I’ll admit, scary movies FREAK ME OUT! I can face a cobra with a tarantula on its back snacking on a scorpion as it slithers toward me and shake it off like any other National Geographic documentary… but when someone asks me to go see the latest and greatest horror film that’s just come to town, I have no problem saying okay and then calling the day of our movie date pretending to have food poisoning. What can I say, we all have our kryptonite… and therapy is expensive. I personally prefer comedy and a good laugh to reboot my internal sunshine.
What if, you’re walking down a poorly lit corridor at 2 am and a shadowy figure is standing at the end near the exit? I am one that tends to be more comfortable with shadowy figures than the supernatural, so I approach… slowly. As I get closer I notice a gloved hand slide into a jacket pocket. I shrug it off and keep moving forward with my radar on. With only feet away and the shadowy figures hand still in the pocket I pick up the pace. Suddenly the figure makes a 90 degree turn and is now standing in my direction. My stride halts and my demeanor changes. Thinking back to my young Judo days at 13 yrs. old, I was mentally prepared for Mortal Combat. I earned a yellow belt but thought I deserved an orange. I was ready for anything, except what happened next. He pulled a small book from his pocket and opened it. He then asked, “would you like to hear a joke?” Life is stranger than fiction and there are moments where you say to yourself, “Just roll with it!” So I do, and it was a badass joke that washed away all the scariness and uncomfortable inhibitions that occupied my mind in that moment. Comedy in horror, who knew it?
Stephen Sawchuk and Elysia Rotaru knew it when they co-wrote the film FWD. It pays homage to the Scream franchise of the ‘90’s. Brilliantly written and exceptionally cast, it takes you back to the nineties fright films with a unique twist. After you jump, you’ll then laugh and jump again. I had the marvelous opportunity to speak with them both about their film from Los Angeles.
“I really enjoyed this short horror film. Is this your first horror film?”
Stephen answers, “This is actually my first time writing and directing a film. My background is working in reality TV. I’ve been producing reality and lifestyle TV for the past 10 years. I’ve always been a fan of the genre and one of my favourite franchises is the Scream movies. It was quite a big inspiration in writing this film. Reality and Lifestyle TV is an area I love working in but I was really looking to try to tap into another creative part of my brain and Elysia and I were really eager to write in the horror genre because we’re both fans of it.
“How did you come up with the story idea?”
Stephen answers, “I think what’s great about the Scream movies is the opening scenes in all four of the films, there is a five to ten minute contained scene that gets you excited about the movie ahead. We really like that and drew inspiration from it; the challenge in doing a short, is you have to tell a complete story whereas the opening in the Scream movies is meant to be more of a teaser of what’s to come. We were really inspired by that as well as reflecting on creating a ‘90’s set because it was such a completely different era of what we’re in now and also much simpler times. I think the idea came up casually on a drive to Burger King. We started talking about those old chain emails that would threaten to kill you if you didn’t forward them on. It snowballed from there but the brainstorming and writing process became a challenge because we needed to find a way to cap off the story in less than ten minutes.”
Elysia adds, “It’s always that element with short films in that it has to be short and sweet and to the point. I always try to look at a script from the point of a viewer, coming from an acting background. For me this process was in keeping with Stephen because he’s on the other side of the camera. I was always putting in my two cents from the audience POV to know what works for Stephen.”
Both add, “We wanted to put a little twist or little bow on the end to show a bit of our own personality. It doesn’t take itself to serious; that was our thought. The two of us combined have a twisted fun sense of humour. We don’t take ourselves too serious either.”
“Were you one of the girls in the film Elysia?”
“No, actually this was my first time ever working completely behind the camera on a project. I did have a little element of me. My sister plays the dead girl in the bathtub and we look similar.”
“In that bathtub scene, did you use sausage to resemble her intestines?”
“The make-up artist we were working with loves getting bloody and we wanted to mimic someone getting gutted like a fish. She was super creative, so we said how do we do this? One of our producer’s sisters owns a butcher shop in town, so we picked up a bunch of sausage casings and our make-up artist cooked up a bunch of spaghetti and dyed it red. We had to shove the spaghetti into the casings to make it look like intestines. She then went to town on the blood and other stuff. We really made this film on a buck and a half. We did the scene in my apartment bathroom. I called my sister; she was such a trooper. She was literally covered in blood and guts and had to lay still.”
“Did you shoot this film in a studio or home?”
“We were pretty fortunate because one of our producers, James’ parents owned the home. We had to kind of beg him to shoot it when his parents were on vacation. The pressure was really on to make sure we didn’t go over schedule. When we walked into the house it felt like it was straight out of a 90’s horror film. We got quite lucky with that and having James Neate on our team.”
“In the film, you break the bedroom door down. How did you accomplish that?”
