Toronto-based Fatal Pictures is a independent production company founded by producer Zach Green and writer/director Richard Powell. This award-winning duo have unleashed three unsettling short films: Consumption (2008), Worm (2010), and their latest shocker, Familiar (2012), which was recently added to FEARnet's slate of horror shorts, and you can also watch it at the end of this interview.
Both Powell and Green generously took some time to talk about Familiar, and shed some light on both the past and the future of Fatal Pictures.
PRODUCER ZACH GREEN
FEARnet: How did you meet collaborator Richard Powell? What made the two of you "click" in such a way that you could join forces on such uniquely disturbing films?
GREEN: Richard and I met at film school in Toronto. I ended up editing a film for Richard and we became very close, and built a great rapport in the editing room. We came to realize we both had similar views of what we wanted to accomplish in the industry. In 2007 we created our production company, Fatal Pictures.
In what ways did producing your first short film Consumption pave the way, or make the process more efficient for Worm and Familiar? Did Consumption teach any valuable lessons that you applied to the next two films?
Consumption taught me many things, from learning how hard it is to get finance for short films as well as learning how to properly schedule the days. Consumption gave me the ability to meet great peers of mine that to this day I work with, like the amazing Bernie Greenspoon, who does our score and sound design. Thankfully the success of Consumption opened a few doors down the road for when we were getting ready to produce Worm, and then later Familiar. One of the most valuable things from Consumption was just building great rapports with other industry professionals. I would say every film I produce I would learn new things to apply to the next film - you never stop learning.
Was there some aspect of Familiar's production that represented your biggest uphill battle?
I would say the biggest uphill battle for me on Familiar was timing. There were a few days where I was really worried we weren't going to make our day and get everything we needed shot, but thanks to our fabulous team from director Richard Powell to our DP Michael Davidson - and I can't forget the amazing Butcher Shop effects team - everything came together and we got everything we needed in the time span we had.
Is there an element in Familiar you find especially chilling or disturbing?
I would have to say some of the dialog.
I hear a feature-length version of Worm is in the works. Will this be Fatal Pictures' first excursion into feature films? What can you tell us about the project?
Worm will be Fatal Pictures' debut feature film. Basically it's going to be on a much bigger scale than the short film was, and we'll look more into the life of the character Geoffrey Dodd. Without giving too much away, Geoffrey might act on things he only imagined of doing in the short. What I can tell you is the world is in for a great treat when the film gets produced. Fatal Pictures is all about original, controversial films with a bite, that leave a long lasting impression.
WRITER/DIRECTOR RICHARD POWELL
FEARnet: What films inspired you to become a filmmaker? What are some of your favorite horror movies?
POWELL: The films of Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, John Houston, Todd Solondz and Michael Haneke are what inspire me as a film lover and aspiring filmmaker. Each handles the epic and the intimate in ways that transcend artificial cinema. Real humanity comes through in their work, unapologetically so, and it is that quality which speaks to me. Some of my favorite horror films include the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Night of the Living Dead and Dawn Of The Dead, Suspiria, Demons, Hellraiser, The Thing, and more recently The Mist and Martyrs.
Why is the horror genre important to you as an artist?
Horror is a genre without boundaries - it's an open canvas for the imagination. Despite all of its more juvenile aspects, horror, when done right, explodes the accepted norms of all cinema and pushes the art form forward. It's also an extremely versatile genre, capable of insightful examination or gleeful, mindless exploitation. Not to mention it's the genre that made me a film lover. It's the comfort food of cinema.
You write and direct very straight-faced horror. Your films are intense and dramatic... a nice counterweight to the abundance of campier, sillier genre product available today. Is it important that filmmakers continue creating darker, more sinister, frightening - and yes, more intelligent - horror movies?
I don't think it's important to push an agenda or aesthetic in filmmaking. What matters is the development of a voice or vision that is unique and organic to the filmmaker. All types of horror are important and equally valid, as are all types of film. What I've done and plan to do is really just use my voice as a writer, developing and reaching out into new and interesting directions. As I said before, horror made me a film lover, but my appreciation of all cinema is perhaps why I'm headed in this direction, as opposed to some premeditated effort to intellectualize horror. That said, I see an opening in the genre, a kind of film that has been neglected and trivialized for far too long. When a mature filmmaker with an understanding of story and character engages in horror you get The Shining, Videodrome and The Exorcist. I'd like to get back to that.
