Your new movie The
Last Halloween - in a few words, what is it about?
It’s the story of four trick-or-treaters making the rounds on Halloween
night while the world is falling apart all around them. The nature of the
catastrophe is not important. It’s the fact that things are falling
apart that matters.
My elevator pitch has always been the story of four kids trick-or-treating
through a post apocalyptic wasteland on Halloween night.
did the project come together in the first place?
Mark, who you should know is my oldest friend and writing partner on
several short films and my new feature script, sent me a draft of a comic
book script and a rough layout out of its panels one day to get my
opinion. I thought it was fantastic and fell in love with the
concept of these kids trick-or-treating through a post apocalyptic
landscape. It felt like a great premise for a short film and I think
Mark instinctively knew this when he sent it to me as I’d been looking
for the right horror-themed project to do after my earlier short film Remote. His story excited me enough that I immediately started
writing a four-page screenplay based on his unfinished comic.
With Mark’s blessing
I sent it to my Red Sneakers Media
producing partner, Ron Basch. He loved it and saw the great potential in creating something on a bigger
canvas than our other films. He suggested we apply for a production
grant from BravoFACT, a Canadian short film-funding agency. Our last
film, The Sweetest Hippopotamus, was funded through them and he
Last Halloween might be something they would respond to,
and lucky for us they did.
photo by Michael Helmer
After I sent Marc my rough plot breakdown for the comic, he quickly shot
back with a nearly complete screenplay, and we basically ping-ponged
drafts until we got something we both liked. Some original ideas were
abandoned, while some of the ideas Marc came up with actually ended up
making their way into my finished comic story. More than anything else
we’ve ever done, I think The
Last Halloween was probably our
smoothest, most successfully realized collaboration. And I think it really
points the way forward for us in terms of future projects.
what were your inspirations for the comicbook The
Last Halloween is based on?
I know it sounds cliché, but the story was sparked by a dream that I had,
which is how I get a lot of story ideas. In this dream, I was a kid again,
trick-or-treating. But I could tell that there was also something awful
taking place somewhere on the periphery. And my friends and I continued
trick-or-treating, regardless. I woke up, plotted out a basic 8-page
story, scanned that, and then emailed it to Marc. Then I started drawing.
It ultimately took a lot longer to finish the comic than I hoped it would.
I think the film was shot, edited and scored by the time I put the
finishing touches on the last page! Aside from that, Marc and I are
life-long fans of Halloween. It's our favorite holiday, and it’s a rich
source of imagery, which we would have been fools not to use. Witches,
ghosts, devils… there's a reason why these images are so archetypal.
Beyond the initial nugget of inspiration, however, I think what I really
wanted to do was tell a story exploring the idea of Halloween as a
sociological phenomenon in our contemporary culture, which is itself apocalyptic in so many ways. I mean, terrorism, environmental collapse…
pick your poison! I think it's all too easy to forget that, in this
day and age, the simple act of opening one's door to a stranger can be
seen as an act of courage. And on Halloween, we're expected to do
that, over and over again. And to our credit, most of us still do! I
think there’s something beautiful about that.
What kind of a
challenge was it to adapt the comicbook to the screen, and did you make
drastic changes and ommissions?
The film is surprisingly faithful to the comic, except when we reach the
“final house”. The encounter between the trick-or-treaters and the
survivalist couple, Kate and Jack, is far more complex and fleshed out in
the film than it is in the comic. That’s great, and it’s pretty much
all Marc’s doing, with a few tweaks from me. There was even some
improvisation and on the spot script changes – some of it necessitated
by technical issues – and thankfully all of our actors were up for the
Marc, what can you tell
us about your directorial approach to your subject at hand?
From the very beginning the goal was to capture the essence of
Mark’s early comic sketches so I spent a lot of time working out the
visual language of the film with my director of photography Michael Jari
Davidson, production designer Ashley Corley, costume designer Allie
Thompson and my make-up team of Jessica Whyte and The Butcher
We wanted an old school aesthetic and used Halloween,
New York and The Warriors as reference points. The entire
film was shot on a 50mm anamorphic lens and on Steadicam (which was a
blessing as it saved us so much time).
