Your new movie A Wish for the Dead - in a few words, what is
Well A Wish for the Dead isn’t technically my “new” movie.
It is only getting released now but has been on the shelf for years.
The film was made five years ago in 2011. It was my first time
directing a film. A Wish for the Dead started out as an 8-page comic short I wrote
and illustrated in 2002 for a horror anthology comic that never got
released. I ended up releasing it in 2007 with another horror short
I wrote called Girl Number Three which was actually the first
film we made in 2009. I was writer on that one. A Wish for the
Dead is a personal story about how we all deal with death and loss. While
technically it is a zombie film it isn’t traditional at all. It is
far more drama-driven and has intertwining short tales in the fashion
of something like Short Cuts or Twenty Bucks. Where we meet
different people and their lives become connected. The center
storyline is about this young husband whose wife is dying of stage 4
cancer and he has not left her side at the hospital for weeks and has been
praying for a miracle to happen. That miracle comes in the form of a
mysterious man who offers him a shred of hope. A wish, that can
possibly give him what he desires. But in horror films, we don’t
always get what we wish for.
What were your inspirations when writing A
Wish for the Dead?
The main inspirations for A Wish for
the Dead were my own personal dealings with death and loss. I
lost my grandfather when we were making Girl Number Three and it was very
difficult for me. There was also a time when I was misdiagnosed with
a serious disease that scared the hell out of me and made me feel similar
to what the main character feels in this film. The comic was
originally meant to be an homage to George Romero’s Dead trilogy (there
were only three when I wrote the story in 2002). But I would say the
biggest influence on this film was the segment Wish you were here
from the 1972 Tales from the Crypt film. The story was a take on the
classic The Monkey’s Paw where a woman gets three wishes from an
artifact she finds and in the end she basically damns her husband to
eternal life and pain despite the fact that he was already dead and
embalmed. The idea of not being able to die even when you are in the
worst pain imaginable and the possibility that you are conscious of the
fact that you are the walking dead was very nightmarish. A Wish for the Dead
a really strange endeavor because it is so unconventional and I am not
sure we knew if it would work or not. It is definitely the
most complex film I have made.
What can you tell us about your
co-writer/producer Herschel Zahnd, and what was your collaboration with
him like during writing and production?
Herschel Zahnd is a
very talented filmmaker from Indiana who first approached me to adapt my
comic Girl Number Three to be his debut film. I ended up
writing the screenplay and he directed it. While on the film fest
circuit with Girl Number Three, I told him I wanted to direct a film. And I
suggested A Wish for the Dead as he had been a fan of that comic as well. That was
2010. So he agreed to produce it with me writing and directing.
But Herschel had some ideas he wanted to put into the film and
before long the two of us were basically developing the overall story and
expanding it from the intended short film to a feature. It was very
much a 50/50 situation on it. The truth is, I was very green and
didn’t know much about filmmaking. While I had worked on Girl Number
had been on set, Herschel was the one with the experience and because of
his experience I kind of let him take the lead in terms of being the
producer. It was an odd relationship for a film as I really feel a
film needs to be directed by one vision. Film is a collaboration but
when you get two guys who want to direct a movie it can sort of create a
strange result. Herschel was producing, shooting and editing the
film and most of the cast and crew were people he knew and had worked
with. So in all honesty, while the film was very personal to me, I
wasn’t that heavily involved in it’s making because Herschel really
wanted to take care of everything and I let him. To the point that I
was basically meeting cast and crew on the set for the first time and
seeing locations and seeing costume choices on the day of shooting for the
first time. Something I have never repeated on my newer films.
A director really should be involved in every choice and on A Wish for the Dead
sort of gave Herschel the reigns. I have referred to A Wish for the Dead
as my film
school. My trial and error. I learned a lot making it and
thank Herschel for giving me that position to direct my first film. But
being that Herschel did a lot of the leg work in producing, shooting and
editing the film, this film is just as much his film as it is mine. One
of the reasons that when I sent Legless Corpse Films the artwork for the
DVD I removed my name above the title that was there originally. Although
it looks as though Legless Corpse Films put it back on there and has
called it Nathan "Thomas Milliner’s A Wish for the Dead" in the press
releases which is wrong. It really is “our” film.
How would you
describe your movie's approach to horror (as in suspense vs sudden shocks,
atmosphere vs all-out gore)?
Horror fans may not completely
warm up to this film because it really is more of a melodrama more than it
is a straight up horror film. It is very character and story driven
for most of the runtime, only slowly building to the normal horror film
tropes. I am more of a psychological, suspense driven filmmaker.
