|Directors Morgan Faust (l) and Max Isaacson (r) as adorable children.|
MORGAN FAUST AND MAX ISAACSON INTERVIEW
Interview conducted by Morgan Faust and Max Isaacson
Morgan Faust and Max Isaacson are a sister/brother writing and directing team. This week they are releasing three new short horrors films as part of Fun Size Horror Anthology Film Series (31 horror films all under 5 minutes) premiering this week on websites across the internet.
They sat down and g-chatted with each other about the craft of making horror films, what inspires them and why puking is scarier than peeing.
Morgan: So, Max, I can call you that, right?
Max: Only if I can call you Morgan.
Morgan: Sure, but it's pronounced M'organ.
Max: Klingon, I assume.
Morgan: So, what is your first film Under Dark about, and what inspired you to make it?
Max: Under Dark is story about a man who breaks into a house with the intent to do some serious harm, but discovers that he's the one in danger. I started with the simple idea that I wanted to do something about a kid, but not as a victim, that one we know backwards and forward. So then it became about how do we make the kid an aggressor character and I started thinking about how to fit that kind of murderous power into a physically weak frame. Pretty quickly I started thinking about demons and ways to hide them away, which got me to shadows and beings without corporeal form. And that started to very seriously influence the tone and visual feel for the whole project. More than anything it's a movie that rests on mood, so the use of shadows in a narrative and emotional sense was everything.
After that it just became a task of making it fun to watch.
And yourself? "Last Date" is a movie about a first date gone deadly wrong (I'm killing it with the puns). You used something that is almost horror blasphemy, dialogue and performances, as the focus and foundation of your movie. Was that an experiment in the genre, or...?
|Click images to enlarge|
Morgan: Har, har. I also liked the idea of playing around with a character who seems helpless, but who actually turns out to be something very different than you think (spoiler alert!). In this case, it's a single white female, the kind who would be running for most of a Halloween sequel. But instead of defending herself with a few well-timed slammed doors, and perhaps a kitchen knife, the young woman proves to be the big bad.
Max: I actually feel like there's a lot of that in modern horror, taking the tropes and turning them on their head. Modern audiences are sort of a blessing in that way. We don't need to pander to them, and it lets us play with our stories more.
Morgan: As far as all that dialogue, well I am, thanks to you introducing me to a certain Vampire Slayer, a big Whedon fan, and I like how he mixes up the uber chatty mundane with the supernaturally spooky. Having two people on a first date talking about silly first date stuff, and then one of them turns out to be a demon, that seemed like fun.
Max: Were you excited about the one-take?
Morgan: Technically, I was excited about doing a film in one-take, but what I was really excited about with this was to see if even with such a short film I could, you know, "say something". So I dove into a storied horror tradition and wrote a script that tries to comment on the ills of society. In its own way this film says, "Hey people! Examine your assumptions! You're making asses of you, me and everyone else with your unacceptable racial prejudice!"
Max: I don't think either of my movies says quite as much as yours.
|Click images to enlarge|
Morgan: Your second film Bad Eggs is a valentine to Lovecraft made with literal hand puppets. Actually, both of your films are pretty tentacle-y.
Max: Basically I was just staring at my hand and thinking about how my fingers looked like little tentacles and wouldn't it be funny if I painted my hand to look like an Ancient One, and from there it just got silly.
Morgan: What's the Ancient One?
Max: I think we're going to have to edit this out of the interview, you're just embarrassing yourself. An Ancient One is what they call the elder gods in the Lovecraft mythos. Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep, Azathoth, etc.
Morgan: What's a mythos?
Morgan: I'm kidding. Back to business. I found when making my film, the most fun moment was getting to see the demon I'd created (thanks to your SFX make-up) come to life on camera. Why do you think that moment is so exciting?
Max: For you? Or for an audience? It's actually probably not dissimilar.
Morgan: For us as filmmakers.
Max: It's that moment when the thing in your brain, that can't really exist in real life, finally is born. You get to play god for a minute. At least that's how I feel about it when I see my weird shit on a monitor.
A good example is The Exorcist. When Reagan is peeing on a carpet and telling the astronaut he's going to die, you're freaking out and thinking, "This kid is FUCKED!" But when her head spins around and there's pea soup shooting out like a geyser you're thinking, "This world is FUCKED!" And that's cooler.
Morgan: Yeah, that makes sense. It's sort of like the feeling you get when you hide when you're a kid – like you know you're doing something that will scare somebody, which is a thrilling, sort of powerful feeling. I think that's why when I used to hide as a kid, I would have a hard time keeping from laughing. I feel that way now, when we landed the shot for the end of Last Date, I had to put my hand over my mouth to prevent ruining the sound with my giggles.
Max: Right! I always laugh when shots are working. Especially when they're weird or complicated. Do you think guys like Sam Raimi (Evil Dead) were just laughing their asses off when they'd pull off a sweet chainsaw shot?
Morgan: I'm sure. The Exorcist, I'm not sure, but Sam Raimi, yeah, I bet he laughed. I think there is also something that is psychologically empowering when you're making a film that plays with death. Fake blood, demons killing people, it's like saying you're not afraid of death, but you're saying it with corn syrup.
