THOUGHTS AND INFLUENCES FROM TREEHOUSE
Written by Michael J. Bartlett, J.Michael Trautmann and Dana Melanie
Treehouse is a new film from Director Michael J. Bartlett (The Zombie Diaries), released on UK DVD this week by Signature Entertainment. The film is another journey into the dark heart of horror. Local kids are going missing and animals are turning up mutilated. When Killian and Crawford short cut through the woods to get to a party, they begin to discover why and face a pitched battle for their lives into the bargain.
In this feature, director Bartlett and lead actors J.Michael Trautmann and Dana Melanie have written about their influences and experiences during the shooting of the film.
Michael J Bartlett, director of Treehouse:
The influences on Treehouse come from my early childhood exposure to films such as George Romero's Martin, the original VANISHING and the TV shows ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, TWILIGHT ZONE and TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED. As such, I have a very strong affinity to character, suspense and mystery. As a director, I focus more on the mood of a film - this is the most important thing for me. I think once you set a tone and mood everything else should fall into place as long as you hold true to it.
When speaking with the DP, J. Christopher Campbell, I told him I did not want a high-def video look but instead wanted that older, warmer feel that would recreate the mood of films like STAND BY ME and IT. I wanted this to feel like a real classic American story, even though it was written by three British writers!
We used some special lenses to achieve this effect which was then further enhanced in colour grading.
We also chose to shoot the film during the winter to achieve a really nice and bleak look. I had Jeremy Borg (Production Designer) build the set outdoors so that you could see the cold air in the characters' breath and really feel the harsh environment. This technique was also utilized in The Exorcist, another film which I find inspirational in the way it tells the story.
J.Michael Trautmann, actor playing Killian in Treehouse:
My influences, as an actor in filming Treehouse were all internal. I was well aware of the look & feel from Texas Chain Saw, but the Winter's Bone setting added to the extremity of desolation within the Ozark Forests. I didn't want to pull from any horror films to act, because horror films horrify me, and my character couldn't be as scared as I was while watching such feats as C, or Event Horizon (my personal fave). Killian is a character that I had to connect with through his memory of his father and relationship with his older brother, Crawford.
Within Killian, there is that "do-right, heroic" quality, but from the start of the film, that quality is inhibited greatly by his lack of strength in confidence. Killian stands up for his friend to a bully, but is soon trounced and returned to his own social oppression. He then watches his older brother, played beautifully by Daniel Fredrick, handle Killian's bullies for him. I knew from the script, that these brothers were close on multiple levels, but most importantly, they were best friends. Daniel and I share a similar friendship and our energies only amplify that on screen. Killian struggles with his lack of strength and self-assertion, while remembering his military father's words on manhood, and watching his brother embody them all, without effort.
Killian is at an age in Treehouse where he's just starting to develop the courage to be the hero, and the young man he has always had the potential to be. This coloured everything for my performance. Killian is scared, but knows that he can't, nor will he, leave Elizabeth behind, upon the brothers discovering her in the Treehouse. His bravery takes over his fear in that moment, because his fears are dwarfed and consumed by Elizabeth's. His heroic nature is awakened violently and our true thrilling adventure begins.
From here, the story builds intensity, pace and urgency. After Crawford leaves, the two kids are left to "survive" - through their wit and cunning, all while overcoming their immense fear from the shadowy figures hunting them, like game.
My character arc, as Killian, runs the gamut of human emotion and decisiveness. The violent scenes I did were the easiest - I come to form, as myself, when enacting such feral and instinctive situations. I thoroughly enjoyed bringing Killian to life; as an already walking hyperbole of self-confidence and violent composure, it was a fun challenge to "act" my self-opposite, in Treehouse, as our young, heroic-affirming protagonist. Many thanks to my fellow cast and crew of the film and I hope you all enjoy our work, thank you!
Dana Melanie, actor playing Elizabeth in Treehouse:
I wasn't necessarily influenced by a certain actor or movie when it came to playing Elizabeth. I spoke a lot with Michael [Bartlett] about his vision for my character from the beginning. We were very much on the same page when it came to her drive and objectives. The biggest concern was the accent! We wanted to make sure it was real and not over done. I was heavily influenced by the locals for that part. As soon as I landed I was the little girl from LA running around asking people how they pronounced certain words! Thankfully everyone was more than happy to help.
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