Your movie Witchfinder
- in a few words, what is it about?
Witchfinder is an atmospheric tale in which a love-struck villager (Travis Worthey)
seeks the help of a forest witch (Valerie Meachum) to help him cast a love
spell on an unsuspecting village girl. All of that goes south with
the arrival of William Thatcher Blake (Dave Juehring), a witchfinder hired
by the local townsfolk to rid their lands of the witch’s evil.
Things go from bad to worse, as there’s witch-burnings, hangings, blood
vomiting, eyeball impalement, face stakings, suffocations, and ghosts!
struck me about Witchfinder
was its great resemblance to 1960's period horror cinema - a coincidence,
or do you have a fondness for these movies of old?
do – especially since you seized on the Hammer influence – I’m a big
fan of Hammer Studios output from that period, and Italian horror films
from the same era – especially Mario Bava’s Black Sunday and
[Mario Bava bio - click here]. There’s something I love about the
gothic flavor of those
movies; I feel as if I would be at home if I could live within them, like
I was born out of time.
sources of inspiration when writing
came about after my film Raven’s Hollow had done the festival rounds.
I’ve been a horror fan all my life but realized that within the 10 years
I’d spent making animated shorts, I had never actually made an
honest-to-God horror movie. So Raven’s Hollow was my first shot
at that, albeit in an animated form. Witchfinder
was an evolution of
that in some ways, because my thinking was that you can never maybe be
truly frightening in animation and I’d need to step outside that, into
live-action, to see if I could do it there. So, I tried to come up
with a catalog of things that I thought were scary – and I
immediately seized on Black
Sabbath, The Drop of Water, where that
creepy old hag is coming after her in the end. That was basically
the starting point. I figured if she was a witch, and I wanted to do
something period (in ode to Hammer), then we’re going to have to burn
the witch at the stake at some point, so this would be her ghost.
And she’d be coming back to haunt Vincent Price [Vincent
Price bio - click here] from the Witchfinder
General, right? He’d be the guy who had her burned alive.
And, when I think witch, I think Pumpkinhead, so the opening cabin scenes
kind of came out of having that in mind.
shoot a period shocker in the first place, and what are the challenges but
maybe also advantages that come with it?
a challenge only because you pretty much have to generate everything from
scratch, in terms of costumes and props, to convey the illusion that
you’re not shooting your film in 2013, right? But that’s kind of
what made it appealing as well, because I see so few period short films
– everything tends to be more modern or futuristic. I thought that
would make it stand out.
Do talk about
the look and feel of your movie for a bit?
looked at a lot of stuff in pre-production; the director of photography,
Brent Jepsen, and myself. We would look at things like Black Sunday,
Pumpkinhead, Warlock, Witchfinder
Assassination of Jesse James… and even episodes of Game of
Thrones! We were trying to reverse-engineer the lighting schemes that you’d see
in those movies. We learned that you really need to fog your set -
even when it isn’t supposed to look like there’s fog on your set –
just to give the photography an added sense of depth. We spent many
Monday nights testing different lighting setups. We’d be burning
torches in my backyard trying to measure F-stops and determine the best
ISO settings; we actually built and burned a test dummy in a buddy’s
back yard just so we’d know what it would look like, to learn how fast
it would burn, and how big it would burn. We did tests
in my house by shining lights in windows and all that. And we ended
up lighting the movie with a bunch of different temperature CFL bulbs.
At one point our “moon” in the woods scene was an extension ladder
with a cluster of six-to-eight clip lights that you’d get at the
hardware store, each with 5600k CFLs in them. I had storyboarded the
whole movie, so knowing what the final image was supposed to look like,
we’d draw maps of the locations and determine where all the lights
should be, where the camera would be. It was a bit like an
engineering project, in a way. In the end, I had a book of
schematics and drawings that I could almost pass off to anyone and they
could have directed the movie.
What can you
tell us about your cast, and why exactly these people?
think they’re all phenomenal. The quality of acting on screen to
me, in addition to the photography, is one of the first giveaways that
your film is not a legitimate movie movie, you know what I’m saying? If it lacks that type of professionalism that you’ve become accustomed
to seeing on the movies that you see in the theater or on TV. And we
were aiming to camouflage that, you know – we wanted to do something
that would look legit. That if someone we didn’t know saw it, they
might mistake it for a real Hollywood movie. I knew that the period
dialogue could either help us or hurt us in that regard, because what
modern-day person hears olde English on a conversational basis to have
anything to compare it to? So we had a casting call in a conference
room and a bunch of people came out, and that was an eye-opening
experience. There are a lot of very talented people out there.
