A few weeks ago we caught up with director Drew Daywalt on the set of his new horror web series, Camera Obscura. In our exclusive interview we explore the dark secrets that Camera Obscura holds and talk to Drew about his favorite horror films and what it takes to scare a seasoned horror fan on the web.
Photos courtesy of on set photographer Robyn Von Swank
FEARnet: What can you tell us about Camera Obscura?
Drew Daywalt: Camera Obscura is a web series that is seventeen episodes. It’s about a young woman who is cleaning out her grandfather’s office after he passes away. She finds a book, and in the book are these weird photographs. She had a very unhealthy relationship with her grandfather, he raised her, but he was a crime scene photographer for the LAPD and he drank a lot so he was never around, so there’s a lot of resentment in her cleaning up after he’s deceased.
And when she [finds] this book, it’s nothing like him; it’s nothing like what he did in his life. It’s strange art photography. It’s dark, weird, photographs and they’re actually upsetting [to her]. She throws the book in the fireplace and she burns it because it’s just too upsetting and weird.
Then she finds his camera and she can’t get it to work. She [learns] this camera was a magic camera that was able to capture demons, and in photographing them with this camera, imprisoning them in this book, which she then realized she burned. Los Angeles is [now] hit with a rash of strange, ritualistic crime homicides, and she realizes quickly that she burned the book and she released them. She comes to know that each of these demons - six of them - had a crime profile like a serial killer would.
Can you tell us more about these demons?
Mr. Hurt targets the innocent. Mother is a sort of weird maternal figure and she targets healers and doctors. Splinter also targets doctors and he’s a sort of deformed burn victim thing, it’s hard to describe these things. He’s in a wheel chair and he hunts doctors. There’s a creature called The Bag, and it’s a body bag, and its got like three or four arms [and] that’s how it moves, it crawls itself along.
How did you go about designing the looks of these demons?
One of the goals was to create something totally new. Nothing looks like anything that anyone has seen before, the rules are all new. I’m a horror fan so I love werewolves, I love vampires and the slashers. [But} we wanted to create new monsters, new creatures, without doing a remake, without doing a rehash, or a reinvention of something. There’s so much that scares people, that if you dig into your own nightmares, you can find it. That’s kind of the show.
Was this one of the reasons that Camera Obscura came about? To create something entirely new for horror fans?
Yes, that’s exactly the point. I come from a horror troop called Fewdio, and at Fewdio we had the same goal, and it was to create horror not based on the easy scare, the rollercoaster, the funhouse, there are some great filmmakers who do that. Sam Raimi, one of my favorites, he’s the king of the startle scare, the sort of roarrr, and he just did it again with Drag Me to Hell, and we just laughed through the whole thing. It was hysterical, but it essentially wasn’t a scary movie, it was a funhouse ride to me, and at Fewdio, what we tried to do was go back to horror that’s primal, that’s based in dread, and anticipation. What I really felt was missing from horror films right now is a sense of primal dread, scary anticipation. I always feel that real horror comes from the moment before you have to face your future.
Which films would you say are some of your inspirations in creating this sense of dread?
One of my favorite film scenes ever is in The Haunting, the original The Haunting, I’m sure you know it, there’s a psychic who’s in bed, and they’re staying at a haunted house, and they’re not sure if maybe she’s crazy or she’s hallucinating at this point in the film, or [if] the house is in fact haunted. There is a 45 second shot of the doorknob, that’s one of the scariest things I have ever seen in my life, and it holds up.
There is no bombastic monster that bursts through, there is nothing that tears her limb from limb, but in that moment of cutting back from her behind the sheets in bed to the doorknob, from her behind the sheets to the doorknob, her behind the sheets to the doorknob, and he does it for 45 seconds and you just want to explode. And the payoff, the climax is the door rattles, and if you look at that as purely a production thing, somebody on the other side of the door just shook it, and I think they made a special door that bent a little bit strangely as if it were breathing but, the horror isn’t in the release, it’s in the anticipation, and I’ve always felt that it’s character based because humans by our nature are pack or herd animals, and we look to each other for signals. If you look terrified, if someone looks terrified, you notice it, and you look around to see what they’re terrified of.
In creating what is essentially a short film, split up into webisodes, do you find that it’s more difficult to create that sense of characterization and dread because you need to have these highs and lows or even a cliffhanger between each episode?
You know there are changes in keeping that going in the webisode format because with Fewdio we had short format horror anthology and that actually started as a bet, you know, somebody was like comedy is going to do good on the internet, horror will not. And I said why? And this friend of mine said well you got three minutes; you can’t scare anybody in three minutes. He was like I’ll mail you a check for 100 dollars if you can scare me in three minutes so that’s how that started. We felt that you can scare someone in three minutes if you use the three minutes wisely.
You're shooting at a very creepy location, Linda Vista Hospital, where they shot a bit of the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, how are you using the space?
What we’ve been able to do is shoot half of our film here; half our series actually takes place in Linda Vista because every floor is a different decade. The third floor looks post apocalyptic it’s falling apart, which we used for one sequence. There’s the boiler room, which looks like a hell furnace and ceiling is just pipes and pipes and pipes, and it’s like they never took out the old ones and they would rot, and they put new ones over them, and those would rot, and it’s almost 100 years of just complete and utter urban decay. So many web series are three people in an office, two people in their backyard, you know, and there’s a place for that, but when we have access to something this beautiful and this representative of total urban decay, we can take advantage of it.
It sounds like this is pretty special effects heavy with the demons and I’m assuming a lot of practical effects as well?
Yeah it’s actually almost entirely practical effects, I have two friends in the wings, one of which was one of the chief animators on King Kong and the other was one of the chief editors on Spiderman 1 and 2 and Watchman, and they’re my safety net. We are very creature heavy; there are a lot of creatures. There are six demons.
What’s your biggest fear?
My biggest fear, my biggest fear is the dark. And what could be in it, what is there, we don’t know what’s there. The unknown.
Camera Obscura represents MWG Entertainment's third web series, the second, Road to the Altar, featuring Jaleel White of Family Matters fame, is currently wrapping up it's first season. For more information visit www.mwgmedia.com