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An Interview with John Klein, Director of Cry It Out

by Mike Haberfelner

December 2016

Films directed by John Klein on (re)Search my Trash


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Your new movie Cry It Out - in a few words, what is it about?


Cry It Out is a short horror film centered around Martin, a husband to Karen and father to one-year-old Oliver, who finds himself at a low point in his life Ė heís lost his job, his wife is going back to work, theyíre in the midst of moving into their new house, and theyíre just starting sleep training with Oliver. When Karen goes away for the weekend to tend to a friend in need, Martin is left alone with the baby for the first time. Suffice it to say he doesnít handle it well, but when he starts hearing terrifying noises in the baby monitor at night and begins to experience awful, horrific visions, he must face his own fears of fatherhood and confront his demons.


As you're actually the father of the kid in the movie, how much of Cry It Out is based on personal experience?


If youíre asking whether or not I hear terrifying sounds through the baby monitor and conjure up visions of dead people at 3am, the answer, fortunately, is no! But this was definitely inspired by my experiences as a stay-at-home dad for the first year of my sonís life; the idea came to me during one of those 3am wake-ups, and several shots and moments in the movie are specific details and images I remember from those times. 

Curling up in the fetal position in Donnyís playpen? Check. 

Sitting on the floor of his room waiting for him to fall asleep? Check. 

Playing games on my phone at night listening to the monitor? Check. 

The trick with this was trying to depict a father whoís more reluctant without making him unlikeable, making him more unprepared than anything but hoping in some way he can do a good job for his wife. Your whole identity changes when you become a parent, and that sudden shift was something I really wanted to explore in the context of a horror film.


Other sources of inspiration when writing Cry It Out?


Lots of horror movies dealing with parenting in times of supernatural evil and crisis, ranging from Rosemaryís Baby to The Babadook. The visual style of those movies Ė wider angles (even in close-ups), peering behind furniture and walls, subtle camera movements Ė really informed us in pre-production.


Do talk about your movie's approach to horror for a bit?


Point of view is so crucial in any horror film. I wanted to make sure that we didnít stray from Martinís POV at any point; we as the audience never know more than he knows, and thatís terrifying for us when we hear things or see things, because weíre not sure either whatís happening to him or whatís real or not.


I also like slow-burn horror, particularly with characters. If you really care about the characters or the relationships, youíll get that much more frightened when the possibility of bad things happening to them arises. But that takes time to really build that tension and that honest connection, and Iím content to let that unfold rather than rush into the jump scares.


What can you tell us about your overall directorial approach to your story at hand?


This script was sort of a challenge to myself; I come from a cinematography background, and knew we could do a lot with visual storytelling here, but I wanted to tackle a script that was almost entirely reliant on sound for the scares, since we donít see most of what happens (the car accident, Donnyís noises in the crib, the winter storm outside). And I wanted this rollercoaster soundscape, lulls of silence punctuated by bursts of cacophonic terror, that would take the audience on the same journey Martin goes through.


Working with children: Now in Cry It Out you've worked with your own son, and I'm sure that helped, but still, how do you get the right performance out of someone as young as him and keep him interested?


Ha! Whatever it takes! I will say that I donít think I couldíve pulled this off in the same way if it hadnít been my son, because I was able to write for Donny in some ways and because I knew what he was and wasnít capable of and could improvise alterations to the script, even on each day of filming. It also helped immensely that my wife and my mother were on set during production, because they could tend to him while other setups were going on and they could keep him calm and occupied around the cast and crew. Timmy and Kate (who play Martin and Karen) were also really proactive in going up to see him between takes so heíd get more comfortable around them. I lucked out in so many ways with the people on set, all of whom were incredibly aware and considerate of my son being on set and provided a welcoming atmosphere for him as a result; our makeup artist Justine in particular seemed to have a baby whisperer quality about her, because Donny was totally smitten!


But with getting him to do certain things, at times it was just a matter of him reacting to what was happening naturally. His turn to Karen when she leaves was all him, and he did it the same way each take! Other times, particularly when we needed him to cry on camera, it was just us figuring out what would make him switch, and usually it was as simple as my wife Kathleen walking out of the room in the direction we needed his eyeline to go. We scheduled around his daily routine each day, knowing he would nap from about 1-3pm and knowing heíd be more alert for the first half of the day. And, again, some stuff Ė like the split-diopter shot of his eyes open staring into camera with Martin at the door Ė was just plain dumb luck. We just adopted a roll-with-it style on any scenes involving him directly, and it paid off in spades.


