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An Interview with Torin Langen, Director of Fondue

by Mike Haberfelner

January 2013

Films directed by Torin Langen on (re)Search my Trash

 

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Your new movie Fondue - in a few words, what is it about?

 

Fondue is the story of a mysterious duo who partake in a disturbing Halloween tradition. If I get any more specific than that, I think I'll risk giving too much away!

 

Fondue plays with Halloween imagery quite a bit - so what does Halloween (the day, not the movie) mean to you?

 

I'm not into gruesome depictions of the holiday, I love the classic "spook show" atmosphere of Halloween; witches, ghosts, jack o'lanterns, skeletons, etc. Perhaps even more so now than when I was actually at the age for such things, I love the old-fashioned take on the holiday. My ideal Halloween is an evening of spooky stories in some derelict countryside cemetery, or curled up late in front of a crappy TV watching Monsters Crash The Pajama Party. Fondue was my fusion of childish Halloween imagery and surreal horror, two of my favourite things. And punk rock, there's a little punk rock in there as well!

 

There are two things about Fondue that simply can't escape anyone's attention: Everybody (but the victim) is wearing Halloween-masks almost throughout the film, and not a single word is uttered - was all this intended from the get-go, or did this just develop during shooting the movie?

 

The masks were intended to hide the characters' facial expressions from the start, seeing as it would likely be safest for the film's characters to remain anonymous (with the exception of the two leads, of course, since it's hinted that they have a romantic relationship). As far as the lack of dialogue goes, one of the main reasons for this was so I could submit to foreign festivals without worrying about subtitles or dubbing. In that respect, it was more a practical decision than an artistic one, but as the story developed it became pretty clear that it could be told solely with visuals.

 

You now of course have to talk about your cast for a bit, and was it at all hard to find actors to fill their roles given they had to be masked all throughout and didn't have any lines?

 

Funny story about that, actually! The two leads of the film, Raven Cousens and Youp Zondag, were cast in another film I was working on at the time called TRASH: Curse of the Masquerade Maniacs. We had started shooting the film over the summer and wanted to try and finish one specific scene before we got too deep into autumn. However, I had this idea for a short and thought the two of them would be perfect for those lead roles as well. As the shooting day approached and I heard reports of dismal weather, I realized that if it were cloudy we'd have to delay shooting TRASH, since we'd lose continuity with our previously shot footage. So when the day arrived and we were met with rain, we started on Fondue. I don't think I even told them we were going to be shooting another film until the day-of!

 

The rest of the cast were just other friends of mine willing to come out for a couple days. Rebecca McAulay, if I remember correctly, was only around for a couple days, one of which was the coldest we experienced on-set. Of course, this was the day she had to have her hands soaked with *spoilers!*, which certainly didn't make things easy. Credited as "The Chef", she was a trooper and kept a positive attitude when I was pulling my hair out, which greatly eased the tension. Mickey Conde, although only involved for a single day, probably had the most difficult role, as "The Meat". Again, I can't elaborate without giving away too much, but I'll just say that the guy was absolutely freezing, and was in great discomfort for an extended period of time. Emma McDonald, credited as "The Other", was there for every day of shooting outside of her onscreen role, helping lug gear around, hold lights, etc, and was an indispensable asset to the production. I'll take this opportunity to publicly thank all the cast members for their dedication and amazing work. It wasn't easy, but you all pulled it off in spades!

 

What were your inspirations when writing Fondue, and what can you tell us about the writing process as such?

 

There was no writing process, really! It wasn't necessary since I had all the scenes mapped out in my head, verbally explained it to the cast, and there was no dialogue! My inspirations for the film were a number of experimental pieces that I'd grown very fond of, specifically Shozin Fukui's 964 Pinocchio and Michael Todd Schneider's Our Devil's Night. Schneider's film inspired me as far as a lot of the imagery goes, taking childish Halloween imagery and placing it in a much darker universe. His colour correction techniques also influenced me to play more freely with the look of the film, and I took much more time with this than I have on previous projects.

 

The slow-burn pacing of the film was greatly inspired by 964 Pinocchio, and the film also influenced what I wanted for portions of the soundtrack. The film's composers Andrew Laughton and Bensen Carter did an amazing job, especially considering this was their first time producing music of this type. Both are songwriters, and it was challenging for them to create pieces more akin to atmospheric noise than actual songs, but they got what I was looking for dead-on. Their work is all the more impressive considering the majority of the soundtrack was written and recorded in a single 12-hour session, the three of us crammed into their studio the entire time. I can't thank those two enough for contributing their talents and effort to the project!

