Your new movie The
Dark Stranger - in a few words, what is it about?
is about a troubled artist who begins work on a new
graphic novel only to find that a character she has created seems to be
coming into the real world, tearing her life apart.
were your sources of inspiration when dreaming up The
Dark Stranger, and to what extent could you actually identify with
your lead character Leah and her phobias?
When I was
younger I struggled with serious depression. Many of my friends also
struggled with mental health issues. I wanted to make a film that dealt
with how creative people often battle depression and suicidal
feelings. What if that depression took the form of a demon of the mind
that went from artist to artist, trying to make them take their own lives
in order to get stronger. But I wanted the film to ultimately have a
positive message: that we can overcome the dark strangers within us. We
don't need to give in to those bad feelings.
Dark Stranger seems to create a world of its own that from time to
time defies logic - so what kind of a challenge was it to not lose your
story in the proecess?
During the script process, I was
constantly asking myself if an audience would be able to follow what was
going on or if things were getting too weird. I'm influenced by filmmakers
such as David Cronenberg, David Lynch and Tim Burton, to name a few, who
create their own worlds in their films which often defy conventional
logic, yet they create a logic of their own. It makes sense to them; it's
not just random surreal imagery. You get on their wavelengths as you watch
their best works. That's what I was trying for with The
Dark Stranger. Making
sure the audience is with you is important to me, along with expressing a
unique vision. It's a delicate balance.
Dark Stranger makes deliberate use of paintings, a graphic novel
and even animation - so do talk about the art in your movie for a bit, and
how closely did you work together with your artists?
were many artists involved with this film. The original paintings by
Leah's mother in the film, which hang on the walls throughout the house,
were all done by my mother Janet Trebilcock, who is an amazingly talented
artist herself. She ran an art school and gallery in Toronto for many
years. The graphic novel images were created by Sean Scoffield, who is an
exceptional comic book artist who has drawn for DC and
Marvel in the past.
He did the graphic novel version of David Cronenberg's Existenz, which is
how I first discovered his work. I've worked with Sean on many of my short
films before making The
Dark Stranger. Sean created the original character
designs and landscapes for Leah's storyboard. He created the graphic
novel pages you see Leah working on in the film. The company Keyfilm
Digital took Sean's character designs and landscapes and turned them into
animation. Keyframe also did all the live action CGI that appears
throughout the film. Keyframe did an incredible job, doing both the all
the animation sequences and the CGI FX, over our long post process.
talk about your directorial approach to your story at hand!
approach, both in the writing and directing, was to make the characters
and situations as real as possible. The more we could believe and root for
Leah, the more we could accept the fantasy elements of the story. I feel a
lot of horror films today put all their energy into gore effects or cool
lighting, and not nearly enough effort into creating dimensional
characters. It was also important to create an atmosphere of menace that
begins very subtly and grows stronger as the film goes on. Making sure the
audience always knows where they are and what's going on was very
important, both as writer and director, and having a sympathetic though
complex main character that they can root for. Staging suspense and scares
is always fun cause you try to surprise your audience with where the
monster is going to pop out next. Ultimately, the directorial approach was
balancing crafting a realistic family and delivering on genre expectations
of scares and dark imagery.
can you tell us about your cast, and why exactly these people?
admired all of the actors in previous films and TV shows and thought they
were right for the part. Katie Findlay is an amazing strong actress.
What's extra great about her is she is also a huge comic book nerd. So it
really helped to have someone who is familiar with the world of comics and
graphic novels play a comic artist. She brought an authenticity to it.
Stephen McHattie is a fabulous actor and a really interesting person. He
has such a unique presence. He's played lots of bad guys in the past but
he always makes it new and brings something different to each character he
plays. He was excited about playing the dual role of The Dark Stranger and
Mr. Toth. He made lots of good suggestions which enhanced both parts.
fantasy world notwithstanding, The
Dark Stranger is limited to only a handful of sets - so do talk
about your location(s) for a bit, and what were the advantages and maybe
also challenges filming there?