Do talk about the rest of your cast, and why exactly these people?


Iíve worked with both Timmy Hart Barron and Kate Black-Spence before, which was a huge help, but not in any way the main reason why I cast them. We had a limited audition process with a number of really great actors, but I knew I needed actors who would be comfortable with improvising around Donny while being able to stay in the emotional moment, particularly with Martin. And Timmy, because of his sketch and improv comedy background, brought that, but he also has a rawness and internal depth that was really exciting and dynamic to watch. Kate also has that, as well as a willingness to let me make her up in all sorts of horrifying gory glory; sheís game for anything on that front!


A few words on the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?


We shot for five days across two weekends. This film was made as an MFA thesis project for DePaul Unversityís School of Cinematic Arts, which is a truly terrific program with a ton of resources that few schools can boast of. To that end, we were able to shoot on an Arri Alexa package with a set of Cooke S4i lenses, on DePaulís exclusive stage at Cinespace which includes a full apartment set. That set was the entire location for our film; we re-dressed the bedroom to serve as both the master bedroom and the babyís room, and our rip-roaringly talented G&E crew, under the tutelage of longtime friend and DP Bill Donaruma, crafted looks for all times and hours of the day to give a real sense of the passage of time.


I canít stress enough how wonderful this cast and crew was. They were constantly vigilant in coming up with smart and simple solutions, the amount of prep and planning done at all levels was beautiful to watch, and it was just a tremendously fun group of people. I know there are people who say suffering for your art is an important part of the creative process, and that sometimes conflict breeds creativity, but this was just a fun set, top to bottom.


The $64-question of course, when and where will your movie be released onto the general public?


I donít think Iíd be able to tell you even if you gave me $64! Right now the big first step is film festivals; we started submissions this month. There are all sorts of opportunities out there in the world for short film distribution now, and Iíll be researching those as we get further onto the festival circuit. Cry It Outís length (just under 30min) lends itself well to a TV model or a Netflix one. And Iíve got a feature-length idea based around this film rattling in my head, but weíll take things one step at a time and see how the festivals react to it!


Anything you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Cry It Out yet?


So far, itís been overwhelmingly positive, at least from the super-small test screenings and thesis screening I had! But the trick is always seeing how it fares outside of your circle when it gets out into the real world. Thatís my favorite part of the whole process: seeing people youíve never met take ownership of a small emotional piece of your film, realizing that once a film goes out into the world, itís not yours anymore but theirs. Iím excited to see people discover this one, especially because while itís so much of my own experience as a father, I know other people with children will see parts of themselves in it, and I know those without children will get something totally different out of it. Cry It Out is the first film Iíve made where Iím genuinely curious to see how different groups and demographics react to it.


Any future projects you'd like to share?


Right now, my production company Glass City Films is in the midst of post-production on Limerence, a short LGBT fantasy horror film that we shot back in September under the direction of screenwriter Dan Pedersen. And I shot a number of short film projects over the past six months that will all probably come out of post-production early next year, ranging from the Wendy Roderweiss-helmed dramedy Stage Four to Dan and Walt Delaneyís Two Lights to the recently-completed drama Breathing Through Trees, in addition to a couple of MFA projects I DPed for friends of mine in DePaulís program. Lots to look forward to, as always!


Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?


No website for the film yet, but you can find it on Facebook:

Iím on Twitter @WindyCityCamera, and my company is @GlassCityFilms. And Iím sure when we do have a website, weíll promote it all over those pages!


Anything else you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?


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So many small stories. Donny falling asleep in his grandmaís arms before a crucial scene that was originally written with him awake, and all of us adapting to it on the fly to create one of the scariest images in the film. Filming during Donnyís naptime on the last day to get shots of him sleeping, and my wife constantly having to adjust his position for camera while he slept. And I havenít even talked about the great post-production process and working with editor Ward Crockett, whose eye for rhythm and jump cuts really re-shaped the film in a spectacular way. Or composer Darren Callahanís unique process of not composing music to picture and simply recording music, stingers, and melodies that could overlap and be placed anywhere. Or the additions sound designer Travis Duffield brough to the table. I wish I could just name-drop everyone in the film; there were contributions at all levels, and Cry It Out wouldnít exist were it not for all of these awesome people.


Thanks for the interview!


You bet! Thanks for asking; youíve been so supportive of our films and other indie films. Keep it going!


© by Mike Haberfelner

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Thanks for watching !!!



Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
shopping mall Santas,
love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
to the weirdly romantic,
tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner


Out now from




On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide


A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD