle part of a book I wrote and it turned into three screenplays. Bereavement is the opening part of the book. I was trying to re-create the look and style of the early horror films I had grown up on.
HORROR UNRATED: So how long did you contemplate the overall story, before sitting down to write the script and does the original idea differ much from the final movie?
The story was thought about for a while, but when I began to write it down, it came pretty quickly. However it did change a lot as we shot, especially when we found our main location. Since it was once a working slaughterhouse, it added that extra creepy vibe that I tried to work into the film.
HORROR UNRATED: Seeing as this was your first feature film, did you have difficulties getting the project launched into actual production?
Yes, raising money was very difficult, so much of the funding came from credit cards and friends and family. And we had a lot of mutiny on the set from crew, so I ended up doing most of the work myself. That experience has kind of driven me towards being very self sufficient. I now normally wear many hats on all of my films, and I think that originated out of that horrible experience on Malevolence. I can now be very distrusting of crew that I haven’t worked with.
HORROR UNRATED: Okay, it sounds like the actual production weren’t the best experience?
The making of Malevolence has been well documented as being a complete nightmare. It was such a disaster that I chronicled the entire process and turned it into a mockumentary called Brutal Massacre.
That film, released in 2008, is basically the making of Malevolence, just turned into a parody. Sometimes things are so bad, you just have to laugh at them. But then, sometimes the worst working conditions yield some of the best artistic work - Pink Floyd for example.
HORROR UNRATED: Were you surprised by the very positive reactions to the film and did you conversely encounter any bad press that sticks in your mind?
The initial reactions were totally split down the middle. People either loved it or hated it. I remember once, Brandon Johnson and I went to a theater where it was playing, and we both stopped two separate couples and asked them what they thought of the film.
My couple loved it, while Brandon’s couple hated it, and were very vocal about how much they hated it. I’ll never forget Brandon turning to me and saying, ‘Hey, wanna trade?’ It’s funny stuff but for the most part, the reactions I got from the horror community were positive, for the few that found and saw it.
The only real negative stuff I ever saw was on IMDb, where frustrated filmmakers go to tear down working ones – it’s sad.
HORROR UNRATED: Moving on to your latest installment of the saga, Bereavement, What made you decide to go back and tell the story of the origin of the killer as opposed to a straight up sequel?
It was always my intention to tell Malevolence first, and then tell his origin story. I felt that if I shot them in chronological order would minimize Martin’s scare factor. If you knew his whole back story, he wouldn’t be as scary as he was, not knowing what his motivations were, or how he became what he was. It’s always scarier when you don’t know.
HORROR UNRATED: I totally agree. So was the whole process easer this time around, seeing as you must have gained a lot of experience from the first film?
Not easier, in fact much more complicated, as we had a bigger cast and a much larger crew. And some of the shots were far more complex, so it was always very challenging. Plus, this time it was more than just an experiment because people actually had expectations, so there was far more pressure.
HORROR UNRATED: You know, when I saw Bereavement, I remember thinking that the acting performances, and especially the ones by Alexandra Daddario and Michael Biehn, were extremely natural and realistic, and at the same time your sense for writing a believable and natural dialogue is extremely good. Is this an important element for you when writing and shooting a film?
Yes, it’s very important. The whole ‘kids having sex and doing drugs’ just doesn’t work for me, I need more. I like to see people for who they really are. When people are more realistic, I have an easier time projecting my own sensibilities upon their characters, and I can identify with them more easily.
HORROR UNRATED: Regarding the cast in Bereavement, did you write the screenplay with any specific actors in mind?
No, I had no one particular in mind, and I cast mostly unknowns. Alexandra Daddario was a complete unknown when I cast her. As was Peyton List and Nolan Funk. I did hope to land Michael Biehn for the role of the father, and fortunately for me he liked the script.
HORROR UNRATED: How do you work with actors – are you the type who rehearse a lot before takes or do you also like to improvise?
I rehearse some, and I don’t like to improvise. I try to keep everything exactly the way it is on the page. My dialogue often has a few intricacies that intertwine with things that pay off later, so it’s a complex puzzle that has layers, and if I deviate from that, it causes ripples in later scenes. The only time I allow for improvising is during the murder sequences. I let them scream however they want. Actually that’s not true. I micro manage that too... I need help.
HORROR UNRATED: Haha, yes well it works so… What can you tell me about the shoot of Bereavement?
We shot Bereavement in the same location as Malevolence - Allentown and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. It was a very difficult shoot, and very cold. And working conditions in a real abandoned slaughterhouse are never going to be fun. It’s trying on the cast and crew, not to mention that we do believe the place is haunted, so that doesn’t help. Also, there are rats everywhere, and at night they swarmed the place, so it was pants tucked in socks.