I am not about the gore so much. I like atmosphere quite a bit
although I wouldn’t say A Wish for the Dead is as atmospheric as say
Satanica (my segment in Volumes of Blood) or even The Confession of Fred
Krueger. Herschel I recall is not a fan of atmosphere or at least he
wasn’t at that time. He didn’t think it was important but it is
everything to me. So I don’t know if A Wish for the Dead has the level of
atmosphere that I use in my solo films but it is definitely not an all-out
gore film. We don’t hold back in the gore though but it isn’t
Day of the Dead level. My approach to film is far more about
character, story and atmosphere. You are more likely to see me make
something like The Shining or
The Witch rather than The Prowler or
What can you tell us about
your overall directorial approach to your story at hand?
was learning a lot about directing on this. My first time working
with actors and directing them which caused a few hiccups. On a
no-budget film where people are working for free on their time, I was
always afraid of pissing off actors or crew. Now I am not a jerk
mind you and would never intentionally insult anyone but the arts involves
different levels of egos and you don’t always know how to talk to an
artist unless you know them. Since A Wish for the Dead I have made a habit to do
rehearsals (something we didn’t do on A Wish for the Dead) and I like to meet and hang
out with my cast so we are comfortable and trust one another. That
wasn’t the case on A Wish for the Dead so I think the directing suffered on it because
I was so scared of rubbing an actor the wrong way and them storming off
set or something. But I learned quickly that actors want you to
direct them. That is your job. Again, I was very inexperienced
making this film and was just learning as I went. As a director I am
very laid back and trusting. The way I see it, you have chosen to
focus on being an actor, or a cinematographer, or a sound guy, a composer,
and I feel it is my duty to let you do what you do and have some ownership
of what you are working on. My job as director is to keep things on
point. On the path and let people know when they are straying off
that path. I am supposed to know the final direction of the film and
what things should feel like and sound like and look like but unless
people are off track, I want to see what these talented people bring to
the table. With A Wish for the Dead, it was very much about acting as it is a very
dialogue heavy story. Probably too much dialogue. I really
feared the movie would be boring to most people. Horror fans want to
see excitement and killing every ten minutes and this movie doesn’t give
you that. This movie asks you to invest in the story and characters
and you will get a payoff by the third act. I like slow burns.
I am a very patient storyteller.
talk about your cast, and why exactly these people?
some really talented people on this film and some of them I have used
again on my newer films. We should start with Chris Petty who plays
the lead in the film. Chris was suggested by Herschel and after
seeing him do a taped audition he was given the lead in the film. Chris
came in prepared and really went for it. He was great to work with
and I would consider him again in a heartbeat if the right project came
up. Very talented guy. Julie Streble had been the star of Girl
Number Three and she had wowed us on that film so I wrote her role of
Jessica in A Wish for the Dead directly for her. I am about to use Julie once again
on my newest film Fear, for Sinners Here which is a segment in the
Volumes of Blood sequel. Her co-star in A Wish for the Dead, Chuck Miller who had
also been on Girl Number Three was brought in to play a killer. We used a lot of
the same people from Girl Number Three, our first film. Melissa
Decker, Adam Pepper, Dennis Grinar—all three very wonderful people to
have around and just talented for days. Adam especially shines in A
Wish for the Dead. He kills it. Tom Dunbar was an actor I met
on the set of A Wish for the Dead and he was so nice and eager to work. He is like
a kid in a candy store when it comes to acting and his positive energy is
so great to have on set. I ended up bringing Tom on to play the main
police officer in my 2015 fan film The Confession of Fred Krueger.
Another stand out on the film was Kristine Renee Farley. Kristine
was a last minute addition to the cast of A Wish for the Dead as the role she plays of
Beth was intended for another actress who couldn’t do it so Kristine
sent us a tape and she literally blew me away. I ended up casting
Kristine as the lead in my film The Encyclopedia Satanica which was
a segment in the first Volumes of Blood anthology film. I am very
proud to say Kristine just won Best Actress of 2015 from Horror Society
for her performance in The Encyclopedia Satanica. A true
professional and just a powerful actress. Most of the other cast in A Wish for the Dead—and it is a huge cast—were filled out mostly by Herschel being
colleagues, co-workers or friends of his. Since Herschel had been
involved in the acting scene in Louisville, Kentucky and Southern Indiana
for so long I sort of trusted him to fill up the supporting cast with
people he trusted.
can you tell us about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
film was shot over the span of one year. Photography began in
January of 2011 and ended in February of 2012. Since the film takes
place in so many locations with so many characters almost every shoot was
a fresh start really. We would be working with new actors and in a
new space almost every time. Zombie films are fun to shoot and
people get really excited to be in them. So the atmosphere was
always one of fun. We were just a bunch of kids making a movie.