Do you see Worm and Familiar as companion pieces? Both shorts star an intense, pushed-to-the-edge Robert Nolan, and both films are driven by his voice-over. Were the films designed as a two-part experiment, or was Familiar thought up after Worm - perhaps as a deeper exploration of what Worm achieved?
I look at the two shorts as opposite sides of the same thematic coin. Worm details a kind of modern insanity, and Familiar questions what that insanity is and where it comes from. Worm was written well before Familiar and before the idea of a metaphorical examination of this theme (Familiar) occurred to me. I like the notion of artistic periods; Worm and Familiar sprang from the same artistic period, the same creative soil. If you want to get really meta-think about this, in the Worm short film, Geoffrey Dodd is writing a book. In the feature-length Worm screenplay I recently completed, Geoffrey has finished his book and is looking for feedback on it. The name of the book is "Familiar."
Even before the really weird stuff kicks in, Familiar is quite unsettling. The writing and Nolan's performance make for an incredibly dark and disturbing ride. Did any part of the shoot unnerve you? Were you so focused on the process of making the movie, nothing rattled you... or were there moments you knew the film worked because they rattled you?
Since I'm the writer of both Worm and Familiar, I have become somewhat desensitized to the content. It's an odd disconnect - I know the material is disturbing, but I don't feel it in the way others do. That said, I do remember a few moments on the set of Familiar and Worm when the inner monologues were being read aloud in front of the whole cast and crew; I felt those words then. I was listening to these demented thoughts through the perspective of my actors and crew and I realized how off-putting they really were. That was a positive experience, however - feeling the full effect of what I wrote taught me to trust my instincts.
Familiar does not rely on special effects, but a film like this would certainly derail if the special effects flopped. Thankfully, they don't. Tell us about the artists who created the effects, and a bit about your working relationship with them.
The Butcher Shop is a Canadian FX company I've been working with since about 2008. We connected through MySpace and collaborated for the first time on the short film Consumption. Ryan Louagie and Carlos Henriques are not only super-talented artists, but great guys as well. On all of the shorts we worked on together, the process has been smooth and educational. Usually I reach out to Ryan with a script or concept and explain the story and what I'm looking for. From that point I ask advice on how certain effects can be achieved. I then create some rough artwork and send it over. The guys check out the concepts and let me know what's possible. If an effect is too elaborate for our budget, the guys figure out a compromise. What's great about The Butcher Shop is you never hear "no" if something is too big or involved. Ryan and Carlos make a way to make it work and do so with enthusiasm. It's impossible not to love these guys - they literally make my imagination come to life. I'm very excited to have them back for Heir, my next short film project. I'm going to need them on this one!
Tell us a bit about Heir.
Heir will be a very different experience for anyone familiar with our previous short films. This will be our attempt at a more lean, visual storytelling style, and I'm excited to stretch myself this way. Heir will star Bill Oberst Jr and Robert Nolan as a pair of men with some seriously dark and disturbing secrets. I can say with confidence I've never written anything that unsettles me as much as this. Heir is going to make people uncomfortable and it's going to make them think. Perhaps the biggest talking point on Heir is it will be Fatal Pictures' introduction to crowd-funding, a prospect that is as terrifying as it is exciting. As difficult a road as crowd-funding seems to be, we are confident that our film campaign will offer a combination of talent, quality and accountability that will be attractive to potential supporters. With strong performances, beautiful cinematography courtesy of Michael Davidson, disturbing practical effects from The Butcher Shop, and a story that I believe will haunt and unsettle viewers, Heir stands to be a great and worthy final short before we attempt our feature film debut.
Visit FatalPictures.com for all their latest updates. You can also follow them on Twitter at @FatalPictures. You can watch Familiar in its entirety below, but don't forget to check out the other amazing films in our Shorts gallery!