We cast Dave Juehring partially based on his physical resemblance to
Vincent Price [Vincent
Price bio - click here] in The Witchfinder
General, but also because he’s a true
professional – a very prepared, thoughtful guy who brings a lot to the
part. I remember we were sitting around the monitors during some of
that stuff at the end and we could just feel that we were getting it, you
Valerie Meachum has been in a bunch of stuff, both films and
on-stage, and this just felt like it was something that was in her
wheelhouse. The witch has to be a bit larger than life so you’ll
buy her as a legitimate threat, and I think with Valerie’s theatrical
background she could just bring that part of it out.
who plays John Hawthorne, isn’t an actor by trade – he’s actually a
really great artist and writer – but I know the guy and just knew he was
perfect for this part. Travis is a guy who grew up on a steady diet
of horror movies, and he internalizes them in a way that he could bring
out this performance when the cameras were on.
I don’t think
Chloe Konieczki, who plays the witchfinder’s daughter, had done a lot of
film work before but she was in a bunch of pageants and is cute as a
button, and when she does what she does at the end of the movie, it just
looked creepy as all hell – even in the audition – that we cast her
and she was just great.
Nicole Kilmer (the witchfinder’s wife) and
I have been friends for years and I knew that she had an interest in
acting, since she had a couple of credits already. She was just
perfect in the part, even though we realized later on that there just
wasn’t a whole lot of screen time to it. I owe her one for that,
because I thought she was fantastic. Overall, I was surprised by how
much better the end result turned out that I had initially expected it was
going to at the beginning of the process. Of course now, they’ve
can you tell us about the shoot as such and the on-set atmosphere?
shot the whole movie over a six day period that consisted of four shooting
days and two company moving days, in which we’d pack all the gear up
into our van, come home, unload it, resort and repack it, and be ready to
go for the next day’s shoot. We shot the cabin scenes in a
historical cabin in Cherry Valley, IL, which looks like it’s in the
woods but it’s actually right on the main strip that goes into town.
So that was a challenge, trying to block the light from street lights and
car headlights as we shot that stuff. We shot the scenes with the
horse and the stuff at the witchfinder’s house on the grounds of a
historical museum in Rockton, IL; I remember we got tied up a little bit
there trying to get the choreography to match between the horse and the
camera jib that we had for the day. You can actually see footage
from some of this stuff by visiting
YouTube channel, where we’ve been posting some behind the scenes
vignettes (and have more to come!). And we did the
witch-burning scenes at a private residence in Oregon, IL, where we had to
clear the area with chainsaws the week beforehand so that we could have a
large area to burn in. That was a bit tricky, because we had a
generator and a large cast at that point, fire and makeup effects and
yards and yards of cable. I wouldn’t call the overall shoot
relaxed, because I can only speak of my perspective of it – and as a
director there’s a thousand things to keep your eye on all at once, but
I would say it was one of the most fun and satisfying experiences I’ve
ever had in my life.
can you tell us about crtitical and audience reception of your movie so
far, and when and where will it be released onto the general public?
been really happy with the critical response, not only because it’s been
pretty positive so far, but because everyone seems to be getting out of it
exactly what we put into it, all of the themes and subtlety, all the
references. You’re never quite sure what will translate and what
won’t when you’re planning the film, and even when it’s complete
because when you watch it you see all of that. You just don’t know
what the viewer will see in it, having a different life experience.
But I’ve been really happy with how it’s gone. We’ve shown it
at a couple of film festivals so far (more this October), but we’ve only
been able to attend a couple of them. We had a great screening in
Rockford, IL at the Mosaic World Film Festival (at which we won Best
Narrative Film) where I could actually sit back and watch people cover
their eyes during the mask bit, and cringe at some of the later moments.
There’s nothing better. Unless something unforeseen happens, we
plan on releasing it into the wild once it’s completed its initial
festival run, which could be as early as November 2013.
future projects you'd like to talk about?
actually developing two projects simultaneously at the moment. One
is a lighter, kind of fun horror movie that I’m working on with Travis
Worthey, with lots of blood and makeup and halloween. The other is
more ambitious in terms of scope, something Lovecraftian – which is
something I’ve always wanted to do – but it hinges so strongly on a
location that we’ve been scouring all the neighboring cities and towns
for the appropriate place. That would also require animatronics or
something to bring parts of it to life, so that one is probably a ways
down the line.
What got you
into filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal
training on the subject?
always been a rabid film consumer. I watch five to six movies a
week. I’ve always wanted to make movies, so I think I study them.