 

Oh, and as long as I'm mentioning soundtrack, I want to extend a special thanks to the band Mountain Cult for letting me use their track Dog Specimen over the end credits. Their music served as a temporary soundtrack throughout the editing stage, and embodies the vibe I wanted for the film in musical form. Check them out!

 

How would you describe your directorial approach to your story at hand?

 

As I touched on earlier, I wanted to keep the film at a rather slow pace and lull the viewer in with intriguing imagery, and as a result, create a surreal, dreamlike atmosphere. The film's lack of dialogue and bizarre concept almost makes it a tangible fever dream, or at least that's what I hope I achieved.

 

Fondue gets pretty bloody towards the end - was there ever a line you refused to cross concerning gore and violence?

 

Initially, I had intended for the film to adopt a completely different tone at the climax and turn into a bloodbath, but as we worked through the scenes leading up to that point, I realized this approach wouldn't work. To compare the film to a far superior production, I decided that the Texas Chainsaw Massacre technique of "less is more" would be more effective, so as not to take the audience out of the film by bombarding them with cheap gore. However, without giving too much away, I will say it was necessary to to use one specific prop (which we may reshoot with something more lifelike), but if I could have gotten around showing even that much, I would have. I like splatter films to a certain extent, but gore would have served no purpose in Fondue.

 

What can you tell us about your locations and about the shoot as such?

 

As far as locations go, we were extremely lucky and found an abandoned house that was perfect for the film. I knew about the place and had initially intended just to grab one exterior shot of the building, then shoot any interiors in a dingy basement somewhere else. But when we knocked on the door to ask permission to film out front, we realized the place was empty and unlocked. We wound up coming back several times and shot all the interiors in that same house, and we found some creepy stuff. The folks who owned the place left in a hurry, abandoning photo albums and kids' toys, leaving the building to rot away. It was a huge property too, and we'll hopefully be going back soon to shoot more before it's demolished. Still can't believe we lucked into that!

 

What can you tell us about audience and critical reception of Fondue so far?

 

So far, it's been shocking! I got in touch with one reviewer named Gruesome Hertzogg, and asked if he could give the film a watch and provide a 1-2 sentence quote for the short's trailer. To my surprise, he liked the film so much that he did an entire review on his podcast, awarding the film a completely unexpected 9.5 out of 10! From there he helped me out enormously and promoted it throughout the review community, which is how I got in touch with you! So far, the reception has been mind boggling, and it's extremely exciting to see that people "get" the film. Fondue was my first time creating something more unconventional and surreal, so it's very satisfying to see that it "works", since I had no idea how it would turn out! It's all the more surprising considering it was initially intended to be a quickie 5 minute short to stick online for Halloween! This is nuts!

 

Let's go back to your beginnings: What got you into filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?

 

I've been making films since the 2nd grade, specifically after I first saw The Nightmare Before Christmas. For some reason, the teachers at my elementary school thought it would be a great idea to show it to my class prior to Halloween, and it scared the living hell out of me. It got so bad that my father taught me the process of stop-motion animation as a form of therapy to show I had nothing to be afraid of. The lesson piqued my interest in film making, which I continued until I began shooting live action comedy skits in the 7th grade, which then evolved into horror films. I've never had any formal training outside of a high-school film course, but I learned most of the ropes through a project I began when I was 13.

 

A group of friends and I had started watching zombie flicks over the summer, and after seeing some of the lacklustre productions being put to DVD, our naive minds conjured up the idea of shooting a feature-length zombie film with the intent of distribution. The project wound up taking 3 years to complete (2 years longer than anticipated), and while the final film came out terribly, it served as a film making crash-course. I directed, filmed, edited, wrote (kind of), scored, created makeup effects, and essentially everything else behind the scenes myself. And while I certainly still had a lot to learn (and still do!), I learned all the basics through that production. And let me tell you, it was hell!

 

What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Fondue?

 

After completing that feature zombie film, I was in high school and signed up for the elective film course. Through this, I produced 4 short films which furthered my hands-on experience and knowledge of film terms. In 2011 I released 2 short films. One of these was a sequel to a previous film, Case Study 2: Hide and Seek, and another called TRASH. Both were very successful on the festival and convention circuit, screening multiple times across North America and sold very well, for what they were. TRASH became pretty popular on the collector's circuit, since I'd been selling copies on VHS to add to the schlocky vibe. It was even included on a compilation DVD released in the UK though Dead Good Films Like, mixed in with a slew of other no-budget horror productions. After TRASH I did another short called Toolbox Charlie, and then began tinkering on my work-in-progress TRASH: Curse of the Masquerade Maniacs, in addition to several projects helmed by friends that I contributed soundtrack and cinematography to. And from there, I started Fondue!

