Your new movie The Nothing
- in a few words, what is it about?
Nothing is about aspiring creatives and the lengths they’ll
go to seek out art. Every artist wants to create something
unique, but in the background of the film the question is
present… Are our relationships more important than our
Your lead character has a very radical approach to creating art - so to
what degree does that reflect your own views on the subject?
actually do feel very strongly that some of the best art is made
during difficult times. To me, one film that asks this
question perfectly is Whiplash. It all builds to the finale
where Miles Teller’s character reaches the seeming pinnacle of
his talent… To me it makes this statement while also
asking this question -- “Look at how amazing he’s playing!...
But is it worth it?” Yes, torture might lead to some
amazing artistic findings, but if all your relationships and
anything else that makes us human is sacrificed, is it worth it?
To me, there’s no definitive right or wrong answer, but it’s a
question to be asked.
(Other) sources of inspiration when writing The
Nothing, and is any of it based on personal experience?
very passionate about this question because it hits close to home
for me and becomes a little meta… After I graduated
college I was looking for a job as a PA but I didn’t have a
single connection to get one… After five months of
pursuing that career I had absolutely zero leads, so I got
desperate and inspired… If I couldn’t get a job in the
film industry, I was going to write the least expensive film
possible and shoot it… I wrote the whole script of The
Nothing in two weeks, low budget story telling being my main
driving force. I even shot the first two scenes (with
absolutely no understanding of what I was doing) but then I got a
call to work on The Walking Dead. What started out as
one-day gig turned into a staff position, and then I laid the film
to bed for the next five years. I later picked the project
back up with talented industry friends, Leon Wilson and Eric
Dickinson, who I’d met along the way and realized I wanted to
complete the story I had started… In desperation I wrote The
Nothing, I wanted to be a writer, maybe a
director, but I had no outlet. But just a few years later,
meeting these passionately creative producers made me realize I
wanted to complete the project - but it all started with a
desperation to create something.
can you tell us about The
Nothing's approach to horror?
Nothing’s approach to horror is not exactly in the mainstream -
while I love “earned” jump scares, the film doesn’t double
down on them. I would classify the film as atmospheric
psychological horror. It’s more of a feeling - how
much the audience gets out of the film rests entirely on how much
the audience buys into it. For me, I’ve always responded
better to the unknown, so many mainstream horror
films explain or expose too much. An analogy of horror films
I often use is the director taking an egg on a journey. So
many times the director takes the egg too far and it breaks along
the way, à la exposing too much with bad CGI or extreme
exposition. For me, once the egg is broken, all that
whatever that horror film has worked for is lost. What my
hope for with The
Nothing is that the unknown is still
You've chosen the
found footage approach for The
Nothing - so why is that, and what were the advantages and
challenges filming that way?
Nothing was always written as a found footage movie, most likely
due to the fact that I was making a pseudo-documentary about the
frustrations of not being a film-maker. In the film I worked
this into the character of “Clayton” being an aspiring
novelist for the slight separation from reality, but the
feelings were still there. I wanted to express them, and I
also had a big love for found footage movies: There’s
something about seeing a frame illuminated by a flashlight in the
woods and nothing else, because that’s really what you’d see.
No condors with giant lights illuminating the woods to a point
where the character’s seem to be able to run through the forest
without a flashlight… The advantage of filming found
footage was certainly working around budgetary restraints, but I
don’t think the movie would have ever worked without the
pseudo-documentary approach. The challenges though would be
of course finding a reason that the camera was still rolling and
finding unique shots that “Clayton” would have been able to
come up with. There are a lot of monologues and
pontificating that Eric and I did our best to shoot uniquely.
Without a doubt the blocking in the cabin scene was the most
difficult. It took 40 minutes of rehearsing and blocking
before we only had time for two takes before the sun came up.
