|The Mortuary Collection director Ryan Spindell|
RYAN SPINDELL INTERVIEW
Interview conducted by Chris Shamburger
No stranger to the independent horror scene, Ryan Spindell is an award-winning filmmaker, artist, and graphic designer based in Los Angeles. Known for his short films including Kirksdale and The Root of the Problem, Ryan is actively promoting his latest anthology project, The Mortuary Collection, with the launch of his already-promising Kickstarter campaign.
Chris Shamburger: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Ryan Spindell: Hey, sure. I was born in the sticks, grew up in the middle of nowhere and am currently a writer director and graphic designer living in Los Angeles, CA. I also love scary movies.
CS: I want to talk about your upcoming project, The Mortuary Collection, in a moment. But first, what is it about the short story format that attracts you?
RS: My first exposure to genre was the original Twilight Zone television series. The show aired way before my time, but my father collected the whole series on VHS and I grew up on the stuff. I fell in love with the short form anthology format of the series. Each episode is something new. A new cast, new stories, new experiences. It's that freshness that's kept me coming back for more, and it's something that I feel is missing from the genre today. Horror movies have become so predictable in the studio system, which is ironic, because I would say that horror, more than any other genre, thrives on the unexpected.
CS: Was there ever a short film or anthology that made you go, "That's what I should be doing"?
RS: While it was The Twilight Zone that drew me to the genre, it was actually Evil Dead II that made me want to dig in and do it myself. It just looks like the filmmakers are having so much fun. Interestingly, it's that classic Twilight Zone storytelling fused with over-the-top visually that has come to define my work. I think I just realized that right now.
CS: You co-wrote and directed Kirksdale while attending Florida State University. Tell me about that experience.
RS: I co-wrote Kirksdale with my friend Bradford Hodgson as my theses project in grad school. I went to Florida State University, which (despite its location) happens to have one of the best film programs in the country. Making that film was an incredible experience and really what launched my whole career.
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CS: Do you enjoy writing or directing more?
RS: That's a tough question to answer because for me, they are one in the same. When I'm writing, I'm always thinking of how I will shoot it, and when I'm directing, I'm constantly rewriting. If I were to choose one, I'd say that I prefer directing, but mostly because writing is so lonely.
CS: Kirksdale reminds me of a low-budget '70s exploitation flick called Don't Look in the Basement, which I loved (despite its many shortcomings). Did that film serve as an inspiration for Kirksdale?
RS: I've actually never seen Don't Look in the Basement all the way through. I started watching it a few times, but had trouble connecting in a meaningful way. I can tell you that the films we watched to prep for the movie were the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Haute Tension, and the remake of Willard, which I love. What's funny about the plot of inmates that have taken over the asylum seemed so obvious that it was almost cliché, but when I did my research I found almost no examples of anyone using that concept, aside form the opening of The House on Haunted Hill remake. Of course, Martin Scorsese totally ripped me off when he did Shutter Island. (I could only be so lucky.)
CS: Arguably, the most memorable moment of Kirksdale comes when a character attempts to walk after having both her feet cut off and sewn back on. Was it difficult determining how much of this to show onscreen versus leaving it up to the audience's imagination?
RS: That particular sequence was crystal clear in my mind from the early stages of writing the script and I actually had to fight my producers to keep it in the movie. As soon as we started rolling the camera and Jessica Mansfield started walking, I knew it was going to be all about her. She is absolutely incredible in the film, and it's the shots of her reacting to the pain that evokes the real squirms. The special effects stuff (as great as it was) is almost an after thought when you're working with a performer like that.
CS: Let's talk about your next short, The Root of the Problem. How did that come about?
RS: I woke up one morning and realized that I had been in Los Angeles for almost four years and despite having had hundreds of fancy meetings and written a slew of scripts that I loved, I still wasn't being allowed to actually make anything. I called up my good friend (and cinematographer) Nathan Lavine-Heany and together with my co-writer Mark E. Davidson, we decided to each throw in a thousand bucks and to make a short film. That's essentially how The Root of the Problem was born. Of course the film grew as we developed it and our budget eventually doubled, but it's taking that first scary step that's so important with these things. You can spend the rest of your life planning for something to be perfect, but sometimes you've got to just take that leap and know that it will work out.
CS: Whereas Kirksdale took place in several varying locations, The Root of the Problem was filmed entirely in one location with only a handful of characters. Was this more or less challenging as a filmmaker?
RS: This is a great question. The whole idea behind Root was to keep it simple. One scene, three characters, one room. Logistically it was great. I found some flats for free on Craigslist and built the set myself in my friend's warehouse. The set was controlled and safe. And we didn't have to deal with permits or location fees that will kill you in Los Angeles. What I hadn't expected was how creatively challenging the shoot would be. Most scenes in a movie average around three minutes before the audience starts getting bored. Our film is made up of one fourteen-minute scene, playing out in real time and revolving around a lead actress who has almost no lines of dialogue. It was a constant challenge to keep in interesting both during the shoot and in the editing room. Way, way harder than I ever expected.
CS: The first time I saw The Root of the Problem, it immediately reminded me of a darker, more sinister Little Shop of Horrors. Was the '50s vibe and grungy aesthetics something you always wanted for the film?
RS: Absolutely! Little Shop is one of my all time favorite films! It again goes back to The Twilight Zone and that classic pulp aesthetic. If I were to list my most influential films, they would almost all be period pieces. That era just holds a nostalgic quality that is unparalleled.
CS: Between Kirksdale and The Root of the Problem, what are you most proud of?
RS: You're asking me to tell you which one of my children I love more. Kirksdale was an exercise in horror and I love the southern gothic, noir quality that just sort of weighs down on the audience throughout. Most of the hard-core horror fans prefer this film because it works on a more primal level. That being said, I feel that Root is a much more sophisticated film. Even though the premise is simple there's a lot more going on below the surface. It's a bit more challenging of a film, even though it's masked as a fun monster movie. (At least that was my intention.)
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CS: Tell me about The Mortuary Collection.
RS: The Mortuary Collection is a feature film that blends the fantastic aesthetics of Guillermo Del Toro with the classic story telling of The Twilight Zone. Set in a phantasmagorical town where nothing is as it seems, the movie revolves around four twisted tales of madness and macabre, a misguided young girl and the eccentric local mortician who weaves it all together. Loaded with unexpected twists, dark humor and genuine scares, The Mortuary Collection harks back to the golden age of horror and thrusts it into the modern age.
The Mortuary Collection aspires to remind audiences that horror films can be more than mindless torture and gore. Taking cues from some of the most innovative visual storytellers of our time, I'm looking to craft a rich and visually stylized horror film that will appeal to both horror and non-horror fans alike. A live-action, gothic fable that relies on character-driven storytelling and genuine suspense. A film that reminds audiences that thought-provoking horror is alive and well.
CS: Why a Kickstarter campaign?
RS: Honestly, because studios just don't make films like this anymore. I worked for years trying to get The Mortuary Collection set up through all the standard channels and even though most of them loved the script, they were dead set in the idea that anthologies just don't work. Funny thing is, no one could tell me why. I realized that if I ever wanted to see this kind of film make a come back I was going to have to make it happen myself and what better way than by connecting directly with the fans who share my passion.
CS: Your previous films were written with collaborators. Will The Mortuary Collection be another writing collaboration?
RS: I love collaborating with others and writing is no exception. (Again, writing is lonely, why not share the pain with another unfortunate soul.) That being said, The Mortuary Collection was a solo effort, composed of four shorts that I had written in my spare time. While I'm the only scribe on this film, my ultimate goal is to branch out into both a comic book series and a television show where IU would be able to give new writers the creative opportunities they deserve.
CS: What's your best case scenario for the film?
RS: Ideally I'd love for a savvy investor to find us on Kickstarter, see our passion and commitment for the project and invest the little money we need to finish the full feature film.
CS: Seen any good horror shorts lately?
RS: Oh man I love horror shorts! I'm always one the look out for great ones. A few that pop into mind are Lights Out, Buckles and Don't Move. Check out the killer site, Short of the Week for the best shorts around.
CS: Any last thoughts?
RS: I just want to give a shout out to all the incredible people (you included, Chris) who have backed and supported our Kickstarter Project so far. It's been an amazing experience and I'm humbled to have even made it as far as we already have. I'm well aware of the stigma behind Kickstarter, but the truth is, it's an incredible platform for artists and when used properly, it could change the way we make movies. Something I think we all agree is long overdue.
If you would like to donate to Ryan's Kickstarter campaign, click here and select your pledge amount. There are different prizes for different pledges, including but not limited to digital downloads, gore packs, promotional artwork, and perhaps most interesting of all, an onscreen death!
You can also check out Trapdoor Pictures' We Come in Pieces, a short documentary celebrating the anthology horror film, co-directed by Ryan Spindell and Ben Hethcoat:
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