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An Interview with Matt Cunningham, Director of Esther

by Mike Haberfelner

February 2023

Films directed by Matt Cunningham on (re)Search my Trash


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


It's about a woman named Katy who moves back into the house she grew up in and starts to experience strange things at night that turn out to be linked to her childhood imaginary friend.


What were your sources of inspiration when writing Esther?


Everything I've ever digested from childhood! Ha! But seriously, it's a culmination of my love of scary movies, especially monster movies.


Do talk about your co-writer Brian Levin, and what was your collaboration like?


This is the first collaboration we've had together in that space. I had a script from a while ago that I always wanted to make so I threw it at him, and he came back with some notes and I turned it into what we see now.


What can you tell us about your movie's approach to horror?


Specifically for Esther, the approach was to lay breadcrumbs of tension up to the final moment. Not just a gotcha moment but one that was earned more than just a jump scare. We wanted to plant the seeds that something ominous was coming.


Since your movie's very limited in both cast and location, what were some of your techniques to keep things visually interesting throughout?


I felt like if we could jump into Katy's point of view, staring into darkness, through plastic, etc that we might be able to prop the audience up into her mental space as well. Are we seeing something? Is there something there. I always think about those moments when you wake up in the middle of the night and you see the shirt draped over a chair and panic because you think there is something there.


You of course also have to talk about the titular creature in your movie, and how was she achieved?


I've been making masks and doing FX for most of my life. Since I was a kid, I was fascinated by makeup FX. Savini, Bottin, Baker, and so on. I love making creatures and masks. Esther's design came to me when I saw these dental mouth stretchers online and thought "okay that could be really creepy' - so that was the leaping off point of her design. I imagined Esther was a chatty one and her father did that to keep her from talking so much. That's a deep backstory, but you come up with this stuff when you're designing creatures and monsters.


A few words about your overall directorial approach to your story at hand?


Don't over-direct. That's the simple answer. Don't make things too complicated. Get the story first. You can kill a day trying to do fancy camera moves.


Your movie stars Haley Heslip - so what made her perfect for the role, and how did you find her even?


I found Haley when we were making The Spore and she just crushed it. She's a lot of fun to work with and is really talented. We then did 3 Demons together and continued to work together on all sorts of things. When you find someone you like to work with then it makes it much easier to create. You build a shorthand together.


Do talk about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere!


We had a fun set. Small crew. Just a couple of us. Keith Golinski, the DoP and EP and I have worked together on many things. We also have a shorthand and it's super easy-going. If it's no fun, then why do it?


The $64-question, where can Esther be seen?


On our Red Tower YouTube page:


Anything you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Esther?


So far, the reception has been great! People really like Haley and of course want to see more of Esther. Which was the point. Like Jaws, less shark! I think if we see too much of her, she's not as creepy. That's my personal feeling.


Any future projects you'd like to share?


We've got a couple in the pipeline now. Horror-comedy, spooky fun stuff and a horror parody series. Really want to dive into some more creature stuff as well. That's my jam.


What got you into filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?


Star Wars got me into filmmaking. Saw that when I was a kid and knew right away I had to do whatever that was. I went to Full Sail for film and learned some stuff there. Honestly, I probably learned more being on set than any school could train you for. That's always been the best way to learn. Baptism by fire!


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


How much time do you have? Ha! I've been making movies since I was a kid. I've done about everything you can do on a film and TV set.


You of course also have to talk about your company Red Tower, and the philosophy behind it?


This is a bit of a continuation from the previous question. Now, we take all the skills we've learned and use them in a more independent creator way. From script to screen. We say yes to our own projects. We make what we want to see. It's a lot faster to get things done when you're not sitting in development for years hoping for a yes. We want to deliver fun content direct to the audience. Low barrier to entry.


How would you describe yourself as a director?


Someone who wants the cast and crew to enjoy the process together. Drive the ship but be open to detours and investigating possibilities. Letting everyone express themselves while keeping things in line with the story.


Filmmakers who inspire you?


Well, Wes of course. Some of my biggest inspirations would be Spielberg, Carpenter, Tim Burton, Ivan Reitman, John Hughes.


Your favourite movies?


I'll go with current favorites and a few of the obvious ones. Halloween (78), Texas Chain Saw Massacre (original), The Blob (88), Halloween 3 (man I love that one), Let the Right One In, Gremlins, Ghostbusters, Turbo Kid, Terminator, Chopping Mall, big fan of Cannon films, Escape from New York, The Thing, Raiders of the Lost Ark, ET... and of course, Star Wars. Wow, I could go on for days.


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


Not especially. Knowing how hard it is to make a movie or get one made, I greatly appreciate the effort that goes into it. I think people forget when they leave scathing reviews of a movie that many people put a lot of effort into it. That's their job. Not all of them stick the landing. But not all sandwiches are made great. Not all plumbers fix the leak. But they all try!


Your/your movie's website, social media, whatever else?


TikTok: @redtowerdigital

Instagram: @redtowerent


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


Yes. What are we all going to do once AI puts us out of work? Are you Sarah Conner?


Thanks for the interview!


Thanks for the interview! Greatly appreciate it.


© by Mike Haberfelner

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Thanks for watching !!!



Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
shopping mall Santas,
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
to the weirdly romantic,
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
Michael Haberfelner


Out now from




On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
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