Almost Human is a throwback to the sci-fi/horror flicks of the 1980s. Old school scares, alien invaders, and all practical effects. We spoke to writer/director Joe Begos, who talked about making his first feature, filming outside Los Angeles, and where a sequel will go if he has the chance.
Since we last spoke at Fantastic Fest, what has been going on? What has the response been like?
Pretty good, I guess. There is a lot of negative stuff out there along with the positive stuff - like anything else. I feel like the people I made it for, the people who like these kinds of movies, are really responding to it. That’s really all I wanted. It’s not a movie that everyone is going to like. It’s not a “four quadrant” picture - like you don’t bring your grandma and your dog to see it. As long as the people I designed it for enjoy it, that’s really all that matters to me. They seem to be.
Have things been snowballing with the film?
Yeah, I guess. It has been getting into more and more festivals, and the awareness is up. I’m recognizing that, trying to deal with that, then trying to use the heat from that to get another movie made!
Is having a film get distribution all that you hoped and expected it to be?
It’s much more. You go and make a movie with your friends, and we expected it would eventually get picked up somewhat, but to have a great distributor pick it up, to premiere it at so many great festivals, to get a limited theatrical release, have some sort of marketing budget… it’s all really awesome. I’m just really grateful for everything IFC Midnight is doing.
Let’s go back a minute. Where did the idea for Almost Human come from?
Well I knew how much money we would have to work with, so I tried to design something around that. I was really sick of horror movies being shot in Los Angeles - they all have the same feeling. Having grown up in Maine and Rhode Island, and being from a town that is essentially from a Stephen King story, I thought, “Why don’t we just go home and shoot there?” I designed the story around the location and the money. I used to be obsessed with alien abductions - they are very fascinating to me. There are only a few alien abduction movies, and out of those few, only a couple are really good. What I wanted to do was take everything I always wanted to see in an alien abduction movie and put it on camera. Aim for the stars and see what we get.
Did you find it easier to shoot in Rhode Island?
Yeah, definitely. They’re not as used to production. They let us shoot in their diner overnight for free. People kind of think you are doing a school project, but then you walk in with a RED camera and a grip truck and twenty people… they are shocked and excited and suddenly it becomes, “What can I do? Can I help?” That is a snowball effect, where everyone just comes together. We get so much more production value shooting there. It’s not even a headache. It’s cheaper to bring people and equipment from Los Angeles to somewhere else than it is to just stay in Los Angeles.
This was your first feature. Was there anything that was easier than you expected? Or harder than you expected?
I didn’t really know what to expect. I guess the hardest thing was just piecing together the money as we went along. We didn’t have all the money up front, so we had to cut the movie together, then find more money. Then we’d do the score, then find more money. That was the most pain-in-the-ass aspect. As I had been making shorts for so long, it was all the trials and tribulations that come with making a short film - just times ten. So I kind of knew what to expect there. This being such a homegrown movie, I dealt with everything right through to the deliverables and the legal stuff with my lawyer. Having to deal with all of that was a pain-in-the-ass, but I enjoy knowing every step of the process. I spent as much time making the movie as I did with the paperwork that has nothing to do with actual filmmaking. That was probably the part I didn’t like.
I know you are a big fan of practical effects over digital effects. There were no digital effects in Almost Human?
No. There are a few cleanup shots where we had to remove wires and things like that, but everything you see we literally did on set. We didn’t build one drop of blood in the computer; it was all done practically. People always complain that it takes a lot longer, but I find it easier because then I know that I have exactly what I want, and that we have it, and don’t have to spend two weeks in post trying to get it right. Spray a little blood and people are like, “Oh, it looks great.” Plus you can see what it looks like so you decide how to shoot around it to make it look best. If you just shoot and they build it in the computer, that is what you are stuck with.
Will you continue with the practical effects in future projects?
Yeah, it’s not even a choice in my mind. I feel like I have a very good argument if any producer wants to go against that. It’s weird because I don’t know anyone who prefers CG to practical effects, but it has become a standard, and it is hard for me to understand why. Having done it, it is so much cheaper to do effects practically. It’s a little hassle on set, but I’d rather have that small hassle than kicking myself later because it looks like shit.
Are you working on anything now?
Yeah, I have a few things. The project I really want to do is a telekinetic revenge movie, like Scanners meets Death Wish. And I started working on an anthology horror film. Seems like nowadays they are doing anthology horror movies with like six different directors, but I’m a big fan of things like Creepshow and Tales From the Dark Side, where you just had a single director. Being such a fan of short films, I thought I could go out and make four short films and then I’d have a feature! So I’ve been playing with that. And depending on how Almost Human does, we could possibly do another one.
Another one… like a sequel?
Yeah. We had such a low budget that if we can get a little more money… I’d be like a kid in a candy store.
Where would a sequel go?
I have an idea for an opening scene that is basically a body in a morgue that infects all of the cadavers who then become aliens. You walk in and it would be like the end of Aliens where there are like 50 pods and they just burst out. So that would be like Halloween II meets Aliens.
Almost Human hits theaters and VOD on February 21st. Can't wait? Check out Joe's short film "Bad Moon Rising" right here on FEARNET.