We shot in my house for
thirteen days. I wrote the script with my house in mind, partly out of
budgetary concern. To keep the location costs down. But it's also a great
old three storey house. Because I was so familiar with the place I was
able to plan out shots very thoroughly. However, when you bring a fifty
person film crew into a house the place feels much smaller. Cause it was a
real house getting the crew into one small bedroom to shoot a scene could
be very cramped at times. We were filming at the end of winter. One of the
radiators on the second floor started leaking so we had to shut off the
heating system. The house became freezing. We brought heaters in but the
actors would rehearse scenes with winter gear on. I was still sleeping in
the house at night and I would go to bed wearing a sweater and a toque
Do talk about the shoot
as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
It was a fifteen
day shoot in total so it was a fairly aggressive fast pace. Yet there was
never any tension. I tried to keep things light but focused. I don't
believe in screaming at people. My cinematographer D Gregor Hagey was
terrific to work with and never complained about the fast pace of the
schedule. He did excellent work and just won the Best Cinematography Award
from the Blood in the Snow Film Festival. Our production designer Lisa
Soper did a fantastic job dressing the sets and also building the magic
forest set for the end of the film. Another hero was our 1st AD Ryan
Hyland who kept us all moving and was highly organized but not a screamer.
Producer Glen Wood, Chris, cinematographer D
at the Blood in the Snow Film Festival
Anything you can
tell us about audience and critical reception of your movie yet?
just started reading some reviews online in advance of the screening at
the Blood in the Snow Festival. And I'm happy to report that the five or
six reviews I read for the film have all been really good. I was worried
about how people would respond to the film. It's not a straight ahead
horror film loaded with gore. In some ways, it's more of a personal film
with some horror overtones. I hope more good reviews will come and
that will get people curious about seeing the film.
future projects you'd like to share?
I have three new feature projects I've been developing for some time
now. The first is called Beneath Planet Cronenberg, a dark coming of age
story about a alienated teenage boy who becomes obsessed with filmmaker
David Cronenberg and loses himself in a fantasy world inspired by
Cronenberg's films. The second is Hangman, which is about a bullied
teenager who gets protection from a vigilante serial killer. The third
is Hatchetface about a down and out genre actress who returns to one
last slasher film in the series that made her famous only to be targeted
by a killer based on the one in her films.
What got you into
filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on
When I was a teenager I was a
magician-ventriloquist for several years. Then I wanted to be a novelist.
When I finished high school I decided to focus on film because I always
loved movies, particularly horror or offbeat films. I went to Ryerson
University in Toronto for their film program. I worked on set as an
assistant director for many years on various local movies and TV feries.
Then I was admitted to the Canadian Film Centre in 2007 in their directors
What can you tell us about your filmwork
prior to The Dark Stranger?
made several short films while working as an assistant director. They
tended to be more personal coming of age stories with fantasy elements in
them. They were a great training ground to learn how to work with a crew
and work with actors.
would you describe yourself as a director?
Hmm. It's hard
to be objective about yourself. I try to be open to collaboration with
others but still retain a strong vision for how I see the film.
who inspire you?
Long list. David Cronenberg, Steven Spielberg, Brian De Palma, Dario
Argento, John Carpenter, Alfred Hitchcock, Tim Burton to name a few...
Your favourite movies?
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
Jaws, Psycho, Halloween,
Red, Dressed to Kill.
and of course, films you really deplore?
I'd rather not
single out anyone's movie to say I hate it.
movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?
Right now, we don't yet have a web site for The
Dark Stranger. The
best way to find out more about the film is to contact our Canadian
distributor Raven Banner. They have a web site and they are on Facebook.
you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
film would not have been possible without the hard work and dedication of
my two producers Paula Devonshire and Glen Wood, as well as the generous
support of our executive producers Mark Gingras, Jay Firestone and Vanessa
And thank you for interviewing me!
for the interview!