Your new movie Slapface
- in a few words, what is it about?
A boy deals with the loss of his parents by creating a dangerous
relationship with a monster rumored to live in the woods. Once
that happens, no one around them is safe...
What were your
sources of inspiration when writing Slapface?
And however remotely, is any of the movie based on personal experiences?
I grew up with my grandparents in rural Rhode Island, where the dense
woods and abandoned houses were sources of excitement and adventure.
Your imagination can really take off if you're in the middle of a forest
thinking of monsters, and since my family was extremely lenient about my
viewing habits I'd be watching Dawn
of the Dead and The
Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I made no distinct between those movies and Grimm's
Fairy Tales, so in that way Slapface is directly informed by childhood
My grandfather would tell me stories of growing up in rural poverty.
His dad was a heavy drinker and would play the game of slapface with
him, a ritualistic form of child abuse where you exchange slaps as a
mutual punishment. My grandfather was also pursued after school by
three female bullies who threw rocks at him, and one would be his secret
girlfriend when no one else was looking.
So this family trauma found its way into the story, and indeed the older
brother Tom is named after my grandfather. He passed away before
seeing this feature but had characters based on him in my movies before
and it always delighted him, whether or not he was portrayed as a
"good" guy. He loved the arts and was flattered by his
inclusion in stories, warts and all. Much like the characters Tom
and Lucas, my grandfather was a first class weirdo...
few years ago, you made a short
of the same name - so how closely is Slapface
related to the earlier movie, and did you always intend to expand the
short to feature length, or did this come as an afterthought?
The feature length script preceded the short, but despite the attempts
of various producers over the years we couldn't get the financing for
this bleak dysfunctional family drama with a monster in it.
My dear friend and director of photography Dominick Sivilli tricked me
into making the short by saying he wanted some fantasy material on his
reel. "Do a five minute version of your story!" I'm
indebted to him for that because the short functioned as a proof of
concept revealing the tone of the story, a visualization of the monster
and what the game of slapface might look like.
So the feature was not an expansion of the short. The short film was a
truncation of the feature that essentially took a small section of the
narrative and dramatized it. It functions as a stand-alone piece;
maybe someday I'll release it online. It's because of the festival
success of the short that we got the attention of the producers who made
the feature, and they were fully committed to this story. Honestly
it was the best possible scenario, producers who believed in Slapface
and made it happen without compromise.
just have to talk about the monster in your movie for a bit, and how
closely were you involved with its creation?
Nobody hates the special effects department head of this movie more than
I do. He basically didn't care about our film and abandoned us
after cashing the checks. But his assistants Tony O'Brian and
Sandy Washington cared a lot and gave the monster everything they had.
I'm grateful to them for saving the day after we hired the wrong guy
based on his impressive resume and ability to charm us during the
We didn't do any special effects tests, which meant the test was on Day
One of principal photography, and none of that footage is in the movie.
So I guess you could say it was the most expensive special effects test
ever with an entire crew lighting and shooting scenes that we knew, if
it went wrong, could be cut out of the movie, which they were. I'd
warn all filmmakers to contractually obligate their special effects team
to tests, otherwise you will be burning money on set figuring it out.
Thankfully the feature I made right after Slapface, which is in post
now, did many tests and the producers spent the money to save money.
Also they baked effects tests into the contracts, which is the right way
to get what you want.
I say all this because ultimately the monster did turn out the way we
wanted it to, which is a classical storybook witch face atop a ten foot
tall hulking bogeyman. We wanted to take the old fashioned legend
and see how it would look in a realistic way.
Much credit for the characterization of the witch goes to wardrobe
designer Anna Davis for that long hooded cloak that resembles the bark
of trees, the many layers of sound design by Michael Odmark that ranged
from insect and beast sounds to distorted child noises and even creaking
ships, and finally the subtle physical performance of actor Lukas Hassel
[Lukas Hassel interview -
click here] who treated the witch like a character with wants, needs and desires.
Without a great actor, all you have is rubber and paint, it's Lukas
Hassel who gave the monster her soul and depth.
about your movie's approach to horror!
We wanted to create a permeating sense of dread and uncertainty, where
the bad thing could happen at any time. Barry Neely's haunting
score understood this in an immersive way.
I think your film
also succeeds in its portrayal of rural small town life - so where was it
filmed, and what was it like filming there? And did you write your script
with that particular location already in mind, or did location scouting
only come afterwards?
We scouted for two months ahead of principal photography and discovered
that the town of Fishkill, NY had that particular quality. Filming
in October into November gave us that melancholy and beautiful autumnal
feeling. I wrote the script thinking of where I grew up, and the
town of Fishkill couldn't have been more generous in supporting our
movie. The local police and city council were great to work with and
cared about helping us realize this vision.