To get that scene in one shot, reading the old book, transferring
the camera to a chair while I sat across the room in another
chair, and sneaking in the fake vomit through a window while then
having to dispose of the cup because I still had to hold the
camera turned into a tedious task…
You also play the lead in The
Nothing - so what did you draw upon to bring Clayton to life, how
much of the real you can we find in the film's Clayton, and have you
written him with yourself in mind from the get-go?
character of “Clayton” in the film is definitely an
exaggerated version of myself. But when the source material
and character goals are this close to your own, writing an
exaggerated version of yourself allows you to come up with one
simple question: “What if I actually went out and did
this?” The answer of writing myself in from the get-go was
definitely the starting point of the film. I wanted that job
I couldn’t get yet on a set. “Well, what if I
kickstarted my own creativity out in the woods.” I don’t
think I was at “Film Clayton’s” level of frustration, but we
were definitely playing on the same play-ground.
talk about the rest of your cast, and why exactly these people?
Bagwell, who also happens to be one of my best friends, was an
aspiring actor that graduated from AMDA in California. He
then realized he didn’t want to act anymore and became an
elementary school teacher. I told him about this script and
that I wrote a role for him. We read through it together and
then he said “Yeah, I think I kind of have to do this with
you.” Nowadays he’s one helluva teacher and hasn’t
looked back, but he said he’d love to act again when the next
project comes along. Katy Adkins was a close family friend
to my stepbrothers and we’d seen each other at different holiday
gatherings. I knew she’d been in the Two Many Cooks
viral video, and a few other roles here and there. She did a
read through and we saw her range and knew we’d love to have her
on board. Clayton’s Father was played by Scott Keller, who
is actually my stepfather. The reason I chose Scott was
because I wanted to keep the conditions as close to my reality as
possible while making this film. Scott is someone incredibly
dear to me. Seriously you have to hear this dude’s laugh.
It’s infectious. It makes the whole room warmer.
Even though he’d never had any history on screen, I had to have
of course also have to talk about your main location for a bit, and what
was it like filming there?
filmed in the woods out in Milner Georgia. We had to find a
wooded area far enough away from streets, trains, or other
establishments where lawn-mowing/weed-wacking/etc… wouldn’t
disrupt the take. But also, some place close enough that we
could travel back to our car for video drops and battery
recharges. We found that, but then came the summer heat, the
summer rain, and lots of spiders… The whole crew ran
into spider webs all day and night during the whole exterior
shoot. The cabin was even more infested with spiders
though. We cleaned out the cabin that was completely full
of paraphernalia from the owners before we shot. I’d
never seen more spiders. Everything we moved was covered
with them. But it was a creepy setting that accomplished
what we wanted it to. The other locations were all filmed at
friend’s houses/basements/cars/parks… just places
A few words about the shoot
as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
be honest, I took on too much. I made The
Nothing with very
talented friends/co-workers of mine who made the shoot as painless
as possible… but there was still lots of pain. I was
directing/acting/craft service/hair & make-up/props/scripty.
If you ask my amazing four-person crew
they’d probably say I was very distracted and busy, but these
were some of my best friends. They knew what this meant to
me, and they just supported me in all of it… On day 3 of
shooting, we thought we’d lost the previous day’s work.
I looked at two of my producers, Eric and Leon, and said “Hey
guys, we’re incredibly exhausted, we’ve probably lost a whole
day’s work, it’s gonna rain all week, I completely understand
if y’all want to call it off.” They looked at each
other, then back at me and said, “Absolutely not.” That
was a defining moment for the Film. “Okay, things suck… but we’re seeing this through no matter what.” That’s
why making this film was so special to me: Impossibly
devoted friends who were going to work harder than ever to make it
happen. You can’t beat that feeling as a filmmaker -- making movies with your friends.
