We love getting our filmmakers together to talk about making indie films! This edition delivers the questions courtesy of David McCracken and Joshua Riedford, whose creepy found footage award winner DAYLIGHT is available now all over VOD; they’re answered by JC Schroder, writer/director/producer of post-apocalyptic psychological thriller FOREVER’S END (also available on VOD in some of your favorite places). And then…you won’t believe what happens next! They switch places! Dig in.
DAYLIGHT QUESTIONS/FOREVER’S END ANSWERS:
McCracken and Riedford: Without giving away any specifics or spoilers, Forever’s End is about more than what is going on at the surface, which is what makes it so enjoyable to watch multiple times. In Daylight, we kept the actors in the dark from day to day about the overall story so that details they shouldn’t yet know wouldn’t find their way into scenes they didn’t belong. They were essentially trying to solve the mystery along with the audience. Did you take a similar approach in FE, to make sure the actors stayed true to what they perceived was going on, or if not, could you talk about your approach to directing?
Schroder: This is a very difficult question to answer without giving too much away, but in general terms, no, they all had the full script from the start, just with a few key “subtext” details left out from the very end. Because the film relies on a specific progression it had to be played with nuance, so many key elements were important for them to know in advance. My main note to each of them during rehearsals was to play everything as if it was all 100% real, all happening in the moment, and as a result the beginning of the film plays out more like a mystery/drama than anything, with just hints of psychological elements coming into play later on as the story progresses and the audience becomes more aware something is amiss. I think it’s that detail, that nuance that goes (intentionally) unnoticed by many the first-time viewer who’s unaware of how many layers are actually present. That, I think, is a testament to our fantastic actors’ abilities to disappear into their characters and bring them to life on screen.
M & R: FE is peppered throughout with a lot of gorgeous shots of the surrounding countryside, very different from the often bleak atmosphere utilized by many apocalyptic films. In some ways, almost makes it more unsettling. Was it a conscious decision to film at that time of year and show off that everything around Sarah was alive and flourishing, even though she assumed the world had ended?
S: Yes! That was one of my key goals from the beginning. We spent a lot of time location scouting to find just the right locations that were both the right age and had the right amount of overgrowth to pull off the look. I’ve probably seen just about every apocalyptic movie ever made and I’m obviously a fan of the genre. Most of those movies present a very bleak, grey, dead world. I wanted to present a different kind of apocalypse, a world where everyone may be dead and gone, but nature itself lived on and took over. It’s the sort of imagery we don’t see very often in apocalyptic fare, and I thought it’d be the perfect contrast to an otherwise very dark story.
M & R: Blood! Got any horror stories about using fake blood on set?
S: Oh dear, blood is always a pain! Julia, our fantastic makeup designer, did a lot of research before the shoot and actually developed and custom created all the blood and prosthetics for the wounds (for each actor) during our rehearsal week leading up to the shoot. Given that we had a very limited budget, we could only afford two copies of each set of wardrobe that people were injured in, so there was little room for error. We even scheduled specific days involving blood down to shot-by-shot breakdowns in order to get it the first time. It was a lot of work, and a heck of a bloody mess, but our actors were genuine troopers which was great, because there was no going back to do it again! In the end we’re all glad we spent the time to figure it out in advance, as they say, time is money on set and we had very little of either!
M & R: Based on your body of work thus far, you seem very drawn to the thriller/drama genre. Who would you say are your biggest influences and is there a specific film that you saw as a child that made you realize you wanted to make movies?
S: I have a lot of influences, I can’t really just pick one. That said, I’m open to all genres of film and hope to have the opportunity to do movies from all of them at some point… from action to comedy, horror, thriller, fantasy, war, scifi, and of course drama. I seem to be drawn to drama in particular, mainly because I believe that drama is the basis for all other genres. The way I see it, without that key character-based emotional core, no scifi, fantasy, or thriller would have the same depth or meaning. My personal focus right now is on scifi and period films, I’ve had a long-time love for everything scifi-oriented growing up, and a new found love for period pieces which I also hope to incorporate in future projects.
M & R: On most of your films, you are listed as writer, director, and cinematographer, among other things. What would you say is your absolute favorite part of the filmmaking process?
S: I’ve produced and written in the past more out of necessity than love, my passion is to be on set making things come to life, not stuck behind a computer screen for months on end. What I love about Directing is that it allows you to have your hands in everything, to be creative and collaborative on so many levels, but one thing I don’t like is the long-term commitment required for each and every project, when sometimes all I want to do is get back on set and shoot the next one! So, if I had to pick just one, I would probably just be a Cinematographer. I have a genuine passion for telling stories through beautiful imagery, and if I had my choice, I’d live on set! That said, I certainly love Directing as well and in an ideal world, I would do nothing but Shoot and Direct.
M & R: What else is on the horizon for J.C. Schroder…got any new features in the works that we can look forward to any time soon?
S: Every time someone asks me what project I’m making next, my answer is always: “Whichever gets funded first!” With that said though, I always try to keep multiple irons in the fire. I’m currently developing two indie features, a miniseries, and a television show for a cable network. I can’t say too much yet since this industry is fickle at best, but what I can say is that they all fall under the scifi, period, and/or drama genres. Regardless, I can’t always predict which project ends up coming next. I try to keep an open mind, always open to new projects and continually excited to see what tomorrow brings!