A few words about your overall
directorial approach to your story at hand?
We wanted to tell a fairy tale story grounded in social realism.
Shot in widescreen with anamorphic lenses, we wanted the intimate small
scale of the narrative to feel as large as the emotions of the
characters, and to immerse the viewer in that world. I love
monsters and hope audiences care for our creature as well as be afraid
of her, which is how our main character Lucas feels too.
What can you
tell us about Slapface's
cast, and why exactly these people?
Lukas Hassel played the monster in the short film and continued to hone
the role of the monster in the feature. It was great having a long
term friend and collaborator in the cast because I'd never worked with
anyone else in the ensemble before. The cast was crucially
important to this film, to ground this fantastical story in realism.
Mike Manning played Tom and was the main creative producer on Slapface.
Originally this was a father and son story, and Mike proposed making it
about brothers. At first I was very resistant to the idea; I had
memories of hating the remake of The Fog where all the actors were cast
younger and more Hollywood, or those 1990s thrillers where the slasher
victims looked Iike models even if playing lower income families.
Mike assured me he wanted to retain the harsh realities of our story and
pitched me his notion of Tom as a boy thrust into a parental role and
not able to handle the responsibilities at all; a guy holding on to his
good looks as life is beating the shit out of him doing non union
construction work and drinking away the pain.
His powerful interpretation of the character only made the role more
interesting; you felt his abusive father hanging over him like a ghost.
And Mike is a wonderful actor so even as Tom is doing terrible things
you feel him doing it out of love for his brother, who is all he has
The rest of the cast were honestly a dream come true, since I loved Libe
Barer's work from independent films and the TV show Sneaky Pete. She
understood the Sam Shepard-like world of our movie. Dan Hedaya is
one of our legendary character actors who brings his entire history with
him in his face as the Sheriff. I loved him so much in Blood Simple
and Clueless and so many other movies, so that was a privilege.
Mirabelle Lee was chosen out of a hundred child actors who auditioned
for Moriah and immediately understood this character's trapped situation
and desire to be liked and loved and seen. Finally Bianca and Chiara
D'Ambrosio who play the twin bullies were trained Disney actors who
wanted to go to the dark side and invest that with truth; they reminded
me of Kurt Russell in that way. I'd love to work with them again on a
Do talk about the
shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere!
Everyone looks to the lead actor to see how to behave. August
Maturo was 12 when we shot Slapface,
and his work ethic is beyond anyone.
He's been on television for years and years, so he understands the
filmmaking process and probably will direct his own films one day.
More than that, August was there for the movie, fully emotionally
available and present. He can exact the grief and rage and trauma
without giving off that brutalizing energy. And he cared so much;
he loves to act and was there every morning before the coffee. His
passion and mine set the tone for everyone; the movie is bleak and hard,
but the atmosphere on set was compassionate and enthusiastic.
The cast and crew were there for us; many of the behind the scenes team
were crew I've known for years, and they wanted to see the dream
fulfilled. They also liked the story, which doesn't always happen.
When the key grip Paul Wallace is complimenting actors after a great
take or the 1st assistant cameraman Nathan Rodan is gently whispering
for everyone to be sensitive because we're making a quiet scene, your
heart grows bigger. That's the kind of company I like to keep around me
as we do the work.
can tell us about audience and critical reception of Slapface?
We were honored to receive an audience award at Cinequest, where we
started hearing that our film moved people to tears as a rich emotional
experience. Reviews out of FrightFest from influential, great writers
such as Anton Bitel at Sight & Sound, Kim Newman at Empire, Michael
Gingold at Rue Morgue... I'm indebted to the extraordinary queer
journalist, critic and filmmaker Jennie Kermode who gave our film a
context that allowed a lot of access and opened doors. That
mattered so much to me personally and professionally. Horror films have
a long history of being gay coded in a specific meaningful way, and I'm
grateful that some audiences and critics lean all the way into that.
future projects you'd like to share?
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
We are in post on a horror feature called The Boo Hag about a very
different kind of monster. We shot in Savannah, Georgia within the
Gullah Geechee community, and that movie is steeped in an eerie folklore.
I loved making that movie so much and can't wait to share it with
everyone. The writer-producers Phoenix Higgins, J. Craig Gordon
and Jason Short were remarkable collaborators who approached their story
with such passion and allowed me the opportunity to listen, learn and
create within a dynamic sandbox.
website, social media, whatever else?
The best way to follow our movie is on social media, on Twitter and
Instagram and Facebook:
for the interview!