Anything you can
tell us about audience and critical reception of The
the limited showings that The
Nothing had, the reception was
really uplifting. The audience laughed at what I intended to
be funny for the most part. Also, there aren’t a plethora
of jump scares in the film, but the few that were seemed to really
work. Also, to the previous also, the opening of the film is
still incredibly hard for me to watch with people who have never
seen the film. I’ve gotten to a point that I can painfully
tolerate it, but that wasn’t always the case. Once you
watch the film, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Any future projects you'd like to
I’ve written a total of 10 feature-length scripts but I’m
currently only pursuing to direct two of them. One is a
dramedy about four friends that escape to a lakehouse after the
tragic death of their best friend, and one is a spiritual sequel
Nothing (but not found footage) - really whichever
one lands first I’d be excited for. Regardless, I’m
storyboarding ideas for a new horror film (more in the slasher
genre). Something fun and hopefully fresh. I’ll be
starting that script this summer.
What got you into filmmaking in the first place,
and did you receive any formal education on the subject?
graduated from Georgia State University with a Major in Film &
Video and a Minor in Theatre. What actually got me into
filmmaking though beforehand was the desire to write scripts.
I purchased Final Draft back in 2007 and fell in love. It
wasn’t until my college made me have a Minor (because what hell
would you do with a film degree?) that I realized I really enjoyed
through your filmography, you seem to have filled pretty much every
position on a film set on both sides of the camera - so what do you
actually enjoy the most, what could you do without?
I without a doubt enjoy the most would be writing. I love
thinking up stories. For me, it’s the easiest way to make
time disappear, just talking through and storyboarding different
story ideas/scripts. And what I could do without?...
Getting funding for films, I could definitely do without that.
The hustling that goes along with it just doesn’t come natural
to me. It’s not a pretty answer, but an honest one.
can you tell us about your filmwork prior to The
Nothing, in whatever position?
Well, I started in the industry by working as a PA on season 2 of
The Walking Dead.
From there I worked consistently as a PA
for the next four years on different projects such as Stranger
Things and Baby Driver before “getting my days” and joining
the DGA. I’ve also worked professionally a grand total of
four days as a stunt person.
How would you
describe yourself as a director?
think because of how long I wrote scripts before stepping onto a
set I’m more passionate about talking about performance with
actors and actresses. Because so many have my scripts have
just lived in my own head and read throughs this always seems to
be something I gravitate toward. I love the technical side
of filmmaking, but I probably love more talking story and
character motivations within a film more.
Filmmakers who inspire
Linklater is an aspiring filmmaker I love. Just listening to
his characters talk and interact is such a joy. As far as
horror goes, I’m completely inspired by James Wan’s career.
He started the “torture porn” era with Saw and then he started
the next generation of “haunted house” movies by making Insidious. In my opinion he kickstarted back-to-back decades
of horror filmmaking.
Your favourite movies?
preface, horror is my favorite genre of film, but it doesn’t
actually hold my favorite movies, which doesn’t really make
sense, but oh well... Before Sunrise, About Time, The
Departed, The Dark
Knight, Sing Street, La La Land, Almost Famous,
Session 9, Prisoners, True Romance, Annie Hall… I’m kind
of all over the place.
... and of
course, films you really deplore?
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
films I deplore? I really don’t deplore a lot of films… but I’ll say this as far as horror goes --
films that blow the
perfectly set up, unsettling atmosphere out of nowhere with bad
CGI is when I get the most upset with movies… So yes, I do
deplore some films, but you’ll have to let the reader guess for
themselves what those are.
website, Facebook, whatever else?
Anything else you're
dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
wanted to give a shout out to the one and only song in the film.
It’s called “Where Were You?” One of my closest
friends, Jared Jones, had previously written the song, just as a
hobby. I listened to it while looking for one song that
would fit the scene while the characters were driving to the
drop-off point… needless to say, if you watch the whole
movie, and then read the lyrics of the song playing in the film,
you might get chills the same way that I did… and it was
written years before I had made the movie. Just a little
accidental/creepy Easter egg.
for the interview!