I would surely say my favorite moment of the shoot was filming the scene where Sutter confronts Martin in the kitchen. When I saw what was happening, and the performances by both actors, I knew something special was happening, and that I had made great choices when casting.
HORROR UNRATED: Personally I would say that neither Malevolence nor Bereavement is your straight-up typical teen-pandering horror film. They are both far more mature and serious in tone and pace. How would you describe them as a whole?
I think they definitely fall into a more mature category of character exploration horror pieces, rather than typical. Typical slasher type horror inserts humor in between horrific elements to let the audience off the hook. I hate doing that because it basically tells the audience that I don’t take the subject matter seriously, and so neither should you. I think comedy should be in funny films, and horror should be horrific. That’s just my opinion.
HORROR UNRATED: Well, I won’t argue with you on that one Stevan. So what sort of atmosphere, style and feeling were you going for in these two films? I mean, I felt a bit of Alfred Hitchcock in there, but mainly a John Carpenter-inspired atmosphere and attention to detail. What’s you comment on that – am I completely off track?
No that’s very accurate. While my visual style strives to emulate Ridley Scott, there is certainly an element of Carpenter in there, especially with Malevolence, which was greatly informed by Halloween. As far as Hitchcock, certainly my writing style is very inspired by the master. I only wish I could write something as perfect as Psycho.
HORROR UNRATED: You shot the film on 35mm which is quite unusual these days for a low-budget film. Why did you choose to shoot on film as opposed to the digital and very popular Red Cam or Thomson VIPER camera for instance?
Because I love film and I felt at the time that I couldn’t achieve the look I wanted on digital. I’m a big Star Wars fan, and I wasn’t happy with how the new series looked as compared to film. And I just figured, that if George Lucas can’t get the look right, how can I?
So I decided to stick with what I knew, and honestly, when you compare film vs. video, after everything that’s spent on cast, crew and post-production, it seems odd to then have your capture medium be less than film. The savings just didn’t add up for me. However, after viewing Arri Alexa footage, I am now sold on digital - I think it turned the corner with Alexa.
HORROR UNRATED: Okay, I haven’t seen footage from Alexa yet, but it sounds promising. Speaking of the look, the visual side of especially Bereavement is quite beautiful and very old-school, meant in the most positive way, with its great wide shots of rural landscapes and a fantastic use of camera movement. It's like you’re going back to the more traditional way of cinema, instead of the highly popular handheld, and being a low-budget film, Bereavement looks extremely professional. How important are the visuals and the technical aspects to you?
Well, from your description as you can tell, it’s paramount to me, it’s where everything begins. I plan each shot very carefully, and I try to make my films very immersive, combining those images and soundscapes to create something that draws you in, makes you a part of that place. My films are not good to watch on computers or phones, you just don’t get immersed the way that was intended. I’ve screened my films on phones, and asked people their opinion, and then screened on Blu-ray in a surround sound big screen experience, and gotten very different responses from the same people. It’s very important how you watch a film.
HORROR UNRATED: Much like the great John Carpenter, you not only write, produce and direct, you also write and compose the film score yourself. You said earlier that you wanted to be a film composer when you were younger, but have you always been writing music, and what are the pros and cons regarding writing the score for your own films?
Yes, I’ve always been into music, and like I said, I even wanted to be a film composer before a director. The pros are that the connection between the filmmaker and the composer is a direct line. So what you see and hear is straight from my head. The cons are that it takes much longer to make a film when you have to do everything.
HORROR UNRATED: So, are you completely satisfied with Malevolence and namely Bereavement, or are there things you would like to have done different today?
There are always things I would change. Independent low-budget filmmaking is all about compromises, so I’d be lying if I said I thought they are perfect - far from it.
In fact, one issue that has caused much stress from viewers is how Allison enters the slaughterhouse. Originally she was supposed to fall through some loose concrete in the dilapidated factory and into the lower area and become trapped. But we couldn’t devise a safe way to do it that would seem realistic and computer effects just weren’t available to me for a stunt that big. So it’s an example of a huge compromise. People wring their hands when that scene comes on, but all I can do is shrug, oh well.
HORROR UNRATED: Will we be seeing more horror from you in the future Stevan, perhaps a sequel to Malevolence, or would you like to work with a different genre now?
I have lots of stuff in the works, so hopefully some of each.
HORROR UNRATED: Okay, sounds great. Stevan – thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure and the best of luck to you with your future projects.
Alexandra Daddario fortjener en gif...

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