Living a dream. Making indie horror films is a blast.
you can tell us about critical and audience reception of your movie yet?
really. The movie has not been seen much at all. We screened
it at HorrorHound Weekend, Scarefest and Fright Night Film Fest in 2014
and I think I only saw one actual review after HHW. If I recall she
liked the movie but did feel it was a little slow getting to the payoff
which is something we always anticipated. Again, horror fans often
need to be hit in the face every ten minutes and this movie doesn’t do
that. But none of the stories linger. A lot of little tales
are told to set up the big explosion of chaos. I am a little fearful
of the critical response because again, this is my first film and I was
very inexperienced. I have learned quite a lot since making it and I
have made 3 new films since this one. All of us have grown and
learned so much since making this. My last two films have been
very well received so I am a little worried about how this film will be
judged with people being under the misconception that A Wish for the Dead
is my newest film. Artists have this love/hate relationship for
their early work. We are constantly learning and evolving and it is
very hard to look back at old work. Five years is a lifetime for an
future projects you'd like to share?
Well as I mentioned,
since wrapping A Wish for the Dead back in 2012 I followed it up with a
short film called The Encyclopedia Satanica which was part of a
horror anthology called Volumes of Blood. I shot The Encyclopedia
the fall of 2014 and Volumes of Blood was released into the film festival
circuit in 2015. It is currently in negotiations for distribution
and we hope to see a release by Halloween of 2016. In the summer of
2015 I wrote and directed a passion project called The Confession of
Fred Krueger. It debuted at HorrorHound Weekend and on YouTube in
the fall of 2015. It is free to view right now on YouTube. It
currently is nearing 120,000 views and responses have been very positive
for both films. I am less than two weeks away from being on the set
of my third film since A Wish for the Dead titled Fear, for Sinners Here,
which is a segment for the sequel to Volumes of Blood titled Volumes of
Blood: Horror Stories. This film will be shot from March to
August and I imagine pushing for a release in the winter. Encyclopedia
Satanica is about a librarian alone on Halloween night who is mourning the
suicide of her ex-boyfriend and she discovers a book in the returns that
claims it can allow the living to speak to the dead. The Confession
of Fred Krueger is a prequel to Wes Craven’s original A Nightmare on Elm
Street which shows an arrested Fred Krueger being interrogated by the
Springwood Police Department. Fear, for Sinners Here is sort of a
home invasion film set on Christmas Eve with a few twists and turns.
I am so excited for this one as I am reunited with the star of Girl
Number Three and A Wish for the Dead, Julie Streble, and I am working with
an actress for the first time, Jessica Schroeder who appeared in the
recent films Headless and
The Legend of Wasco. A very talented and
exciting young actress.
What got you into
filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on
Most people know me as an artist. I have
done nearly 50 Blu-ray and DVD covers for Scream Factory, Synapse and
several other distributors around the world. I have worked for
HorrorHound Magazine for 8 years. I did comic books for 20 years and
published about 15 books. Tee Shirts, album covers, book covers,
comic books. But my love was always movies. Since I was
little. I always looked at my comics as movies on paper. And
the two mediums are very similar. When you are a comic book creator
you are literally the writer, director, actor, costume designer, editor,
cinematographer, special effects artist, hair and make-up and set
designer. Film and comics are both visual storytelling formats and
the transition from paper to film is a natural one. I didn’t
go to film school no. As I said, when I made A Wish for the Dead I
had only worked on one previous film, Girl Number Three where I was
basically a looker on having just served as the writer. I mean I did
do some second unit directing on Girl Number Three and I did storyboard the film but if
I am honest, what I actually knew about making films was very limited.
After making A Wish for the Dead I realized I really needed to learn
more. So I really did my homework over the next few years. Learning
cinematography and lighting, blocking, framing, editing, sound design,
etc. I did as much learning as I could and I applied the good things
I learned while making A Wish for the Dead and threw out the bad. I made a lot of
mistakes on making A Wish for the Dead and I really didn’t work as hard
as I needed to. Trial and error as they say. Every film I work
on I try to learn lessons that I adapt to or improve or change when it
comes to the next one. If you don’t keep improving then something
is wrong. An artist needs to grow and learn from their mistakes.
So each film when something becomes a problem or a misstep I make
the necessary changes when it comes to the next one. Always listen.
Always learn from others. Throw ego out the door and
understand that you don’t know as much as you think you do. I have
learned so much in the last 4 years since wrapping A Wish for the Dead.