FOREVER’S END QUESTIONS / DAYLIGHT ANSWERS
Schroder: I love stories that are first and foremost about people and when it comes down to it, that feels like a big focus both directly and indirectly with your main characters in Daylight, especially the Jennifer character and her role with Child Protective Services. Why did you decide to do this particular story and what was your process in developing your characters?
Joshua Riedford: I couldn’t agree with you more; at the very core, a good story is nothing without characters. We need people to relate with or hate (or both), people that draw us into the cinematic world onscreen. Daylight came about from wanting to make a demon movie that isn’t about the demon, but instead about all the characters who get caught in its web. Just as the CPS workers investigate the cases of abused and manipulated children, they in turn become the abused victims of the demon. So the lines are blurred between the demonic manipulation and the personal demons of the characters. In our case, we tried to keep everything as genuine and natural as possible, and allowed the actors to inform the characters over the course of filming the story. We laid out all the elements, but allowed them the wiggle room to play with their reactions and motivations based on their own experience
S: Since the Blair Witch Project, there have been a lot of films done in recent years using the “found footage” and/or “docu-drama” style, what was it that led you to choose this style of storytelling?
JR: What makes the “found footage” genre so interesting and what really sets it apart from any other style is that as a viewer, you only get to see what the camera operator is seeing—there is no “omnipotent storyteller” giving you information the characters aren’t privy to. Being confined by this structure can make you feel claustrophobic and uncomfortable, which is why it couples so well with the horror/thriller genre. With Daylight in particular, we wanted to play with POV, letting the camera pass between the characters and build the story around how each individual was experiencing the events. When it came down to it, the handheld found footage was the only way we could effectively tell the kind of story we wanted.
S: I have to ask, the third act of the film feels like a completely different film, and the use of editing & effects here is brilliant. There have been a lot of “found footage” horror films, but I think it’s the style of this third act that makes yours stand out. What was your thought process behind developing this segment?
David McCracken: It actually came from examining a lot of found footage films and exorcism films and trying to approach ours in a fresh and exciting way. Exorcism films are tricky because there’s really only one way to do an exorcism accurately—pray over the possessed person and see how the demon reacts. But since Daylight was playing with ideas of POV and perception, we thought, “What if the demon brought the characters into the mind of a possessed person?” Every one of the main characters in the film has a dark secret, so what if the demon exploited that and dragged them into their own personal Hell?
S: Follow up to my last question, without giving too much away; from a technical standpoint, how did you achieve the visuals and effects when everything starts “falling apart,” both literally and figuratively?
DM: Most of it was in-camera trickery augmented with a few carefully selected VFX shots. We combined as many approaches as possible so that your brain couldn’t glom onto one specific trick. There are a lot of natural elements in the film like earthquakes and floods, and we always attempted to do as much in-camera as possible. So for the earthquakes, we did everything from rigging buildings to simply throwing flour at the actors and shaking the camera. We augmented some of this with VFX, but for the most part, it’s all real. As for the flood…well, we just built a set and let volunteer firefighters blast the hell out of it with their hoses.
S: With this feature under your belt, what’s next for you and your team?
JR: As you can probably relate, after seeing our first feature get widespread distribution, it’s hard to not catch the full-blown filmmaking bug. We’ve got a whole slate of ideas at various stages of development, but like you said, it all depends on which one gets funded first. No plans for any more horror flicks, unless we decide to do Daylight 2, which would be more of a high-octane action romp where they go back to Hell to kick some demon ass. So if you know anybody who wants to throw a couple million at that, we’ll start tomorrow.
About the filmmakers:
JOSH RIEDFORD is a producer and freelance musician, as well as co-owner of a startup film production company with longtime collaborator David McCracken. Josh first began working on films as a student at the University of Evansville, and has since worked in many facets of the filming process.
His first feature was the horror/thriller “Daylight,” which premiered at London’s Frightfest in 2013 and has since achieved digital distribution on Amazon and iTunes, among others platforms. Josh produced this low-budget independent picture in his hometown in Indiana, in addition to working as composer, actor, and dialogue editor.
DAVID MCCRACKEN is a Director, Writer, Producer, and Actor with a varied career in filmmaking and writing. He recently earned his MFA in Production at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and has an MA in Creative Writing from Ball State University. He has been awarded numerous honors, most notably the prestigious James Bridges Memorial Scholarship for Directing and the Sloan Science Foundation Production Award.
“OstrichLand,” McCracken’s USC thesis film, has been to over twenty festivals worldwide, winning numerous awards, including the Palm Springs Jury Prize for Best Emerging Filmmaker and Best Student Film at Carmel International. McCracken’s most recent feature, the horror/thriller “Daylight,” is now on VOD through Amazon and iTunes.
To learn more about McCracken and his work, visit www.david-mccracken.com.
JC Schroder is a Director and Producer of award-winning independent film, live events, and commercial media productions. As the owner of Los Angeles based production shingle Star Com Productions, over the past decade Schroder has produced more than 100 original film, television, and new media productions reaching more than 120 million viewers worldwide. Forever’s End marks Schroder’s feature directorial debut. For a more comprehensive bio, visit www.jcschroder.com.