“We actually built that break down door. We worked with our stunt coordinator Cameron Hilts. I talked him through what I was hoping for in that scene and he’d done that before, so we went to Home Depot and picked up a couple of cheap doors that would fit the frame and Cam took an X-Acto knife to the back of the door where he’d be punching through. We were able to build that door as our bust down door. I think we went through three doors before we got it right. It was really cool working with the stunt guys. We want to do something and they know 5 different ways how to do it.”
“It sounds like you had a good size crew working with you. How large was it?”
“Including the cast it was between 15-20. We used a lot of favours. Elysia and I owe a lot of people favours in return. We got to work with a lot of our friends and people that liked the script and wanted to work on it. It was a fun little short and we all had a good time.”
“Did you submit this film to any festivals yet?”
Stephen answers, “We started submitting the film earlier this year and actually screened at Toronto’s After Dark Festival. We screened right before The Tragedy Girls, a Canadian premiere, which was awesome and had a sold out crowd. Very nerve racking. We also screened a couple times in Vancouver at the Rio Grande Film Fest and at the Vancouver Short Film Fest this year. We screened in LA twice, New York twice, Atlanta, Portland and we’re going to be screening in London. I don’t think either of us really knew what to expect. We were pretty overwhelmed by the response from festival organizers. We’ve also tried our best to be at each screening so we can gauge the audience reaction to see what worked and what didn’t. It’s been really fun and we just screened at another LA film festival this week and we’re screening it in Victoria, BC in October.”
“Has the film won any awards?”
“The film won the Jury Choice Award in Atlanta, it won best supporting character and best ensemble in Portland, best Horror Short in the Los Angeles Short Film Festival. It’s been well recognized.”
“The shots and colour were very sharp, what type of camera did you use?”
Stephen answers, “We used a Blackmagic to shoot in 4K so we could have the flexibility to crop the shots and change them up a bit. It was great because it gave us a lot of flexibility in post and the way those cameras shoot, gave us a lot of clarity when colour correcting.”
“How did you finance the film?”
“We self financed and also did in an Indiegogo campaign which was great. There was also friends and family that helped contribute. We really couldn’t have made this film without the cast and crew that we had. We couldn’t afford to pay everyone the day rate so a lot of people worked an honourarium and a freebee because they loved the film, so that was a huge part of it. We did our best to work with the budget but it’s tough to make a film. I think we made the film for less than 4000.00 all in, including post-production and colour correction. The bulk of our production expenses went to wardrobe because we had to get blood on them. The sound and composition in horror movies is half the energy so we definitely prioritized that. Reid Hendry composed all of the music.
“Did you cast everyone from Vancouver?”
“We did cast everyone in Vancouver and we did a couple casting calls. We knew right away as soon as we saw Jenna Romanin audition, the one playing Shay, that she was right for the part. We auditioned a few people for the role of Casey and felt that Mackenzie Mowat brought the right type of energy and played really well with Jenna. The killer was Cam, our stunt coordinator and James, the producer, who’s parents house we filmed in was the pizza guy. There’s a huge pool of talent in Vancouver and we really wanted to keep it Canadian and BC local.”
“Are you both living in LA at the moment?”
Elysia answers, “I am now living in LA, yes.”
Stephen answers, “I’m still living in Vancouver.”
“Are you both a team or a couple?”
“We are a filmmaking team. We’ve known each other for about 10 yrs. and we creatively click well and love working together. We’re both kind of twisted in the same way.”
“Are you both planning to attend the festival in London?”
“Hopefully, if our schedules allow it. That’s kind of the fun part too about submitting to festivals. It’s a good excuse to travel a little bit and see some new places.”
“Has this film helped to open some doors for greater possibilities/producers paying attention?”
“What’s been most interesting for us is, we’ve met some great people and we’ve been made aware of some great funding sources. We’re working on our next project called Daddy Issues, which is in the same genre. We have the script written and are in the final stages of development and we’re hoping to lock down financing. The flip side to this coin is, when I was writing the script for FWD, I had a short film in mind but we’ve been trying to develop a feature film based in that world; back in that era and back in that environment of ridiculousness and ‘90’s/Y2K/killer emails and just kind of embrace that campiness of it all. We’re trying to expand FWD into a feature film, so we’re working on developing that right now. The other project, Daddy Issues is another short film that will be around 10-12 minutes. We’d love to go into production before the end of the year but realistically were probably looking at early 2019.”
It was a thrill talking to these two and knowing that they’re working on curing me and others of our horror fears by mixing in the comedy. The film is truly a homage to the 90’s comedy/horror era with laughter and suspense around every corner. They are, in a way reinventing the wheel and picking up speed as they go. I will be looking forward to their next film and how they creatively combine both their horror/comedy wit to make us jump into laughter.