Unlike most Halloween-themed films, we didn’t have the traditional imagery everyone is
familiar with like pumpkins, decorated houses and candy, so the challenge
was to make it feel like a Halloween set film using lighting to evoke an
eerie October vibe. The costume designs and make-up for the
kids had to feel handmade, as if they were scavenged out of the detritus
of our decaying world. It was also our way of going back to a time
before the commercialization of Halloween, when parents used to make their
kids costumes using found materials instead of buying them superhero
getups in the stores.
Our post apocalyptic
setting, with Chatterbox’ vandalized house and Jack and Kate’s
fortified house, allowed us the opportunity to create what were
essentially meant to look like haunted houses in the film.
With the monsters that
show up at the end it was important to have practical make-up effects.
Our goal was to not augment them with visual effects, and The Butcher
Shop executed them so flawlessly that we did not have to resort to CGI.
Once the look of the
film was nailed down, I then focused on the emotional core of the story.
Like Mark mentioned earlier, the scenes with Kate and Jack in the comic
needed an extra dimension, especially when it came to Kate’s
disappearance after the kids’ arrival. It needed a little more
meat than just the consequence of Jack’s choice between trick or treat
posed by the children outside. Ron and Emily, who play Jack and Kate, both
wanted a stronger back-story for their characters and Mark and I fleshed
it out with them, which was fun. Their scene together allude to some
dark and heartbreaking history in that house and really informs their last
photo by Michael Helmer
Ultimately, it was
important that the film be more than just a stylishly shot monster movie,
and I think we achieved that.
were the major challenges from a production point of view, and how
easy/hard was it to create a post-apocalyptic world on a (presumably) low
Last Halloween was by far the most challenging experience I’ve
ever had making a short film. I don’t think we could have made it
any more difficult for ourselves… we had guns, a post apocalyptic
setting, prosthetic make-up, visual effects, a large cast including four
kids, a location with no power, a drone copter on a windy evening and a
three day shooting schedule with one of those being a night shoot.
Thankfully we had no animals! Luckily we had a tight,
experienced crew and actors who were prepared for anything. Our
entire budget is on the screen thanks to my producers Ron, Greg Machula
and Jessica Menagh.
I think two factors were key. First, we lucked out on the locations, as
our co-producer and leading man Ron Basch found two big, gorgeous old
houses in a quiet corner of Toronto that could serve as three separate
locations by dressing one of the back yards as a faux front yard. They
were going to be demolished soon so we were able to dress them up to look
suitably post-apocalyptic without having to worry about making them pretty
again once we’d finished. Second, we had a killer crew, who worked
tremendously hard for us. It was Marc’s first time working with DP
Michael Jari Davidson, who made our film look fantastic, and of course as
always Marc’s right hand man Greg Machula, and his assistant director
and a producer, proved to be worth his weight in gold, as always. But
everyone from the production and costume designers, to the guys setting up
lights and hauling equipment around just went above and beyond.
Adrian G. Griffths (as The Demon), Marc Roussel
(director), Ron Basch (as Jack), Michael Jari Davidson (director of
photo by John Nicholls
What can you tell us about your key cast, and
why exactly these people?
Ron Basch was my first choice to play Jack. He’s been in
practically all my films so we have a short hand and trust each other.
He worked his ass off and nailed the tortured character who has lost all
faith in humanity. Emily Alatalo, who plays Kate, was someone that
was on my radar after seeing her in If A Tree Falls and Neverlost, plus Ron and Jessica had just produced a comedy feature
called My Ex-Ex that featured Emily and were able to get her the
script. She and Ron worked really well together. Emily
had some very complex emotions and resentments underpinning her scene with
Ron that I thought she played beautifully.
Julian Richings (Supernatural, Cube, The Man of Steel) was a last minute blessing thanks
to a friend who got him the script. In fact, knowing that we could
get the script to Julian allowed us to really beef up the scene his
character is in. Originally, the kids arrive at the second house of
an emaciated man who offers up a half eaten bird as a treat. The
character had no dialogue. We couldn’t ask Julian, a classically
trained actor with a great voice to not speak! So we created
Chatterbox, a disease riddled survivor squatting in a dilapidated house
who incessantly talks to himself and possibly the ghosts of his past
before the end times ravaged his mind and body. Mark came up with
the Chatterbox monologue, that’s all his, and I really credit it with
securing Julian for us. He loved it and it was a real thrill
standing on set with him, watching him play this crazy character. He
added another layer to our destroyed world that really set the tone for
what was in store for Jack and Kate later in the film.
