With his first feature, Nightmare, writer/director Dylan Bank makes a fearless, stylish debut, fusing psychosexual horror and indie auteur cinema.
Raised in a ruthless suburb of Philadelphia, Bank toiled away his adolescent years as a video store clerk. Consumed by cinema of every breed, Bank cultivated a mania for directors — from highbrow filmmakers like Werner Herzog and Stanley Kubrick to low-budget horror mavericks like Roger Corman and Sam Raimi. By the time he escaped from Vassar College, he knew he had no choice. He had to make his film.
Were it not for this obsession, Dylan Bank may never have slain the constant obstacles that threatened his Nightmare. Bank scrounged a meager budget from private investors seduced by his dark vision, vehemently refusing to rest until his work was done.
At last, Bank has brought his dreams to life — and convinced the world they're just fiction.
Dylan Bank, Co-writer and Director of Nightmare
HorrorTalk: Have you always wanted to make movies?
Dylan Bank: I've always been interested in something creative, whether it's acting or music or writing or lying. Filmmaking was a natural combination of all the creative elements. Plus, it's pretty thankless to be a painter.
HT: Who are your influences?
DB: I've always loved the surreal. From Dali to Dr. Seuss, surrealism has always been a part of my life. We dream fantastic and reality-bending adventures for ourselves, and then cast them off before breakfast, living in the steady waking world. Most people spend their lives trying to keep reality straight, but someone like Goya or Borges revels in living between the worlds of dreams and sanity. What inspired me to make Nightmare is the horror of having your very world turn on you — of reality itself becoming an enemy. It's Dali who first made me realize the power of reality, because he so beautifully ditched it.
HT: This is different from most horror films because it seems to be a 'thinking man's' horror film. Was this your intention going in?
DB: My intention going into Nightmare was to make the most intense and surprising movie of all time. To truly surprise people, you have to make them think, to take them on a trip they never expected, and that's hard. When you watch an episode of "CSI," you know by the time the clock ticks over to 11pm, whoever had the "bad guy" music playing behind them will be in jail. In Nightmare, I've had people tell me that even at the beginning of the final scene of the film they still didn't know how it was going to end.
HT: What was the budget for the film? How did you finance it?
DB: We got a couple hundred grand from private investors who believed in us, so we had 100 percent creative control (Sweet!). Some people might say that doesn't sound like a lot of money for a movie, but Morgan Pehme [co-writer of Nightmare. -Ed.] and I wrote the film thinking of doing it on no budget — you know, just me, a camera and the actors — so when we got the money, we could really flex our muscles.
HT: What was it shot on?
DB: We shot on HD using the Panisonic Varicam. If we had tried to make Nightmare only a few years ago, we would have had to spend all our money on film stock and the endless expenses that follow. HD is the indie filmmaker's best friend because for relatively low cost we have visuals that are full theatrical quality. In general, HD is so new it's a rarity to find a talented cinematographer who is already experienced in HD. We were lucky to find Valentina Caniglia, who not only was capable of giving us dense and one-of-a-kind visuals, but also was technically adept with the complicated equipment.
HT: Where were your locations?
DB: With the exception of a stint in Franklinville, New Jersey, the film was shot entirely in the New York City metropolitan area. We did select scenes in Queens (like the classroom scene at York College in Jamaica), Manhattan, Long Island and The Bronx, but most of the film was shot in the Williamsburg and DUMBO neighborhoods of Brooklyn. So much of Nightmare is insane, for that element to work it had to be grounded in reality, in a real city with real people.
HT: The score is amazing, especially for an indie film. How did you hook up with Kangol?
DB: It was an exciting experience to compose with a hip hop legend like that. You know, he has three platinum and two gold records for his work as a producer. The score is the subconscious element of a movie, and Kangol really understands that. He and I combed over every inch of this film, composing much of the score on MIDI, meaning that all the music started out electronic. A few of those songs, our theme, "The Nightmare Waltz" for example, we then sent out to the producer Morgan Pehme's aunt, Olivia Pehme-Peters, a very talented violinist and composer in the Canary Islands. She and several other classical musicians there recorded the live arrangements. I've been a cellist my whole life, and there was a time when I was pretty good, but Olivia and the others who perform on our soundtrack are truly great musicians, and I'm glad you appreciate what they recorded with us.
We were just really lucky with music in general. Morgan brought Kangol aboard who he knew through Wendell Sawyer of Blue Magic and Richard Poindexter and Alex Brown of The Persuaders. All three of those guys make great cameos in Nightmare.
Our friend Charlie Walker, the drummer of Gavin Rossdale's new band Institute, agreed to play the film's critical drum solo. You can hear some of it in the trailer.
HT: There is a lot of full frontal nudity in the movie from both male and female actors. How tough was it to get actors for these nude scenes?
DB: Oh, get over it, we're all just monkeys that got cold. Seriously though, the nudity is ingrained in this film, it's a part of the plot, a part of the atmosphere, a part of the horror. The nudity in this film isn't intended to titillate, it's meant to discomfort people. Our actors were interested in being in a great film, and they accepted the nudity as an integral element of Nightmare. We didn't have actors turn us down.
HT: Why doesn't the main character have a name?
DB: In Nightmare, we strip away everything from our main character, played by Jason Scott Campbell. All the safeties and comforts we rely on in life – our reputations, our friends, our bedrooms, our clothes and, finally, our identities. You're pretty sharp, though. A lot of people never notice he doesn't have a name.
HT: Nightmare has won a slew of awards, including Best Feature and People's Choice at the 2005 Chicago Horror Film Festival. How much is that helping you get the word out there for Nightmare?
DB: It helps immensely. There are countless movies, books, TV shows, plays, motivational speakers, strip clubs, etc., that are trying to get you to look over at them and buy what they're selling. We're competing with stars and multi-million dollar franchises, because it's the same 10 bucks to get in the theater no matter who makes the movie. For a movie like Nightmare, where everything about it is new, it helps to have someone else proclaiming that it's good. I believe once you see Nightmare you'll never forget it, but first you have to decide to take a chance on it.
HT: What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome when making this movie?
DB: A director has to do everything through other people. I sometimes joke that a good director is just a brain in a jar — controlling everything, but not touching anything. You have to get the shot you want through your cinematographer, the performance through the actor, and so on. This means you have to communicate and be able to articulate what you want from the moment you walk in the door. Sometimes it feels like it would be easier to just do it yourself or demonstrate to the crew member what you want, but no. You learn a lot about people by figuring out how best to communicate with them.
HT: Is there any advice you can give to future filmmakers?
DB: Make shoddy movies, so Nightmare is the only thing out there worth watching. Or, wait, you mean good advice? Imagine you're sitting in a movie theater, the lights go down, and you think, "Oh, I hope this is an unforgettable journey I'm about to go on!". Make that movie you've been hoping to see your whole life. If someone else already made that movie, just do a sequel, it'll probably make more money. Then buy a younger, more attractive body and have your brain transplanted inside. Am I getting off topic?
HT: What's next on your plate?
DB: Morgan and I have another movie we've written together. It's a sci-fi movie about the end of the world, and it takes place almost exclusively in the woods. Call me crazy, but I think it just might change the world.
You can check out HorrorTalk's review of Nightmare here.
Want to comment on this interview? Head over to the Horrortalk Review Forum.