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An Interview with Ryan M. Andrews, Director of Sick - Survive the Night

by Mike Haberfelner

December 2011

Ryan M. Andrews on (re)Search my Trash


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Your upcoming movie Sick - Survive the Night - in a few words, what is it about?


Sick is about three people forced together and trying to survive the night. It's a post apocalyptic zombie film. Billions have died and there are groups of survivors here and there. And because the "Sick" are more active at night, it's too dangerous to be out after dusk and so we follow these characters who are just trying to stay alive.


I've heard that Sick - Survive the Night was originally proposed to you as a short film by co-writer Chris Cull. Would you like to elaborate on that, and what convinced you to eventually go feature-length? And what can you tell us about Chris Cull and about your collaboration?


Chris Cull, like myself, is an artist which is why we work so well together. He cares about the art of filmmaking. And if you ask our wives, they say we're like an old married couple. He's an editor, writer and producer. He has edited a number of my projects including features, music videos and shorts. While in post on a short film we made called The Devil Walks Among You, he pitched an idea to me for another short. I sat down to write it with him and half way through the beat sheet, I told him, this is too good of a film to just leave it as a short. Plus we're already at 45 pages and not even half way through. It's original and it's smart. We need to run with this.


What were your sources of inspiration when writing Sick - Survive the Night?


art by Margaret Jeronimo Andrews

My inspiration for all my scripts is other forms of art. I always listen to music when writing and usually I find specific artists to listen to for each film. With Sick, I found myself always listening to Rammstein, Five Finger Death Punch and Johnny Cash. I have purposely done my best to stay away from any current zombie films or TV shows, since I don't want to be influenced by what they do. I want this film to stand on it's own. I am also very influenced by paintings. A local Toronto, Ontario artist Stu Andrenelli, who has a clothing line called playdead, I find has incredibly inspirational art. Same with an American painter named Heather Calderon and older painters like Fuseli and Dali. Most of all, my wife's paintings are the most inspirational for me. They're dark. Full of pain. Morbid yet sexual.


With Sick - Survive the Night basically being a zombie film, is this a genre dear to you, and your genre favourites? And what, in your opinion, is it that sets your movie apart from other zombie movies?


I grew up on all styles of horror. Zombie-wise I loved everything from White Zombie to Romero's Day of the Dead. But what I loved about them was, though they were both zombie films, they were two totally different styles. Growing up in the 80's, Return of the Living Dead gave another style. And about ten years ago I remember seeing a great French film called They Came Back, which wasn't a straight up zombie film in the traditional sense, but that's what I loved about it. There was plenty of emotion in it. More recently a Canadian zombie film called Pontypool really impressed me.


I originally thought I would stay away from the zombie genre because it is probably the most oversaturated sub genre. Every year there are so many generic zombie films. Some are good, but most are easily forgotten about. But I honestly feel Sick is a zombie film that will stand out from the others. What made Dawn of the Dead probably one of the best zombie films ever is the fact that the film (like Romero's Night and Day) didn't focus primarily on the zombies. It was about the people surviving and there was a lot of subtext.


Sick is not Romero's zombies and it is not 28 Days Later-style zombies. We set the rules for our zombies and play in those rules. And it is honestly something different. And without taking away from the horror elements of the film, as it is a horror film first and foremost, we have a lot of science behind what makes our zombies tick. Our Executive Producer Cengiz H. Fehmi brought in a lot of the science. We did A LOT of research and spoke with University Professors and grounded all our facts in reality. I think it is something that will really make Sick stand out.


Zombie films suggest a lots of gore almost by definition, and since I know there are quite a few gorehounds among my readers - how far does Sick - Survive the Night go in terms of violence and blood and guts, and was there a line you refused to cross?


The only line I ever refuse to cross is the one that compromises the story I am trying to tell. Other than that, game on. If you are looking for intestines being pulled out of someone through their throat and then used to strangle someone else til their eyeball pops out, this is the wrong movie. Ha.

The film has a lot of violence. And I mean A LOT of violence. It's a very violent story but it is also a very realistic story and so I wanted to keep the gore to a certain level. In the spirit of less is more, we stick to that, but, hey, it is a zombie film, so rest assured there is still some good moments of blood and gore. We had a great make up team led by two of Toronto's loveliest ladies, Ashley Rocha and Melis Bayraktar. They killed it with all the work they did and in the horror genre, obviously make up is huge. You don't always know who does the make up for some big summer blockbuster action film, but in the horror, whether it's done by Wayne Toth or Savini or whoever, that is sometimes just as big as who wrote it.


Another important factor for a good zombie movie is finding the right locations. So what can you tell us about Sick - Survive the Night's locations?


We had the best locations. We actually shot our exteriors up around the town of Pontypool, Ontario, which is known locally, as a zombie film was made about the town a couple years back. While we were shooting up there, our Production Designer Josh Heisie [Josh Heisie interview - click here] took a 50 year old, standard Americana style house and dressed it up like a condemned crack house that has been through many zombie battles. The majority of the film takes place at the house, so we wanted to make sure the house was like a character of its own. We never wanted there to just be a blank wall. And you're right, zombie movies need the right location and this house had so much personality.


How would you describe your overall directorial approach to your subject matter?


A horror film is only scary when it's real. When you believe this could actually happen to you. So even if the horror revolves around something completely fictional like zombies, I think it still needs to be grounded in some sort of reality. And it needs to stay within it. My DoP Michael Jari Davidson and I attacked every single shot with a ruthless aggression, but my one rule is to never take away from the story. The main reason, usually, why anyone watches any film is because of the story. If the story is boring, something can still look pretty, but you lose interest.