I’ve internalized them. More so than having any formal training,
which I don’t. A lot of it comes from a practical standpoint –
how do you make this happen. It’s all reverse engineering.
You clearly illustrate what the final image, sequence or result is going
to be, and then you work backward to try and figure out how to build it.
In a lot of ways, filmmaking seems like a series of magician’s tricks:
you’re trying to create an believable illusion.
What can you tell us about your
filmwork prior to Witchfinder,
and your evolution as a director?
had a Super 8mm film camera when I was a kid that I would recruit the
neighborhood kids act in. I never really graduated to video, because
I always hated the “soap-opera” look of video, especially 90’s VHS
video cameras. Now that things have all gone digital, you can make
stuff with a DSLR and a computer that, I think, can fool most watchers
into thinking that the end result is a legitimate movie. In the
2000’s I got into animation, mostly because I could do things there in
terms of image control that would have been unaffordable to do
live-action. I made a Spawn-ish superhero movie called Raven, then
made the sequel, Raven 2, a kind of Se7en-ish detective movie; then
I tried to exorcise my love of 3-D movies and Universal horror movies with
Frankenstein vs the Wolfman (and this was just at the dawn of the return
of 3D to theaters with Avatar); and finally, I made the rural spook show
Raven’s Hollow, which still in some ways may be my favorite of the
things I’ve done. You can find all of them on YouTube or elsewhere
on the web.
you never seem to stray too far from the horror genre - a genre at all
dear to you, and why (not)?
has always been a warm place for me; I think my first favorite TV show as
a kid was The Incredible
Hulk, and he’s a monster – basically Dr.
Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. Like a werewolf, sort of. I think it
went from there. Universal
monsters, vampires, mummies, zombies, you
name it. I consumed it all. I was ravenous. Of course I
was also a product of the 80’s when that type of fantastic cinema was
having a resurgence, propelled by the advent of new technologies. As
an adult I still love it, because as my tastes have developed, so has the
genre. Even as I delve deeper into what makes these stories tick, I
keep on being rewarded. I’m not really a fan of true-life horror,
the hardcore vivisection movies that followed in the wake of Saw and
Hostel for instance (although I think those two movies are brilliant).
My taste leans more toward the fantastic. That’s the stuff
that’s cool to me.
How would you describe
yourself as a director?
I’ve only really done it once so I’d say I’m still learning how to
do it better. What I’ve got is a very strong visual sense of what
the end goal is, so I think I’m able to communicate that in a way to
marshal all of the people and all the elements toward that goal. I
wouldn’t call myself a great actor’s director yet, though. I
realize that there’s a very sensitive thing going on there, when
you’re asking people to pretend to be this thing in front of a camera,
with everyone watching. That’s something I’d like to understand
more and get better at.
Filmmakers who inspire you?
Carpenter and Stanley Kubrick are the two guys whose material I keep
returning to again and again in my life, for analysis and study.
But, Mario Bava
[Mario Bava bio - click here] & Dario Argento are favorites, Francis Ford Coppola,
David Fincher, and now, James Wan.
always thought that the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (’74) is the most
brutally effective, most horrifying movie ever made. Apocalypse Now
(the original version), for its scale and suffocating sense of madness;
The Empire Strikes Back, as my favorite adventure movie; The Ring (or
Ringu, they’re interchangeable), I think, is a nightmare machine.
I’m a big fan of all the old Universal monsters, love them to death.
I love the Hammer versions from the 50’s & 60’s, in blood red
color. I like the truly scary stuff that came out in the 1970’s,
the Texas Chainsaw Massacre,
The Exorcist, The Hills Have
Eyes. I love the
80’s slashers (Jason’s my favorite, but
Halloween’s a better movie),
and the vampires, zombies, werewolves and what have you that came out of
that era. I really dug the horror resurgence of the early to mid
Hostel , Ju-on: The
Tension, The Descent.
I really liked Insidious and Sinister, recently.
... and of course, films you really
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
That’s not true. I laugh. People have seen it happen.
But I’m just not a fan of these films in which you’re just watching
comedians goof off for an hour and a half. That’s not a movie.
That’s a skit.
Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever
you want to keep up with upcoming screenings, get info on when it’ll be
released online, or get the behind the scenes vignettes that are still
coming out, go to
You can get links to all my other films on
Or google us. We’re everywhere.
Anything else you are dying to mention and I have
merely forgotten to ask?
all I’ve got. Thank you for this opportunity!
Thanks for the interview!