Your new movie Somebody's
Darling - in a few words, what is it about?
It's an indie supernatural thriller about a mysterious, sinister
fraternity and its president obsessing over a coed. It’s a love
letter to the slow burn horror movies of the 70’s that also happens to
touch on current issues of rape culture, privilege, and even idealization
of the Confederacy.
did the project fall together in the first place?
original writer and producer, Sebastian Mathews, wanted to produce his
first short film, which I was chosen to direct. I then got the crazy idea
of re-writing it and expanding it slowly out of pocket into a first
talk about Somebody's
Darling's producer Sebastian Mathews, who also wrote the story
your movie's based on! And what was your collaboration like?
graduated with a philosophy degree from the prestigious Rice University in
Houston, and then went on to get a graduate degree in the film producer
track at USC. We started this project and shot half the footage in the
short time he had in between schools. He was very generous and open-minded
in letting me rewrite his short film and expand it. During production we
would often butt heads on details (mostly what the title should be), but I
have to admit, in the long run, he was often right about shortening scenes
or getting more focussed. I always sent him samples of music, edits,
designs, drafts, etc. He in turn would screen scenes or films he admired
to illustrate what he hoped to build towards. Sebastian now lives in Los
Angeles and has two cool stores there: Touch Vinyl and Cinefile
were your sources of inspiration when scripting Somebody's
Darling, and is any of it, however loosely, based on your own
I was really inspired by my own fandom
for the movies I had seen as a kid, works from the 70’s such as The
Exorcist, The Shining (1980),
Altered States, but I was also including
diluted influence from films from the 2000’s like Election and The Rules
of Attraction. A lot of the characters and funny details of college
culture were actually inspired by friends and situations I witnessed post
college in that strange time before finding a career and adult identity.
Talk of therapists, finding “the one”, drugs at upscale parties… all
real with me as a fly on the wall (I was and am a film nerd outsider). I
included it with an intent to be satirical. The element of misogyny and
rape culture was sadly something I did also see with cliques of “guys
just being guys”. It was always a bit alien to me personally, I’m not
the most macho guy, and I was the furthest thing from a frat guy in
college. That’s why I felt comfortable making the young men into
caricatures and monstrous villains in the movie.
Do talk about your film's approach
to horror for a bit!
There’s a debate going on recently about what is horror and what
isn’t. I think The Witch set off a lot of arguments. I’m on the
side that the The Witch is obviously and absolutely a horror film,
and I also consider films like Seven or Silence of the Lambs
to be strong horror films. People argue with me that those are not horror,
and I’ll simply open most any book about horror films and show them those titles are included. I wanted to make my own slow burn, atmospheric,
mythical horror film. One that did not use contemporary horror tropes of
gore, special effects, or found footage. I wanted to shoot it with the
formal style of something as old school as West Side Story. And I was
challenged to do it for less than the cost of a Honda Civic.
But the other thing I wanted to do was to horrify an audience with one
strong finale. I wanted to slowly build to that one moment to try see if
it could “bug” more, you know get under the skin. I also wanted to not
have the intermittent “fun” “creative” graphic murders that are a
staple of horror now. How about one death, and making that death feel…
strong. I wanted return some weight and respect to death in the genre. At
least for the handfuls of people who see this little production!
From what I know, Somebody's
Darling was at least partly filmed on actual college campusses -
so what were the challenges filming there?
Really, since we
filmed in Houston where rules and fees for filming are lax, and we looked
like students ourselves, we were never even approached by security or
administration to jump through hoops of red tape. It really helped that
Sebastian was alumni at Rice where we filmed most of it. Other areas were
simply open to the public back then. Sebastian was also incredibly skilled
at finding great locations that fleshed out the world, from the frat house
to the dorm.
What can you
tell us about your overall directorial approach to your story at hand?
problem with having such a low budget is that we often had to settle for
single or double takes at the most. This presented a real challenge to
properly directing and shaping the mood of the performances and flow of
the action. To save time and keep everything fluid, I would actually
storyboard right there on the set while actors were getting hair and
makeup done. I would draw on the flip side of script pages! Then, after
giving those to my DP and Sebastian, I would tell the actor my
impression of the mood, and give them little character cues of thoughts in
their mind that were not obvious in the dialog or narrative. But you know,
my whole style changed as we slowly expanded into a feature. I started to
meet with actors beforehand and rehearse sometimes even shoot rough
versions of scenes in my living room, watch it, and then rewrite based on
the strengths and weaknesses that surfaced. Towards the end, certain added
scenes, like an argument in an alley were afforded more takes until I felt
it was convincing. And those work a lot better.
what I know, for budgetary reasons you wore many hats on Somebody's
Darling - so what did you enjoy the most, what could you have done
Outside of being on set and getting these imagined moments happening
one shot at time on camera (my favorite thing), I really liked working on
the music. It was a huge challenge because I wanted a thematic almost
orchestral score. I had delusions of John Barry and Jerry Goldsmith, but
no musical education or experience… or budget! I had to come up with it
myself through sheer will power and instinct; by ear and my ability to use
Pro Tools. Luckily I met Collin McRae, the musician/artist who played
violin and cello on the score and ended up really helping to flesh it all
out. I’m probably most proud of the music on this project.