Mr. Davidson and I, together, created so many different styles and used so many different techniques just to attack the viewer on a subconscious level in each scene and throughout each act, but it is all to just make the story play out that much stronger. Working with Mr. Davidson was the best thing for my directorial style. He is just as big of a horror fan as I am and knows the genre. And because of that he cares. I have seen so many horror films made by people that obviously don't love the genre. Sick was made by horror fans and it shows.


Ryan M. Andrews with Debbie Rochon

Sick - Survive the Night features indie horror icon Debbie Rochon [Debbie Rochon interview - click here] in a prominent role. How did you get her on board, and what was it like working with her?


Working with Debbie was a dream. I remember seeing her in films as a teenager and I've grown up knowing the name. She is horror royalty. Bela Lugosi [Bela Lugosi bio - click here], Vincent Price [Vincent Price bio - click here], George Romero, these names are all names associated with horror. And Debbie's name is right up there with them. She is THE scream queen. Jamie Lee Curtis did three or four horrors and moved on to stuff that she is better suited for. She rocked the "virgin" character perfectly but this doesn't make her the top scream queen or horror royalty. Debbie eats, sleeps, breathes horror and it shows in the over 200 horror films she has done. So just to be in her presence was a honor and to be able to direct her was a dream.


I had wanted to work with her for a long time, and she came to mind for the character of Dr. Fehmi. A few people thought she would be great and so through my DoP Mr. Davidson and Fangoria editor-in-chief Chris Alexander, I got introduced to her and we spoke about it and, well, obviously she said yes.


Ryan M. Andrews directing Robert Nolan

What can you tell us about your three leads, Christina Aceto, Robert Nolan [Robert Nolan interview - click here] and Richard Sutton?


I couldn't be happier with them. I had worked with Robert Nolan before. Cengiz Fehmi and Chris Cull both liked him as well and I think it was about who fit well working off of him. Richard Sutton and Nolan had so much chemistry and played so well off each other that it was clear, these two were perfect.


Christina was another story. As 95% of all my films revolve around strong female leads, I'm very particular about the female actors. We had seen some really great women come in to audition, but it just wasn't clicking with me. I had already started looking at my calendar to figure out when we could do another round of auditions when Christina came in. She blew us all away and she worked so well with Nolan and Sutton that it was the perfect group. I would gladly work with all of them again. I actually have plans to work with them again as a matter of fact.


The three of them took their characters and brought them to life and every day they always came to set with a smile on their faces and they were happy to be a part of this film. And these were very emotionally draining roles. It's a zombie apocalypse, there isn't really much space for any happy scenes. But they brought it every time and were so good to work with.


Other key castmembers you'd like to talk about?


Ryan M. Andrews with Jennifer Polansky and Christina Aceto

I can't go without talking about Jennifer Polansky. She came on last minute and brought her A game. We welcomed her into the Sick family and she jumped in both feet. It felt like she had been there all along. She plays a tough as nails woman who's been through hell, and she plays it with so much attitude and sexuality. She's totally bad ass. There were a few times when watching her on the monitor, I was actually scared of her.


Adding actors like Sandra DaCosta [Sandra DaCosta interview - click here], Astrida Auza and Neil Green to the mix and across the board it was the perfect ensemble cast. There were no weak links.


A few words about your crew, and what can you tell us about the on-set atmosphere?


It really was a family. Like all indie films, no one is there for the money, so everyone is there because they wanted to be. Because they believed in the film and were proud to be a part of it. Both Mr. Davidson and Cengiz Fehmi brought a lot of people to the table to help out in many different ways. Even at the end of a long day everyone was still hugging and happy to be there. And everyone was willing to go that extra mile when needed.


We all went to war together making this movie and we couldn't have done it without everyone in their place doing their thing. I made a lot of friends on that set. Production Co-ordinator Paul Roberts was the glue. That man went far above and beyond his job to help wherever he could.


I've been on great sets and I have been on miserable sets where there was a lot of fighting, but this team just cared about telling a good story and having a great time doing it. Plus above all, extremely professional.


I'm not just being nice or afraid to say anything controversial, but honestly this is exactly how anyone in this business would want their set run. Of course there are always problems that arise and there are pain in the ass situations that make you crazy, but it was because of how strong the Sick family was that any and all problems were dealt with immediately.


The $64 question of course: When and where will the film be released, tentatively?


By fall 2012 we will be looking at screening the film in some genre festivals and basically get it out there to as many people as fast as possible.


Any future projects past Sick - Survive the Night?


Of course, you always need to be looking at what's next.


I have dozens and dozens of horror scripts sitting at home collecting dust. There is a couple haunted house/ghost films, a couple about witches, ones on satanism, a few on serial killers and one about a woman's obsession with blood, which is like nothing else out there that I've ever seen. Chris Cull and I are actually also working on the script for the sequel to Sick.


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I will be making more with Cengiz Fehmi and his company Hellfire Pictures. We will be bringing a couple to camera in 2012. And with so many scripts, if the right opportunity comes around, I'm a storyteller, I just want to tell scary stories, so I am always open to just about anything.


I have some roles written specifically for Christina Aceto and Jennifer Polansky, and I also have another one for Debbie Rochon, who have all said they would love to work with me again, so you can expect that in the near future.


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


Actually 2012 is starting off with a bang! In Toronto Fangoria puts on a monthly screening at a local theater called The Projection Booth. The event is called Fright Nights. And the January Friday The 13th Fright Nights is screening a Ryan M. Andrews' double feature. First my short The Devil Walks Among You and then the gritty grindhouse feature Black Eve.

Look for SICK on facebok as well so you can keep up to date as to what's happening with the film.


Thanks for the interview!


Thank you.


© by Mike Haberfelner

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and shall not be held responsible for
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Thanks for watching !!!



Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
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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
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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
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On the same day
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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