Let's talk craft a bit. We've both come up through indie film, which is a classy way of saying we've made a lot of movies with very little money, which usually means getting clever. What did you learn making these two films that will make you a smarter filmmaker going forward?
Max: So, the mandate for the project was that we needed to make the movies under five minutes. From there, you know you're not making Ben Hur. Good deal for indie cats like you and I.
Morgan: Bad deal for William Wyler
Max: I would kill to see him do a two-minute horror short! The new thing that I really had to focus on and think about was how I was going to edit and move my camera when huge swaths of my frame were pure black. When we shot Under Dark, the raw files were perfectly normal, but the plan was to color correct to make it almost entirely shadow, so shooting for that isn't a natural feeling. Your angles start to feel wrong and it feels like you're jump-cutting more often than you are because the frame is so similar from shot to shot. What about you?
Morgan: The extraordinary power of music and sound. My great sound mixer Will Ogilvie and composer Matthew Chilelli are responsible for a lot of the tension and scare moments in this motion picture event. That was really eye opening, how much you can do with sound when you're trying to scare people.
|Click image to enlarge|
Max: How did shooting this in one-shot affect your building of tension?
Morgan: Since I knew I couldn't create tension in the edit, or invent reaction shots, I had to keep it feeling alive for the actors. So between takes I would always change it up a little bit, maybe give them a new read of a line, or a new line entirely, so that they could surprise each other. Chemistry is a funny thing to try and create on screen. Actors are amazing people that they can allow that to happen while a camera floats around 10 inches from their faces. [SPOILER ALERT!] I showed a cut of this to my friend and her husband who didn't know the story, and they were both sad that the date ended in death, they thought these two really had a chance. [END SPOILER] I take that as a big accomplishment.
Max: Maybe one of your friends is a killer?
Morgan: Or would like to be dating one.
Max: I've always admired the way you work with actors. You're so invested in the back story, the natural feeling of the delivery, the dynamic between people. Do you see yourself drawn to directors who work that same way, or is it just something you like to do on a personal, on-set, level?
Morgan: Aw jeez, thanks.This is going to sound pretty corny, but someone once said to me everyone has a strength, your job as a director is to figure out what that is and direct from that place. For me that place is people. I love understanding people and why they do what they do, and that's true for my actors as well as my characters. I do that in a bar, as well as on set. I often walk away from a conversation realizing I've just pelted someone with a dozen questions, and they don't know anything about me.
Max: Maybe this just comes from a deep seeded desire to be a woman of mystery.
Morgan: But, yes, I like to listen to stories of how Mike Leigh and Robert Altman work. [Robert] Bresson and [Stanley] Kubrick I deeply admire, but I find the stories of how they break people unsettling. What can I say, I'm a softy. A softy who likes to murder people on screen.
Max: Classic tale new twist.
Morgan: You've always been so great at world building, and visual storytelling. I think you did a really cool job creating a tone through the visual language, which is so much of what great horror is about. You've watched a lot of Giallo, what do you like about that style of horror film?
Max: No, you're so great!
Morgan: I'm sorry, oh, is this Max? Wrong chat.
|Click images to enlarge|
Max: I love [Dario] Argento's use of color and spacing and perspective to tell you how you're supposed to feel. Deep Red is sort of a perfect example of the ways in which horror directors have so many tools at their disposal that most other genres can't play with.
I mean that script is bananas, but you're on the ride from the first second. And it's not because Argento is showing you fascinating characters, it's because the space is so captivating. He basically takes incredible interior design, some wonderful camera work and a black glove, and keeps you rapt for two hours.
Morgan: If you had to pick one, what would you say is your favorite horror film?
Max: It really is The Exorcist. Friedkin is amazing and the lengths they go to in order to make you feel like you're part of that world are astonishing. What about you? What still works?
Morgan: I'm scared by every horror movie I see, every time I see it. But I love it. I love being scared. I love the sheer magnitude of the Freddy, Michael, Jason canons. But for favorite person who is out there doing it, I have to say Stephen King. He is so good at character-driven horror. I mean look at Carrie or Misery, they are basically taking natural human psychology – in the case of Carrie, the fear of being different, and with Paul Sheldon, here is a writer living out his worst nightmare of being monopolized by his biggest fan, and he just pushes those ideas to the limit until they are terrifying. I love that. I love that all of his characters are real people with real problems who just happen to be trapped in their own nightmare.
Max: Sure, that makes a ton of sense.
Morgan: Well, thanks for taking the time to speak to me Max.
Max: You too. I gotta go actually, mom's calling.
Morgan: Tell her I say "hi".
HorrorTalk.com would like to thank Morgan and Max for the time they spent talking to themselves on our behalf. Definitely make sure to check out their shorts on the following sites:
Under Dark - October 28th on DreadCentral
Bad Eggs - October 30th on Collider
Last Date - October 30th on BadAssDigest
Also be sure to like the Fun Size Horror page on Facebook for links for more shorts!
Want to share some news? Click here to hit us with it!