 

Any future projects you'd like to talk about?

 

I'm currently in the process of compiling my favourite shorts into anthology film format, which is slated for 3rd party distribution in March (though I can't say much about this!). The film is currently titled Candy Corn, and I'm also re-packaging these same shorts into TV show format for the local cable station. I've got plans for a handful of other horror films, in addition to finishing up Masquerade Maniacs, but am hoping to start work on both a documentary and a teen comedy before the end of the year. Why not?

 

As a filmmaker, you seem to be firmly rooted in the horror genre - a genre at all dear to you, and why?

 

Horror encapsulates so many other types of work, and if you look hard enough, you'll always find something new, fresh and exciting. Personally, I'm not interested in conventional horror fare. I've seen Dawn of the Dead, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, but I'm not all that crazy about any of them. The horror films I hold dear to my heart are the ones made by weekend warriors with an original vision, and as someone in a similar position, that's totally relatable. I love indie horror because I understand the mindset behind it, and it's exciting to see amazing art produced for pennies. That being said, I can't get behind low-budget zombie or slasher fare unless they're really doing something different, be it structurally or visually. The cliches have been done to death, something that even I'll admit to taking part in, but it's getting to a point where I simply can't get myself excited for horror fare unless it's really doing something different. I love the genre, but it's in desperate need of a face-lift. And, while it's getting there, there's still way more so-bad-it's-good/incompetent productions coming out than I can stomach. Not that I'm in any position to critique, mind you!

 

How would you describe yourself as a director?

 

I've never really thought about this, but I think determined is a good adjective. My general rule of thumb is if I finish the first 3-5 minutes of a film, I follow through and complete the project. I think auteur may apply to a certain extent, though I'm hesitant to say that since it sounds pretentious! I like to carry out every aspect of production myself, and on Fondue I went so far as to paint and draw the end credits by hand. On TRASH, the only other people involved were my friends Mickey Conde, who played a small role, and my friend Struan Sutherland who created the retro Candle Flame Films logo, also used in Fondue. Outside of that, I acted (poorly, mind you), edited, directed, shot, wrote, and scored the film, so complete creative control is very important to me. That being said, it's tons of fun to get people involved who have similar visions!

 

Filmmakers who inspire you?

 

Oh man, I'll try and keep this brief! Chris LaMartina [Chris LaMartina interview - click here], Jason Willis, Shozin Fukui, Michael Todd Schnieder, Jason Eisener, Astron-6, Ted V Mikels, Frank Henenlotter and many more. But all of these people made an impact on me because of the DIY aesthetic and attitude towards their work. All the films these guys produce have a kind of grungy, punk-rock vibe; shooting on the fly without permission, breaking laws, and essentially doing whatever it takes to get their flicks shot and in the can. Not that I condone illegal activity mind you, but you've got to do what you've got to do to make your art happen, even if that means living on the street with a sock full of change. I think the punk rock approach to film making applies now more than ever, since picking up a camera and shooting a film is just as simple now as learning 3 chords and starting a band, and the comparison continues through every aspect of production, from lensing to distribution. It doesn't have to be polished, it has to be catchy, exciting, and if possible, do something that sets it apart from the crowd.

 

Your favourite movies?

 

Okay, I'll actually keep this brief since the last response turned into a bit of a tangent! 964 Pinocchio and Our Devil's Night of course, Rubber's Lover, Basket Case, Deranged, Tales From the Crypt and The Vault of Horror (the Amicus anthologies), Father's Day, Hobo With A Shotgun, the short films Backyard Barbecue and Television Show, Jan Svankmajer's Alice and all his shorts for that matter… okay, I'll stop there!

 

... and of course, films you really deplored?

 

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I've suppressed many of these and not too much comes to mind, but there's a HORRIBLE slasher film called Mutant Man that actually makes me sick when I think of it… like, I'm actually starting to feel sad now…

 

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

 

Though it still needs work and apparently there's two different versions of it live (???), my site is www.candleflamefilms.com. For frequent updates, go to facebook.com/candleflamefilms, and if you want to purchase my horror anthology 'zine The Keep, among other products coming down the pipeline, go to candleflamemedia.bigcartel.com. Or you could just email me at torinlangen@hotmail.com!

 

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

 

If anyone out there knows of genre festivals currently accepting submissions, please contact me! Oh, and I also write for the website FilmArmy.ca and have some fun stuff coming up, including interviews with some of the filmmakers I mentioned earlier. So drop by the site and check it out!

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

Thanks for the interest! Seriously, this is crazy exciting!

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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