And I owe that film and Herschel a lot of thanks for teaching me
lessons and giving me the chance to learn from my mistakes and consume the
successes. A Wish for the Dead is very much me learning what not to do and
learning what works. We often want to shy away from our past work
but those works are important in us moving forward and improving.
I want to keep learning and improving. It is how I have always
handled it being an illustrator and it is how I am handling it as a
How would you
describe yourself as a director?
The Confession of Fred Krueger
I like story and character
and drama. I am patient in my storytelling. I am very much old
school in that my influences or sensibilities are far more 1970’s than
anything else. Not so much on A Wish for the Dead but with my other films I
am hands on every minor detail. Extremely meticulous to the point
that I get on my crew’s nerves most of the time. Because the details
are extremely important. After A Wish for the Dead I was involved in everything
from scheduling, casting, art direction, set dressing, make-up, hair,
costuming, rehearsing, cinematography, storyboarding, scoring, editing,
marketing, writing, directing, you name it. I plan for months and I
try to make every second of film mean something and matter and be its
very best. I have definitely gotten more confident in what I can do
since making The Encyclopedia Satanica. It was the first film where
I really was getting 100% of my vision and control of what the final product
was. I am very visual coming from an art background. I am very
relaxed on set mostly due to a lot of planning and knowing what I
want. Knowing I have assembled the right cast and crew who I trust.
And realizing that problems will occur and it is how you solve those
problems on your feet that determine if you can do this or not. Always
thinking ahead in terms of knowing when something may not work out and
also thinking about the final product and being mindful of the editing
process that is to come. I was so stressed while planning to make The Encyclopedia
Satanica that I nearly had a stroke. No joke. I rushed to the
ER. After that I realized I had to ease up. I had to take
things in stride. The only way through a storm is through it. Do
what you can but just keep moving forward. I allow my cast and crew
personal expression and collaboration and exploration. I chose you
for a reason. Because I find you talented and smart and I trust your
instincts. So have fun. Play. And I will be here to say
you are going too far left or to tell you that you are right on the sweet
spot. But I take my films with 100% seriousness. If I have
asked these people to give me their time and energy then I want to
make something they are proud of. Something they will be happy they
made. I am only interested in making the best films I can. Films
that people talk about. I have no interest in making films on the
fly or that have nothing to say. While I have fun making them, I
handle film very seriously.
Filmmakers who inpire
There are so many honestly. Stanley Kubrick, Sam
Peckinpah, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Wes Craven, John Carpenter,
the Coen Brothers, Nicolas Winding Refn, Alfred Hitchcock, Park Chan Wook,
Steven Spielberg, Sergio Leone, Richard Linklater--the list is longer than
we have time for.
Your favourite movies?
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
Driver is my favorite film of all-time. Others being Reservoir Dogs,
Dazed & Confused, the Star Wars films, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Die
Hard, Predator, True Romance, Pulp Fiction, Leon, Drive, No Country For
Old Men, A Nightmare on Elm
Street, Jaws, Halloween, Lethal Weapon, Mad
Max, Red Dawn, Streets of Fire, Man on Fire. Again, I could go on
... and of
course, films you really deplore?
I have a real problem
with the whole negativity towards film that we see a lot of today,
especially due to the internet. I get kind of sick of seeing
articles and posts about what is wrong with this film or the worst thing
about this film or that. We are living in such an “I hate that
movie” or “That movie sucks” society that it really makes me wonder
why film fans are so hard on films today and what exactly they are looking
for to get the satisfaction they just don’t seem to be getting. I
don’t hate any movie. I think that is a little silly. Really?
You hate that movie? Did the movie murder your family or
something? It’s just a movie. If you don’t like it, move
on to the next one. But it is very rare that a film is so terrible
and offers so little that it truly sucks or that it makes me deplore it.
I just do not understand that. You can find good in every film
but so often all people want to look for is the bad. Film is hard.
And every filmmaker sets out to make a good movie and sometimes it
works and sometimes it doesn’t. Even the most seasoned and
experienced and celebrated filmmakers of all-time make a not so good film
now and then. It is all a crap shoot. But the whole “I hate
that movie” mentality just isn’t something I understand. Especially
when someone feels the need to go on and on about a movie they hate.
Why waste so much energy on something you don’t enjoy? I
don’t like ketchup. You don’t see me online every day trying to
ruin the good name of a condiment I personally don’t have a taste for
and trying to convince ketchup lovers that they are all wrong and it is
overrated. It is a very strange behavior in my opinion.
website, Facebook, whatever else?
I think all of them have their own Facebook pages and IMDb pages.
Anything else you're
dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
think we covered everything. Thanks again for letting me go on and
on about my work.
for the interview!