Allie Thompson (costume designer), Jessica
White (makeup artist), Ashley Corley (production designer), Jessica
Menagh (producer), Ron Basch (as Jack/producer), Julian Richings (as
Chatterbox), Marc Roussel (director), Michael Jari Davidson
(director of photography) and Greg Machula (producer)
photo by Michael Helmer
kids, the monsters, our leads; I love what they all did for us. On a
personal level, I consider their performances to be some of the greatest
gifts that I’ve ever received. And of course, Julian Richings was
awesome. It was a genuine pleasure just watching him interact with Marc,
Michael, Greg, and the kids.
Do talk about the shoot as
such, and the on-set atmosphere!
The first night – which, unfortunately, was the only night I was on set
– was plagued by a number of technical snafus, some involving
generators. These are, for the most part, unavoidable when dealing with
the kinds of budgets we have to work with. However, if we’d had anything
less than a solid gold technical crew on our side – who were able to
roll with the punches and improvise solutions to some pretty serious
problems – I honestly suspect the film might not have seen the light of
Marc: Despite the
technical hiccups on the first day, the remainder of the shoot went as
smoothly as it could with limited time and money. The hardest part
was shooting in mid-October, on our Thanksgiving holiday, in a house with
no power or even a working washroom, but I think that all added to the
atmosphere of the setting, especially when the generators would go down
and plunge the house into darkness. The place was scary looking when
lit by Michael’s moody lighting so you can imagine how creepy it was in
A few words about
critical and audience reception of The
played at dozens of festivals, some very big and important international
festivals, like Screamfest LA, Samain du Cinema Fantastique in France,
Sitges International Film Festival in Spain, Mexico’s very cool Feratum
Festival, Beyond Fest in LA, where our film was the short feature before
they screened John Carpenter’s Halloween, with Carpenter in the
audience! Which was great, because we thank him in the credits. I hope he
noticed! There have been too many great festival screenings to list them
all. So many people got to see it on the big screen over the last year and
a half… I think almost as many who have streamed it online via YouTube!
And the positive reviews from the online horror community have been
awesome. Of course, recently winning iHorror.com’s
fan-chosen Best Horror Short of 2014 really put the wind in our sails.
Any future projects you'd like
Ron and I just co-produced, alongside Zach Green [Zach
Green interview - click here] from Fatal
Pictures, Richard Powell’s [Richard
Powell interview - click here] new short film Heir that stars Bill
Oberst jr [Bill Oberst jr
interview - click here] and Robert Nolan [Robert
Nolan interview - click here]. It’ll have its world premiere in June
at Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.
As for what’s next
for me? Getting a first feature made! Ron and I still have
hope for the Remote feature and are working on financing. Mark
and I are working on a couple of new scripts, but we don’t want to jinx
them by talking them up just yet.
But that doesn’t mean we’d turn down any offers to work on, say, the
next installment of The ABCs of
Death! Hey, Mr. Timpson! Drop
us a line up here in Toronto! Feel free to reverse the charges even!
You have collaborated on a few other film
projects before The Last
Halloween - so what can you tell us about those, what's your
collaboration usually like, and how did the two of you first hook up even?
As Marc previously mentioned, we basically grew up together and have
always fed into each other’s interests and energies like some crazy
synergistic feedback loop. There’s a deep level of mutual
comprehension. We get each other’s jokes and understand each other’s
frames of reference. For example, we’ve recently had a number of
narrative breakthroughs on the project we’re spending most of our
current time on, and it’s been incredibly exciting and rewarding to be
part of that. I think we compliment each other in a great many ways. Plus,
I love the guy. He’s family, as far as I’m concerned. It’s always
been like that between us.
movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
We do have a Facebook page, but you can find basically everything –
including links to the online film, contact information, and the complete
8-page comic story – at
you are dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
Only that, for the first time in a long time, I’m actually really jazzed
about the future prospects for the new projects that we’re working on!
for the interview!