I could have done without putting on the producer's hat for some of the
additional scenes I dreamed up (Sebastian had moved on to California to
start his grad school at that point). Wrangling schedules, and
getting releases signed is dry work.
Do talk about your key cast, and why exactly
Well everyone was cast through a series of
auditions in a theater space at St. Thomas University. Almost everyone who
made the cut happened to be from Austin at that time. Paul Galvan, our
lead actor, actually sent in a video before his audition in which he acted
out the entire final monologue. We believed that if he put that much work
into his initial email reply before the audition… he might really be
intense… which would be great. Believe it or not, I also appreciated
that our decided leads somewhat reminded me of old Hollywood actors. I
thought Jessa Faye Settles had a Vivian Leigh thing going on from Gone
With the Wind. It all worked in my mind for a story about some strange
looped and cursed existences in time.
A few words about the shoot as such, and
the on-set atmosphere?
The set was often hilarious behind
the scenes. I’m a very mellow on set personality, and even if we were
running into problems, I kept it all calm, and creative. That put everyone
at ease, and there are tons outtakes of clowning around after the
“cut” or before the “action”. You’d be surprised with how
comedic things were. To tell the truth the entire movie was written to be
a bit satirical, but because of the one take rushed schedule, the mood on
camera seemed a bit more serious than planned. We just to had to go with
it to get it all in the can
Anything you can tell us about
the audience and critical reception of Somebody's
Well, as would be expected by a low budget
movie that tries to go against the grain of current horror, we get a lot
of divided reaction. But luckily, I have had a few people tell me they
really were drawn in and quite surprised by it in a great way. After my
screening in Mexico at the Feratum Festival, one guy came up to me at an
after party, shook my hand, and through a translator, praised the film and
claimed to really understand the character of Christian Roane. He told me
I had tapped into something really relatable to him. I responded (through
the translator) that I hoped he hadn’t murdered his girlfriend!
another note, I have also seen how the film brings about an almost
uncomfortable element of misogyny or complicity in some surprising people.
I sent it for notes from a film society group and one member wrote back
highly critical of the plot and it’s implications. She felt that I might
be pro-rape culture because of the anti-hero perspective and violent
conclusion (I’m not at all!… but I did throw in a 70’s style downer
ending to imply this was an unsolved haunting problem). But then this
critic went on to say that the female character Sarah should have known
that her actions would lead to bad things, and that it was somewhat her
fault… Wow… that is exactly a symptom of rape culture! I thought I was
very careful to also make sure Sarah never foolishly endangered herself or
“led him on” in any conscious way. Her nursing Christian as he grew
sick was out of humanity and her role as an eternal nurse angel figure.
What do you think?
Any future projects you'd like to
During the years that went into making this feature, I also made a few
shorts, some of which themselves screened at festivals. Right now I have
been touring a few great festivals with a new short called Acid Test that
I was producer, DP, and editor on. We’re trying to develop that into a
feature. I’m also a few pages into a draft of a feature horror comedy
script. I’m going to try to write a few things in 2018.
Trailer for Acid Test: https://vimeo.com/233048656
What got you into making movies in the first
place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?
like many, picked up a super-8 camera and started with stop motion Star
Wars themed movies with play dough and action figures as a child. Before
that, I had been making audio stories in a cassette recorder, complete
with sound effects. I think I have always loved to try to make and exhibit
narratives. I did go through the undergrad film program at UT in Austin.
can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Somebody's
Prior to Somebody's
Darling I had
made short films in college, and helped friends make their own indie
features both in Austin, and Houston. My 2006 experimental short film
called Snail screened and won an award at SXSW.
How would you describe yourself as a
I’m a director that is trying to guide many
elements all at the same time into (hopefully!) a state of cohesion. I’m
as concerned with the set design, or blocking, as I am with the script.
I’m the type who can imagine an entire scene down to the lenses used,
but I am also flexible, and roll with the type of surprising challenges
that rise up. I understand that the best version of a scene is what works
at the time and place you shoot… as opposed to exactly what you imagined
beforehand in your head.
Filmmakers who inspire you?
fantastic horror and the mythical, first to mind are directors that
captured my respect as kid, odd ones like John Boorman, Brian DePalma,
William Friedkin, Tobe Hooper, Stanley Kubrick… There are many
unconscious and sometimes very conscious homages to them in our little
Horror, well I’m quite predictable with
some mega popular titles I named earlier, but I do like some forgotten
ones like The Howling or
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). My
favorite movie of all time is not horror: Close Encounters of the Third
Kind. Again a film from my childhood. I’ve probably seen The
Shining more than 50 times. That’s comfort food!
... and of course, films you really
Well, I have become really bored with the big
budget superhero movies of the 2010’s that have no feeling of danger and
all end in some kind of CG particle storm of shapes in some apocalyptic
climax. I’m also annoyed by the horror films that rely solely on VFX and
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
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Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever
Watch the movie:
Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/movies/details/Somebody_s_Darling?id=ZIVnSnv8uGE
Thanks for the interview!